What I want you to know about finding your own depression-crushing Patronus.

Depression was the dementor in my life. But J.K. Rowling inspired me to take action.

I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.

I have been ever since I picked up the very first book over a decade ago, when I was in fifth grade, and I especially love “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

I’m also in recovery from major depressive disorder and attempted suicide. For seven years, I felt like I was in a very dark place. I feared I'd never see the light again. I didn't understand how an illness could suck the life out of me completely.


I found the dementors in Harry Potter to be especially terrifying.

For those of you who have never read the book, a dementor is a very dark creature, almost like a demon.

Image via iKobe!/Flickr.

As Professor Lupin explains in the book, "Dementors are 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. ... Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.”

Back then, I had no idea that dementors were based off J.K. Rowling’s own battle with depression.

Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images.

But now, I can see the characters pretty clearly: the dementor was depression; Professor Lupin, the therapist; Harry, the patient; and the Patronus, a treatment plan.

In the book, Harry was attacked by the dementors many times. He grew tired of it. He didn't want to feel despair anymore, so finally, he sought help. He went to someone he trusted, and Lupin spent many sessions with Harry.

At first, Harry’s Patronus only lit dimly. However, over time, his Patronus became so powerful and so bright that the dementors started to actually flee from him.

I read this book over and over again after I learned about Rowling's depression, and it powerfully changed my perspective of how I dealt with my own depression.

At first, I was afraid of the stigma attached to mental illness. I felt so alone. I was afraid of being called weak because it felt like life affected me much differently than others. But, finally, after suffering for so long and nearly dying, I found the strength to get help with my dementors — just like Harry did. And in doing so, the light turned on again in my life.

Just like Harry, I was able to eventually find my own version of Lupin, someone who I was able to speak to about my illness. And while antidepressants never really helped me, things like exercise, writing, and music became my Patronus. It wasn't entirely easy (remember, being able to ignite a Patronus is really advanced stuff!), but eventually I got the hang of it.

What’s most important to remember is that Harry didn’t do any of this on his own.

At one point during the third book, Harry and Sirius Black are attacked by dementors. They both nearly die. However, because Harry has worked hard to learn about his Patronus and his own power, he saves himself and Sirius too. Like Harry, I’ve learned that I can help others.

Photo via Warner Bros. Entertainment.

I also had help along the way, and it brought me out of the darkness. And my hope for you, if you struggle from depression, is that you can also find this relief. Your Patronus might only shine dimly at first, but if you keep working at it, eventually the dementors will run in the opposite direction. Once you learn to wield your own power, you will be able to drive those dementors away every time.

Expecto patronum!

Family

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

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