Defense Against the Dark Arts: Activism, Mental Health, and Magic

For me, the Harry Potter series is has always been a source of solace when I’m in distress. It’s a series that reminds me, quite literally, that there is still magic to be celebrated in the world.

This year, balancing my own mental health amid a political climate that I’m increasingly uncomfortable in has proven difficult, but not impossible. A great wizard named Sirius Black once said: “We all have got both light and darkness inside us. What matters is the power we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” And that’s been incredibly comforting to me. Despite the darkness we might feel in times of uncertainty, we’ve got light within us — and that’s what truly matters.

Building our own Dumbledore’s Army

"Every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now: students. If they can do it, why not us?” — Harry Potter

When they feel that they’re receiving inadequate instruction on how to protect themselves against the darker forces of the world, Hogwarts students organize. They form a secret club that they affectionately call Dumbledore’s Army and decide to take action — and resist the autocratic Professor Umbridge — by teaching themselves magic.

We can learn from our favorite characters. Feeling powerless over our situation fuels anxiety. Taking action helps to quells it. It doesn't have to be something huge, and it will actually feel a lot less overwhelming if it's not. But by initiating some positive action, however small or large (writing a letter, making a donation, attending a protest), we'll be engaging.

If we play to our strengths, we can better adjust to what can otherwise quickly escalate into anxiety or sadness. So do it!

  • If you’re a writer or filmmaker, write articles or make videos on important issues, convincing the other side or rallying your allies to action.

  • If you’re an artist or photographer, consider selling your work & donating proceeds to an organization you support.

  • If you’re a musician or a songwriter, make your art with a conscience.

  • If you’re a teacher or leader, you can bring social justice into your curriculum or meetings.

  • If you’re a baker, bring cookies to activist meetings and homeless shelters.

Fighting fear with joy

"The charm that repels a boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.” — Remus Lupin

You’re not imagining it. The real world can be scary sometimes, and engaging in activism can be tiring or daunting. But the key is to shape your activism so that it amuses you. Do things that are good for the world but in ways that you personally enjoy. If you call your representatives, you might make a contest out of it with your friends in the same way, and see who can do it the fastest or call the greatest number of representatives. Or you might go out for drinks after a protest or volunteer event.

Battling dementors

“The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive.” — Remus Lupin

Dementors are a kind of dark magic, and they can make you lose your sense of reality or forget most of happy memories. Even Muggles can sense the presence of dementors. In essence, they’re a little bit like mental illnesses (in fact, JK Rowling based dementors off her own battle with depression.

But the most important thing to remember is that with the right tools and support, we can learn how to manage in the darkness. In the wizarding world, it takes time and effort to learn how conjure a Patronus — a way to protect yourself from these dark forces. But it’s always doable. And we can always, as Remus Lupin suggests, eat a little chocolate.

Feeling all the feelings

"There is no shame in feeling what you are  feeling. On the contrary… the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.” — Albus Dumbledore

We’re badass witches, but we’re humans, too. It’s normal to feel great pain or confusion in times of uncertainty.When we feel that we are really struggling, we can reach out, call a lifeline or ask for professional help. Remember, help will always be given at Hogwarts for those who to ask for it. And in any case, we must always engage in self-care.

Rep Image courtesy of Kirsten Burrell