In times of great uncertainty and fear, I always turn to the good book.
I am talking, of course, about Harry Potter.
I’ve been meaning to write about Harry Potter in relation to chronic illness for a long time, but this will be a little different than I envisioned. But now is definitely the time, because my world (living with chronic illness) is suddenly everyone’s world. Everyone is thinking about their health. Everyone’s lives now involve constant decisions, big and small, based on their health. Everyone is getting a look at the isolation that can come with illness, being unable to do things you love, spending a lot of time at home, even losing income for health reasons. Everyone is looking at their health insurance (or bank account, if they aren’t so lucky) and working out how a hospital stay might look for them financially.
Welcome to the club, healthy people. Yup, it’s scary and stressful. And of course, people with chronic illness relating to their immune system are in a league of their own right now. I had a coworker tell me he thought about quitting because coming to work was just too big a risk. But without work, they’d lose their health insurance. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, basically.
But the real world is so much easier to process when seen through the lens of fantasy. And Harry Potter has plenty to talk about. It has some lessons we can carry with us. But perhaps more importantly, it has catharsis. It feels with us. It lets us know we’re not alone, and our feelings are real and valid.
So let’s jump right in.
The first and probably most obvious health topic in the Harry Potter books are Werewolves. Professor Lupin becomes a werewolf as a teen, and models a very real experience of being diagnosed with an incurable disease. He keeps it mostly to himself. He feels isolated. He knows he is a burden. But then, when his friends find out, they go above and beyond to be there for him. They learn to transfigure themselves into animals to join him in his monthly romp in the Forbidden Forest. This was difficult magic (and dangerous rule-breaking) but it wasn’t a burden to his friends (especially not the dangerous rule-breaking part).
This feel-good bildungsroman story comes to an end with the harsh realities of adult life, though. Warning to coming-of-age teens: enjoy your hopeful adventure of growing up, because adulthood will crush you. But it’s ok, it does that to everyone. Lupin faces a lot of stigma, and has difficulty holding a job because of his condition. Hogwarts offers him an opportunity to teach, but even that isn’t a great situation because his coworker in charge of making his potions (essentially his wizarding pharmacist) also hardcore judges him for his condition and even teaches his students how to identify and maybe even murder werewolves (Is Snape hoping misinformation about werewolves will result in violent acts against them? Sounds familiar… like maybe the baseless attacks on Asian-Americans that are going on…)
Even the Weasleys, who know Lupin personally, come off a little judgmental on meeting another werewolf!
“But that fellow over there…bitten by a werewolf, poor chap. No cure at all.”
“A werewolf?” whispered Mrs. Weasley, looking alarmed. “Is he safe in a public ward? Shouldn’t he be in a private room?”
“It’s two weeks till full moon,” Mr. Weasley reminded her quietly. “They’ve been talking to him this morning, the Healers, you know, trying to persuade him he’ll be able to lead an almost normal life. I said to him– didn’t mention names, of course– but I said I knew a werewolf personally, very nice man, who finds the condition quite easy to manage…”
“What did he say?”
“Said he’d give me a bite if I didn’t shut up.”
Hahaaa. Yeah. Sometimes the well-meaning “you’ll be ok” isn’t helpful, especially from someone who isn’t experiencing it themselves.
I think we’ve all spent time thinking about the isolation that would be necessary if we come down with a fever. Maybe you’ve thought about who you would tell, or if you would tell anyone if you got sick. For people with chronic illness, it’s very hard to know when/if to tell people. Once I “came out” about my endometriosis and mental health issues, I felt freer. Much has been written about the song “Let it Go” from Frozen and how it’s an anthem for people with invisible illness, I won’t wax poetic on it, but it’s a big part of life with chronic illness.
One thing about this global crisis that has been a little hurtful to me and others with chronic illness: how much people can actually accommodate illness. Right now, in order to not spread germs, most offices have embraced telework. Working from home is a hard gig to get, I know that first hand. Most businesses want you in an office 9-5, but coronavirus has completely debunked the myth that in-person office work is required in this day and age. It is not a burden. Certainly not if it was intermittent. If I have a chronic illness and I have a flare up and need to work from home for a week, or a few days a week to conserve spoons, why is that idea so radical? Telework: much less extreme than learning to become an animagus.
Finally: stigma. I don’t think I’ve come across a single chronic illness without some stigma attached to it. No matter what you have, you probably shouldn’t have it. What did you do to get sick? Why aren’t you just eating better? You are not trustworthy or reliable, sick is not allowed. We need healthy employees, healthy friends, normal people. Not you. Something is wrong with you. And hey, now healthy people are getting a little dose of their own stigma medicine. How many people have said they’re scared to cough or sneeze right now?
