There is a subsection of millennials, roughly those born between 1988 and 1992, who came of age with The Boy Who Lived. I was born in 1990, and I was eight years old when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I eventually consumed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the summer of my 17th birthday. J.K. Rowling’s magical world made me fall in love with reading at such a young age. Little did I know that when I was first introduced to Dementors and Boggarts as an adolescent, there were Dementors and Boggarts in my own life that I’d have to face in young adulthood.
The Dementor and The Boggart as Symbols for Depression and Anxiety
JKR has been open about her battles with depression in her life, and has even recently reached out to a fan on Twitter who is facing depression.
I used to think these were just creepy creatures growing up, but when I re-read the series for the umpteenth time as a new college graduate going through a bout of post-college depression, I realized that a Dementor is a harrowingly accurate representation of depression.
I’ve felt the metaphorical lights go dark in my head as the depression eradicated any positive memories. I’ve felt depression’s cold, rattling breath as it called up my worst thoughts from my mind’s annals. I’ve felt depression’s chilling fingers brush my skin as it sank to suck the last drips of hope out of my body. I can tell you first hand that being in the constant presence of Dementors is exactly what depression feels like.
Just as the Dementor represents depression, the Boggart represents our deepest fears. To me, the Boggart is an accurate representation of my struggle with anxiety. My bouts with depression have been situational. I’ve been lucky in that regard. It’s the anxiety that’s more prevalent.
In high school, my social anxiety crippled my social life. I was the quintessential quiet kid, but I had the loudest mind. I was terrified to verbalize my thoughts into words. Things were different, though, when I put pen to paper. At the time, I had little confidence in my writing ability, but my English teachers would always gush over my writing assignments. In my junior year I received the only 100 on a writing assignment that my teacher gave out that year. The assignment? Write an alternate ending to The Catcher and the Rye in the voice of Holden Caulfield. Looking back, the ease at which I was able to channel Holden’s angst was a warning sign.
The Patronus as a Symbol for How to Fight Depression
In the Harry Potter series, the only way to fend off a Dementor is by casting a Patronus. The Patronus is one of the most fascinating spells in the Potterverse. It is similar to the Native American concept of the spirit animal in that each person’s Patronus takes on an animal form based on the characteristics of the caster.
In order to cast the spell, one must channel his or her happiest memories when reciting the incantation (expecto patronum). If one isn’t 100% absorbed in these happy and positive thoughts, then the spell won’t work. I think this is the perfect analogy for fighting depression in the real world.
The Riddikulus Incantation as a Symbol for How to Fight Anxiety
The Boggart is another fascinating creature from the Potterverse. No one knows what a Boggart looks like in its true form, since it immediately takes on the shape of the deepest fears of the nearest person. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin teaches us that the way to get rid of the Boggart is to picture your deepest fear in a disarming, and often humorous, situation while reciting the incantation Riddikulus.
I think that this symbol is a perfect representation of my anxiety in the real world. I worry obsessively about the future and also play the “what if?” game. So, if I were to come across a Boggart, it would be a version of myself that I call the “inner critic.” The “inner critic” is extremely critical of any aspirations I have for my future. He points out all of the things that could go wrong and frames them as if they are inevitable outcomes.
Thanks to JKR, I came up with a creative visualization exercise to help me deal with this anxiety successfully. I picture facing this Boggart version of myself and actual me shouting Riddikulus as I visualize Boggart-me losing his voice. Without his voice, his doubts can’t affect me.
I used a similar exercise to deal with my bouts with depression. I visualize myself facing a Dementor and in need of a Patronus. I absorb myself in happy memories and positive thoughts, and then my Patronus (a lion) appears to protect me.
You may feel silly doing these exercises at first, but they helped me and I think they can help you too. Plus, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, just because it’s happening in your head, that does not mean it isn’t real.
Seek help for depression and anxiety at adaa.org.