by Holly Robinson
I always thought of myself as brave when I was younger. I’m not sure what evidence I had for this, maybe just that I was always quite good at standing up to bullies and intervening in injustices that I saw occurring on public transport and when I was in hospital when I was eight, a nurse wrote it on my Mickey Mouse goodbye card. Whatever the reason, I’d decided I was brave – Gryffindor brave, with my Hermione Granger personality– I had the scarf and everything.
I’m not sure where I thought this bravery would lead me – I just kind of felt in my bones that whatever life threw at me, I’d be able to accio up the nerve to face it.
I’m 23 years old now and the brave things I have done this week include: leaving the house two days in a row, reading my university emails for the first time in two months, calling the dentist to arrange a check up to compensate for the six days I spent in bed last month when I didn’t brush my teeth or shower once. I have had been experiencing depression and anxiety for five years now and in that time I have had to radically redefine my definition of bravery. It has been the most humiliating and the most liberating thing I have done in my life. It has been the hardest.
It’s difficult to change your personal definition of bravery when it doesn’t change for anyone else around you. When you proudly say “I woke up for midday today” and a friend raises and eyebrow and says “I’m up at 7 every morning for work”, or when you complain about writing essays over Christmas and a classmate scoffs “wish I could have got an extension” or when you compliment a friend going through a tough time on how well they’re doing and they reply “well, I’m not going to let myself get depressed”.
Because they don’t realise that you’ve spent most nights that week awake until 3am listing all the ways you’re worthless so waking up at 10 was an achievement. And they don’t know that you’d take on a thousand essays not to be ill enough to qualify for an extension. Or that when they say that, they’re making it sound like you let yourself have depression, like it’s a choice, like anyone would choose this absence, this dull terror, this dementor in your chest feeling.
It’s difficult, at 23 to sit in an office with a therapist and have her say “I think the goal of going to the library three times this week is a little much for you, right now. Why don’t you try just trying to get out of bed by eleven, two days this week?” It’s especially difficult when you used to be Hermione Granger’s high achieving, highly productive, Head Girl, brave like a Gryffindor person and now you’re this.
But you know what transformed Hermione Granger from an insufferable know it all to a badass war hero know it all who helped save the Wizarding World? Friends she defeated a mountain troll with. And that – friendship – is the true magic of that story and if you let it, it can be the true magic of your life, too. You surround yourself with people who understand the nerve it takes to leave your room. A best friend who lights up at the fact you read your emails. A flatmate who congratulates you on tidying your room for the first time in 3 weeks without a hint of irony. Parents who are just proud that you made it to therapy today. A boyfriend who reminds you that you wouldn’t run on a broken leg, stop trying to sprint on a broken mind. Your patronuses.
These people push you too, they remind you of all the wonders in the world you were capable of, are capable of, will be capable of; the great friend you can be, the academic heights you can achieve, the dark wizards you can vanquish. You have changed the definition of bravery, for now, because the fight is different. That’s ok, you are still that lion hearted Gryffindor girl. Hold your nerve, grip your wand, it’s going to be ok.