Enduroman Run to Max- my first ever 48 hour race!!

Last weekend, I took part in an event called Enduroman Run to the Max which was my first ever 48 hour event.  WOW!  The whole atmosphere was amazing- there were people running everything from a half marathon to continuous triple Ironman and it was amazing to meet so many awesome people.  I was a bit nervous before the event- I’d never run more than 100 miles before or longer than 36 hours and it seemed a big jump but was also was massively excited to give it a try.  And I absolutely LOVED it!!  Such an amazing experience and didn’t seem like 48 hours at all.  Genuinely enjoyed nearly every minute of it and can’t wait to try another 48 hour event.  And amazingly, came second overall and first female!!  No idea how that happened but seriously was the most amazing event I’ve run in a really long time and loved (nearly) every second.

It was a lapped race which meant that straightaway, there was no chance of getting lost which was a massive relief and took out a lot of the stress.  Each lap was 1.1 miles which I thought was going to be really difficult mentally to manage the same mile over and over but the course was so varied (and hilly!) that it seemed like WAY longer than a mile and probably was given the elevation- 100ft per mile which worked out to 12 000 feet over the whole weekend: nearly three times Ben Nevis!  Scenery was seriously awesome though and definitely worth the extra effort.

I drove down to the New Forest after work and arrived about 8pm.  I started running pretty much straightaway so I could get a few laps in daylight before needing a headtorch.  It was raining lightly but not too bad, and felt really nice to be running on trails again.  The first part of the lap was mostly downhill then gentle undulating trail before the mega hills in the last part of the lap which seemed to get steeper every time!  The first part was like running through a rainforest though and really enjoyed it, so beautiful and natural.  Then it opened up into some tall trees and around the lake before up into woods again and back to the start.  Challenging but beautiful!

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The first few hours passed pretty quickly- was chatting to a few people on the route and listened to David Bowie for most of the first night, working my way through most of his early albums from Space Oddity to Heroes.  Felt really chilled and relaxed, and really helped to get into the rhythm of the run.  I didn’t really have a plan for sleep or fuelling (bad mistake I know!) and decided to see how I felt.  I didn’t feel tired at all so didn’t need to have a rest and had a couple of cereal bars to keep going.  At 20 miles, I stopped for coffee and porridge which became a 20 mile ritual that I really looked forward to by the end of the race!

It rained pretty much constantly for the first night but eased off a bit by dawn.  It was surprisingly mild though and didn’t need a jacket which was weird for me, I’m usually freezing!  It was a relief when it started to get light though and I love the feeling of running into a new day.  The rain had meant that the forest felt damp and Narnia-like which was awesome to run through although I wasn’t a fan of the midges!!  I’d moved on from Bowie to Alanis Morissette by this point and spent the next few hours working my way through all of her albums from Jagged Little Pill to havoc and bright lights.  It felt a bit surreal- it was like I’d grown with Alanis through most of her albums and was feeling a bit weird by the end so switched to Harry Potter audiobooks to reset a bit.

At 40 miles, I stopped again for coffee and porridge before heading back out.  The sun came out for a bit in the afternoon which was nice to dry off and heat up again, and Saturday passed pretty uneventfully.  I still didn’t feel tired so carried on running, and it was really cool to watch the Ironman swimmers in the lake.  Massive kudos for outdoor swimming in the morning rain!  Can’t really say much about Saturday because to be honest, the whole weekend is a bit of a blur but I know I enjoyed it and definitely listened to Blackadder Goes Forth on audiobook which made me laugh A LOT and was a definite boost.  The other completely unexpected boost came from my dad who appeared randomly with six cans of diet Coke!  Which were definitely needed towards the end of the race…  I realised by 9pm that I’d been running over 24 hours so should probably take a rest so I had a quick ‘nap’ for about an hour, didn’t sleep much of it but good to lie down.  My legs started to get sore when I got up again so had some paracetamol, more coffee and porridge then headtorch on and back out.  I was freezing and already wearing layers so a lovely woman called Karen lent me her coat for the night which really, really helped along with several pairs of gloves!

The second night was a bit more surreal and creepy.  The rain had left a lot of fog which was hard to run through in the dark because the light from the headtorch kept bouncing off it.  It was also a lot quieter on the trail- most people seemed to be sleeping in the night section so hardly saw anyone out on the course.  I did get a bit scared but a couple of awesome friends were keeping in touch via text which really, really helped.  And once I’d got more used to the dark, fog and creepy trees which was bit Blair Witch-like, it was kind of beautiful with the full moon and no clouds.  Was definitely relieved when the sun came up again though!

I’d nearly finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by the morning and was relieved that the creepy cave scene happened when it was light instead of running in the dark!  Stopped again for more coffee and porridge, and kept running.  Nothing massively exciting to write about except that I was still really enjoying it and feeling more relaxed and calm than I have done in literally months.  My brain was quiet for once, no anxiety at all and mood felt pretty stable.  Whatever chemicals the brain releases in an ultra need to be bottled into medication, it’s bloody awesome!!  Works a million times better than any medication combination I’ve tried.

Finally reached 100 miles at about midday which was a massive achievement since it was the furthest I’d ever run and the terrain was seriously tough to run.  I stopped for coffee and porridge (with peanut butter this time!) and it felt very weird to carry on running past 100!  I realised I only had a few hours left which felt really surreal and kind of sad because I was still loving the whole experience and didn’t want it to end.  By 44 hours though, the lack of sleep started to kick in and the trees around me started to move slowly and strangely, and there was lava creeping over the path.  The toilet block was also moving and the ground kept coming up towards me.  I took another break at the end of that lap and lay down for half a hour which really helped and the world went back to ‘normal’, or as normal as it can be when you’ve been running 44 hours straight!

I finished finally about 8pm after 110 laps- 121 miles!!!!  Officially the furthest I have ever run and considering how tough the terrain was, I’m seeing it as a MASSIVE achievement.  And not just the running- I was careful about remembering to fuel every few miles (porridge every 20 miles without skipping any, and cereal bars or peanut butter in between), took medication while running (including aripiprazole although I only had a smaller amount of quetiapine), chatted to lots of awesome people and had a genuinely amazing time.  And, incredibly, I came second overall and was first female!!  No idea how that happened but it was such an amazing weekend 😀 thank you so much to everyone at Enduroman for organising such an incredible event and can’t wait to run it again next year!!

Explanations and Anxiety

Seem to spend way too many posts apologising for not writing recently!  But yeah, it’s another apology post…sorry!!  Haven’t been feeling great again recently and got ridiculously intense anxiety at the moment which is HORRIBLE and getting in the way of basically everything.  Kind of a long story and won’t go into too much detail but in brief: went to GP, got prescribed lorazepam (on top of sertraline, quetiapine and aripiprazole) and it really didn’t agree with me, was hallucinating and losing hours at a time with no memory which isn’t great when you work in a school, back to GP and got signed off work for a week to stabilise, having pretty major anxieties at school and panic attacks so not in lessons at the moment and doing lots of office-based work instead.  Not fun and genuinely the worst anxiety I’ve ever had.  No idea what’s triggering it but it’s horrible.

I’m trying to see it as Voldemort entering my mind again which for me is the only way really I can make sense of it.  I wrote about this a while ago in Occlumency but basically I try to imagine the negative thoughts and horrible urges as Voldemort planting thoughts in my brain like he does with Harry in Order of the Phoenix, and it’s not actually ‘me’.  Which would be a massive relief because I hate this part of me SO MUCH but I’ve recently lost some very close friends by being too negative and self-critical so I can’t even bloody hate myself properly because of it which is making me feel horrible and trapped. But anyway, back to Occlumency…

I’m trying to focus on the idea that the thoughts aren’t actually ‘me’ which should (in theory) make me feel less guilty about them and be able to challenge them more easily.  I’m really not there yet but that’s the aim, and then I can start to ‘close my mind’ to them the same way that Harry tries to with Occlumency and the mental exhaustion he feels is definitely something I can relate to.

I know this isn’t the most interesting or groundbreaking post; I’m genuinely feeling rubbish and shaky pretty much constantly atm and EVERYTHING is making me cry or have a mini meltdown so I’m kind of impressed it sort of makes sense at all!  Will try to write more detailed posts when my brain is less fuzzy and jittery…

Horcruxes

Just a short post today because my brain is frazzled, I’ve been awake pretty much consistently for the last four days, got up at 2am this morning and keep needing to remind myself where I am, why and what day it is!  Been a bit of a stressful week, feeling rubbish and getting meds withdrawals (on day five without them) so actually writing this feels like processing thoughts through peanut butter but I really want to get one last Harry Potter post in before the Cursed Child release at midnight tonight!!

So, Horcruxes.  I realise this is a bit of a random topic to write about but the more I’ve been thinking about the bitch in my head and how I’m trying to manage her constant arguments and influence, the more I’m realising that it’s closer to the concept of Horcruxes than I’ve ever thought about.  It’s taken a while to conceptualise the horrible thoughts, urges and brain arguments as anything other than just ‘me’ being a horrible person and for the last year or so, I’ve seen it as a ‘bitch in my head’ (see Inside my head… for a proper explanation about that) and she has direct access to my thoughts, feelings and urges which I need to identify and try to manage, and one of the ways I’ve found useful for that is through Occlumency and other strategies from Harry Potter which I wrote about in Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, Part One: HARRY POTTER.

Thinking about that made me realise that the bitch in my head is actually close to a Horcrux- a part of someone else’s soul which is evil and sometimes takes control of my thoughts and emotions in a way that I don’t like but, importantly, it ISN’T PART OF ME.  This is really, really important as a way of conceptualising it which has taken a long time to actually accept and try to believe- when I have paranoid, obsessive thoughts about other people or about myself, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a horrible person because I try really hard not to act on the thoughts/urges and I don’t want them in my head, and that means that there must be a ‘me’ outside of those thoughts/feelings/urges that ISN’T weird, obsessive or horrible and that’s the part I want to keep and is actually ‘me’.

Not sure if that makes sense?  I started to realise it after a conversation with a friend I’ve known for years but don’t get to meet up with that often, and who is someone I really look up to and trust.  We met for coffee a couple of months ago and she was talking about spirituality and the idea of a ‘still space’ inside you which is the part you need to connect with and that doesn’t judge or anything like that, and I really liked the concept even if I still don’t fully understand it.  When I knew her ten years ago, she recommended Paulo Coelho’s books which I read and loved, especially Veronika Decides to Die and Eleven Minutes which taught me that it’s OK to be different and not fit in, and that ‘normal’ is relative and actually conformity is the worst thing people can do because it goes against the natural ‘self’ and who you actually are.  There are so many amazing quotes from those books and I’ll list a few which I found really useful at that time (and still do now):

“You have two choices, to control your mind or to let your mind control you.”

“Haven’t you learned anything, not even with the approach of death? Stop thinking all the time that you’re in the way, that you’re bothering the person next to you. If people don’t like it, they can complain. And if they don’t have the courage to complain, that’s their problem.”  (THIS IS SO IMPORTANT AND TRUE!)

“We all live in our own world. But if you look up at the starry sky – you’ll see that all the different worlds up there combine to form constellations, solar systems, galaxies.”

“When I took the pills, I wanted to kill someone I hated. I didn’t know that other Veronikas existed inside me, Veronikas that I could love.”  (Kill the Horcrux, not yourself)

“At every moment of our lives, we all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss.”

“That’s why I’m telling you: don’t get used to it, because it’s very easy to become habituated; it’s a very powerful drug. It’s in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams. Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial. Or cowardice. However much we may reject it, we human being always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives.”  I’ve put part of this in bold because when I first read it aged 19, I could identify with it so strongly and wrote an intense diary entry about it which I’ve since lost which is maybe a good thing but I would be interested to re-read it.  Definitely worth a blog post at some point…

Having written out those quotes, I really want to re-read Paulo Coelho now and I think it deserves several blog posts of its own!  But the point I’m trying to get clear in my head is that ten years ago, the realisations I got from reading Paulo Coelho probably set the framework for the way I’m thinking about the bitch in my head and Horcruxes now, and it’s amazing how your thought processes can grow and develop over your lifetime.  The recent conversation with my friend (which was actually one of the first proper conversations I’ve had with her in ten years which is pretty incredible considering how much I’ve learned from her and how much she’s influenced how I view my life probably without even realising it) has helped to solidify it and she mentioned some more spirituality-type books which I’m going to read and hopefully be able to learn from…  I really like the idea of connecting with a part of ‘you’ which isn’t the obsessive, paranoid part and I think it’s similar to the way you sort of ‘zone out’ in a good way during long runs and get an amazing feeling of freedom and calm- trying to learn to manage that without having to run 40 miles first!

Sorry this is a bit of a rambling post, brain really not focussing clearly at the moment but I wanted to try to explore a bit the idea of Horcruxes and how Occlumency can be useful in trying to stop the direct access to thoughts and emotions.  It links to Paulo Coelho because it’s a lot like mindfulness- focussing on the present, trying to ‘close your mind’ to paranoid or obsessive thoughts, not fixating or focussing on them.  Harry uses mindfulness consciously in Deathly Hallows when he tries to stay fully ‘present’ as a way to stop Voldemort being able to access his mind and to manage pain or intense emotions that aren’t his own, and this is really useful to learn from and apply in a DBT-type way to managing thoughts or intense emotions from the bitch/Horcrux in your head.  Will try to expand on it when my brain’s a bit more functional but wanted to introduce it as a concept!  Hope at least some of it makes sense 🙂

Reality and consciousness in the Harry Potter series: another academic-type essay!

J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series hinges around the final chapters of the seventh book, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’- ‘The Forest Again’ and ‘King’s Cross’.   At the end of his conversation with Dumbledore in King’s Cross, Harry says to him, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”, to which Dumbledore replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, p.579). This exchange seems to epitomize the series as a whole and bring up one of the main questions- that of what is ‘real’ and what is illusory or imagined. In this essay, I am going to look at ideas around what ‘reality’ means in the world of J.K. Rowling’s novels, how that affects the identity of the characters and the series as a whole, and focus finally on the ‘King’s Cross’ chapter of the final book. I have included a brief synopsis of the series and characters as an endnote.

The most obvious aspect of the Harry Potter series relating to the concept of reality is the presentation of different ‘worlds’ throughout the series, which should be clarified before analyzing the series itself. This has been interpreted in various ways by different critics, and I am going to examine the different viewpoints and attempt to find examples to support the view that J.K. Rowling has created a ‘fantasy’ world which contains various sub-worlds representing different key themes and ideas in the novels.

The first, most obvious distinction is the difference between the world of the reader and the world of the novels. The world of the reader is experienced by the reader outside of the books and which shapes the concepts of reality and identity. For the purposes of the essay, I am going to assume an objective, external world, the experiences of which create a person’s unique perception and identity, and imagination which allows a person to ‘transcend’ the world they live in. The world of the novel is a creation in itself, and functions through the writing to form a world separate from the experiences of the external world.

The Harry Potter series is different to many other ‘fantasy’ (the word ‘fantasy’ is used loosely as J.K. Rowling does not consider her books to be ‘fantasy literature’ and they do not adhere to traditional fantasy guidelines) series as it portrays two worlds, magical and non-magical within the same global space. In the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series, Middle Earth is a new world in its own right, and in the Narnia series, Narnia is a separate world accessible only through ‘gateways’ from our world, whereas in the Harry Potter books, both worlds exist side by side. This leads to different problems relating to the ‘reality’ of the novels than other series as it requires a total suspension of disbelief. Because of this, I think it is important to distinguish between the world of the reader and world of the novels before looking at the novels themselves and their own concepts of reality.

