Explaining Depression to my Husband with Harry Potter
A few nights ago my husband and I took a long, busy walk today in a long, lazy rain, at my request. I think he only went along with it because he felt bad, because I misinterpreted a tweet he posted and launched myself into a near-panic at work, causing me to come home from work early, causing me to lose money, causing me to feel even more panicked and depressed and angry at myself. It’s a cycle I know all too well–anxiety and depression have been a part of me, working with each other against me, for as long as I can remember. They’re like the twin girls in The Shining–holding hands, looking at me with their dead eyes, and begging me to come play. And when life gets chaotic like it is now, suffice it to say it causes problems in other aspects of my life.
I asked my husband to go on a walk with me because I wanted to talk to him about my depression and anxiety. No matter how much I feel disconnected from the world around me, I’m not so disconnected as to realize when my mental health is affecting my marriage. I wanted to make sure he really understood what’s going on with me lately.
So I asked him, “How much do you know about dementors?”
I grew up with Harry Potter. I read the first book when I was nine, and the last when I was 18. My husband was introduced to it because of my fanaticism just a few years ago, so his response was a shrug and a baffled expression.
Dementors, I explained, feed off of your positive energy. They take it all away from you, leaving you with nothing but the worst memories. You spend enough time with them, I told him, you begin to forget what happiness felt like, and you think you’ll never feel it again.
“Do you know what dementors really are though?” I asked. He just waited for my answer. “They’re depression.”
Fun fact: J.K. Rowling wrote dementors specifically as a metaphorical embodiment of depression, based on her own personal experience with it.
I feel like I have dementors following me around lately. And that’s what I told him: I feel like I can’t remember what happiness really feels like. I know at some point I’ve been happy. Perhaps very happy. Perhaps for long periods of time. But it’s hard to imagine right now, when so much feels like it’s falling apart. Like Rowling said, it is an “absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. […] Depression is very different.”
Depression is like a prison. So I guess in a way, depression is like Azkaban.
There was a blog I wrote a couple years ago on Tumblr, when I was first learning how to talk about my depression, that started like this:
“I can most easily measure the last several years of my life in episodes of depression. I don’t remember where I went, who I met, what I wanted, how I lived, and when—except during the good times, and they have been there. For the most part, though, I remember who I was at any given point by how much or how little I felt human.”
I told my husband, when it’s bad like it is now, I can’t really remember my good memories. Or I can, but I don’t remember what they felt like. I told him, when I feel like I feel now, I can’t imagine ever feeling good things again.
I think maybe he understands a little bit now.
And on some level I know, objectively, that depression doesn’t always feel like that. But when it doesn’t, it’s still there; it’s just that I adjust my life accordingly, enable certain coping mechanisms, find ways to work around it. Like trying to walk down the stairs with a cat weaving between your feet. It’s possible, sometimes almost easy if you’re nimble, but making it down the stairs doesn’t mean the cat wasn’t really there all along.
I also wanted my husband to understand that. I wanted him to realize that this isn’t something that just goes away when I’m having an upswing. “I just want you to know what you’ve gotten yourself into,” I said, “because I worry that it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
It took me until just a couple of years ago to understand that depression and anxiety are a part of me, not just a visitor. It was hard to come to terms with the fact that I would never, ever be rid of them. But maybe not all of it is a part of me. Maybe just the cat between my feet is a part of me–the part that I can work my way around when necessary with varying degrees of difficulty–but the dementor comes and goes. Maybe dementors are secretly cat owners.
I may have gotten off track here.
I guess ultimately my point is that literature can do some amazing things–including lend us the vocabulary to discuss something that seems too big for mere words to capture. My husband and I have been together for over five years now. A speck in the grand scheme of things, I know. But that’s still five years that he’s been dealing with my depression and anxiety, and believe me, he’s seen the worst of it. But I still often feel like my own vocabulary is lacking what it needs to tell him what it feels like. He knows it well, too well I’m sure. He knows what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it screams like. He knows panic attacks at 2:00 in the morning and he knows calling in to work three times in a week due to the sheer inability to get out of bed. But I’m so grateful that there exists literature that will actually help me explain to him what it FEELS like.
My husband and I came home that night, warm and wet and feeling as tired as the slow dripping rain seemed. We peeled off clothes that clung to our skin with the moisture and sat on the couch in our underwear to continue the conversation. He seemed shocked when I told him I was enjoying it. He said it scared him.
But talking about it objectively, and especially giving it a name, helps. Calling my depression a dementor seems silly until I sit down and realize how much weight is lifted from me just by recognizing it as a parasite and realizing that while it is a part of me, it isn’t all of me. It turns out not only does this metaphor help me tell someone ELSE about my depression, but it enables me to help myself understand it in a way that makes me feel like I can handle it, maybe, eventually. Maybe once I’ve had some chocolate.
So I guess I owe good ol’ Jo Rowling a thank you.