… and the philosopher’s mood stabilizer?

I think I feel “okay?” I don’t really know what that means. I think it’s been two weeks since I felt madly, truly, deeply depressed. Or manic. I feel “okay.” Right now I’m sitting at my desk, listening to music and snarfing down a bowl of popcorn, and that feels fine. I could be doing something different, and that would probably also be fine. Everything is fine.

I have never trusted the radical notions of “okay” or “fine.” “Okay” just sounds like an even more drab variation on “unextraordinary” and “boring.” I have always craved feeling extraordinary. After the initial wave of shame and failure that I felt at being diagnosed with Bipolar II, there was a sneaky, smug little flash of pride.

“Ooh, Bipolar II,” it whispered, excitedly. “How interesting.”

I have always felt a deep desire to be special, to be different, to be other.

Which, hopefully, is the only significant thing I have in common with Lord Voldemort.

Good ol’ Tom Marvolo Riddle is on my mind a lot the past couple of weeks, because the only thing I have wanted to do in my newfound state of “okay” is re-read the Harry Potter series. Specifically, books 5 through 7, my least favorites. Unlike 1-4, I read each one of the final three installments in a starved, frantic hurry at midnight when they were first released and never again.

After recently visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and then falling into hype over the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, I really wanted to be back at Hogwarts. I really, really wanted to be in unadulterated love with Harry Potter again. Because, my goodness, how I once loved Harry Potter. Harry Potter remains the only thing in my life to which I have ever been first on the bandwagon. Thanks to my Grandmother watching an early interview with J.K. Rowling on Oprah, I was absolutely the first student at Harbins Elementary School to meet Harry, Ron, and Hermione. At the fifth grade Book Fair, when all my classmates were clamoring to pick up Sorcerer’s Stone, I was achieving Nerd Badass Status by buying Prisoner of Azkaban.

[Side Quest: Harry Potter is also the source behind the only time I have been considered a “bad influence.” I got in trouble with a classmate’s super Christian dad once for telling said-classmate all about the finer plot points of the books he was no longer allowed to read. Suck it, Mr. Thompson!]

Harry Potter was one of the last things I truly had a chance to love before I started to hate myself. Lord of the Rings hype swallowed me in late middle school and early high school which is also when I started to worry just a little bit about my big buck teeth with the gap in the middle and when boys started to make fun of me to my face. Star Wars had yet to feel like a property that truly belonged to me, plus I came of age in the era of the prequels, so that wasn’t really an option.

But I was a gangly, buck toothed, content elementary schooler when Harry Potter came into my life. I liked to sit outside and write poems about grass, and I had no idea what a “calorie” was. The only thing that had ever broken my heart at that point was the knowledge that elephants are endangered. My parents bought me Beanie Babies and made me feel smart, and I ate a lot of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Best of all, Harry Potter was the only boy for whom I cared.

Hating myself for the past decade has been fucking exhausting. As I get older, I feel so much anger at each past phase of myself for hating that younger woman and not taking better care of her. When I think back about 18-year-old Dani, for example, I both want to punch her in the face, and also give her a hot chocolate and a stuffed animal and anything else she could possibly want if she’ll just forgive me for what I think I did to her.

Harry Potter feels like the literary equivalent of a hot chocolate and a stuffed animal. I’m trying to take advantage of the “okay,” instead of feeding my natural inclination to judge it and mistrust it. I don’t feel tired right now in the heavy, suffocating way I feel tired when I’m depressed. I go to work, I see friends, I do yoga, I live. The tiredness I feel lately is a wearier sort. I feel so tired of the years I have spent being cruel to each possible iteration of myself.

My big fear, though, is (and has always been) this: If the pills are working, if therapy is working, if I’m really better… who am I? Have I ever known? If I don’t experience the extreme mood swings anymore, if I don’t want to die, am I still me? Does it even matter if all I did to myself was act like a dick?

Am I normal now? Do I want that?

Harry Potter helps put “normal” and “abnormal” into pretty easy black and white categories. I mean, I know I don’t want to be like Voldemort, so I guess being normal isn’t so bad. Being as special as Harry doesn’t seem all that appealing either.

Part of what’s amazing and, to me, comforting about the Harry Potter series is the vast scope of the universe. We don’t meet every student at Hogwarts, but there’s hundreds out there, struggling with more mundane, non-lethal problems than Harry and his inner circle ever face. And I bet they’re still probably pretty cool, even if no one ever writes a book about them.

Say, perhaps, a tall Hufflepuff girl who’s favorite subject is Care of Magical Creatures and who spends most of her extracurricular time trying to start the Hogwarts Drama Club?

Yeah, she’s probably pretty cool. It would be okay to hang out with her.

music suggestion: the perfection that is john williams. always.

drink suggestion: if you don’t have access to butterbeer, go with a giant mug of hot cocoa. never forget professor lupin’s insistence on chocolate as a healing agent. 

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