In an essay called ‘Three Worlds’, Suman Gupta examines the idea of different worlds with the Harry Potter series. In a similar way to that which I have described, he writes that “The Harry Potter books play deliberately and self-consciously with three worlds: the Magic World, the Muggle world, and…our world”. His interpretation is slightly different, as he says in the next paragraph that “our world in implied through both these worlds”. I would argue that ‘our world’ is not “implied”- the fact that J.K. Rowling was a British novelist writing on Earth influenced her choice to set her ‘fantasy’ world in the U.K. rather than a conscious choice to imply aspects of ‘our world’, and the world of the novels he creates is separate from any implications. Rather than three ‘equal’ worlds, I think “our world” is equal to the world of the novels, and within that are the two sub-divisions of the “Magic world” and the “Muggle world” as it would be difficult to make a parallel from an external world to a fictional world without qualifying how it was created.

Gupta then discusses the “Muggle world” represented in the novels, and compares the Dursley household to “microcosm” of the Muggle world as a whole, saying that they are “bound to represent something general”. This is not necessarily true, as we see other Muggles in the novels such as Hermione’s parents who do not “shun” magic, even though they, like the Dursleys and most other Muggles, “desire to live in a causally explicable world” (Gupta, ‘Three Worlds’). Gupta describes the magic and Muggle worlds as “mutually definitive” as he writes that “The Muggle world that is presented exists as complementing the Magic world”. This is again not necessarily true- the reason we do not see as much of the Muggle world as the wizarding world is that we see events through Harry’s eyes, who is a wizard, which supports the view that J.K. Rowling is advocating the idea of reality existing from a ‘personal’ perspective, and that a person’s perceptions create their own identity and reality, which is linked to the idea of free will which I will explore in another section. The Muggle world is not “presented as though to draw the reader away from it and into the Magic world”; they are two separate but co-existing worlds within the world of the novel which necessarily interact as people inhabit both but have separate laws and customs, in a similar way to the way in which countries exist in the same ‘global space’ but are separate entities in themselves. Gupta’s point that the Muggle world acts as a “focalizing device” could be true in terms of the literary writing, but in terms of the worlds within the novel, they are not interdependent. Because they inhabit the same global space, they two worlds necessarily interact. An example of this is the chapter ‘The Other Minister’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ where the Minster for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, has a meeting with the Muggle Prime Minister because events happening in the wizarding world are affecting Muggles such as Dementors causing fog and mist in July and murders. This scene also shows the reaction of Muggles towards wizards- the Prime Minister says that “For a time he had tried to convince himself that Fudge had indeed been a hallucination”.

Some similar ideas are discussed in ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, by Travis Prinzi. In Chapter Two, he quotes J.K. Rowling as saying that the wizarding world is “a world within a world that you can see if you happen to belong”, which shows the idea that the wizarding world is a part of the world created within the novel, and is separate from the Muggle world (which is another aspect of that world) as you can only be a part of the wizarding world if you belong to it by having magical powers. Prinzi describes this as an “ontological break between the Wizarding and Muggle words” (Ch.2 ), which is true as “witches and wizards will never be Muggles, and Muggles will never be witches and wizards”. This view seems to fit the series better than Gupta’s argument, as the two worlds are portrayed as separate but parallel in the novels as opposed to interdependent. The concept of reality is complex because within the fictional world of the novel, it is important to distinguish between the Muggle and wizarding worlds which are equally ‘real’ and then it is possible to explore the issues of reality, illusion, imagination and identity within that world. Platform Nine and Three Quarters at King’s Cross station in London acts as a ‘way into’ the magical world, as only wizarding people know how to access the train that takes them from Muggle London to Hogwarts. Rubeus Hagrid’s answer to Harry’s question about finding wizarding place is London of “If yeh know where to go” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, p.53) illustrates the parallel worlds of Muggle and magical.

Another important theme to consider when looking at problems of reality and consciousness in the Harry Potter series is the link between consciousness and reality. For John Locke, the ‘self’ comes directly from consciousness and this forms the basis of his concept of personal identity, which is that a person’s thoughts and actions constitute the identity of that person. He distinguishes personal identity as different from identity in general as he sees ’humans’ (or physical bodies) as separate to ‘people’ as he thinks that the term ‘human’ refers to another biological animal whereas a ‘person’ has an identity of their own different to the identity of animals and plants, which is defined in physical terms. He does not, as Aristotle and Descartes state, think that personal identity is the same as the soul because for him, a soul is another substance. Instead, he concentrates on the question of how the idea of personal identity can relate to being a human. He defines person as distinct to simply human as it encompasses the idea of reason and the power to be conscious of itself through time, which is different to simply being able to think. He also seems to link this idea with memory as he says “memory or consciousness of past actions”, and equates this with the idea of the ‘self’ as that of which a person is conscious which persists through time.

As a contrast, David Hume thought that there could be no innate personal identity. Being an empiricist, he agreed with Locke that a person sees themselves as the same person they experienced at a time in their memory, but instead of drawing the conclusion that there is an intrinsic personal identity, he says that the sense of personal identity is caused by the memory rather than depending on it. He argued in a similar way to Heraclitus that everything changes, and so do people. For him, the idea that a person is the same as they were in a time that they remember is caused by the fact that they remember, not an identity proved by memory. His argument has been called the “bundle theory”, because he sees people as ‘bundles’ of properties. Unlike Locke’s concept of ‘properties’, for Hume this encompasses everything about a human, including their thoughts, feelings and experiences, which are not necessarily linked, and therefore cannot constitute a personal identity. What we perceive to be a ‘self’ is really just a collection of experiences and ideas which make up a human being; there is no intrinsic ‘I’.

This is interesting to explore in the context of the Harry Potter novels because of the relation between Harry and Voldemort’s identities. In ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, Harry has a series of dreams and visions in which he ‘sees’ places he has never been to and feels emotions unrelated to how he is feeling at the time which he realizes are linked to Voldemort. From Locke’s view, the fact that he is having the same consciousness as Voldemort would mean that he has Voldemort’s identity at those times since his feelings, experiences and consciousnesses are those of Voldemort. This view does not fit the novels, since J.K. Rowling writes explicitly about souls and their importance to personal identity, which I will examine in another section. Locke’s view is interesting in looking at the way in which Voldemort uses the connection between his and Harry’s minds to control and influence his thoughts. Near the end of the book, he plants a vision in Harry’s mind that his godfather, Sirius, is being tortured in the Department of Mysteries. Harry takes this to be true and according to Locke’s view this would be true for him at the time because he is conscious of ‘seeing’ and experiencing that at the time even though it is not happening in the reality of the novel.

In an essay called ‘Why Won’t Voldemort Just Die Already: What Wizards can teach us About Personal Identity’, Jason T. Eberl writes about the concept of Harry and Voldemort sharing consciousnesses. He observes that “At the time of each experience, they share the same consciousness and will have the same memory of the event…Thus, since for Locke and Hume consciousness and memory are the foundation of personal identity, the conclusion apparently follows that Harry and Voldemort are one and the same person when they share these experiences” (‘Harry Potter and Philosophy’, Ch.15). This raises several problems, both in the context of the novels and in the context of personal identity. Eberl goes on to argue that since they only share their consciousnesses at certain moments in time, they are not truly identical because, according to Leibniz, “for any two things to be identical, they must share all and only the same properties”, whereas Harry and Voldemort have different memories and experiences of other events.

J.K. Rowling uses the idea of illusion in her writing. Since the novels are (mainly) written from Harry’s perspective, the reader sees events from Harry’s point of view which can be flawed and since we do not see all the events in the novel, we are often given a false impression. The main example of this is the portrayal of Severus Snape. In the first book, Harry (and the reader) believes that Snape is trying to kill him whereas in reality it was another wizard. This is a microcosm of the series as a whole, where the reader is presented scenes in which Snape would appear to be working for Lord Voldemort. In the fourth and fifth books, we see Snape working for Dumbledore in the Order of the Phoenix, but Harry (and the readers through Harry’s eyes) does not trust him. At the beginning of the sixth book, we see what appears to be Snape showing his “true allegiance” when he makes an Unbreakable Vow to help fulfil Lord Voldemort’s orders. Bellatrix voices the reader’s doubts when she says “Oh, he’ll try, I’m sure…the usual empty words, the usual slithering out of action” (‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, Chapter Two) but the final paragraph of the chapter seems to convince both her and the reader: “Bellatrix’s astounded face glowed red in the blaze of a third tongue of flame, which shot out of the wand, twisted with the other, and bound itself thickly around their clasped hands, like a rope, like a fiery snake.” Through the novel, we see Snape working both for Dumbledore and for Voldemort which increases the ambiguity of where his allegiance is but the scene near the end of the novel seems to confirm the suspicions from the beginning where Snape kills Dumbledore. The ambiguity is extended through Rowling’s writing as Snape and other Death Eaters face Dumbledore, and then the line “Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face” (HBP, Ch.27) sets up the killing of Dumbledore. In the end, the reader discovers that Dumbledore had planned his death at the hands of Snape to fulfil part of a ‘greater plan’, which introduces one of the main (but unknown until the final chapters) themes of the series- that nothing happens independently and everything is part of a larger plan. This implies that there is a greater ‘reality’ than the external world Harry lives in, which will be explored in the King’s Cross chapter.

A subject closely related to ideas about consciousness and identity is that of dreams linked to desires. After Harry has discovered the Mirror of Erised, which shows “what is the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.12), Dumbledore reminds him that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”, which is another common theme in the books. The symbolism of mirrors in significant in the series because they represent more than just reflecting appearances and reflect aspects of characters.

The Mirror of Erised is a good example of this. Dumbledore tells Harry that the Mirror reflects “neither knowledge nor truth” and that “men have wasted away before it…not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible”(‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, p.157). The mirror represents an illusion which confuses the perception of reality and allows human greed and ambition to overtake reason. An essay called ‘”Interpret Your Findings Correctly” Harry’s Magical Self-Discovery’ by David Jones from the book ‘Hog’s Head Conversations’ edited by Travis Prinzi examines this idea further. He describes the mirror as a “means for manipulating the senses” (‘Hog’s Head Conversations’, p.193) which is interesting because it brings up both the idea that mirrors do not represent truth and the idea that the senses are not totally reliable, which is relevant in the context of this essay because questioning the validity of the senses is linked to how we perceive the external world. Although Harry knows that what he sees in the mirror cannot be ‘real’, it becomes an obsession for him and he returns several times before he is stopped by Dumbledore. The idea of desire overtaking reason or possibility can also be seen in his (and others’) obsessive thoughts about the pursuit of the Deathly Hallows in Book 7, where the search for the three objects that ‘conquer death’ consumes all his thoughts and has consumed the thoughts of Dumbledore, Voldemort and others before them. It again brings up the question of whether ‘death’ is an inevitable part of human life which is questioned throughout the series or whether, as Dumbledore says in King’s Cross, “Of course this is happening inside your head” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, p.579) and all that exists is illusory. Jones writes that “The mirror distorts reality by reflecting fantasy back to its subject” (p.194) and the mirror can be seen as a symbol that hints towards the idea that reality is not necessarily ‘real’ and what is seen through the senses can be ‘distorted’.

The concept of imagination is very important when thinking about reality and illusion. In an article called ‘Kant and Coleridge on Imagination’, Robert D. Hume outlines Kant’s concepts of reality and the cognitive process. He writes that “’Reality’ Kant defines as a category of the Understanding” which implies that ‘reality’ for an individual is related to the way in which the external world is perceived or interpreted subjectively. This would seem to fit with Dumbledore’s reply in King’s Cross that “Of course it is happening inside your head” if everything we experience is interpreted subjectively, and “why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” reflects the idea that reality comes from our ‘Understanding’.

Later on in the article, Robert D. Hume says that “Imagination…is then the very ground of our having a world of experience at all, for without its mediation between Sensibility and Intellect there could be no applications of categories to possible objects of experience”, which shows how important the imagination is in the formation of our experience of the external world. J.K. Rowling creates a fantasy world which engages the imagination in a way similar to that of Kant’s “free-play” of the imagination (‘Critique of Judgement’), which in turn allows a reader to reflect on the events within a created world objectively.

An essay called ‘The Well-Ordered Mind: How Imagination Can Make Us More Human’ by Travis Prinzi from ‘Hog’s Head Conversations’ examines different ideas about imagination in relation to the Harry Potter novels. He begins the essay by describing the moral imagination of Russell Kirk, which he explains as the idea that “the imagination has the power to change ourselves and the world around us for the better” (‘Hog’s Head Conversations’, p.103) which again brings up the idea that imagination of different for each person and, in this context, can influence people’s individual worlds. He quotes J.K. Rowling’s usage of a Plutarch quotation in a speech: “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality” and this seems to be another motivation for the events of the Harry Potter novels- Harry’s choice to sacrifice himself and, as Prinzi points out, purify his soul leads to his ‘reincarnation’ and Voldemort’s downfall. Morality is an important part of the Harry Potter series and can be epitomized in Minerva McGonagall’s reply to a Death Eater that her priority is “the difference between truth and lie, courage and cowardice” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, p.477). The emphasis on morality again seems to point to a ‘greater reality’, which is implied throughout the novels.

In ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, Dumbledore refers to “the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wild guesswork” (p.187) which seems to illustrate the way in which memory is depicted in the novels. Memory is an important idea in all seven books, and we are first introduced to it in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ where we are told that Harry’s first memory is a flash of green light which we later discover was the curse the Lord Voldemort used on him as a baby. The idea of memory becomes more significant in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. The diary of Tom Riddle contains memories “recorded…in a more lasting way than ink” (‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, p.179). When Riddle comes out of the diary, he describes himself as “A memory…Preserved in a diary for fifty years.” (p.227). Unlike a ghost, he is a “tall, black-haired boy…strangely blurred around the edges…not a day older than sixteen”(p.227) whose existence depends on the diary; when Harry destroys it, Riddle’s ‘memory’ is also destroyed. Later in the series, we discover that the diary was a Horcrux where Lord Voldemort (Tom Riddle) had hidden a part of his soul which took the form of memory when it came out of the diary’s pages. By linking the ideas of soul and memory, Rowling is implying that a person’s soul or identity depends at least partly on their memories which is consistent with John Locke’s view of personal identity.

The main way in which memories occur in the novels is through the use of the Pensieve. Dumbledore explains to Harry that “One simply siphons off the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links”. Harry is able to experience these memories firsthand by going into the Pensieve, which makes Locke’s view problematic because he is experiencing and having consciousness of something from Dumbledore’s mind and following Locke’s argument, this would mean that he has taken on Dumbledore’s identity. This seems to contradict the link between memory and soul made in the second book, unless memories do not necessarily entail the idea of souls. Voldemort’s Horcruxes are unusual (Dumbledore describes them as ‘beyond the usual evil’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), and most memories might not be linked directly to the soul of the person they belong to, which could account for examples such as memory loss or unreliable memories.

An example of unreliable memory comes from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’. Harry witnesses a memory from Horace Slughorn in which Tom Riddle asked about Horcruxes and Slughorn refused to answer. Dumbledore tells Harry that is has been edited, because “He has tried to rework the memory to show himself in a better light” (p.348) and when Harry manages to get the true memory out of Slughorn, he realizes that the actual conversation was much longer and more complex than the first memory had shown. This example illustrates how memories do not necessarily reflect reality, and the consequences of their subjectivity.

