Post originally written on 1/1/22
I refuse to get myself involved in the current situation and online discussions surrounding J.K Rowling. I have my own opinions, of course, I do. – I am human after all. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I include and support everyone that is also part of the community. If this blog post isn’t for you, you don’t need to read it, you can simply click off and read something else. If you do choose to stay, I refuse to discuss or allow any comments that mention the current situation. No matter who you are, or who you identify as you are seen and welcome at Bewitching Reads. Hate and discrimination against either party are not welcome here.
I was very much a child who loved books. I have a photo of me at seven years old, laying on my bed, and next to the bed is an open copy of The Railway Children. I remember it so well because it was part of a collection of hardback classics that I was given as a gift from my dad one Easter. A seven-year-old, reading classics? That to me never seemed out of the ordinary, I was a child that liked books. I’m neurodivergent, so I suppose it is fair to say that books very quickly became my “special interest.”
At school, I was a bit of a strange child. – and that is putting it very politely, and is a story for another time! I devoured Enid Blyton books, my favourites being The Naughtiest Girl, The Enchanted wood series, and The Magic Wishing Chair. I was also very fond of The Hollow Tree House, which hasn’t been in print since the nineties so I’m glad I still have my original copy of the book.
Growing up we didn’t have a lot of money, despite this, however, books were never something that I had restricted access to. I am aware that this isn’t the case for a lot of children from poorer backgrounds, I was very fortunate in this sense.
My love of books kept growing, so did my love of writing. I started off writing about dogs that went shopping to the corner shop, before long I was writing Enid Blyton school adventure type stories and filling notebooks with them.
In 1998, when I was nine years old, my mum bought me a book, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, from there, it all began. A few weeks later my teacher started reading us the story at the end of the day too, I remember vividly, it would get to 3:15 pm and none of us wanted to go home until he had finished the chapter. The tables in our classes were renamed after the Hogwarts houses. – funnily enough, I was on the Hufflepuff table then, and I’m a Hufflepuff! Back then I didn’t know that though. Then The Chamber of Secrets was released. My interest in Harry Potter continued. Secondary school was really where my love of Harry Potter became noticeable.
Harry Potter wasn’t “cool” when I was at school. This was before the movies, my first year of secondary school was awful, to say the least. I was horrifically bullied for my interest in Harry Potter, and the fact that I was neurodiverse and undiagnosed only added to the bullying. Hogwarts was my escape. The Prisoner of Azkaban was already out by the time I’d secondary school, and lots of Harry Potter merchandise was starting to appear in shops. I had the backpack, the pencil case, the bedding, including curtains, and even the audio cassettes. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m old enough to have listened to the audiobooks on a Sony Walkman! – and I did, daily, on the way to school. I even fell asleep each night listening to them! – I’m 32 now, and I still listen to Harry Potter before I go to sleep. Harry Potter was becoming my escape from the bullies and my struggles in school. My mental health was declining rapidly because of school, and without it, I don’t think I’d have managed at all.
***The next paragraph discusses self-harm, please skip that paragraph if you are sensitive to that topic.***
I started self-harming when I was 12 years old. I was at school when it happened, too. I spent a lot of my lunchtimes hiding in empty classrooms, because it was just me on my own, and I rarely got caught. It had been a really bad morning. The classroom that I used to like to hide in was in the English block, and what had been the tipping point, were the taunts I received on my way there. Bullies will find the weirdest things to bully someone about. Anyway, I went into the classroom, stamped on a plastic pencil sharpener to get the blade out, and I won’t go into the detail of the rest.
Teachers didn’t believe me when it came to the bullying I received, I struggled with lessons, I struggled with the mainstream school environment. It was loud, and the older kids were tall and hairy, it scared me, but Harry Potter was there for me. Hogwarts kept me safe, and the fictional characters within the books I’m ashamed to admit were my only friends until I was sixteen.
“Harry Potter was there for children who felt like they didn’t belong.” Is a quote from the recent reunion special, and what sparked the idea for this post. As soon as I heard that I burst into tears, and didn’t stop crying for most of the day. I felt that I really did.
Even as an adult, struggle with a lot of anxiety. Most of my anxiety is social anxiety. I’m not going to sit here and say “It’s the childhood trauma.” That would be quite silly. Year’s have passed and although a few things have followed me, I’ve dealt with all that. The truth is however, adults can be mean too.
The real kicks came after my ADHD diagnosis. This was the mid-2000’s, and my school SENDCO said to my mum “girls don’t get ADHD.” There were only two teachers in my secondary school that treated me like I was a person. My PE teacher, I hated PE, more so the changing rooms, than the actual activity itself. She was a lovely teacher, I didn’t know at the time, but she’s gay. Our paths crossed a few years ago, as I work in education, and she is still a teacher. Back then LGBT wasn’t allowed to be discussed in schools. Since I’ve come out, I’ve wondered if she saw the signs about me. The second teacher that treated me like an actual person, was one of my English teachers. Instead of raising eyebrows at my Harry Potter obsession spoke to me about it. She asked me questions about books, she was interested, she didn’t just want to tell me off like the others. She was new to the school that school year, I was in year 9 now, and during a lesson, I was finding it hard to focus. This was before fidget toys, I was swinging on my chair and clicking a pen repeatedly. Instead of telling me off she walked over to me, knelt down by my table and said “Go outside, walk around the building 10 times and then come back in.”
I was gobsmacked. So gobsmacked I said, “What if don’t come back?” I had a reputation for leaving school and going home. The school called it truancy, I called it protecting my mental health. No one should be spat on, followed into the toilets and cornered by six girls, or chased home once off the school bus, while being pelted with stones. Her answer to me was “You will come back, but you best take your things in case you decide not to.” I did go back. Unfortunately, she wasn’t my teacher for very long. I then went to a referral unit and got an EHCP. I was only supposed to be at the unit for three months. I ended up staying just over 2 years. It was decided that I was finally settled, calm and making good progress, that it would do more damage than good to reintegrate me into school.
With every up and down I’ve had in my life, Harry Potter has always been there. Happy? Harry Potter, Sad? Harry Potter. In need of a confidence boost? Harry Potter.
I know there are going to people that read this and think, What the fuck is she on? But I also know there are going to be many that feel the same.
Hogwarts made me feel like I belonged somewhere. Even as an adult J.K. Rowling’s words stick me, always.
“Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”