Have you read the Harry Potter yarns? Did you see the flicks? Answering “no” means either you’re lying to me or you’ve been living in the deepest cave on a hunk of nitrogen ice and silicate rocks in the most remote region of the Kuiper Belt with your eyes sewn shut and your thumbs twisted firmly into your ears.
So, since we’ve all read Harry Potter books and/or seen Harry Potter movies, the term “Muggle” isn’t an unknown word to you. In the Harry Potter universe, a Muggle is a person without magical powers. Aunt Vermillion, Uncle Owen, Cousin Doodlebooper. Those guys are Muggles, and they will never understand magic because they have no magical powers. All they can do is observe magic. They’ll never know what is like to be a wizard or witch.
In the behavioral health universe, “Muggle” is a word shanghaied by my pals and I in DBSA Albuquerque to refer to a person without a mental health diagnosis. A Muggle is someone without a mental health diagnosis, a person who does not know what it is like to take medications, go to therapy, learn and develop tons of coping mechanisms, and maintain their behavior daily just to keep the symptoms of bipolar or ADD or depression or schizophrenia or PTSD or OCD or every flavor of anxiety at bay, to keep these symptoms from having hugely detrimental effects in their lives. A Muggle in the behavioral health universe can observe the symptoms of a mental health diagnosis but will never understand what it’s like to deal with symptoms of a mental health diagnosis. They’ll never know what it’s like to be a Peer.
In the behavioral health universe, who can be considered a Muggle? Many providers are Muggles. Politicians by and large are Muggles. Family members can be Muggles. Friends. Pastors. Musicians. Forest rangers. Police officers. My two rabbits (they are miffed I haven’t been talking about them enough in my blog). The neighbor next door whose tree I felled. Judges. Lawyers. TV hosts. Game show contestants. The CEO of Trump Industries. Authors. Poets. Lab techs. Girl Scouts. Men. Women. Children. Anyone who doesn’t live with the challenges and triumphs of having a mental health diagnosis is a Muggle.
While it’s a jokey, ha ha, flippant wholesale thievery of a word from a fictional literary source, the word Muggle has much more weight and significance than being an “inside-joke” for me and my pals. I’ve been watching the social progression and entomological evolution of peer usage of “Muggle” in support groups, at meetings, in classrooms, with providers, and everywhere else Peers insert themselves into our communities. What have I seen? What differences are noteworthy? What do peers have to say about it?
Peers Using the Word Muggle is Empowering.
An unfortunate circumstance of the Peer Experience is the symptoms of a mental illness often rob us of confidence, worth, and self-certainty. For me, time and again I was fired from jobs. My marriage shattered. I lost some of my closest, dearest friends. I was convicted of felony embezzlement. I flunked out of college one semester short of graduation. All of these life circumstances are life experiences 100% attributable to undiagnosed and unmanaged bipolar symptoms. I went from being the Golden Child of New Mexico Mineralogy (this was a nickname coined by others, not me) to being a pariah who couldn’t sell a 15 cent broken quartz crystal to a mineral collector anywhere in New Mexico, and many regions near, far and beyond New Mexico.
How did this make me feel about myself? Worthless. Unworthy. Deviant. Pointless. Shameful. Valueless. Lost. Powerless.
I made the statement Peers using “Muggle” is empowering. I know it’s empowering for me. How can a single goofy word from a literary Brit kids series be empowering? Think about it this way.
In the Harry Potter universe, the kids who are stalked by creepy owls (who most likely legally aren’t allowed within 100 yards of a school) with waxed-stamped letters are the special kids, the lucky kids, the kids who are remarkable. Of course, Harry wasn’t aware of this.
Harry, living with his Muggle aunt, uncle, and cousin was kept under a staircase. He was “weird” and had “weird behavior.” Uncle Vehicular even threatens poor Harry on a simple trip to the zoo that “there better be no funny business.” Uncle Verizon presumed that Harry’s behavior would be a problem, and Uncle Vroom had grand reservations that Harry’s behavior would ruin the day and embarrass the family. Sound familiarly stigmatizing, Peers?