In his essay, Jason Eberl discusses Hume’s concept of memory forming the basis of personal identity. He writes that “Hume would caution Harry to remain skeptical of the story that others had relayed to him since he has no perception of it that he can link by memory to his present perceptions” (‘Harry Potter and Philosophy’, p.204) since Hume, unlike Locke, relies on memory rather than present consciousness to form the concept of ‘self’.

One of the fundamental ideas of the Harry Potter series is the idea of souls and the relation between souls and identity. The first book to explore this idea in detail is the sixth book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, although there are allusions to the concept throughout the novels. The first detailed reference is when Harry witnesses Slughorn’s memory of Riddle asking about Horcruxes and the concept of splitting the soul is introduced. Slughorn describes Horcruxes as “the word used for an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul” (p.464) which would prevent a person from dying because “even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for the part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged”. This raises interesting questions about identity and whether is it linked to the soul or to consciousness. In ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin explains to Harry that “You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working. But you’ll have no sense of self anymore, no memory, no….anything. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just exist. As an empty shell” which illustrates the importance of the soul in the context of the Harry Potter novels.

When Dumbledore explains his theory about Voldemort’s Horcruxes to Harry, he says that “Lord Voldemort had seemed to grow less human with the passing years, and the transformation he had undergone seemed to me to be only explicable if his soul was mutilated beyond the realms of what we might call usual evil…” (p.475), and this seems to suggest that Voldemort’s identity as a human being had been damaged with each Horcrux, which implies that personal identity is linked to the soul. Another example of this idea in shown in ‘The Tale of Three Brothers’ from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, the use of the Resurrection Stone caused the person to return “separated…as by a veil” (p.332). The idea of a veil separating life and death is illustrated in the chapter ‘Beyond the Veil’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” where Harry can hear voices coming from behind a veil in an archway in the Department of Mysteries but cannot reach them, and when Sirius is killed, his body falls through the veil. In the Harry Potter series, life and death are separate worlds and once the soul passes “through the veil”, it cannot return. This again supports the idea that personal identity come from the soul, although this idea is flawed in that it relies on the existence of the soul. This is partly because the Harry Potter series, like the Narnia series, uses Christian allegories and ideas which is seen particularly in the end of the seventh book in the ‘King’s Cross’ chapter, and suggests the idea of a greater ‘reality’ past the external world.

Near the end of the seventh book, we discover that Harry himself is a Horcrux and that part of Voldemort’s soul “lodged itself” in his body when Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby. This again raises questions about Harry’s identity and whether the traits he shares with Voldemort by virtue of having part of his soul (such as speaking Parseltongue and being able to see events literally from Voldemort’s perspective) would mean that he really does share a part of Voldemort’s identity. I think that main aspect to look at with this question is not whether Harry has taken on Voldemort’s identity, but where Voldemort’s true identity is. If, as Dumbledore says, Voldemort has become so far from human that he cannot be called a human any longer (in first chapter of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, he says “I am much, much more than a man”) then the concept of personal identity might not apply to him in the same way. If he has ‘damaged his soul’ so much that it is so ‘unstable’ that it no longer has a true identity, then his ‘identity’ would be with his consciousness but it would not be the same as true personal identity.

In his chapter ‘Dehumanization: Defining Evil in Harry Potter’ from ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, Travis Prinzi writes that “The “soul” points to an origin and identity beyond ourselves, beyond this present life” whereas Voldemort “believes precisely the opposite: that his goal in life is to remain alive eternally and never to face death”(p.75). This again alludes to the Christian elements in the Harry Potter series and implies that there is another world after this one- as Dumbledore says “To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, p.215). Prinzi uses some interesting quotations from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ to illustrate his argument. “A Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being” again shows the idea that Voldemort has become so far from human that he no longer exists as a man and “If I picked up a sword right now…I wouldn’t damage your soul at all…whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched” which shows the metaphysical nature of the soul and how it can survive beyond the external world. Ironically, in trying to create an eternal identity for himself, Voldemort has destroyed his ‘self’, both literally and metaphorically. When Dumbledore first met him as Tom Riddle at ten years old, he did not like the name ‘Tom’ because “There are a lot of Toms” (‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, p.257) and he later re-creates himself as Lord Voldemort, showing how he wants to be unique and ‘extraordinary’, but in the Harry Potter universe, there appears to be a ‘greater reality’ hinted at which makes this impossible. In ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Dumbledore explains to Harry that “Of house elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing…That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped” (p.568) which shows partly the true nature of the ‘greater reality’, although not its whole nature.

The concept of time in the Harry Potter series is different to that of the Narnia chronicles because of the fact that the wizarding world occupies the same global space as the Muggle world. Narnian time is totally different to the human world, whereas the wizarding and Muggle worlds interact and function in the same space and time, although there are parts of the wizarding world that Muggles cannot access. This shows that the ‘reality’ of the world within the novels encompasses both the magical and Muggle worlds. Dumbledore’s remark “Time is making fools of us again” from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ unconsciously points to a theory of time separate from the external world. The use of the time-turner in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ introduces the concept of time-travel. In an essay called ‘Space, Time, and Magic’, Michael Silberstein uses scientific explanations of time and the possibility of time travel to show how it can be possible, and how it works in the context of the Harry Potter novels. He explains the difference between a ‘tensed’ and ‘tenseless’ view of time, and demonstrates that only a tenseless view of time, where “past, present and future are all equally real” in a four-dimensional universe allows the possibility of time travel, and this is the current scientific view of the universe. Time is relative, just as ‘place’ is relative. He uses the idea of a ‘block’ to describe this concept, and writes that “The events of your birth and death, just like Paris and Hong Kong, are equally real, the just exist at different space-time points”. In this way, use of the time turner in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ is scientifically ‘valid’, although Rowling creates a ‘causal loop’ because, although Harry and Hermione do not change events that have already happened, the outcome depends on the start and vice versa- explained by Silberstein as “(A) Harry was saved from the Dementors because he travelled back in time and saved himself and (B) Harry was able to travel back in time because he saved himself”.

Silberstein’s essay was written before the sixth and seventh books were published, and it is interesting to look at the events in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ alongside this view of time to try to determine the nature of the Harry Potter universe. When Harry enters the forest to be killed by Voldemort, he knows that “Of course there had been a bigger plan” (p.555) and the Dumbledore had ‘planned’ his life to defeat Voldemort. The question of prophecy and determinism has already been shown in the series by the prophecy made seventeen years ago that a baby born that summer would be the person to defeat Voldemort, and Voldemort “marked” Harry as a baby which fulfilled part of the prophecy and in that way affected Harry’s fate. Because Voldemort chose to believe the prophecy, he created his own fate while believing that it was determined, in a similar way to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is illustrated when Dumbledore explains to Harry that “Voldemort singled you out as the person who would be most dangerous to him- and in doing so, he made you the person most dangerous to him!” (‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, p.476). As a contrast, Harry chooses to sacrifice himself whereas he could have chosen to abandon Dumbledore’s plan. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, John Granger writes that “He embraces the necessary conformity to the Divine Will” (p.113), which implies that Harry has no choice over what Dumbledore has planned, but this is not necessarily true although the reader cannot know whether Harry could choose not to sacrifice himself even though he seems to choose to.

When Voldemort kills Harry, he seems to be transported to somewhere outside of time and space. Once he realizes he is there, he describes it as “A long time later, or maybe no time at all” (Dh, p.565) which suggests that he is outside the usual constraints of time. This can be interpreted in several way, but the two main interpretations could be that either, as explained by Silberstein, time is relative and he is in a ‘space’ where he cannot relate the ‘local time’ to time that he understands, or that he is in a timeless place, which would be consistent with a religious reading of the series (which is the ‘usual’ interpretation, although I am going to focus on the ‘time’ and reality aspect) where the space he is in represents purgatory. When “it came to him that he must exist, must be more than disembodied thought” (p.565), he looks around the place, describing it as “unformed nothingness” (p.565) which implies that it is not part of the same ‘universe’ that he had previously been in . This is confirmed by the fact that “His body appeared unscathed…He was not wearing glasses any more” (p.565) and by the appearance of Dumbledore, “whole and white and undamaged” (p.566). During their conversation, Harry begins to realize that he is not dead, although he is not in the ‘real world’, which leads to the question of the prophecy: “I live…while he lives?…I thought it was the other way round…we both had to die? Or is it the same thing?” (p.568) which seems to call into question the nature of reality, life and death in the Harry Potter novels. Dumbledore said in the first book of the series that “No spell can reawaken the dead” and so Harry cannot be ‘dead’, but he is not in the ‘real’ universe. Dumbledore’s final words to Harry, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (p.579) question this idea even more, but also seem to clarify the chapter a bit more. The concept of reality in the Harry Potter novels seems to relate directly to the concept of ‘self’, since Harry realizes in the King’s Cross chapter that “he must exist” (p.565) and ‘existence’ in that sense is defined as ‘embodiment’, and so Harry identifies ‘himself’ with his body and therefore an external world. There is also the concept of an ‘ultimate reality’ shown in King’s Cross and Dumbledore, if it is not totally ‘inside Harry’s head’.

It is interesting to compare the Harry Potter universe to the ideas of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza was a determinist who thought that God is an integral part of the universe- God and Nature are in essence the same concept. The external world is a ‘mode’ or part of God, which led him to conclude that thought and extension must also be features of God, and men are not truly ‘free’ as they are modes of God. This could be associated to the Harry Potter series if Dumbledore is seen as God, because ultimately he has ‘preordained’ the events of Harry’s life and Voldemort’s downfall. He also ‘controlled’ his own death, although a curse from the Horcrux was already killing him. This does not totally correlate because Harry does seem to ‘choose’ his own fate which is acknowledged by Dumbledore in King’s Cross, but this view of the world makes the situation of (and in) King’s Cross a bit clearer. The existence of a ‘space’ outside of the Harry Potter universe shows that there is the possibility of something outside of the external reality. There are conflicting views of the King’s Cross chapter, but the main ideas seem to be that either King’s Cross is a religious analogy of purgatory or that King’s Cross exists only in Harry’s head and that he does not really die. Both readings are possible and it would be impossible to rule either out. In the context of the themes of the Harry Potter novels and the symbolism of the final books, the first view seems more likely although Dumbledore’s comment seems to suggest the second. Both views could be correct if ‘purgatory’ takes place inside Harry’s mind, and it would be hard to ‘place’ somewhere outside of the external universe. An argument to support the view that it only happens in Harry’s mind is posited by John Granger in ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, where he writes that Dumbledore does not tell Harry anything that he does not already know, and he comes to the conclusion that the exchange could take place in Harry’s unconscious mind which does seem to be a logical conclusion. For Granger, the key to the series is the difference between relativism and materialism, which is interesting to look at in relation to Kant.

Kant’s account of intuition in ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ is relevant in looking at the nature of ‘King’s Cross’ (it appears to Harry as King’s Cross station, which links back the motif of the station as a link between worlds shown from the first novel with ‘Platform Nine and Three Quarters’ acting as a gateway to the magical world). Kant believed that there are certain a priori intuitions that can provide a structure for our a posteriori knowledge. For him, space can be known as both synthetic and a priori because it cannot be known from outside experience because experiences reflect space rather than direct experience of space itself. He also argues that space cannot be analytic because it is not innately known as it does not solely depend on terms or concepts, and therefore it must be both synthetic and a priori, and so must also be subjective as a condition of intuition. Kant’s version of the Copernican revolution states that the world must fit our perceptions as we cannot know the nature of ‘things in themselves’, and this is interesting in the context of the ‘King’s Cross’ chapter. Since, by Kant’s definitions, space is subjective, Harry could be in a ‘space’ that exists only for him and therefore the encounter with Dumbledore could be classified as ‘real’ even though it takes place only for him. The idea that the world fits our perceptions is useful in examining this idea, because it allows that Harry has synthetic knowledge of Dumbledore and King’s Cross without having to experience it a posteriori. In comparison to Kant’s argument, the exchange between Harry and Dumbledore begins to seem more ‘real’ and it shows how a different interpretation of the chapter can allow it to have a new form of ‘reality’.

These ideas seem to suggest that, although Harry’s sense of reality is mainly subjective, the Harry Potter universe seems to follow Kant’s writings that although we interpret the world subjectively and form our own ‘ideas’, there is an objective reality that is the subject of interpretation, and an objective ‘self’ that constitutes the mind that interprets the perceptions. The ‘King’s Cross’ chapter seems to work well with a Kantian reading, and this helps to understand more clearly the nature of reality in the Harry Potter series.

Endnotes

Synopsis of the Harry Potter series:

In the 1970s, a man formerly known as Tom Riddle renames himself as Lord Voldemort and becomes the most powerful Dark wizard of all time. He gains followers known as Death Eaters and they terrorize and kill many of the wizarding community. In order to protects himself from death, he splits his soul into seven parts and hides each in an inanimate object known as a Horcrux. In 1980, a prophecy is made to Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the only man that Voldemort fears, that a baby born will been born in July who will have powers to rival the Dark Lord. This is overheard by one of Voldemort’s spies, and Voldemort marks Harry Potter, a baby born to wizarding parents who are fighting Voldemort’s forces as his rival. After the Potters are betrayed by one of their friends, he attacks and kills Harry’s parents and tries to kill Harry as well. The curse rebounds on Voldemort, whose body is destroyed but he lives on due to the Dark powers that prevent him from being killed while his Horcruxes are intact. Harry grows up and goes to Hogwarts at 11. In his fourth year, Lord Voldemort rises again and focuses on trying to kill Harry. No-one apart from Dumbledore realizes that a part of Voldemort’s soul is now inside Harry from his attempt to kill him as a baby, and Voldemort uses this connection to control Harry’s thoughts. A former Death Eater but now a member of the Order of the Phoenix (a secret society set up to defeat Voldemort) called Severus Snape protects Harry while still at school, and acts as a double agent after Voldemort’s return to power. Voldemort continues to terrorize the magical and Muggle (non-magical) communities and Dumbledore tries to find and destroy the Horcruxes. He is cursed by one of them, and asks Snape to kill him to protect the soul of a student-turned Death Eater who Voldemort has ordered to kill Dumbledore. Before he dies, Dumbledore leaves instructions with Harry to destroy the Horcruxes and Voldemort. In the final book, Harry finds out through Snape’s memory that since he has part of Voldemort’s soul inside him, in order for Voldemort to die, he must be killed my Voldemort to destroy the Horcrux inside him. He sacrifices himself to Voldemort in a forest, but because of the nature of the sacrifice, does not die and has an encounter with Dumbledore in a timeless ‘place’ that he experiences as King’s Cross. He returns to the Forest and duels Voldemort, eventually killing him. Since all the Horcruxes are now destroyed, Voldemort finally dies and the Death Eaters flee.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Baggett, David and Klein, Shawn E. (editors). Harry Potter and Philosophy, Open Court

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero’s Journey, New World Library

Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, Penguin

Fraim, John. Symbolism of Place, http://www.symbolism.org

Granger, John. The Deathly Hallows Lectures, Zossima Press

Granger, John. Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, Penguin

Gupta, Suman. Re-Reading Harry Potter, Palgrave

Heilman, Elizabeth E. (editor). Harry Potter’s World, Routledge

Hume, David. A Treatise on Human Nature, Penguin Classics

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Reason, Penguin Classics

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement, Penguin Classics

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew, Harper Collins Publishers

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper Collins Publishers

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Oxford World Classics

Prinzi, Travis. Harry Potter and Imagination, Zossima Press

Prinzi, Travis (editor). Hog’s Head Conversations, Zossima Press

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury

Whited, Laura (editor). The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, University of Missouri Press

 

Using the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore to reignite my excitement about Harry Potter…

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire really isn’t my favourite book in the Harry Potter series (although my least favourite is Chamber of Secrets) but there are so many quotes in it which are genuinely insightful and really helpful from a mental health perspective so I’m trying to channel some of them at the moment in an attempt to lift the horrible vacuum that’s currently sucking out my insides like an internal Dementor.

