How J.K. Rowling Helped Me Become 'The Girl Who Lived'
Editor’s Note: The following piece contains spoilers for the “Harry Potter” series and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
I wrote recently about how fantasy and books saved my life, and they really truly did. The fantasy world gave me the one thing that I struggled to hold on to: hope.
As a younger child, “Matilda” by Roald Dahl was definitely one of those books. However, at a relatively late age of 18, I discovered another world. Another world that carried me through my 20s — a world where there was a “boy who lived.”
That name alone is enough to induce tears, a mixture of joy, fear and great sorrow in me. I was lucky enough to get to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” last night. As much as this article has been on the tip of my tongue for over half a year, I feel compelled to write it today, while the emotion is still raw.
From the first chapter of the first “Harry Potter” novel, I understood Harry, and believe Harry understood me. Living with childhood abuse, it was clear that he felt the great sorrow I did. There are obviously many differences between our stories — for starters, I’m not a wizard, despite how much I wish I was! However, he was a boy, who seemed to have lost hope, and I was a girl who had lost hope. Then, on his 11th birthday, hope arrived. Maybe, I thought, hope would arrive at my door one day, too.
A boy, who had been treated so disgustingly, was loved from the moment he walked into Hogwarts — though not by everybody (that’s been helpful for me too – nobody can be liked by everybody). Harry found the love he so longed for — he found his family. People who loved him, flaws and all. And yes, he did have flaws, as did the other greats in Harry Potter – after all, how can we be human if we do not have flaws? One of the scenes in “The Cursed Child” that made me cry, was when Harry turns to his son and says, “They were great men with huge flaws, and you know what? Those flaws almost made them greater.”
I silently sobbed, the longing and sorrow, the pain… the realization that perhaps my flaws aren’t my downfall after all. I also felt joy and relief, as I also know I do have people in my life that love me, in spite of my flaws, who have stood by my side as I have become “The girl who lived.”
Like Harry, I have fought great, great darkness in my life. A defining moment in reading the “Harry Potter” series was when J. K. Rowling described the Dementors.
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
How did J. K. Rowling get this so right? It took many years before I realized she too battled with mental illness, she too has lived with suicidal thoughts. Her words have not only been a comfort, but an inspiration to me.
Little did she realize that she also tapped into my life with Lord Voldemort too — “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” — the darkest force possible, so dark that he must not be spoken of. This echoed the abuse I lived through as a child, the abuse that must never be spoken of. The abuse I have still apparently “fabricated” or “over-exaggerated.” Harry Potter gave me the strength to carry on fighting that dark force, to persevere, to never give up, to hold on… always.
I once believed I too must be a dark force, in fact, some days, I still believe this. But now I choose to fight back at those thoughts by remembering Dumbledore’s words: “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” I chose, and still choose not to become a dark force. I strive to make a difference in this world, to reduce the darkness, even for just one person to feel less alone having read my words. This is a power J. K. Rowling has. For me to even have one percent of her ability, is enough, enough for me to carry on, carrying on.
Dumbledore so very much reminded me of my grandfather, both my grandfather and grandmother were the only people in my life I knew were truly proud of me, growing up. When my grandfather died, so did a part of me. A part I’ll never get back. It made me so ill mentally, but I didn’t know why, my brain didn’t have the ability to process any of this until almost a decade later. But I shall never forget the tears I shed when Dumbledore died. Overwhelming grief, so painful I couldn’t breathe. Thinking about it now: I cannot breathe. Dumbledore, to Harry, was what my grandfather was to me.
And, as my tears fall, I know he would still be proud of me. I hope he would understand my need to have no contact with my parents. The guilt I carry consumes me, but this is the only way for me to be and stay mentally healthy.
“Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right” — Albus Dumbledore
The no contact decision was not easy, but it is right — for me, my wholeness, my health and for my children to have the best mum they can — to have everything I didn’t.
Notice I used the word “wholeness” as opposed to happiness. So many people in this world strive to be happy — but I believe it is impossible to be happy, and happy alone. I’ve been through enough to know pain will always exist. Rowling just “gets it” — maybe you can only truly “get it” if you have been through great adversity yourself? I haven’t quite worked that one out yet. But, once again, Dumbledore put this into perspective for me last night:
“Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.”
How more right could that paragraph be? “In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again.” I know that some may exclaim how negative both Rowling and I are, but I would exclaim back, that perhaps they had never known the true meaning of struggling. I am an extremely positive person, but part of my remaining so positive through living with mental illness and hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome has been to become whole. To have days where I down all tools and cry out all the pain, to really feel the darkness. And yes, there have been times I have gotten stuck in the darkness, unable to find the light. But through it all, inside of me, there has been a tiny spark of hope, even if it had almost been extinguished.
Last night, when I saw Snape produce his Patronus on stage, the tears welled up again. I had a mental breakdown earlier this year. I had to fight to stay alive, day after day. At one point, I changed my profile picture on Facebook to an “Expecto Patronum” picture, trying so desperately to conjure my spirit guardian. During this time, I saw a painting an online friend had created — an elephant on galaxy background. I told her if she had swapped the elephant to a unicorn, she literally had created the Patronus in my mind.
Several days later, I was tagged in a photo on Instagram of my Patronus. I sobbed. My Patronus had appeared. I have never met this friend in real life, but she seemed to understand how much I needed that Patronus. She posted the painting for me. I have a feeling she knows how much that painting meant/means to me, in such a way I wished she didn’t. This is an open, very public thank you to you my friend, you know who you are. Thank you for conjuring my Patronus for me, thank you for not letting my spark extinguish. (She kindly gave me permission to share a picture of my painting. You can find her here.
In one of the final scenes of “Cursed Child,” I cried when Harry told Albus:
“The part of me that was Voldemort died a long time ago, but it wasn’t enough to be physically rid of him — I had to be mentally rid of him too. And that – is a lot to learn for a 40-year-old man.”
These few sentences summed up the journey I have been on this year. The darkness inside of me — I had physically tried to get rid of, but I had to mentally get rid of it too. I had to let go. Letting go doesn’t mean the pain or darkness is no longer there, it just means it no longer has a hold over me. It means I have finally learned, or am learning (it’s a definite process!) to be whole. A lot to learn for a 34-year-old woman.
I never expected to cry so much while watching this theatre production, but it was perfect and for me, so very much needed.
I could go on forever talking about this subject, and maybe I’ll revisit it one day. But for now, I’d like to leave a message for J. K. Rowling – one that she will probably never read – but that doesn’t matter. That is not why I’ve written this.
J. K. Rowling, “One person. All it takes is one person.”
Thank you, from the bottom of my fragile heart, thank you for being that one person. Thank you for giving me hope. Thank you for helping me hold on. Thank you for giving me a Patronus, a spirit guardian. Without you, and your words, I may not have held on, thank you for putting the color back into my life. Thank you for creating a world I can now enjoy with my own children — knowing, hopefully, that although of course they will know darkness in their lives, that it should never be as deep as mine or Harry’s. Thank you for their happiness and joy, the exclamations as they watched the first film will never leave me — those memories of my girls help my Patronus to stay strong. Thank you for helping me make the right choices. Thank you for helping me become “the girl who lived.”
J. K. Rowling – you are my hero. Always <3
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Photos via contributor.