The upside to the Harry Potter epic poem is Harry learns there are other kids out there with magical powers. He learns his behavior is not bizarre, it’s only that his adoptive family doesn’t (and can’t) understand what it’s like to live with magical powers. And he learns that having magical powers is totally metal cool and his adoptive family is quite envious of his innate abilities.
Is the analogy sinking in? If you don’t have a mental health diagnosis, you don’t (and can’t) understand what it’s like to live with a mental health diagnosis. Only other Peers can. We Peers are not weird, we Peers are the magical ones, we Peers have special talents, and we Peers are remarkable. And all because we live with the challenges and triumphs of a mental health diagnosis.
When Peers use the word “Muggle” to describe others without a mental health diagnosis, it is empowering because for once we’re not the outcasts and we’re not the bizarre people in the room. Stigmatization? Misdirected envy from anyone who doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis. The feeling of isolation? Replaced by the unity and acceptance of Peer Support.
Living with a Mental Health Diagnosis is a Gift, Not a Curse.
So, over the past few years DBSA Peers in New Mexico have been inserting the word “Muggle” into the narrative, and from direct conversations, for the past few years a good number of providers, politicians, policy-makers, etc., have taken umbrage with being referred to as “Muggles.”
What is an explanation of their distaste for the name “Muggle”? I’ve been told it’s belittling, and it serves no purpose other than to separate Peers from everyone else, and it gives the impression that Peers hold a station above everyone else.
Here’s the thing. We’ve already been separated from everyone else by the reality that we have mental disease symptoms and others do not. And by and large, we often feel we are on the bottom of a deep, endless pit looking up towards whatever sunlight might grace our diminished presence. I even heard a state senator proclaim proudly at a public meeting “Real change comes from the top down.” Top: Legislature. Bottom: Peers.
And, there’s even a wonderful name placed upon us that describes those with a mental health diagnosis who utilize services:
We didn’t choose this name, and talk about belittlement. “Consumer” makes us sound like an economic unit for wealth-producing throughput. Take a Peer, put him through psychiatric services, pull him out on the other end, bill the insurance. “Consumer.” Ick.
Considering Peers have a label like “Consumer” that, to we Peers, is belittling, dismissive, bland, presumptive, and DISEMPOWERING, I’m uncomfortable discouraging my friends from using the word “Muggle” that turns that disproportionate notion on its head.
Really, why would I discourage a one-word communal concept that generates so much community worth? That makes very little sense at all. My peer advocacy has always been transparent. I’ve never had huge aspirations to lord over New Mexico behavioral health upon a throne forged from the skulls of my slain mortal enemies (good thing my mortal enemies are parakeets and hamsters). What I’ve always strived for is to help my friends empower themselves. “Muggle” is a perfect, effective empowerment tool for Peers.
As a peer dealing with bipolar symptoms that have robbed me time and again of my dreams and my happiness, that one word like “Muggle” can help me make sense of my recovery journey and can help me regain some of my forgotten strength, value, and abilities makes “Muggle” an amazing word with an amazing worth.
Other Peers? At DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups, the word “Muggle” is a topic that can immediately and immensely change the dynamic of the conversation. Bring up “Muggle” in group and it’s an automatic reminder that we are special, remarkable, and valuable. It is a testament that we are not alone in our recovery journeys. We are magical.
Look, Peers saying those without a mental health diagnosis are “Muggles” is not meant to hurt feelings or lessen our gratitude for those who dedicate their lives to helping us make our lives better. Still, isn’t the point of meds, therapy, exercise, WRAP, advanced psychiatric directive, support network, coping skills, self-awareness, personal responsibility, peer support groups, and all the other stuff we Peers make use of every second of every day designed to help us make our lives better? Since “Muggle” is such a positive and simple additional way for us to take charge of our dreams, happiness, and destiny, where’s the harm in Peers adding the word “Muggle” to our recovery & wellness toolkit?
Muggle… for all its simplicity, it is immeasurably empowering for Peers. Quite the magical word indeed.
Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.