I really, really want to be excited about the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Saturday and I know that there is a part of me that is mega hyped about it even if I can’t feel or connect with it, and I really want to try to access it so I can really feel the emotion and absolute high of a new extension to the Potterverse- it’s been NINE YEARS since there was last an official ‘book’ extending the story (not including Beedle the Bard or Pottermore which are extensions of the Potterverse rather than the actual ‘story’) and I really should be excited about it!  It reminds me a bit of when the Half Blood Prince was released and I was in a similar vacuum of nothingness, and I hardly processed reading it.  I still finished it on the day it was released but I didn’t feel the same connection to it as I had done with the previous books and it took several re-reads to actually ‘feel’ the story even when Dumbledore died!

I really don’t want a repeat of that this time especially as it’s been nine years since Deathly Hallows and NINETEEN YEARS of HP obsession, and it’s changed my life so much in that time that I really, really want to experience the full excitement and emotional intensity (in a good way) that only comes with literally growing up along with characters that you connect to and learn from throughout your life.  I know I’m incredibly lucky to have been exactly the same age as Harry with every book release and not many people have had that experience (or the experience of waiting a year or two between each book release while trying to guess what’s going to happen- I still can’t accept that Snape was ‘good’ because I had ten years of hating him before DH came out), so I’m going to use my version of Harry Potter therapy to try to reignite those feelings again…

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This extract has always made me feel a bit weird and uncomfortable, and it took a few years to fully process it.  It’s from the end of Goblet of Fire when Harry’s just seen Cedric die and Voldemort return which is obviously an incredibly traumatic experience, and when I first read it I hated Dumbledore for making Harry recount it.  I’m still not fully comfortable with it but the reason I’m sharing it here is because of the quote “Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you actually feel it.”  It’s one of Dumbledore’s wisdoms that is so painfully true even though most people try not to admit it.  I’ve never experienced anything near as traumatic as Harry but when I was a teenager, I lost a lot of close friends through being ‘too intense’ (I’ve written about this a lot in other blog posts so won’t go into it now- see Friendships and mindfulness) and my way of dealing with that and the obsessive thoughts around it was to lose enough weight that my emotions ‘switched off’ completely.  It worked at the time but wasn’t sustainable and I had to eventually go into inpatient ED services which meant regaining weight, and the cycle repeated several times and with each weight regain, the emotions came back stronger and more intense.  I’m learning now that emotion regulation strategies are a much better and more effective way to manage and try to accept the emotions rather than ‘get rid’ of them but it’s bloody hard!!  (If you’re interested in DBT emotion regulation skills, have a look at TOO MUCH EMOTION which also links to Harry Potter).

I know that part of the vacuum-y nothingness feeling I’m experiencing at the moment is because I’m still trying to process the loss of a very close friendship eight months ago and I’m still getting very strong urges to contact her even though I can’t, and it feels like my insides have been sucked out which has left the space for the Dementor-like vacuum inside.  I can’t think or talk about it properly without crying and feeling like someone’s twisting a salted knife in my chest, and avoiding that is definitely adding to the nothingness.  I’m taking Dumbledore’s advice though and writing about it indirectly through blogging or creative writing, and hopefully that’ll make a difference…

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“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”  WOW.  I know Dumbledore’s wisdom is pretty well infinite but this is absolute truth.  When I first read GoF, I didn’t really appreciate just how true it is but fifteen years on, I’m starting to understand what Dumbledore meant.  I’ve been trying various approaches to ‘recovery’ (whatever that means) over the last 17ish years but it’s only now that I’m realising that you need to actually understand and ACCEPT what it is you’re experiencing in order to be able to recover.  As a teenager, I didn’t like how I was feeling and tried to ‘get rid’ of it in any way I could (usually food or weight-related) but because I didn’t think there was a real issue, it ended up making it worse until I was admitted as an inpatient.  After that, I started to accept that there might be a problem but I still didn’t really believe or understand it fully and the last ten years have been a mix of semi-recovery, relapsing, semi-recovery again, relapse again and kind of spiralling into feeling like there’s actually no point really and maybe I just need to accept that this is how I am.  But having recently re-read GoF, this quote really hit me and I’m trying to put it into practice…

For me, understanding is the hard part because what I’m experiencing at the moment (obsessiveness, feeling ’empty’ or vacuum’y, paranoia, intense neediness and anxiety etc) doesn’t fit into any ‘box’ or mental health category so it’s hard to actually understand what it actually IS.  Asperger’s covers part of it- the obsessiveness, need for routine, anxiety in social situations, meltdowns and feeling ‘weird’, but it doesn’t explain why I fixate on specific people, ‘need’ to contact people or they’ll forget I exist, can become very paranoid or the intense vacuum which really is like my insides have been sucked out.  But I’m still trying to apply Dumbledore’s wisdom and even though it doesn’t have a ‘label’ or ‘reason’, it’s still something I want to change and (this is the important part I’m trying to hang on to) it ISN’T PART OF WHO I ‘AM’.  That’s really important because up till recently, I thought I was just a horrible, weird, obsessive person and that’s why people didn’t want to be friends with me but weirdly I’ve got some really positive relationships at the moment which I really, really don’t want to mess up and they’ve lasted a few years now which is pretty unusual so I want to try to manage or change the obsessive intenseness so I don’t lose them.  So even though I don’t fully understand what causes it, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of my experience of it, and I think that’s enough to be able to accept it…

So, acceptance!  It’s kind of ironic that I’m coming from this perspective considering a psychologist I saw for a while last year used an ACT approach (accepting obsessive thoughts and urges without judging them) and I didn’t like it because I didn’t want to accept that the ‘horribleness’ was a part of me but I’m starting to realise now that you can accept that you’re experiencing something without actually accepting it as an intrinsic part of you, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.  It’s the bitch in my head, not ‘me’, and that makes it a lot easier to accept and process.  And Dumbledore’s right- that does make it a lot easier to even contemplate recovery even if I don’t know fully HOW to yet.  But I think I’m in a much better place to be able to try now than I’ve ever been before because the understanding and acceptance really are essential for recovery to even be an option…  So thanks, Dumbledore- really needed that reminder!!

Anyway, back to the Cursed Child excitement!  Having thought a lot about understanding and acceptance, I’m starting to realise that the vacuum-y ‘nothingness’ is going to be there whatever happens but it doesn’t exclude the possibility of being actually excited or looking forward to the Cursed Child release even if it’s not full hyperness which maybe isn’t a feasible but that doesn’t matter.  I AM excited about it and I know I am, and even writing this blog post is helping to reconnect with that feeling even a little bit.  There’s so much to learn from Dumbledore and Harry, and it’s so important to remember that.  I’m practising my Patronus every day and that really does help to connect with a positive, ‘real’ part of you that sometimes doesn’t feel like it still exists but it does, it’s just clouded by other experiences sometimes.

Throughout Dumbledore’s life, he was affected by his feelings of guilt and loss about Ariana but he learned ways to manage that and to stay connected to his real ‘self’ even though sometimes it felt like it wasn’t possible and Harry learned from him that even though he had a part of Voldemort inside him, it didn’t make him VOLDEMORT and that wasn’t an intrinsic part of his personality.  I’m trying to see the bitch in my head as a sort of Horcrux that sometimes has access to my thoughts and feelings in a way that I don’t like but it’s not ‘me’ and I can learn to manage it and ‘close my mind’ through Occlumency (see Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, Part One: HARRY POTTER and Occlumency for more about ‘Harry Potter therapy’), and I’m trying really hard to keep practising it until I’ve found a way to get rid of the Horcrux for good!

The Forbidden Forest: The symbolism of forests through folklore and storytelling behind J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

***This is an essay I wrote at uni years ago; thought it would fit with the Harry Potter-themed posts I’m sharing this week!***

In an interview in 2008, J. K. Rowling said “Everything, everything I have written, was thought of for that precise moment when Harry goes into the forest… it is the last truth of the story”. Forests have been an important symbol in folklore from ancient mythology to modern fantasy and in this essay, I am going to examine the meanings behind their symbolism and how they have been used in different forms of storytelling leading up to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Forests played an important part in ancient mythology, and in particular in the Greek, Celtic and Native American mythologies. In Ancient Greece, they were the home of Dryads, or wood nymphs, who lived in the trees. The word ‘Dryad’ comes from the Greek ‘drys’ meaning oak although the word is used to describe nymphs from different types of trees, each species of which has its own different nymph. As well as spirits living in trees, they are seen as semi-divine as they are spirits of nature which played a very important role in the belief system of almost all ancient civilizations. In a ‘Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology’, William Smith writes that “The early Greeks saw in all the phenomena of ordinary nature some manifestation of the deity; springs, rivers, grottoes, trees, and mountains, all seemed to them fraught with life; and all were only the visible embodiments of so many divine agents. The salutary and beneficent powers of nature were thus personified, and regarded as so many divinities; and the sensations produced on man in the contemplation of nature, such as awe, terror, joy, delight, were ascribed to the agency of the various divinities of nature”, which could also be applicable to other ancient civilizations.

The forest is associated with change and cycles because of the changing of the seasons, which is described in John Fraim’s ‘Symbolism of Place’ as “the time aspect of place symbolism”. This illustrates the idea that time is relative, and that for ancient civilizations, time is cyclical and dependent of the seasons and natural phenomena rather than the human constructions of clocks and watches. In Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and the seasons. When her daughter Persephone was taken to the underworld by Hades, she stopped the movements of the Earth while she searched for Persephone, and life on Earth began to die because of the lack of seasons. Zeus ordered Persephone’s return which led to the emergence of spring and the four seasons. This myth illustrates the importance of the cycles of nature and ‘natural time’ as opposed to constructed, which was the view held by the ancient civilizations. Trees also play an important part in the cycle of life on Earth as they produce oxygen needed to breathe, which also adds to their importance in the natural world.

The forest is a key feature of Celtic mythology due to the landscape of Celtic countries such as Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Celts believed that there was an ‘Otherworld’ governed by deities and other supernatural beings such as fairies and spirits which existed in the same spatial world as mortals but had a different concept of time. In Celtic myths, this enchanted space was often portrayed in forests as they symbolized Nature, or Mother Earth. Each tree had different connotations, which shows how important tree and forest symbolism was in Celtic mythology.   J.K. Rowling draws on these associations with the different woods that make up the wands in the Harry Potter series. Harry’s wand is made of holly, which is associated with life and protection whereas Voldemort’s wand is made of poisonous yew. The elder wand from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ represents sorrow and death as well as rebirth and renewal, which is significant because of the way Harry’s battle against Voldemort can be seen as illustrating the ancient view of time as cyclical as Harry’s ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ lead to a new beginning in the Wizarding world.

Bruno Bettelheim writes in ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ that “Since ancient times the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious” (‘Uses of Enchantment’, p.94) which is the way in which he interprets the frequent use of the forest as a fairytale setting. He uses the act of a fairy tale hero entering a forest “with an as yet undeveloped personality” and coming out with “a much more highly-developed humanity” (p.94-5) to symbolize “the need to find oneself” (p.217). This follows Carl Jung’s analysis of fairy tales showing that certain ‘archetypes’ shown in fairy tales illustrate forms of the collective unconscious which is “identical in all individuals” (‘Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious’, p.43). The idea of the collective unconscious does seem to fit with the way in which some fairy tales are common to many different cultures although they vary dependent on differing worldviews. For example, the Native American myths often describe the four elements, the seasons and the Great Spirit in Nature whereas Ancient Greek myths involve various deities and heroes. All traditional cultures seem to have accepted the idea of an ‘ultimate reality’ but it is interpreted in different ways. According to ‘A Dictionary of Symbols’ by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, “Forest-symbolism…is connected at all times levels with the symbolism of the female principle or of the Great Mother…since the female principle is identified with the unconscious in Man, it follows that the forest is also a symbol of the unconscious”, which links the ideas of the forest as Nature and Mother Earth and Jung’s analysis of the unconscious.

In an essay called ‘Transformations of the Fairy Tale in Contemporary Writing’ from ‘A Companion to the Fairy Tale’, Tom Shippey writes fairy tales are “set against a background of forests and peasants and kings of nameless countries” (p.266). He says that, for modern readers, this “lack of verisimilitude is incomprehensible” (p.266) but is could be seen as another form of archetype because the lack of specific time and space is part of what makes fairy tales so ‘timeless’ and applicable universally. The universality of folk and fairy tales can make them seem more ‘believable’, not in the sense that they actually happened but that, as Bettelheim says, the forest is a metaphor for something common to all peoples and cultures. Jack Zipes expands on Bettelheim’s analysis in his book ‘The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world’ where he writes that “Inevitably they find their way into a forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense on what should be done” (Ch.3, ‘Exploring Historical Paths’) which seems almost identical to Bettelheim’s analysis, but Zipes adds that “Nothing gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies”. This idea seems a little excessive as it appears to personify the forest as something other than an archetypal setting but there is a sense in many fairy tales, particularly those of the Brothers Grimm whose tales Zipes is analyzing, that the forest has “powers” of its own and is in itself ‘magical’ although that is not specifically stated. In fairy tales, when a hero or heroine enters a forest, it can be assumed that something threatening or dangerous is going to happen, but whether the forest itself is the danger is ambiguous.

In the article ‘Once Upon a Time’ from a magazine called ‘Inside Journal’ published in 1997, Jonathan Young writes that “The deep dark forest is a common representation of the feared elements within” and refers to Jung’s analysis of the ‘shadow’, which is a repressed part of the unconscious mind (not part of the collective unconscious- it is individual to each person) and represents weaknesses and instincts. This demonstrates the idea that fairy tales can be interpreted uniquely be different readers as well as being universally applicable. This is because archetypes can be individual as well as collective, and different people can relate to different archetypes. He continues by saying that “The monsters live in the forest. The forest can reflect parts of ourselves that are never entirely tamed, that are always somewhat dangerous and chaotic” and that “They are important parts of ourselves” because they lead to new ideas and creativity, which is a slightly different interpretation than Bettelheim’s because of its emphasis on creativity. The ideas of collective versus individual unconsciousness are important because they illustrate the difference between traditional folk and fairy tales as fables and the way in which they have become individual and interpreted in different ways- almost as though a ‘template’ of archetypes were filled in. This is similar to the way in which traditional folk tales have been written into literary fairy tales, although this idea is slightly different in that both folk and fairy tales have archetypes that can be both universal and individual. The forest is something that is both universal and can be individual, as is seen in the various interpretations. The forest is also seen as a place of change and transformation, both due to the changing seasons that created myths and ideas about the psyche undergoing some form of change.

