No, sadly I’m not here to announce JK Rowling’s addition of a new epileptic character to the Harry Potter Universe. I am however here to say that, post epilepsy diagnosis I found multiple ways to escape the harshness of this new reality into the magical realm of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and am here to share my stories so you can escape whenever you feel the need to as well.
As a person battling epilepsy, or any chronic illness, it’s important for us to take a break and escape the weight of reality from time to time, and to do so in a healthy manner. For me, I find that escape through the fictional world, full of endless possibilities that JK Rowling has created in her novels, which have expanded to films and full fledged amusement parks, where attendees can literally immerse themselves in her wizarding world.
I was a late bloomer to the Harry Potter phenomenon, picking up my first book shortly after the first film was released. To this day, whenever I am feeling particularly beaten up by and run down from an epileptic episode I still turn to the Harry Potter movies and books for escape because I find Harry’s perseverance encouraging, Lupin’s struggle with being a werewolf oddly relatable, Luna’s kind yet odd mind motivational and J.K. Rowling, the woman behind the creation of such a world incredibly inspiring. The books and movies allow for escape to a world without epilepsy, a world where persistence in the face of struggle and adversity leads to strength and triumph. So, JK if by some internet-blog-social-media-miracle you are one day reading this post. Thank you for providing that escape.
Now onto how you all can physically go to Hogwarts…
Since my epilepsy diagnosis in 2010, I have visited Hogwarts multiple times, not only in the books and movies but on its home turf of England as well as through the immersive experience of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida. Each trip provides a unique experience unlike the other but all have furnished a much needed sense of fantasy, escape, high level of happiness and reminder of the beauty of life. Things we need to experience from time to time in order to continue to tackle the daily epilepsy struggles, battles and blows it brings our way.
Universal Studios Harry Potter Studio Tour – London England
As mentioned in an earlier post, people with epilepsy can backpack across Europe, and while there, if you’re a Potter fan like myself you can make a pit stop in England to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour where you can quite literally walk through the great hall and immerse yourself in the intricately detailed props, sets and costumes that brought the magic to life. If the thought of lugging a bag full of your belongings around does not sound like your cup of tea, there is always the option of traveling to England and spending a few nights in one of many wonderful hotels and inns. Flying can be scary when you have epilepsy but as long as it is okayed by your doctor and you travel with someone familiar with your condition I am here to tell you that flying is ok!
As a Harry Potter fan, there is no greater feeling than walking through The Great Hall (where by the way you can get married… and yes, I’m starting to save up my pennies right now), or standing in front of the entryway to Dumbledore’s office, or even circling the scale model replica of the school as the surrounding lights slowly change to showcase the grounds from dawn to dusk. This is also a great experience for any movie buff or person interested in working in the entertainment industry. As someone whose path took a severe turn with that first seizure, from a career in dance performance to having no direction, I personally found the visit to the studio to be inspiring as a reminder that although my condition may not allow me to be involved in performance the way I had originally intended I could still contribute to the arts and entertainment industry behind the scenes or possibly even on film someday. So, if your path feels shorted or you fear for your or your loved one’s future, remember that there are options, alternative routes and ways to move forward in a chosen field with or without epilepsy.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Orlando, FL
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter parks provide a fully immersive experience, starting with a hidden entry to Diagon Alley, where you can get fitted for a wand at Ollivander’s, or peruse the magical gag gifts at Weasley’s Wizard Wheeseys. You can even survive a thrilling escape from Gringotts, (epilepsy permitting). If lights or sounds are one of your triggers though, I recommend skipping the ride but there is still plenty for you to enjoy, like magic musical and puppetry performances, interactive spots where you can cast spells with your wand and if you dare, a journey down Knockturn Alley. Just like in the books, you can take the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross station to Hogsmeade. The train ride, lasts 3 – 5 minutes. I will be honest, oddly enough it was not the high adrenaline, 3D rollercoaster rides of the park that worried me about my condition because while I do not know my triggers, testing has taught me that lights are not one of them. However while sitting on the train for the first time I found myself in my own head and beginning to feel anxious. It is a very low key and enjoyable ride but because the pace allowed for it, I found myself with time to worry about having an aura or seizure. Luckily I had loved ones with me familiar with my condition and they were able to keep me calm and reassured during the brief journey. There are also park staff members onboard the entire time so if anything were to happen they would quickly and easily be able to help. I include this info not to make you afraid to ride but to show that, even in the midst of escape, the seizure fear can still creep up. With quiet support the anxiety will pass. I was able to ride the train three or more times with no issues because my support system helped me tackle the fear the first ride.
Once off the Hogwarts Express you enter Hogsmeade, with a beautiful, near-life-size rendition of the Hogwarts castle hovering behind the village. There is another immersive, roller coaster style ride located in the school but again, if you worry the ride may trigger seizures there is plenty more to enjoy in the village itself. If you have not been on a roller coaster since your diagnosis, you can dip your toes in the water on Flight of The Hippogriff, a very low impact and incredibly brief coaster ride. If you know that lights are not a trigger and this coaster goes well for you maybe then you can tackle the rides in Hogwarts and Gringotts. Again though, if you are not able to ride the rides, you can still escape into the entrancing beauty of Hogsmeade Village. You can grab a bite to eat or a Butterbeer at The Hogshead and score some sweets from Honeydukes. Most importantly, rides or no rides, food, wands, Butterbeers, whatever. The most magical thing about visiting the parks is being surrounded by people with a shared interest, immersed in a place that provides a magical and imaginative escape from whatever stressor life has thrown our way be it epilepsy or other.
Now I presume most who have read this far into the post are fellow Harry Potter fans and I hope what I have written has inspired you to pick up one of the books, put on one of the movies or begin planning your magical journey. If you are not a fan of the Potter world, take a moment to think about what it is you are passionate about, the tools you use to escape from time to time. Maybe it’s woodworking, maybe it’s a video game, maybe it’s watching foreign films, maybe it’s closing your eyes and simply envisioning yourself somewhere else (aka meditation). Whatever it is, isn’t it nice to remember that you have this escape and that there are other people out there, some with epilepsy, some without, who all share this commonality?
Now every interest may not have such elaborate places as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter where its fans can come together but I bet if you do some research you can find a place where people meet online or maybe even physically to talk about your shared interest. If you don’t find a place to interact with these like-minded people, I encourage you to start one. It takes just one action to start a movement!