Harry Potter Has Helped Me Cope With My Anxiety — And It Means More To Me Than Ever

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When I think of Harry Potter, I think of bravery. After all, it's one of the defining characteristics of Gryffindor House, and Harry proves to us again and again why he was so perfectly placed there instead of Slytherin. He runs into the Chamber of Secrets, chases after Sirius into the Department of Mysteries, goes on a year-long quest to find the missing horcruxes, and marches off to what he believes may be his own death in the Forbidden Forest. And Harry isn't the only brave Gryffindor.

Bill Weasley is a curse-breaker for Gringotts who continues to fight in the Wizarding War even after he is bitten by a werewolf. Speaking of werewolves, Remus Lupin agrees to a pretty high-profile teaching post at Hogwarts despite major concerns over his condition. Molly Weasley single-handedly stares down Bellatrix Lestrange, Fred and George Weasley stick it to the man at every opportunity, and Dumbledore's the only wizard Voldemort ever feared. I really could go on and on. Gryffindors are veritable badasses. It's right there in the text.

Gryffindors are veritable badasses. It's right there in the text.

I'm a proud member of Gryffindor House, so you'd think that bravery is something I've long associated with myself, too. And in some ways you'd be kind of right. I'm an extrovert at heart — someone who's never been all that afraid of public speaking, or flirting with a crush, or singing karaoke in front of the crowd. The idea that I could be someone who didn't think twice before jumping into some scary new adventure didn't really seem that far away from who I was at the core. But the summer after I turned 28, that all changed.

Anxiety. I had the kind that made it so hard to concentrate I could barely type. It made me dizzy, and trembly. My heart would beat fast, I'd lose my breath completely, and as a result almost everything became scary to me. Small pre-existing phobias became seemingly insurmountable, and I felt tethered to this unstoppable beast inside of me that was turning my every day life into something to be feared. I felt less like a Gryffindor than I ever had before. Despite trying my best to see the side of me that was Gryffindor-worthy, I thought I was losing my connection to that part of myself completely.

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Now, over a year later, I'm mostly on the other side of the anxiety onslaught. One thing I learned is that I was totally wrong about my impressions of Gryffindor and what bravery truly means. Most, if not all, of the bravest characters in Rowling's books are dealing with some sort of anxiety. Hermione is a perfectionist, Ron always feels like he's being overshadowed, Harry is afraid. They were brave, but they weren't perfect.

I felt less like a Gryffindor than I ever had before. Despite trying my best to see the side of me that was Gryffindor-worthy, I thought I was losing my connection to that part of myself completely.

Sure, we tend to remember the times Harry jumped into the Triwizard Maze or followed Dumbledore into that icy lake but, in actuality, being afraid is sort of Harry's M.O. He hesitates to accept Hagrid's offer to take him away to the wizarding world, even though he hates his life with the Dursleys. He is, in fact, so afraid of fear itself that he needs to conjure a Patronus to get rid of it. But here's the kicker: he does he has to do anyway. He saves Ginny Weasley, he gets past the dragon, he faces Voldemort and his own mortality — not because he's unafraid but because he learned that fear was a part of him.

The bravery that Gryffindors possess does not come without caveats — and really, without the fear there would be no reason for them to be brave in the first place. I wasn't less of a Gryffindor because I was anxious and worried and sometimes afraid. Nope, I was even more like the Gryffindor's of J.K. Rowling's magical world. Now, I carry these characters, and this House, in my heart in a totally different way than I did before. I don't have to live up to some unachievable standard of fearlessness. I just have to keep fighting to overcome the fears I do have — because that's what gets Neville to slay the snake, and Ron to follow the spiders, and me to claw my way out of the Devil's Snare of anxiety should it ever creep up around me again.