The forest can also be seen as an ‘otherworld’ or enchanted space as is shown in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ where it is the realm of fairies and magic contrasted to the world of Athens. In ‘An Anatomy of Criticism’, Northrop Frye describes the forest portrayed Shakespeare’s “drama of the green world” (Third Essay, p.182) as “the embryonic form of the fairy world” which links the world of Nature to the world of enchantment. He writes that “The green world has analogies, not only to the fertile world of ritual, but to the dream world that we create out of our own desires” (p.183) which seems to fit with the idea that the forest can be individual and reflects the desires of the unconscious. He expands on Jung’s concept of archetypes by defining the ‘Theory of Myths’ in terms of archetypes and in particular the changing seasons, which again reflects the ancient symbolism of forests as associated with change. He associates the ‘green comedy’ with spring because it is associated with birth, death and resurrection with forms the basis of many forest myths and stories and like Jung, bases his concept of archetypes on myths. In his sections in the Third Essay on ‘apocalyptic imagery’, Frye describes the “vegetable world” (p.144) as “the archetype of Arcadian imagery” in the Bible and associates it with the “forests of romance”, but in the next section on ‘demonic imagery’, he writes that “The vegetable world is a sinister forest” and compares that view with “the opening of the ‘Inferno’” (p.149). These two conflicting views illustrate further the contrasting ways in which the forest has been represented and interpreted, and how ambiguous it is as a ‘space’ (or otherworld).

The Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter series can be seen as showing various forms of these ideas. Harry’s first encounter with the Forest is in the first book of the series where he overhears a covert conversation between Professors Quirrell and Snape and the secrecy of the conversation suggests that the Forest is a place of ambiguity. The name ‘Forbidden Forest’ also supports this and suggests danger, which is reinforced by teachers repeatedly warning students not to go near it. The chapter ‘The Forbidden Forest’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is (like the majority of the series) written from Harry’s perspective and the description emphasizes the atmosphere of fear and oppression. The forest and trees are repeatedly described as “black” and “dark” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.15) and the “silence” and “rustling of leaves” add to the tension as does narration from Harry’s point of view such as “Harry kept looking nervously over his shoulder. He had a nasty feeling they were being watched”. The idea that the forest has powers of its own can be seen through the centaur in Rowling’s Forbidden Forest who are linked to Nature and the forest in the series. The centaur Bane shows this knowledge when he says “we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens” (Ch.15) and it can be seen in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ where the centaur Firenze teaches in the castle and makes his classroom resemble the forest. This links the forest and Nature to a higher power or knowledge, as can be seen when the centaurs predict the second Wizarding War with their repetition of “Mars is bright tonight” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.15) as Mars is the planet associated with war.

The main significance of the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter series is in the seventh book, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. In an interview with a Spanish reporter for ‘El Pais’ in 2008, J.K. Rowling states that “Everything, everything I have written, was thought of for that precise moment when Harry goes into the forest” and that “That moment is the heart of all of the books. And for me it is the last truth of the story”. The chapter is significant in the plot of the series because it describes Voldemort finally killing Harry, but also in the ideas behind the series such as forgiveness and symbolism. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, John Granger explores this idea, linking it to Biblical imagery and to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. He says that “the trial Harry begins in ‘The Forest Again’ parallels Dante’s three part spiritual odyssey that begins in a dark wood”(p.111) as Dante’s journey begins on Holy Friday and Harry’s death and rebirth in the Forest have links to the Easter story.

The first canto of the Dante’s ‘Inferno’ does seem to have some similarities with ‘The Forest Again’. The “journey of our life” (l.1) is analogous to Harry’s journey as the traditional Romantic ‘hero’ and the series and in particular the seventh book is essentially a commentary on his ‘journey’ from child to adult and from birth to death and rebirth. The “dark wood” (l.2) introduces the light and dark imagery which is also very common throughout Harry Potter series and especially in this chapter. There are repeated references to the “darkness” of the wood and how “cold” it is. On a more general scale, the series is preoccupied with the difference between light and dark, as can be seen with the Dark Lord (Voldemort) and Dark magic. At the end of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Albus (whose name means ‘white’) Dumbledore says “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy” in reference to Lord Voldemort rising again. Line three of ‘Inferno’ says “the straight way was lost” which is similar to Bettelheim’s analysis of forests in fairy tales and is also relevant in ‘The Forest Again’ where Harry has no idea which path to follow to find Voldemort and fears the unknown, echoing another quotation from Dumbledore from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’: “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more”. In the interview, Rowling says that “It’s important to have light and darkness, it’s a very conventional mechanism, but to be able to create a transition between a mundane universe and the cruel and oppressive existence adds shadows” which also seems to support Jung’s idea of the shadow in the unconscious. The description of the forest as “wild, and rough, and stubborn” (l.5) is consistent with Rowling’s description of the Forest as “tangled”, “gnarled” and “twisted”, although Dante’s description personifies the forest more than Rowling’s- for Dante, the forest itself is threatening whereas Harry fears the unknown within the Forest. Both Dante and Harry contemplate the idea of death, which J.K. Rowling said the same interview is the key to the series. As he begins to accept the fact that he is going to die, he uses the Resurrection Stone to create visions of his parents, godfather and Lupin which calms him in a similar way to Dante’s vision of the Sun. The “Divine Love” in Dante is echoed in the Harry Potter series where Dumbledore frequently tells Harry that the inability to comprehend love is Voldemort’s downfall.

Some writers have seen Dumbledore as a godlike figure, and the “ancient magic” of love to represent the love of God, and this does have some resonance in the series, especially since Rowling has said in interviews that Harry’s doubts about Dumbledore in the final book personify doubts about faith. Granger writes that “Dante’s walk in the woods to God ends at Easter in Paradise, much as Harry’s agony ends when Sun rises in the Great Hall ceiling at his conquest of Voldemort” (‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, p.112) which seems to fit with a ‘religious’ reading of the Harry Potter series. An argument against his analogy could be that Harry is not experiencing sin because, although he has had doubts about Dumbledore’s intentions, by this point in the story he has already discovered the truth and has accepted his own part in the greater plan. Although Harry can be seen as a “spiritual pilgrim” (‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures, p.112), he has chosen to die for the ‘greater good’ and has accepted what Dumbledore has planned rather than continuing to doubt him and has always fought for “what is right” (‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Ch.37). Dante’s ‘Inferno’ has several similarities with ‘The Forest Again’, but does not parallel exactly because, although the setting and imagery is similar, the actual representations are different. The reason Harry does not die when Voldemort tries to kill him is because his soul is “whole”, and when he enters King’s Cross, which can be seen as representing Purgatory, his soul is already “pure”. Granger writes that “’The Forest Again’ is simultaneously a retelling of the Crucifixion and a story of the death of a Christian Everyman” which could be true, but the Crucifixion allegory seems to fit more with the ‘backstory’ and values of the series, although there are elements that seem to fit with Dante.

Another children’s fantasy series which parallels the Crucifixion story is C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, and there are similarities between Rowling’s chapter ‘The Forest Again’ and Lewis’ description of Aslan walking through the forest to his death in ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’. Lewis uses the forest setting throughout the Narnia series. In ‘The Magician’s Nephew’, the ‘Wood between the Worlds’ serves as an ‘in-between’ place that links different worlds that can be accessed by jumping into pools. This seems to support the idea that forests are a symbol of change and the unknown and also the idea that a forest setting being an archetypal ‘nowhere’ setting that links other, more concrete places. The forest in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ symbolizes the change in Narnia itself and echoes the ancient myths of the seasons- when Queen Jadis is ruler, there is perpetual winter and it is only when Aslan arrives that the trees begin to blossom into spring. This reflects the view from ancient mythologies that the forest represented time according to the seasons, and this is shown by the way that Narnian time is different to “our time”.

The other main form of tree symbolism in the Narnia chronicles is the planting of the Tree to protect Narnia in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. This represents both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge from the Bible, and has the power to heal Digory’s mother. In a book called ‘The Secret Teachings of All Ages’, Manly P. Hall writes that ‘Under the appellations of the ‘Tree of Life’ and ‘The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ is concealed…the mystery of equilibrium” which seems to be reflected in the Narnia chronicles which advocate the pursuit of ‘goodness’ and harmony as opposed to ambition or greed. In a subversion of the myth in Genesis, Digory is tempted to eat the apple but does not which shows his innate ‘goodness’. When he approaches the tree and picks the apple, “he couldn’t help looking at it and smelling it before he went away. It would have been better if he had not. A terrible hunger and thirst came over him and a longing to taste that fruit” (‘The Magician’s Nephew’, Ch.13), which shows how his human desires represent ‘unbalance’ and mortality as opposed to the ‘immortal’ balance or equilibrium.

In ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, Travis Prinzi compares Aslan and Harry’s journeys in a chapter called ‘Christ in the Forest: Aslan and Harry Walk to Their Deaths’. He writes that “both Aslan and Harry serve as a Christ symbol” (Ch.6) but distinguishes that “the two accounts highlight different aspects of the atonement of Christ” as “Aslan is clearly a one-to-one Christ parallel. Harry is a flawed human who commits himself to a Christlike sacrifice”, which illustrates the way in which Rowling is using Christian ideas and imagery in her novels without giving a direct analogy the way Lewis did. In Narnia, Aslan is the same ‘archetypal’ character as Dumbledore as he guides and to an extent directs the children’s lives in a similar way to the way in which Dumbledore guides Harry and from a religious perspective it would be Dumbledore who would be seen as ‘divine’ (in both meanings- Godlike and controlling destiny) whereas it is Harry, a “flawed human” who sacrifices himself and comes to represent Christ.

The Biblical imagery in Aslan’s forest can be seen in the description and pattern of events. The night before his death, Aslan does not sleep well and walks into the woods accompanied by Lucy and Susan, which parallels Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene in the gospels of Luke and John.   The description of the creatures at the Stone Table seems to ‘personify’ evil itself and its fear through ineffability as Lewis writes “creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book” (‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, Ch.14). This idea of the unknown in the forest again suggests the way in which is can be seen as mysterious and dangerous although Lewis would not have been writing from a Jungian perspective because of he was writing a Christian allegory. The shaving of Aslan again parallels the taunting endured by Jesus, and Aslan giving himself voluntarily illustrates how Jesus did not protest against his Crucifixion.

In ‘The Forest Again’, Harry gives himself up to Voldemort voluntarily. As a contrast to Lewis’ Aslan, Rowling describes Harry’s human fears about death which echoes back to the links to Dante’s ‘Inferno’ although Harry’s thoughts are voiced through narration such as “It was not, after all, so easy to die…At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, and knew that he must” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34) which empathizes his humanness compared to Aslan as Jesus’ divinity. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, Granger breaks the chapter down into three parts that parallel the Crucifixion.   “Harry has Garden of Gethsemane desires and chooses to act in obedience as saviour” (p.113) which he explains corresponds to the way in which Jesus feared his own death, and compares Harry’s fear although he “knew he must” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34). “Harry walks the Via Dolorosa, stumbles, and is helped by Lily, his mother” (p.113) corresponds to the road to Calvary walked by Jesus carrying his cross and , according to Luke’s gospel, is comforted by his mother. “Harry dies sacrificially and without resistance to defeat the Dark Lord, as Christus Victor died on the cross” (p.114) reflects how Jesus does not fight against his crucifixion and dies willingly.

Rowling’s forest in this chapter represents Harry’s spiritual journey and how he, as a mortal human, performs the ultimate sacrifice for the ‘greater good’. It seems to have influences and aspects from various sources and analyses of forests. It supports Bettelheim’s argument about the unconscious because Harry does change from when he enters to when he leaves the forest, although the actual change itself takes place in the King’s Cross ‘otherworld’ rather than the forest itself. If King’s Cross does not exist and takes place inside Harry’s head, as Dumbledore hints, then Harry’s metamorphosis from sharing a part of Voldemort’s soul to having a whole, pure soul takes place in the forest as a place of change. From Bettelheim and Jung’s view, the forest could be seen as an analogy for Harry having got rid of his ‘shadow’ (the part of Voldemort’s soul latched onto his) and emerged from the forest having ‘found himself’ for who he really is, and fulfilled his hero’s journey according to the archetype of the collective unconscious.

Joseph Campbell is quoted in ‘The Hero’s Journey’ as saying “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential”, which is similar to Bettelheim’s analysis of the “near-impenetrable” forest and Harry’s experience in the forest reflects this. He does not know where to find Voldemort, but follows the path guided by some other power; “his limbs were working without conscious instruction” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34). Harry is at the “darkest point” in his life- both literally in the darkness of the forest and metaphorically as he is about to give himself up to Voldemort. He is following “someone else’s path” as Dumbledore has already ‘predestined’ what he must do in order to defeat Voldemort, but as a contrast to Campbell’s quotation, he does “realize his potential” through his death and rebirth although he does this because he has chosen to follow Dumbledore’s orders an die willingly, which, as Dumbledore tells him in King’s Cross “made all the difference” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.35). Campbell also said that “Alone he would enter the dark forest where there was no path. This is the myth of the Hero’s Journey”, which seems to be reflected in almost all forest myths, fairy tales and fiction. Harry’s ‘hero’s journey’ ends after his journey to death through the forest and consequent rebirth and defeat of Lord Voldemort. The forest is a very powerful symbol that has been interpreted in various ways and this reflects its ambiguity and universality.

Bibliography

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment, Penguin

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero’s Journey, New World Library

Cirlot, Juan Eduardo. A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Publications

Dante. The Inferno, Aldine Press

Ellis Davidson, Hilda and Chaudhri, Anna. A Companion to the Fairy Tale, Brewer

Fraim, John. Symbolism of Place, http://www.symbolism.org

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton University Press

Gallagher, Ann-Marie. The Wicca Bible, Sterling

Granger, John. The Deathly Hallows Lectures, Zossima Press

Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Wilder Publications

Kirkpatrick, Robin. Dante: The Divine Comedy, Cambridge University Press

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew, Harper Collins Publishers

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper Collins Publishers

Pinkola Estés, Clarissa. Women Who Run With the Wolves, Ballatine Books

Pogue Harrison, Robert. Forests: the Shadow of Civilization, University of Chicago Press

Prinzi, Travis. Harry Potter and Imagination, Zossima Press

Rowan, Arthur. The Lore of the Bard, Llewelyn

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury

Warner, Marina. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, Oxford University Press

Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world, Palgrave Macmillan

Thoughts on Harry Potter Part One…

Warning: lots of Harry Potter-related posts coming up this week!  I still can’t believe that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book is being released this weekend- nine years since Deathly Hallows and I genuinely thought that would be the end of the Harry Potter saga.  It’s so, so weird and I can’t fully process it even though I’ve booked my ticket for a midnight release party and pre-ordered my copy.  One of the weirdest things is that Harry’s going to be ten years older than I am in this book whereas when all of the previous books were released, I was exactly the same age as him.  I’m a bit nervous about how the characters are going to have turned out…  Anyway, the first post I’m going to share about HP is something I wrote five years ago right before the release of the last film in the Harry Potter franchise.  A lot of my thoughts are still the same now and I think it’s a good place to start!  SO…

“Not really into notes usually but the last HP film is a big thing! Although I really don’t like the way people are saying it’s the end of an era… I grew up with Harry Potter (literally- the first book came out when I was 10 and got hooked from then on…read all the others the day they came out and happened to be basically the same age as Harry down to doing GCSEs the year he did OWLs and leaving school in his last year at Hogwarts). I’ve listened to HP audiobooks nearly every night since I was 11 and have no intention of stopping now!

Hogwarts was a kind of alternate reality when I was a teenager- was still waiting for a Hogwarts letter right up till I left school and, even though it never came, still ended up pretending I was there so much that when I read the books/watch the films now, it feels more like a memory of a direct experience than a memory of a fictional place. Imagination can be really powerful- sometimes I read the first three books and feel like they’re missing something, and I think it’s because I’d imagined being in them so much that I’d imagined more than was there and somehow convinced myself that it happened :s, although to me that makes it even more real! In between books, I tried to make up what I thought would happen in the next one and some of those things are as ‘real’ in my HP universe as what is actually in print, lol.

