How To Muggle Your Way Through Mental Illness

I grew up on a literary diet of Narnia, fairy tales and Harry Potter, which instilled in me a firm belief that the world was full of magic. Convinced that I was secretly a magician, I was pretty confident that with enough momentum behind me to unleash my magical powers, I would be able to fly.

The one and only time I tested out my magical flying powers, I ended my victorious jump off the family swing-set with an unceremonious THUD as I landed in a pile of limbs on the unforgiving ground.

Evidently, I do not have an amazing magician inside me just waiting to be revealed. Alas, I am just a garden-variety Muggle.

Like my tragic lack of flying skills, I’ve also had to accept that reality that the medical and psychological world isn’t magical either. While there are some pretty good spells, chants and potions out there (brain scans, talk therapies, and antidepressants—all amazing!), there is still a lot of guesswork involved in working with mental illnesses.

Muggle magicians (aka doctors and psychologists) don’t discover your diagnosis by magical medicine means like scanning your brain or doing a DNA test. No spells to see here; you’ll get diagnosed based mostly on what you can tell them about what life has been like for you, and how you’re acting at the time. Then they’ll consult their book of spells (or “diagnostic manual” for the Muggles amongst us), which will let them know whether the behaviors you’ve described fit into mental illness categories, like “depression” or “generalised anxiety disorder” or “bipolar” and what-have-you. And instead of flourishing a wand to mark the occasion with a momentous spell, the only equipment they require to record your entry into the Land of Cray is a garden variety pen.

So while me and my fellow crays might all have the same diagnosis, what is going on inside our heads, what has caused it, and what might help treat it might be completely different. There are a whole bunch of different things that could lead to you being mentally ill in the here-and-now, and there’s no magical spell to figure out what got you there—something that is hard-wired into my genes for my particular brand of cray could be the unfortunate legacy of never coming to terms with the loss of a parent for someone else.

Since we don’t even know whether people with the same label for their cray even have the same underlying thing wrong with them, that also means there isn’t a magical potion that will fix everyone. The lucky ones get the right treatment straight away, and they may be totally fine for the rest of their lives. But the rest of us Muggles may need to test out a whole bunch of pills, audition a whole cast of counsellors, and look into a whole host of other healing fields before we can find the right treatment regime for keeping us out of cray town.

One of my counsellors used to tell me that belly dancing was a great way to treat major depression—and in my eternal wisdom, I had her pegged as a complete nut-job. How was taking off your top and DANCING in a group of PEOPLE supposed to make you feel anything but fat, unco, and horrifically self-conscious? But it turns out she’s right; for some people, getting their jiggly dance on is a great way to stave off depression.

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For me, what keeps me well is a cocktail of antidepressants, daily meditation, lots of exercise, fancy lipstick, writing, and pep talks from my psychologist—with a hefty dose of support from my friends and family. But for you, running might be the only thing that keeps you on an even-keel, and for someone else, reading self-help books might be the way they claw themselves out of their brain fog.

So what I’m saying, fellow Muggles, is this: You aren’t necessarily going to find a magical beanstalk that will get you back to the Land of Normal. To get well and stay there, your best bet is to keep an open mind about what may help. Finding the right treatment may put you in situations that are uncomfortable for you, like talking about your feelings to a complete stranger. Other treatments may not even work for you. And you are going to have to be the muggle who plays the lead role in your recovery.

We may not have a wand that we can flourish and have everything go back to The Land of the Normal. But what we do have is the wisdom of our forebears. We have thousands of years of philosophy behind us, centuries of medicine, and we have information about how we can cope that is literally just a few key-strokes away. We may only be muggles, but if we keep an open mind, we can create our very own magical toolbox for living with our cray, day by day.

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