Welcome to our world.
St. Mugo’s, Healers, and Wizarding Healthcare
We visit St. Mugo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in book 5, when Arthur Weasley is attacked by Voldemort’s huge evil pet snake Nagini. We learn that wizard doctors are called Healers, and we notice that there doesn’t seem to be a wizarding cancer ward which makes wizardkind assholes for hiding the cure to cancer from muggles. To be fair to wizards, muggles are sometimes admitted to St. Mungo’s. When wizards set traps/pranks that end up ripping their fingers off. But I digress.
I want to note that Ron’s family is very, very poor. This is often problematic for them, and the books don’t shy away from talking about class inequality and the fact that even magic isn’t enough to keep everyone out of poverty. But not once in this whole ordeal is money mentioned. Arthur stays in the hospital but they are never handed a bill. Do wizards have universal healthcare? It’s also important to note Neville’s parents. Tragically, they live their lives in the mental ward. Neville lives with his grandmother. But Neville is never mentioned to have financial hardships, even though both his parents actually reside in a hospital. In the US, that is a pricey proposition.
St. Mugo’s also has some helpful posters for this covid-19 age, reminding us that “A CLEAN CAULDRON KEEPS POTIONS FROM BECOMING POISONS” and “ANTIDOTES ARE ANTI-DON’TS UNLESS APPROVED BY A QUALIFIED HEALER.”
Keeping clean is important right now. In fact, today we needed groceries and went through the intricate process of sanitizing them per this helpful video:
It might be overkill, but honestly anything to slow down/kill this virus can’t hurt. Plus, like the guy says, we all have a little more time on our hands these days.
And remember that most of the medication Trump is touting are probably ANTI-DON’TS. And you probably need to listen to qualified healers and not take medication from those who need it if you aren’t even sick.
Social Distancing For A Year
So. What was everyone’s least favorite part of the Harry Potter series?
Say it with me:
And reading/watching the camping today is basically watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione social distance. To the extreme. They didn’t even have video games or facebook. They spent most of their time listening to the news about all the terrible things happening in the world. People dying. Society as we know it crumbling. Sound familiar?
Then they had the horcrux locket, that insidious thing that whispered to them and sometimes outright showed them their greatest fears. They shared the burden, taking turns wearing the thing. But still, it caused them to lash out at each other and fight for no reason. Does that sound familiar too?
Right now we’re all wearing the burden of this virus. Sometimes, it weighs on us too heavily, and we snap. We yell at our kids. We wish our significant others would just GO AWAY or BE QUIET or STOP BEING IN MY SPACE. This kind of burden is one that people with chronic illness are a little more used to carrying. But that doesn’t stop it from making us snap at people, too.
Extend understanding whenever possible. If someone you’re quarantined with snaps at you about a little thing, or says something snarky or rude about you out of nowhere, look at them and see the locket on their neck. See the toll these changes are taking on them, see that it affects you too. To reference Frozen one more time, “People make bad choices when they’re mad or scared or stressed. But throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.”
Look for ways to “wear the locket for a while.” Take over watching the kids for a couple of hours and let your significant other read a book or play a video game. If you’re still having to go in to work (like me) pick up shifts for your immunocompromised coworkers. I work at a video store (which is apparently essential) and one of our shift leads has diabetes, which means he’s high-risk. Now, I am not a shift lead, I don’t have a key to the safe, and I can’t open or close the store. But I still insisted he go home. I worked a double in his place, and he just came in to close and lock up once the germy customers were gone. This would not fly in normal times, but these are not normal times. If you’re working, look for ways to make it safer.
It’ll take some outside-the-box thinking, but keep looking for ways to wear the locket for a while. And it goes both ways: if you need a break from the locket, take care of yourself. Read the news later. Get off social media if it’s too saturated with bad news. Check in on yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed: are you hungry? Have you had any water today? Go to bed at a reasonable hour, try not to sleep too much or too little now that time has lost all meaning. And if it’s still not enough, if the locket is still too heavy for you, ask for help. Tell your quarantine buddies you need something. A hug. Some time alone. Some time together playing a game or something. Some motivation. A walk outside together, a walk outside alone.
And it’s ok if you don’t know what you need, too. It’s ok to just say I feel bad right now and I don’t know what I need. Maybe all you needed was for someone to say “yeah. Me too.” and to sit with you in that heaviness.
Because as cheesy and overused as it is, we really are #aloneTOGETHER
The camping will end. The world will have changed a bit. Some of it will be better. Some of it will be worse. But the camping?
Yes. The camping will end.