As far as I’m concerned, Dumbledore, McGonagall and Lupin were my favourite teachers (along with a couple of ‘real’ teachers). When I was at school, I used to pretend that I could ‘combine’ school and Hogwarts where I’d go to Hogwarts but it would have a ‘real’ school structure/timetable as well as a magical one, and some people from the ‘real’ world were there too (think I’d need several time turners for that one…still waiting for one to come through the post along with a Hogwarts letter so I can go back and go to school again but Hogwarts this time :p) which was a big part of my life from the age of 10-20, when the last book came out. By then, I’d grown up enough to actually ‘get’ a lot of the philosophy/ideas behind it so I feel really, really lucky to be the age I was for every book, think I was born in exactly the right year :), and to get into HP from the beginning. Even did my undergrad dissertation on identity/reality in the HP series which felt strange coz it was about a ‘fantasy’ world which was for me (and a lot of people) like a reality but glad I did, felt like a good form of closure although I’m still as into HP as I was as a teenager, just in a different way.

Talking of characters, there are a few in HP who are AMAZING. When I first ‘met’ Luna Lovegood in OOTP, I was 16 and a bit ‘weird’ (still am, lol, but don’t really mind as much now!) and was so glad to meet someone I could actually identify with and who was more weird than I was! She’s my favourite character of the series, think she’s amazing. I love Neville Longbottom too, and I love the way he ‘grows’ through the series. My other favourite character’s Dumbledore, mainly because of his incredible quotes:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

“Time is making fools of us again.”

“That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (from the film version of PoA)

“In dreams, we enter a world that’s entirely our own.” (again, from PoA film)

“It is my belief… that the truth is generally preferable to lies.”

“If you’re holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time.”

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I found the last book hard to read because of the ‘Dumbledore doubting’ but the end made up for it. Snape grew on me massively through the series- I always felt a bit sorry for him (and weirdly guilty at the same time :s) as a teenager, but when I read DH, he became one of my favourite ever characters. Also love McGonagall- I think she’s the best teacher in the series and I’d love to be like that when I’m older! She’s really fair and cares about the students but manages to be firm at the same time… Thought it was interesting how Maggie Smith saw her as an older Miss Brodie, hadn’t made that connection before but can kind of see how it fits.

I haven’t seen the last film yet (seeing it on Tuesday), since I’ve cried in both HBP and DHp1, I think I’ll end up crying, even if it’s just saying ‘bye’ to the characters (although it’s not really…). It’s weird, I don’t usually cry in books/films but HP still makes me :s, I must have seen HBP over 20 times and still cry at the end! Think it must be something to do with the ‘reality’ of the series, and how it takes on a greater ‘reality’ than just the words on the page. I don’t like the idea that the last film is the end though – I’m with Dumbledore on this one, as long as something exists in your head then it’s real! HP has been ‘real’ for me for the last 14 years…why should it stop now?! If anything, it’s more real because it’s an individual experience of the HP universe that’s carrying on, not someone else’s interpretation of it which, much as I enjoy watching, never matches up to my teenage ‘memories’. HP has been a massive part of my growing up (that really isn’t an exaggeration) and the film franchise has nothing to do with that, and I really don’t see why that’s going to stop any time soon!”

TOO MUCH EMOTION

This is a bit of an unfocussed post so I’ll apologise in advance for that.  I’ve been feeling intense vertigo and stinging in my chest over the last few weeks which are hard to explain properly, and this post is kind of about that and the loss of a close friendship and ways I’ve been trying to deal with it.  A lot of it will be about DBT skills because I’m finding more and more that it’s the only approach I’ve found that really does seem to have any sort of positive effect and at the moment, my life feels like a constant attempt at emotion and occasionally crisis management which is EXHAUSTING and horrible but I’m trying to trust the DBT philosophy that emotions eventually peak and subside and I’m trying to be mindful of that and the way it’s affecting my body and thoughts as well instead of acting instinctively or impulsively to reduce the intensity.  It’s been a bit up and down but I’m still writing blog posts and haven’t totally quit everything so that’s a definite positive!

This scene from ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ is, for me, one of the most emotional scenes of the whole HP series and one that’s definitely underrated.  It’s from the end of the book after Sirius has died and Harry’s struggling to cope with the loss and with his guilt about Sirius’ death.  In this scene, Dumbledore is annoyingly calm and detached which makes Harry feel even more angry, hurt and alone and when I first read it aged 16, I could completely relate to Harry’s violent urges to hit Dumbledore and smash his things because that intensity of emotion is HORRIBLE especially when it involves feelings of hurt, guilt and loss which are three of the hardest negative emotions to manage even on their own.  Harry’s reaction of ‘I DON’T CARE’ is a completely natural and typical response to being unable to deal with intense and conflicting negative emotions in a situation that you don’t understand and can’t control, but Dumbledore’s reply of “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it” describes exactly how that intensity feels physically.  There’s so much emotional complexity in this scene that goes far deeper than the loss of Sirius- Harry’s feelings of intense hurt and confusion from Dumbledore’s apparent indifference towards him over the year, his guilt in being a part of the situation that killed Sirius, his fear of being completely alone.  It all culminates and builds up inside him in a way that he can’t express or manage, and his experience of intense emotion is something that a lot of people who experience intense, overwhelming or conflicting emotions that they can’t understand or express can relate to.

A while ago, a close friend asked me not to keep contacting her which really, really hurt, and I’ve been finding it increasingly hard to manage my feelings about it.  At first, I felt really upset and cried a lot which was (I think) a typical reaction to the loss of a close friendship, but it started to hurt more intensely as time went by and the urges to contact her again became stronger.  It felt like intense vertigo and like there was a ‘vacuum’ inside me as though someone had sucked out all my organs and gradually that emptiness became filled with a heavy, cement-like feeling which is still there.  I started to feel more zoned out and ‘slowed-down’, and have found it hard to concentrate on anything much over the last few months which hasn’t helped with starting a new job (which, thankfully, I’m nearly at the end of the contract for now).  Then, over the last few weeks, I started to get a stinging feeling in my chest which feels like someone’s opened a wound there and is tipping salt into it, and I keep randomly crying with no real trigger or becoming so exhausted and overwhelmed with the feelings that I fall asleep which is both a massive relief and annoying because I feel zoned out for the rest of the day.

It also hasn’t helped that there’s been a lot of (unrelated) stuff going on recently which has involved a lot of things that remind me strongly of my friend, and that’s made the urges to contact her so strong that they’re sometimes so overwhelming that I’m physically hitting the side of my head to try to get rid of them and last week, I acted on the urge and sent her a message which she didn’t respond to and although it helped to reduce the urge at the time, I felt like the worst person in the world and so guilty about it the next day.  The feelings are so horrible at the moment that I can totally relate to Harry’s ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH…I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END’ but I know there’s no constructive way to do that apart from the obvious which isn’t an option because of children I’ve worked with and am very close to, and the possible impact that could have on them.  I’ve also had a lot of thoughts recently about distancing from the kids and from the two people I’m currently ‘friends’ with, but I think that could hurt them even more and I don’t want to hurt anyone at all.  So I’m not really left with many options but I REALLY needed to do something because I genuinely can’t deal with it much longer and I’m scared I’ll do something impulsive and stupid to manage the feelings- I’ve kept it at low level bingeing/purging and superficial cutting at the moment (using DBT skills to manage the intensity which I’ll come to later) but I’m a bit worried the bingeing will swing to full-scale bulimia if I’m not careful or I’ll stop eating completely in the hope of getting rid of the emotion completely (see Obsessions for more info about that).

It’s been particularly bad over the last couple of weeks and I’ve been thinking a lot about unfriending my friend on Facebook so that I don’t have her updates on my feed but also so that I can’t act on the urges to keep messaging her (I don’t know her current email or home address and she lives abroad so texting’s out).  It was a really difficult decision for several reasons- I didn’t want to completely lose touch with her because even though she’s hurt me a lot over the last year or so, I still really miss her and the connection we had; I really, really don’t want to hurt or upset her, or make her feel the way I have done over the last few months and I’m not sure I could cope with the guilt if she did; we were friends for nearly 20 years which is a really, really long time and she knows more about me than anyone else ever including mental health professionals I saw for seven years; it’s my fault the friendship broke down because I was too intense/clingy and I really don’t want her to be upset because I’m shit at managing relationships and get paranoid.  But last night, I spoke to an old friend I haven’t seen in nearly ten years but who I was close friends with at school and she pointed out that if my friend had realised the impact asking me not to contact her would have, she wouldn’t have said it the way she did and that shows that the close connection we had’s already broken, and that made so much sense so last night, I unfriended my ex-best friend.

It was genuinely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I feel like such a bitch about it.  I couldn’t stop shaking and spent most of last night fighting urges to email her via her old email address, send her another friend request or try to message her but someone I really trust told me not to email because it would make her more upset so I didn’t contact her but I feel like the worst person in the world and a really, really selfish, bitchy and horrible person for unfriending without an explanation.  I’m feeling less shaky today but still really, really guilty and a bit zoned out.  I HATE my brain and how selfish I am.  I know that now it’s up to her if she wants to contact me and that she knows my email address and phone number so if she wants to, she can but I’m really, really hoping she won’t be feeling upset or hurt that I’ve unfriended her.  It’s not that I don’t like her- I do, but I can’t cope with this sort of feeling any more and I need to do something for self-protection and so that I don’t lose any relationships I currently have.  But I hate myself so much at the moment- I know it’s totally my fault and if I wasn’t so selfish, clingy and paranoid, it wouldn’t have got to that stage in the first place but this happens with nearly every relationship I have and I don’t know how to stop it.  I hate the way my brain (and body) react to situations like this and how intense it is, and I especially hate the intense urges which swing from ‘I need to contact this person NOW’ to needing to binge/vomit or cut to try to force out the guilt and horribleness inside my body.  I HATE MY BRAIN and I hate the way my body reacts physically.

Since I unfriended her, the vertigo has intensified and it feels like someone’s trying to pull my stomach out through my chest, and the intense stinging is like my heart’s being twisted and ripped out.  It’s horrible and it’s affecting the way I’m feeling in general- it took four attempts at getting dressed this morning to find something I felt OK in to go out the house and my mood’s even lower and more ‘shaky’ than it’s been over the last few weeks.  I’ve slowed right down to present moment and thankfully I don’t have work today, and I’m focussing on getting through each hour at a time.  I still feel like such as bitch though and I really, really want to apologise but DBT interpersonal skills say that you shouldn’t apologise unnecessarily even if it feels like you should.  So that brings me to the first DBT skill I’m going to look at- FAST.

FAST stands for fair, apology, stick to values and truth.  The aim of the skill is to manage interpersonal relationships without compromising your own self esteem or emotional wellbeing, and I think it’s a really useful (as well as really difficult) skill to use.  Being ‘fair’ applies to the other person but also to yourself, and involves being assertive and also listening to the other person.  I’ve tried this already and although I haven’t been as direct as I’d like to have been with her, I’ve been open with her in the past and she knows me well enough to know that I wouldn’t unfriend her in a passive-aggressive way.  It’s self-protection and although I haven’t said that directly, it would probably make things worse if I did.  I genuinely have tried to be as fair as I can.

According to DBT, over-apologising when it’s not completely justified can have a detrimental affect on self esteem and self respect, and make negative emotions worse.  It also points out that by apologising unnecessarily, you negate the effect when you actually do apologise which is something I hadn’t really thought about but is probably true.  I’ve been thinking about the situation a lot and although I still think I should apologise for unfriending her, I can see that by doing that, I’m emphasising my ‘fault’ in the whole situation and that’s not going to be helpful for trying to reduce guilt and get over it.  So I’m trying to be mindful of the guilt and urges to apologise without acting on them which is HARD but I think that if I can manage it, it could be a really positive thing.

Sticking to values means keeping to things that are important to you.  I find the concept of values hard but I know that being fair, direct, accepting, honest and assertive are qualities that I really respect and value in other people so I’d hope that they are values I can try to embody too.  In this situation, I don’t feel like I’ve really stuck to those values but I can’t see any way I could do without actually contacting her and explaining.  I have been accepting of her decision to stop the contact though and I think I’ve been as fair and direct as I can be, so maybe I’m halfway there.  It’s a hard skill though and I think I need to practise it a lot more before I’m able to actually use it properly.

Truthfulness is something that’s really important to me anyway and I think I’ve been as truthful as I can be.  Before we lost contact, I had mentioned to her that I was getting paranoid about people not actually being friends with me or wanting to keep in touch and I’ve always been open and honest with her, so I think she knows enough about how I think and react to know why I’ve acted like this.  If not, I’m h0ping she also knows me well enough to know that I’ll always be honest and truthful in emails so she can email me if she wants.

 I’ve also been using a LOT of the emotion regulation skills to try to deal with the intensity of emotion, both physical and emotional, I’ve been experiencing.  I won’t go into opposite action because I’ve already talked about it a lot in Opposite Action in action- more DBT!, but I’m going to look at other strategies such as seeing emotion as a wave and being mindful of emotions.  Both of these involve trying to distance from the emotion and seeing it as something that happens to you rather than being a part of you which I find really hard to get my head around in relation to emotions but I’ve managed in relation to thoughts via the bitch in my head (Inside my head…), and I’ve been trying to link this to emotions by seeing my emotional state as something that the bitch in my head can hijack and gain access to via a skeleton key she’s got which gives her direct access to my feelings and emotions which she can then use to her advantage.

So for me, a big part of emotion regulation is trying to prevent her from having access to my emotions by accepting what she says without believing it, talking back to her and trying to be more compassionate towards her so she’s not as angry and sometimes that helps but sometimes she gets in before I’ve realised it.  That’s when the DBT emotion regulation skills come in and they’re a lot easier to apply when the emotions are a result of the bitch in my head rather than being an intrinsic part of ‘me’ and how I’m thinking or feeling.  Seeing emotion as a wave is based on the idea that emotions peak and eventually subside so if you try to distract or tolerate the emotion, it will eventually ease off to a more tolerable level.  I have a distress tolerance card which I’ve been relying on a lot recently to try to manage emotions, and it’s something I would recommend to anyone who experiences intense emotions- the idea is that you do at least two things from the card before any unhelpful behaviour and sometimes it does distract for long enough for the emotion to start to subside and (for me) the positive feelings associated with not acting on the emotion are often enough to help it subside completely to a point where I can manage it more easily.  It’s definitely worth making a card if you don’t already have one.  Mine’s colour-coded to make it easier to use when I’ve feeling intense emotion and that can help for some people.

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I’ve also been trying to be mindful of emotions which is really hard but it’s a skill I’m finding increasingly useful the more I practise it.  The basic idea is to observe and be aware of your emotions (even if you can’t identify what they are) and not judge them, and just ‘let’ them rise and fall.  It links to the wave idea and I’ve been trying to imagine emotional intensity rising and falling like waves, and sometimes this is easier than waiting for the wave to peak because it often feels like it won’t!  It’s really hard not to judge emotions though especially guilt or anxiety, and DBT thought and emotion defusion teaches you imagine the thought or judgement like leaves on a stream- recognise and acknowledge them but let them pass without fixating on them and this takes a LOT of practice but I’m starting to find it useful, especially with obsessive thoughts.

