What Lord Voldemort taught me about mental illness
I’m a pretty big Harry Potter fan, though I’ll admit I was late to the game. I didn’t read the books until a year ago. I know, shame on me. I remember the moment I finished Deathly Hallows. I was in tears, one, because of how heartwrenching it was, and two, because there were now no more Harry Potter books to read. These books enraptured me, and I will forever be grateful to J.K. Rowling. Her books have truly made me a better person.
The Harry Potter series is brimming with so many intricate themes. One of the more prominent themes, the theme I want to focus on, is conquering fear; specifically the fear of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
The entire wizarding world, except for a select few, refuse to utter the name Voldemort. The very name conjures fear. Even the most well-versed witches and wizards cannot find the courage to say his name. But in doing so, their fear of him only increases.
“Call him Voldermort, Harry,” Professor Dumbledore says. “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
I remember the first time I called my university’s clinic to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It took me several months just to work up the courage to make the call, and it was a painfully uncomfortable experience. “What’s your reason for coming in?” asked the receptionist. I crumpled within. I only had a few seconds to respond before the pause would morph into awkward silence. In a quiet stutter I answered, “Eating issues.” “You’re going to have to be more specific than that,” she responded. I er’d and um’d more times than I could count. Finally, I had no other choice but to speak. “An…anorexia.”
You know that incredibly awkward scene in the first Twilight movie where Bella and Edward venture into the woods to talk after it becomes obvious to Bella that Edward is a vampire, and he demands Bella to “Say it…out loud” and in an equally unbearable manner, Bella responds by saying, “Vampire?” If you’re like me, you know this scene by heart, mostly because of how painful it is to watch. But that’s what it felt like having to say anorexia out loud. It seemed as if I had just said something terribly wrong and even offensive.
Verbalizing it meant that it was true, and I didn’t want that to be the case. But it was. So why had I not said it before? Why did I refer to my problem as an eating issue and not what it actually was? Because our culture says it’s taboo. In refusing to call it as it is, I have only increased my fear of the thing itself. We’re so afraid to say what we’re struggling with because we’ve been brainwashed into believing it would be poisonous to those around us; that the reputations of the ones we’re closest to would be compromised. We’ve been so wrongfully taught that the reputations of others take precedence over our own health and overall mental and physical wellbeing.
Even as I write this post, there are so many things I want to hold back because I feel it would be wrong to say them. But if I’m not completely honest with you, this post would be tainted with fear. As Dumbledore so poignantly says, “Call him Voldemort.” So instead of using vague terms that beat around the bush, I’m going to be blunt in the hopes that my own fears will diminish, as well as yours, because I’m exhausted from living in fear. Anorexia, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are all things I struggle or have struggled with. During my younger teenage years, I didn’t know how to cope with the pain I felt inside, so I took care of it the best way I knew how, by cutting myself. Along with this came suicidal ideation, something I’m so glad I never acted on, for I now know I play an irreplaceable part in this world. By masking what are actually fairly common struggles, we’ve been lead to believe that battling such issues makes us out of the ordinary. Freaks. But we’re not – you’re not. You’re human. In no way does a mental illness define you. And you’re not alone — millions of people struggle with these issues. So maybe try saying what is plaguing you out loud. Take a leaf from Dumbledore’s book and always use the proper name for things. Indeed, “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
When Michal Walther isn’t taking selfies with her cats or binge watching the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, she dedicates her time to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and reminding people that it’s okay to feel things. You can follow her on Instagram.