J.K. Rowling and Depression

There’s an article today on J.K. Rowling that says she struggled a lot with major depression, and even thoughts of suicide, before she became successful with her “Harry Potter” books. Thankfully, she got some good help (though it was apparently a near miss, in the sense that a substitute medical person more or less blew her off in the absence of her regular doctor — why do medical establishments continue to assume that you can just “substitute” someone else for the person with whom you have a regular relationship? It usually doesn’t help so much.)

Of interest was how Rowling later based some of her eeriest, scariest creatures, the “Dementors,” on this experience of depression. As noted in the Wikipedia reference to the Dementors, they are soulless creatures, soul sucking fiends who can afflict both humans and wizards with the loss of the ability to imagine that you can ever be cheerful again. She describes it as “The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, whicih is so very different from feeling sad.” They feed on positive emotions, happiness and good memories.

Another remarkable portrayal of that state is in the Robin Williams film What Dreams May Come, where a woman who has died by suicide ends up in her own personal hell, portrayed as being stuck in a terrifyingly dark, dank, awful old house (representing the “self,” probably?) where she cannot possibily pull herself out of her isolated, sinking mood. Williams plays the deceased husband who risks his own soul to try to save her, finally making the ultimate sacrifice out of his love for her — his willingness to leap into the same depressed pit she’s in, if that’s the only way to be with and support her.

I suppose the links between these two pieces of art are the profound empathy for the state of depression that they both show — it’s not just a “brain disease” (though you can argue it’s that, too), it’s an existential “state” in which existence itself seems partially eclipsed. But I suppose there’s also a hope, in both, that there is something worthwhile, not in the state itself, but in the glimpses into our own natures that these portrayals of depression give. Because it raises, potentially (if you have the nerve) some of the hard questions of existence — not what’s depression about, but what are our NON-depressed states about? How, in a universe that can seem pretty neutral about our very existence, do we manage to maintain our “ordinary” states of mind? Or even hope?


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Filed under Books, Compassionate society, Depression, Film, Uncategorized

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