Outside of DBT skills, the other thing I find really useful for managing difficult emotions and trying not to act on them is use fictional characters as a sort of ‘channel’ or outlet for that emotion.  I’ve been doing this in various ways ever since I can remember but the most useful ones at the moment are the Sims and through Carrie Mathison from Homeland (I did a post on this a while ago called Learning emotion regulation via Carrie Mathison).  The Sims is a bit of a weird one because it can either be really, really useful or makes things a million times harder so I’m always a bit wary when I use it, but sometimes it can be really useful.  In a situation when I’m missing someone but know that contacting them would be too much, it’s actually really beneficial to ‘talk’ to that person on the Sims because it really does feel like you’re actually communicating with them and it can help you feel less lonely.  At the moment, that’s not a good idea in this particular situation because even seeing her as a Sim makes me feel really upset but what I have found useful on the Sims is creating an ‘ideal’ version of me and levelling up skills and career roles so it feels like I’m actually achieving something and that stimulates the same dopamine release as if you were actually doing something positive.  I know it’s not ‘real’ but as a short-term emotion management technique, it’s pretty useful and doesn’t involve annoying other people.

The other thing I’ve found really useful is rewatching parts of Homeland season five and trying to learn about relationship skills and emotion management from Carrie’s relationship with Saul.  Throughout the first few seasons, Saul is Carrie’s mentor and close friend and she really respects and looks up to him in a way she doesn’t with any other character, and there are several examples where they save each other’s lives or connect with each other on a deeper, more personal level and in season four, Carrie is described as “his child, practically”, and that really is the kind of relationship they have (although much more from Carrie’s perspective; there are also examples where Saul has ‘used’ Carrie to suit his or the agency’s needs).  But in between seasons four and five, Carrie and Saul have had a breakdown of their relationship and are no longer talking.  Carrie finds this difficult to deal with, particularly as Saul’s values seem to be diametrically opposed to her own, and throughout the season she attempts to reconnect with him.  When she is led to believe that Saul is trying to kill her, she describes their relationship as “someone I trusted more than I’ve ever trusted anyone” and there are a lot of examples of this throughout the series and of their mutual trust and respect for each other which, in some places, borders on an almost familial love.

In the other post, I wrote that “We don’t find out in Homeland what could have happened to make them split so intensely but I think from a self-protection perspective, Carrie couldn’t allow herself to become so emotionally vulnerable again which is why, when Saul tried to make up with her, she wouldn’t let him, telling him, ‘I’m not that person any more.’  When I first saw this, it genuinely made me cry but I really do accept why Carrie made that decision- she needs to protect herself and she’s come so far since season one/  Sometimes it’s really hard but you need to move on and accept that sometimes even very close, long term relationships end.  People change and you can’t do anything about that . It’s horrible, genuinely feels like you’re being punched repeatedly in the stomach and your chest is being ripped open but staying attached to the person that someone used to be isn’t helpful for either person.  Carrie made what is for her the right decision, and Saul needed to accept that.  It’s not going to be easy for either of them and there is an intense part of me that really, really wanted them to make it up but I know that wouldn’t have been possible and that one of them would have had to change and compromise themselves which wouldn’t be the basis for a healthy relationship.  Saul helped Carrie to grow and develop as a person and she provided him with emotional support and trust when he needed it, but they both changed and it was time for them to move on.”

I’ve been watching that scene over and over and although it’s made me cry and feel as though my heart’s being ripped several times over, I can see how Carrie needs to completely distance from Saul in order to rebuild emotionally and to protect herself from that intensity of feeling.  I’m guessing she must feel as guilty as I do at the moment, especially when Saul says, “Goddammit Carrie, I need you” and she replies, “And I said, I’m not that person any more”, and it must have been so hard for her to make that decision knowing that it was partly because of her that the friendship broke down and that she’s hurting Saul by cutting him off emotionally, but I think it really was the right decision.  She needs to protect herself and not allow herself to become emotionally vulnerable, and she can’t risk the same friendship break up happening again.  The emotional bond broke when they first became distanced from each other and that would be impossible to rebuild.

I found that really, really useful to think about because Carrie was as close to Saul as I was to my best friend, and they were close for a similar length of time.  Like me and my friend, they were very different people and the friendship was intense but also dependent on mutual communication.  Saul changed and moved on in a very similar way to my friend but Carrie stayed in the same emotionally intense state she’s always been in even if she’s learning to manage it more effectively now, and I think Saul just got to a point where he couldn’t tolerate it any more.  As Carrie grows, both as an officer and as person, she starts to act outside of Saul’s influence or instruction a lot more and doesn’t need his approval as much as she did in the past and Saul’s focussed on his career progression and the agency, so once they’ve split it’s really difficult for them to bond in the same way again.  I think it’s similar with my friend- we’ve both gone in very different directions over the last few years (or, more accurately, she’s moved on and I’ve stayed in the same place) and we don’t have the same sort of mutual connection any more that we had growing up.  It’s really hard to deal with and it really, really hurts but there’s nothing I can do to change that and that’s where the DBT skills come in.

It’s still hurting too much to draw any sort of line under it and I’m feeling like a mess of intense vertigo and stinging pain at the moment, but I’m hoping that I can get to the point that Carrie reached where, although there was a massive part of her that wanted to reconnect with Saul, she realised that it wasn’t possible, ‘real’ or healthy and made the decision to consciously distance herself and move on from it.  I have no idea how this will turn out and if my friend will even realise I’ve unfriended her, but I can’t do anything more and I need to distance from the whole situation.  So I’m going to try not to fixate on it or obsess over possibilities, and I want to eventually move on and accept whatever happens from here…

Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, Part One: HARRY POTTER

This was up in the library at college this week and I thought it was AMAZING.  As any regular readers of this blog will know, I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and I think there is so much in the Harry Potter series which is relevant and useful for mental health awareness and management.  So that’s what I’m going to focus this blog post on, and I’m also going to write another post later on in the week about relationships which is the focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.

The obvious link between the Harry Potter series and mental health issues is the one most people know about- Dementors being a sort of metaphor for depression.  This is something J.K. Rowling has said herself, and it’s probably the idea that most people reading Harry Potter can relate to because even people who haven’t experienced clinical depression can relate to feeling low, sad or numb.  When I first read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban aged 12, the Dementor on the train terrified me and I couldn’t listen to that part of the audiobook going to sleep because it really freaked me out and I would see Dementors behind the curtains in my bedroom or hovering by the ceiling.  Lupin describes them to Harry as “among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself- soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”  This is very close to how a lot of people experience depression- soulless, numb, drained, only able to think of negative thoughts and experiences…

At the time when I first read about Dementors, it scared me how close that was to how I sometimes felt and was weirdly comforting that Harry experienced something very similar when a lot of his classmates weren’t as affected by them and the idea of a Patronus (a charm to fight Dementors) fascinated me.  It’s only recently that I’ve started to actually use the Patronus idea after seeing a psychologist last year who suggested using imagery to respond to the bitch in my head, and I’m finding that the concept of a Patronus (focussing intensely on a positive feeling or memory and trying to channel that against negative thoughts and feelings) is actually kind of useful, especially when I link it to Occlumency which I’m going to talk about later on in this post.  I didn’t really know what depression was when I first read PoA but I could relate to it intensely and I think that the recognition of Dementors and Patronuses really helped prevent it from becoming too overwhelming when I was a teenager.

There are so many other concepts in Harry Potter that could be relevant to and potentially useful for mental health issues.  One of the main ones for me is Occlumency- the ability to close your mind to external penetration of thoughts or emotions.  I don’t hear voices or experience thought insertion or anything that someone with psychosis could experience on a daily basis but I do have a ‘bitch in my head’ who criticises me, shouts and makes me feel guilty all the time and I’ve found it really useful to think of it in a similar way to how Voldemort alters Harry’s thoughts and feelings.  I’ve been practising Occlumency- trying to clear my mind of thoughts and emotions before going to sleep at night, and it makes it easier to try not the let the bitch have full access to my thoughts and feelings during the day.  It’s really hard and often she gets in before I’ve even had time to try to prevent her, but focussing on Occlumency and really imagining my mind closing to her influence and stopping her from accessing emotions has started to be helpful in reducing how affected I feel by what she’s saying.  I think that, like with Voldemort, I can’t stop her from trying to access my mind but I can try to make my mind more resistant to penetration and that’s the whole idea of Occlumency.

As a teenager, I really identified with Luna Lovegood as a character.  When I first ‘met’ her in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I was 16 and having a lot of social issues at school- I didn’t fit in with my year group, most of my friends were several years younger than me, I was a bit ‘weird’…  Discovering Luna was amazing because it was like meeting myself in a book, and I really identified with so much of her ‘weirdness’ and social awkwardness.  I also loved how she didn’t seem affected by what other people thought of her and really wanted to be more like that.  There are a few moments especially which really get to me.  When her things have been taken near the end of OotP and she says “I think I’ll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up – it always does in the end”, it makes me feel really weird and guilty because she’s so used to people taking  her things that she’s not even upset about it any more.

The quote that really, really gets to me is when she says to Harry, “I enjoyed the meetings, too. It was like having friends.”  I can totally relate to that- one of the reasons I worked with kids so much as a teenager was because it made me feel like I had friends, and when we see Luna’s bedroom in Deathly Hallows the description made me cry the first time I read it: “Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same: Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realised that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends … friends … friends …”  Friends are so important to Luna and people don’t realise that about her.  When Harry invites her to Slughorn’s party as his friend, her reaction of “Oh, no, I’d love to go with you as friends!  Nobody’s ever asked me to a party before, as a friend!” really shows how much it means to her.  She’s the nicest and kindest character in the whole series but people tend to miss that because she’s a bit ‘different’ and doesn’t try to fit in.  I’m sure a lot of pre-teens/teenagers have related to and learned from her as a character, growing up.

There’s a lot in Harry Potter about identity too, which I’m not going to go into too much detail about because it could be a dissertation in itself (and was, actually, during my undergrad year…).  There are different aspects of identity- self identity, perceived identity, social identity, physical identity and so many more, and they’re almost all referenced in some way in the Harry Potter series.  I think the most relevant aspects to mental health are the ideas of split identity- Voldemort’s Horcruxes and how it relates to Harry, and Harry’s self identity.  I don’t want to write too much about this because I’ve never experienced full dissociation or alters but I think that the idea of Voldemort splitting his soul into seven pieces is significant for someone experiencing dissociative identity disorder, especially in the context of part of that soul being a part of Harry.  The whole idea really scares me and I was terrified of reading DH at night for years, but the idea of a part of a person’s soul being in another person really is terrifying.  Voldemort’s influence in Harry’s thoughts could work as a metaphor for psychosis (thought insertion, thought disorder, hallucinations, delusional beliefs…) and the whole idea is so scary.  But I also think that ‘externalising’ psychoses as something like Voldemort trying to infiltrate thoughts and feelings could actually be helpful in trying to manage it.  Obviously I have no idea since I have never *touch wood* experienced psychosis but it’s definitely helped me to manage obsessive or paranoid thoughts, and reduce the influence from the bitch in my head.

Paranoia is also a prominent theme in the later Harry Potter books, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who found this weirdly reassuring given the parallel rise of paranoia in the world in general after 9/11 which also happened to be the year that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released and Voldemort finally returned.  Coincidence but (to me, aged 14 anyway) a really, really scary one.  Alastor Moody is the classic example in Harry Potter of someone who’s overly aware of attackers but most of the characters experience paranoia to some extent, particularly after the battle in the Department of Mysteries.  The part that’s more important to me though is Harry’s own paranoia about Dumbledore in OotP.  He’s worried about Dumbledore ignoring him and when he isn’t chosen as Prefect, that reinforces his growing paranoia that Dumbledore isn’t talking to him.  This fear grows throughout the book, and he fixates on it as he worries and gets more and more upset.  As someone who’s often fixated on the idea that someone isn’t talking to me, I could totally relate to this and it was so comforting to know that it wasn’t just me.  The Dumbledore says to Harry near the end of the book (about Kreacher) that “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike”, he could have been talking about his own relationship with Harry and it’s one of the lines in the series that I can identify with most.

The last idea I’m going to talk about here is obsessive thoughts and how they are experienced and managed in Harry Potter.  Voldemort is obsessed with living forever and achieving absolute power, and Harry experiences this with his fixation on the Department of Mysteries in OotP.  The way that Snape teaches Harry to deal with this is Occlumency, which I’ve already talked about and is equally relevant to obsessive thoughts.  Snape himself is still obsessed with Lily Potter decades on and the intense emotion and thoughts be feels in relation to her affect everything from how he interacts with Harry to his role in the Order of the Phoenix.  In Deathly Hallows, wearing the Horcrux necklace causes the wearer to become obsessed with thinking about things that make them feel vulnerable or angry, and it nearly leads to the end of Harry and Ron’s friendship before the Horcrux is finally destroyed.  In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry becomes obsessed with the Mirror of Erised before Dumbledore reminds him that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” which is another quote that I’ve found really, really useful to remember when I’m experiencing obsessive thoughts or fixations.

There is so much in Harry Potter which is relevant to mental health issues and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again in later posts!  If anyone has any suggestions or feedback, please email me at rainbowsandrecovery@gmail.com 🙂

Hope24: a 24 hour run in Newnham Park, Devon

Last weekend, I took part in an amazing ultrarunning event called Hope24 which was an event to raise money for a charity called Hope for Children, organised by an awesome man called Danny Slay.  WOW.  It was seriously the best organised and friendliest running event I’ve ever taken part in- the marshals were AMAZING, the route was clearly marked and easy to follow, the scenery was incredible, the tent area was accessible, everyone was super-friendly…  Such an awesome event!!  It was the most technically difficult event I’ve run so far- five miles laps with lots of steep hills (up and downhill, including one HORRIBLE incline that felt more like climbing than walk/running between miles 2 and 3!), uneven ground and the obvious darkness at night but it was so, so worth it for the scenery.  Bluebells, woodland, tall trees, morning mist, sunset and sunrise, stream, sheep and lambs, horses…it was like running in a magical fairyland!  AMAZING.

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Before the race started, I was really, really nervous and seriously thinking about pulling out.  I’ve not been feeling great recently after a friendship break up (which I’ve talked about a lot in other posts so won’t go into detail now) and not had a lot of motivation to run, so my ‘training’ had been sort of non-existent and I hadn’t run much more than a few miles in months and even that’s been a struggle so I knew that physically I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared as I should be.  But I’ve already pulled out of the London marathon this year (anxiety about crowds and being in London as well as ‘can’t-be-botheredness’) and I usually love ultras, and a friend mentioned a few weeks ago that running another one might help to get back into running again so I decided to go through with it based on the reasoning that it’s an ultra, not a marathon, and there’s no pressure to run any distance at all so you can stop after one lap if you want to.  So, having travelled to Devon and bought a RIDICULOUS amount of food (which brought back horrible memories of teenage binges and I nearly had a panic attack at the supermarket checkout), I didn’t really have much choice except to run…

I got there Saturday morning and set up my tent close to the start line so I wouldn’t lose it in the middle of the night (I was on my own with no support crew, so the likelihood of getting completely confused mid-ultra was pretty high) and walked around the campsite until the race briefing.  Right before an ultra is always the most horrible bit- the nerves kick in, you feel sick, there are SO MANY PEOPLE (although minimal compared to a road race), everyone seems to much fitter and more prepared than you…  The bitch in my head started up, reminding me that I’m lazy for not preparing, I’m way too fat to take part in any athletic events, people must think I’m delusional for even entering, I’m not good enough to be there and a million other things to make me feel even more nervous than I already did so I tried to ‘ground’ myself in the moment, counting the amount of people around, listening to voices, race announcements, cars and dogs, really focussing on smelling and tasting the coffee I was drinking for energy, squeezing marathon foot and my angel stones.  It helped a bit and the pre-race nerves started to overtake feeling guilty and paranoid, and I put on a Harry Potter audiobook to distract which really helped.  Then it was the (thankfully short) race briefing and, at midday, the race finally started.

