I’ve been having a rough month. My stress has been ridiculously high, and then I forgot to take my medicine for a few days. My mood subsequently tanked out, and I’m having a difficult time keeping my life on an even keel. My routines are an important tool for managing my life. When I stop following them, things like forgetting to take my medicine happen, which then causes life to spiral downward rapidly. Stopping that downward spiral can take a gargantuan effort. Starting the routines again takes time. It can take a week or longer to get to where I can accomplish most of the dailies consistently. It can take months to slog through the backlog of weeklies. I’ll admit, I haven’t yet made it to the monthlies or beyond. I will eventually.
When I began to climb slowly this time, I noticed simultaneously that I would get to bedtime without having finished my morning routine, and that I felt like the life was being sapped out of me. I thought, “I’m being followed around by a dementor.” Because, my friends, that is exactly what mood and anxiety disorders feel like. J.K. Rowling knows the feeling, and she was able to capture it in a story in a way that no other ever has. So, I have put together a step-by-step guide to dealing with dementors.
STEP 1: Identify that you have a dementor following you.
This is both the easiest and the most difficult step. Most people will notice that something is wrong, but will quickly make excuses for why that is normal. “If I would eat better, I would feel better.” Or, “If I would exercise, I would feel better.” Or, “If I could quit my job, I would feel better.” Or, “If I just had a million dollars, I would feel better.” Except, demetors don’t pay attention to any of those things. They follow you around, and no matter what you do they will continue to suck the joy out of your life. I highly recommend seeking professional help if this might be the case for you. Only witches and wizards can see the Dementors, after all.
STEP 2: Find someone to make a Patronus so you can have a break.
Because really, who can learn how to make their own Patronus with a Dementor breathing down their neck? This is where friends are invaluable, and where it is ok to pay someone to take care of the problem for you. You might need medicine, you might need to talk…a LOT. You might need to make drastic changes in the way you deal with your life. Just to relieve the pressure enough to breathe for a minute. It is important to understand that not everyone finds this sort of help. Being followed around by a dementor saps your motivation, turns you into the sad sack that no one wants at their party, leads to the inability to work which leads to the inability to pay a witch or wizard to scare off the dementors for you. Medicine doesn’t work for everyone. Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. Finding a therapist is an exhausting endeavor all on its own, forget about dealing with insurance, forget about taking time off of work. Bottom line: A lot of people get stuck here. If you can make a Patronus for someone, you just might save their life.
STEP 3: Learn how to make your own Patronus.
How do you go about producing a Patronus? Well, you have to find something that produces joy for you, even in moments of despair. My son is my Patronus. He keeps me on my toes, won’t let me cycle into the depths, brings joy and light into my life. I believe that he is a gift from the Holy Spirit to keep me from permanently falling into the deep well of despair. For some people, religion provides sufficient joy and connection to scare away the dementors. For others, it could be spending time outside, taking care of other people or animals, or membership in some other sort of tight-knit community. Each Patronus is unique to the individual; they cannot be copied and pasted. Learning how to make them requires hours, days, months, years, and maybe even decades of practice. It cannot be accomplished over night. But if a person can learn how, they will be able to banish dementors on their own.
All of this to say that crawling out of anxiety or depression requires a lot of TIME and ENERGY. So if someone you know seems to be struggling, but they do not seem to be “trying hard enough” or “getting help” the way you think they should, then take a step back and reassess the situation. They likely don’t have anything left within them to try any harder. When it requires every ounce of motivation just to get out of bed, a person cannot be expected to just “buck up”. THEY NEED YOUR HELP. They need someone to help with the mundane so that they can take a breath. They need someone to listen without judging, and to stick around even though they never have anything positive to say. They need someone to speak with the First Sergeant, because saying the words themselves is just too painful, too shameful, too hard.
This is not to say that you will be able to help everyone. Some people refuse to seek treatment, and at some point you have to discern between enabling bad behavior and giving help to someone having a hard time. But don’t give up before you even start. Stay up with them all night, because now you know how to save a life.