How 'Harry Potter' Helped Me Through Anorexia

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

By Leah Oren

Because today is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter, I wanted to share my personal story of how the books greatly shaped my life. Harry Potter was my childhood. I began reading the series in 2006 when I was nine years old. I devoured the first six books in the span of a month and a half (the seventh book had yet to be released). And little did that young girl eleven years ago know how important this series would become to me or the ways it would impact my life.

Harry Potter is what introduced me to my three closest friends growing up, the girl who I played “Hogwarts” with at recess and the ones I stayed up with all night to have a HP movie marathon. It was the tie that bound us together. It was my anchor through an entire year of relentless bullying, my escape from the daily hell of my life, and in those pages, I felt at home. It is what helped me form a better relationship with my dad. After I became obsessed, he decided to read the books. Together, we had our own little book group, attended three midnight move premieres, and took a trip to Universal Studios to visit the Wizarding World.

But Harry Potter’s biggest impact was the strength it gave me to fight through the most difficult struggle of my life: my battle with anorexia.

On January 31, 2012, I was admitted to an inpatient treatment facility for eating disorders. At this point, I had been living with anorexia for close to one year and had lost over 25 percent of my body weight. The eating disorder had become life. I didn’t care about anything as much as I did about the disorder and the control it gave me. Even my obsessive love for Harry Potter was forgotten, deemed far less important than counting calories or making up excuses for skipping dinner.

The hospital was 108 miles away from home and it was one of the first times I would be away for such an extended period of time, feeling like I was on my own. The drive there felt like a dream and even going through the intake process still didn’t feel real – filling out forms, taking my clothes off to be weighed, passing out on the bed when they tried to draw my blood. I watched them search my belongings for contraband, and when I hugged my mom goodbye, I never wanted to let her go. It all still seemed like it couldn’t possibly be happening.

Later that evening, after I watched my mom walk out of the locked hospital unit and spent more than an hour eating an egg salad sandwich for dinner, it all began to hit me. This was all truly real. I was stuck here with no way out. No choice, but to give up the disorder and do the thing that scared me most in the world: eat.

I felt so alone. I didn’t know the nurses by name like the others did. All the other girls on the floor were still strangers to me. There were no friendly faces, no one’s arms I felt it would be safe to cry in. And with my family far away, I felt, for the first time in my life, abandoned. There was nothing familiar for me to hold onto.

With tears in my eyes, my emotions threatening to overflow and spill down my cheeks, I began to wander the halls of the facility, exploring the space that would become my home for the next couple of months. I found my way to the lounge, a room with couches and blankets, board games and movies. It was a comfy place, a home away from home, a spot for cuddling up on those really hard days.

Being the bookworm that I was, I was instantly drawn to the bookshelf on the wall, a little makeshift library with a whole array of genres mashed together. I scanned the hardcovers and paperbacks and, almost instantly, my eyes were drawn to one. A thick volume with the spine light and dark green, swirled into one with that far too familiar font in purple up the side. It was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And in that moment, my soul was at peace. In an unfamiliar place, both physically and emotionally, I found my safe place. I picked the book up off the shelf and hugged it to my chest.

Over the next couple of days, as I was confined to my room and hooked up to a machine to monitor my heart that was beating far too slowly, I began to feel less alone. Not just because the girls on the unit were becoming my friends, but because I had something familiar to hold on to: the words of J.K. Rowling and the Wizarding World.

When I was woken for vitals at 6 a.m. every morning and still couldn’t believe my reality, I had the choice to escape my world and visit the world of HP instead – to dive back into the loving home of the Weasley’s or the enchanted castle of Hogwarts. When I had a particularly hard meal and needed to block out Ed’s angry demands, I could enter the warm embrace of Jo’s familiar words and instantly be in my happy place.

Harry Potter was my sanctuary, my safe space. The Wizarding World was my distraction, my escape. In those pages, I was protected. The following six weeks were the most difficult moments of my life. But having the Harry Potter books to find solace in helped to remind me of the wise words “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” And I learned what they say is true: Hogwarts will always be there to welcome me home.

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