The first couple of laps went surprisingly well- I felt OK physically, had my ‘mood stabiliser’ Spotify playlist on my ipod which has everything from Alanis Morissette and Disney to Pink Floyd and Green Day, the weather was nice and not too hot, and people spread out pretty quickly so there weren’t too many people running any given part of the course.  The course itself was awesome- there was a bit of a long hill at the start but the views from the top of the field were incredible and a beautiful run through woodland with bluebells (bluebells remind me of my Granda Sam who loved them, and I always try to channel his enthusiasm- he was one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met, loved dancing and kids and was just generally awesome, which definitely helped).  Then there was a steep downhill through more trees towards a stream then up a mega steep hill, down briefly through more trees and up towards the field again, awesome path running through the field with sheep and horses then back down towards the campsite, out into the woods again with another, less steep uphill and along a flattish path through trees to a field leading back to the campsite again.  Wow!!  Some seriously incredible scenery and I found that I actually really enjoyed the first few laps which was pretty amazing because I haven’t enjoyed a run in nearly six months.  So I’m definitely going to keep hold of that…

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Laps four and five were pretty uneventful- I met some awesome people including a lovely man I ran/walked with for a while without actually finding out his name who gave me some really good advice about managing anxiety around crowds and several people whose life stories and jobs seem way more interesting than mine!  Then, after running nearly six hours, I took a short ‘break’ to have a coffee and some peanut butter (I’d been a bit rubbish at fuelling up to then and had basically survived on Haribo) before setting off again.  It was definitely getting harder by that point- my legs had started to seize up a bit and my right knee (which I’ve injured in the past) was starting to twinge so I slowed down and started to walk a lot more of the laps than I had done up to then.  I switched back to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and tried to relax into it but it was so hard to get motivated and every part of my body wanted to stop.  I’d told myself I wasn’t going to have a proper ‘break’ until 10 laps (50 miles) in, but at about 10pm I was ready to quit and getting serious urges to fall off the high paths which scared me a bit so I decided to have a break, get some porridge and try to figure out what to do.

It was dark by this point which really didn’t help and it was getting cold so I put on some extra layers and ate the porridge which helped a bit.  I was a bit scared about running in the dark but there were people crossing the start line at regular intervals so I kept reminding myself that there would be people all around the route.  I really, really wanted to just quit and go to sleep and the bitch in my head was yelling at me that I was simultaneously too rubbish to complete the run and that I was lazy for wanting to quit so my head was like a whirling mess of confusion, so I put Harry Potter back on and forced myself to go back out.  The next couple of laps were- I hate running in the dark anyway and was scared of falling so I kept slowing to a walk but just after midnight, the ultrarunning paranoia and hallucinations kicked in (which is pretty usual for me mid-ultra) and I was convinced I could see Death Eaters hiding behind trees and that someone was going to kill me.  I got really freaked out and ran more than I probably should have but every time someone came up behind me with a head torch which added extra shadows, it was so scary and a lot of the time I was sure I could see someone next to me although logically I knew it was just my shadow from the headtorch.  Not nice!  And looking back, I don’t think listening to the end of OotP was a good idea running through woods in the middle of the night which is creepy enough anyway so I put on some Disney instead and tried to channel that.

But then my ipod cut out so I had a couple of laps in complete silence which really wasn’t ideal.  I did some stargazing which was pretty awesome- I couldn’t find Orion which panicked me more than it should have (especially since, thinking about it rationally, it’s nearly summer and Orion is a winter constellation so it’s much more likely it’s not visible in May rather than I’ve really annoyed God somehow and that’s why I can’t see Orion which is definitely mid-ultra paranoia!), but I saw the Plough, Cassiopeia and the Pole Star which did help to ground me a bit.  I love looking at the stars because wherever you are, the stars are always constant and that feels safe.  Orion’s my favourite because he was the first constellation I ever learned to recognise and I used to talk to him when I was little, and I still feel safe whenever I can see him in the sky.  Running through an open field under a clear sky of stars with minimal light pollution is pretty incredible and I turned off my headtorch so I feel like I was running through space.

Once I’d got back into the trees, I started to feel bit creeped out again and without music or audiobooks to distract, I decided to try Occlumency again (sensory grounding really didn’t seem like the best idea given that it was the environment I was in that was freaking me out).  I’d been running close to 14 hours by this point and my brain was a bit fuzzy which weirdly helped with trying to detach from emotion and stop the bitch in my head from being able to access my thoughts and feelings.  It felt very surreal but genuinely did help, and I think that the concept of Legilimency/Occlumency (the idea of someone trying to penetrate and alter your thoughts and emotions) is really, really powerful and can be relevant to so many mental health issues.  I started to think of the bitch in my head as Voldemort trying to alter Harry’s thoughts and emotions, and that was really helpful because in the Potterverse, there’s an actual technique you can use to manage that AND IT SORT OF HELPS!  That was one of the main things I realised during the run and, for me, it’s so important.  Definitely going to keep up practising Occlumency and I’m going to explore the link between that and the bitch in my head a lot more because I found it really, really helpful.

I finally got back to the campsite around 3am and decided to take another break.  I was FREEZING by that point- the temperature had dropped massively thanks to the clear skies and there was condensation inside my tent, so I wrapped up in my sleeping bag and fleecy blanket and tried to stop shivering.  It didn’t work so I put on three more long-sleeved tops and two pairs of gloves (four of my fingers were white and so were my feet), and curled up as small as I could to try to get some body heat.  It was SO COLD; my whole body was shaking and my teeth were chattering audibly.  My chest hurt and I could feel my heart painfully with every beat, and it felt like my bones were made of ice.  I genuinely thought I was going to die of hypothermia (more mid-ultra overreaction!) and it was so, so hard to motivate myself to actually going back out there.  Even though I was freezing in the tent, it was even colder outside and I was scared I’d collapse or die but I forced myself (literally- it was like forcing every muscle to move individually) to get moving and back out on the course.  I wore five tops, a puffa jacket and both pairs of gloves, and told myself I could walk the next lap because I felt too cold to move.  So, so hard to get going again but probably the best idea- staying in the tent would have been dangerous cold-wise, and moving did help to get my circulation moving at least a little bit.

Thankfully around 5am, it was getting light enough not to need a headtorch and that really, really helped.  There’s something about running through the night and the sun coming up which makes you feel surreal and connected with the world around you in a way I’ve never experienced any other time, and suddenly you realise that you’ve done the hardest part of the run and all that’s left is to just finish.  My ipod and phone were both dead by this point which was frustrating because I wanted to take photos of the sunrise, and the AMAZING marshall at the first hill (the awesome guy with the pink/purple beard called Kevin) was chatting to me when I passed and offered to charge my phone for me so I could take photos- SO NICE of him!  He was seriously awesome throughout the whole event and deserves a million thank yous for how enthusiastic, nice and just generally amazing he was.  I walked most of that lap, partly because I was still freezing and shivering and partly because I was totally bloody knackered by then, and I met an amazing woman called Vicky who I walked a lot of that lap with.  She was so nice and friendly, and was the lead woman at that point which was pretty amazing!  Was so nice to meet and chat to her, and really helped my motivation to not just quit after 50ish miles.

After that lap, I started running a bit again and picked up my now-charged phone from Kevin, and took lots of photos of the sunrise which was pretty incredible.  The light was amazing, it was starting to warm up and I was feeling a lot more real and alive than I had done over the previous 6-8 hours, and I started to realise that I might actually make it to midday without collapsing or quitting which felt almost achievable.  I put Harry Potter back on and thankfully the battle at the Ministry was almost over and I had the really emotional scene between Harry and Dumbledore at the end to listen to for the next couple of laps.  It’s a pretty emotional bit anyway but I was crying by the end of the book, partly because of Harry’s guilt and loss, partly from Dumbledore’s amazing strength given his own family history which he didn’t tell Harry and his real affection for Harry himself, and partly because the lambs had woken up and were leaping around in the sunlight, and the horrible realisation of why I’m vegetarian suddenly hit me in an intense wave of guilt.  Ultrarunning over-emotion!

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At about 9am, I took a quick break to have some more coffee and porridge before starting up again.  I was getting really tired and sore by this point, and the hill from hell really felt like it was killing my legs every time I attempted it so I took it really slowly and tried to enjoy the course.  I was chatting to a few more amazing people over the next couple of hours, some of whom had managed a mind-blowing amount of miles, and there was another amazing marshall near the bottom of the bluebell trail who put on rock music and was awesome and encouraging.  All the marshals and organisers were so nice!!  Made such a massive difference to the run.

The last couple of laps were HARD.  The sun had come up properly and it was getting hot which made it really hard to run, especially when all your muscles are so sore already.  I realised that I’d already covered 70 miles which was way more than I thought I would so slowed right down, took lots of photos and tried to enjoy the last lap.  It was painful, especially the horrible hill from hell, but worth it to finish on 78 miles which is weirdly only two miles less than the 24 hour run I took part in last year and which was much, much easier terrain.  Crossing the finish line at just gone 12.30pm was pretty amazing and everyone was so enthusiastic and encouraging even though most people had been awake and/or running for over a full day and night by then.  WOW.  Seriously amazing atmosphere!!

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I was pretty zoned out afterwards and didn’t really process it properly until later, but WOW.  It was an incredible event and thank you so much to everyone who organised and helped with it- you are all amazing people!!!  I found out afterwards that I’d somehow come 6th out of 76 female solo runners and I seriously have no idea how that happened but felt amazing, especially considering how hard I found the run and how unprepared I was.  But I learned so, so much over the course of the 24 hours which I’ve been trying to distil into some sort of coherent thoughts…

  1. The human body is amazing.  Seriously, it’s incredible what your body is capable of.  I don’t have the healthiest diet or lifestyle in any way whatsoever and I definitely haven’t looked after my body as much as I should have in the past, but it’s still capable of running 78 miles of hills without *touch wood* any major consequences.  Yes, I’m sore and tired and my ankle’s bruised and swollen, but that’s sort of expected after an ultra.  It’s AMAZING how resilient and strong your body actually is.
  2. Following on from #1, in some ways I’m glad my body isn’t smaller any more.  I don’t really know how to phrase this and what I just wrote isn’t technically true (I would LOVE to be a much smaller size but I know it’s not healthy or practical), but what I’m trying to say is that there are aspects of being a higher weight that mean that I can do things that wouldn’t be possible at a lower weight and ultrarunning is definitely one of them.  When I was underweight, I couldn’t run more than a few minutes at a time without going really dizzy or passing out and now I can run 24 hours.  That’s a really big achievement for me and definitely something I want to keep reminding myself of.
  3. People are incredible.  Having met some seriously amazing people during Hope24, runners, marshals and supporters, I know that there are so many incredible, encouraging and NICE people in the world and you just need to talk to people to find them.  And you can learn so much from people just by listening to them.
  4. The bitch in my head is bloody stubborn but sometimes she can be useful.  This was the first ultra she hasn’t shut up during and that was really hard at first, especially when she was yelling totally contradictory things about being too rubbish to carry on but that I’d be selfish or lazy to give up.  In the end, I learned to filter what she was saying without even realising it and used her skewed encouragement to keep going without getting affected by what she was actually saying.  That was HARD and it only really happened because I was practising Occlumency and thinking of her as Voldemort but it was probably the main reason I didn’t quit during the night.  And again that’s a skill I’m going to try to keep practising and hopefully it’ll work again even if it’s not mid-ultra…
  5. God is all around even if it doesn’t feel like it.  One of the things I love most about ultrarunning is the feeling of connecting with God, in the sunlight and stars, through  the trees and wildlife, and in the stillness of woodland air.  It didn’t happen as much as it usually does this time but there were a few moments when I could genuinely feel that I was breathing God in and that I was connected with Them through photosynthesis and respiration.  I have a slightly spiritual concept of God in that I believe that They are in everything as energy (energy can’t be created or destroyed, energy pre-existed the Big Bang, energy is a life force) and whether that’s actually divine or just a created concept, I can FEEL it and that’s what matters.  To quote Dumbledore (who is also an aspect of God to me), “Of course this is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” and that’s how I see my concept of God- whether it’s objectively real or not, it’s real to me and I can feel it and connect to it which helps me to feel safe, and that’s what’s important for me.
  6. Food is essential and when you’ve been running long enough, you NEED it whatever the bitch in your head says.  It’s amazing how good even food you’d never usually eat tastes 14 hours into a run- I was eating Haribo and peanut butter (together) at 2am which felt like the most amazing thing I’d ever tasted and the tuna salad I had after I finished was like magic angel food.  There were several times during the run where I felt dizzy, dissociated and nauseous and food was the last thing I wanted but after forcing myself to eat a banana or a cereal bar, it was like someone had fed me a reviving potion and suddenly I felt real again.  It’s like magic.
  7. You are capable of so much more than you think.  I didn’t think I’d even manage two laps let alone fifteen, and there is no way I thought I would have run 78 miles.  It still doesn’t seem possible.  But if you break it down and think of one lap at a time, focus on the present moment and don’t think about possible challenges or difficulties- just deal with whatever’s happening at the time, you’ll achieve so much without even realising it.
  8. Ultrarunning is a mental sport.  I don’t mean that in the (annoying) way a lot of people have said to me over the last couple of days (“are you mental?”, “you’re crazy”, “that’s insane” etc) which really, really gets to me because I don’t like the ‘normal v insane’ definitions because everyone’s different and mental health is a spectrum of illness and wellness anyway; I mean mental as in it’s more to do with your thinking and attitude than your physical strength.  Obviously you need to be relatively fit and healthy to run long distances but post-marathon, it’s more about attitude than fitness.  Your physical training stops around 30ish miles for most people and more than that’s about endurance and mental attitude.  If you can run 30 miles, you can run 100.  ANYTHING is possible.  I hadn’t run more than six miles at a time in about six months but I still managed to complete 24 hours relatively comfortably.
  9. Use challenges to your advantage.  I mean both physical and mental by this- use hills as a chance to walk for a bit and let your legs recover, and use negative thoughts or derogatory voices as motivation.  The second part is definitely easier mid-ultra when your brain’s fuzzy anyway and nothing really makes sense, but it’s a really useful skill I’m going to try to get my head around.  It fits with my attempts to make friends with the bitch in my head and it’s definitely something I need to keep working on…
  10. Connect with nature/higher power.  Yes, this is a DBT skill (which amazingly I’ve managed to avoid mentioning so far in this post!) and it’s a really, really useful one.  The idea behind it in DBT is that by connecting with something greater than yourself, it can promote a feeling of safety or calm and it’s a bit of a controversial skill because a lot of people don’t like the idea of God/religion.  It doesn’t have to be a deity though and for me, one of the most effective forms is looking at the stars.  I find it really hard to put into words but it really did help during the nighttime part of the ultra when I turned my headtorch off any really connected with the stars.  A few years ago, I wrote it as part of a story and I’ll finish with because I think I’ve probably bored anyone who’s read the whole post with enough…

I love the stars.  There’s something amazing about looking at an endless expanse of everything and nothing, something impossible to fully comprehend.  It alters your perspective somehow, fear mixed with awe in equal amounts and suddenly everything fits.  It’s the rush of infinity, the realization of your insignificance and contingence in the shifting universe around you.  A sense of vertigo in nature as the sky stretches endlessly into the vacuum of space and the vast ocean depths echo below.  It’s strange how sometimes the more alone you are, the less lonely you feel.  Floating in the ocean with the stars for company, there’s a sense of cosmic belonging, a sort of oneness.