Updated: Oct 3, 2020
A Preamble of Magical Wisdom from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
...the wardrobe gave a sudden wobble, banging off the wall. “Nothing to worry about,” said Professor Lupin calmly because a few people had jumped backward in alarm. “There’s a boggart in there.”
Most people seemed to feel that this was something to worry about. Neville gave Professor Lupin a look of pure terror, and Seamus Finnigan eyed the now rattling doorknob apprehensively. “Boggarts like dark, enclosed spaces,” said Professor Lupin. “So, the first question we must ask ourselves is, what is a boggart?”
Hermione put up her hand. “It’s a shape-shifter,” she said. “It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us most.”
"So the boggart sitting in the darkness within has not yet assumed a form. He does not yet know what will frighten the person on the other side of the door. Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears...
The charm that repels a boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing. We will practice the charm without wands first. After me, please . . . Riddikulus!”
“Riddikulus!” said the class together.
“Good,” said Professor Lupin. “Very good. But that was the easy part, I’m afraid. You see, the word alone is not enough...I would like all of you to take a moment now to think of the thing that scares you most, and imagine how you might force it to look comical. . . .”
~J.K. Rowling, 1999, Chapter 7 – The Boggart and the Wardrobe (pp. 139 – 142)
Nearly two decades ago, I felt these words as I read them. However, it would take more time for my thinking to grasp what my intuition immediately recognized, and my body had already registered. I took another seven years before my own boggart leapt out of the darkness and loomed large enough to bring all normal functioning to a halt for a time. After weeks of attempting to push past my fear, I realized how futile this struggle was, and eventually surrendered to the experience of a spiritual emergency.
For several weeks, negative thoughts that had once frequently nagged at me from the background became increasingly louder and more consistently invaded my foreground. This dark inner realm continued to intrude upon my external existence; I struggled to accomplish tasks that were once normal, everyday functions. Feeling anything but normal, the more preoccupied my thoughts became with fear, the less I was able to concentrate on other things, and the less I was able to accomplish. The less I was able to do, the more anxious I became.
Attempting to go about my life as if I was not carrying this increasingly heavy load only compounded the anxiety, fear, and loneliness. I began sleeping at my parents' home again - the only place in which I felt relatively safe. While I had seen my doctor and had begun a round of antidepressants, it seemed to be too little, too late.
Fewer and fewer things brought me any kind of pleasure or satisfaction. I was stuck in a cycle of despair and felt like a fraud. At work I kept thinking, “I’m not who they think I am.” Anxiety, guilt, and shame became all consuming. My thoughts raced and my body rocked and paced as if to shake off the prickly pangs of fear that would not abate. I was barely eating or sleeping. Soon I came to realize, “I am not who I thought I was.”
I lost my familiar place in the world, and my bearings on how to find my way back. I was completely disconnected from others, myself, and life itself.
I became untethered, losing my sense of self.
Helpless to whatever was happening to me, I couldn’t believe I had ever once felt joy, and couldn’t fathom ever feeling it again. Losing a sense purpose and identity left me with nothing but unbearable pain and sadness. One morning, as I attempted to dress for work, I realized I could not do it. I could no longer go on. In a crumpled heap on the floor, I surrendered and called out for my parents' help.
Just as they had when I was a small child, they rushed in to ease my injury. Dad made the necessary calls and drove me first to my therapist and then to the psychiatric hospital where I was then admitted to their outpatient program. This seemed like the best fit for treatment, since I was not deemed a threat to myself or others. I wasn't self-harming, nor did I wish to die. I had no suicidal ideations. I simply wanted the pain to end. Upon returning home later that day, Mom spoke words of love and comfort, and provided nutritious food as well as opportunities for both rest and directed action in the smallest of tasks.
I took a leave of absence from work and temporarily moved back in with my parents. I made the daily pilgrimage from their home to the hospital each weekday morning for the next month. Diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, my doctor increased my dosage of the anti-depressant medication and added an anti-anxiety medicine and sleep aid to my nighttime routine. My treatment also included daily therapy sessions and classes with other patients as well as daily self-assessments of my mood and cognitive functioning.
The new routine provided small items upon which to focus; each moment I was able to do so was a victory, no matter how small or fleeting. I had little idea at the time just how significant each one of those victories really were. I did know that with them came a new kind of comfort and reassurance, however small or fleeting those feelings were.
I allowed others take care of me as I needed and began to take better care of myself as I was able. Bit by bit, I practiced grounding and gratitude. I created rituals to begin and end my day and practiced compassion. The more I incorporated these and other mindful practices into my life, the more grounded I felt and the clearer my vision became on who I was.
Bit by bit, I examined my fears and assumptions rather than continue to allow myself to be ruled by them. I began to create an observer to my thoughts. As I began thinking about my thinking, I became aware of certain cognitive distortions. My thoughts and words began to shift towards health and wellness. Somewhere in process of all the exploration within this safe container of care, I became more accepting of myself and others.
I was not "all better" by the end of that month in the outpatient program, but the crisis had passed, and my health was being restored. Out of that danger zone of my spiritual emergency, I emerged better rested, body and soul. I was taking better care of myself and reorienting myself to life itself. I was focused on my health, all aspects of it - body, mind and spirit. I kept to tasks that kept me grounded in my new sense of self. In the process, I was becoming a kinder and gentler me.
With a renewed sense of identity and purpose, I returned to work. Some time later, I moved out of my parents house and back in with my housemate. I was stepping back into my life, yet stepping forth with a new reverence for life and my place in it. Over time, that only grew stronger. I grew stronger. I took those new routines and habits back into my reconstructed existence. I felt so much lighter, yet living much more deeply, with a deeper sense of purpose.
Painful as this spiritual emergency had been, I am now grateful for having experienced this transformation, and its gift of a more loving worldview. I also now see how instrumental that fear had been in bringing me deeper into life and deeper into love.
It was fear that had stopped me in my tracks and allowed me to go no further on the path I had been taking. The time had come for me to take a new path, and it was fear that allowed me the opportunity to surrender the old path for a new one.
Like J.K. Rowling's boggart in the wardrobe, fear “has many faces.” I now see ones I had never known before, ones that run counter to current popular views of fear which would have me only see fear as an adversary to be conquered or an obstacle to overcome.
Because of this experience, I understand that while it can be an obstacle, fear can also be a useful tool in healing and transformation.
I see that fear can be an invitation to exploration. As such, I see benefits in listening to fear as if it has something to teach me. I now see that one of the faces of fear is that of a wise teacher. My most crippling fear served me well and taught me much about love.
My experience has left me to wonder what new understandings can be gained in seeing other faces of fear, like that of the knowledgable guide or the sacred servant - in healing, transformation, and love.