Negotiating with the Sorting Hat

Everyone has a favourite Hogwarts House (don’t deny it, I’ve seen you waving your wand and muttering spells). Everyone secretly hopes the Sorting Hat will choose them for that House when it slips onto their heads and over their eyes. Why? Because they know that is where they will fit in – or where they want to fit in.

What’s in a House?

Generally, members of each house are known for possessing some common characteristics. They are known for being courageous or clever or crafty or kind. And so it is with great trepidation that each first-year stumbles over to the little stool in the Great Hall and settles the Sorting Hat on his or her head on the first night at Hogwarts, hoping that the Hat will place them in their favourite House.

So pretend this hat is black and pointy. Use your imagination.

So pretend this hat is black and pointy. Use your imagination.

As a first-year, you believe that the Sorting Hat is all-powerful and that its word is law. Only later, after discussing it with others, do you realise that most people negotiated their way into whichever House they ended up in. Harry convinced the Sorting Hat he belonged in Gryffindor, not Slytherin; Neville narrowly avoided Hufflepuff; and Hermione almost went to Ravenclaw. That conversation with the Sorting Hat’s little voice in your ear is one of the most personal of your life, as the hat looks into all your potential and you persuade it one way or another.

Other people are hats

Every one of us has some idea of how we want to be thought of and remembered. Throughout our lives we are labelled, tempted and excluded by different groups of people and societies, as we achieve certain goals and make various decisions. Many of those decisions are very, very difficult, but there is usually no right or wrong choice (although it certainly feels that way at the time). The paths you choose, like the House you’re Sorted into, will influence how you are remembered by others, however, so try to imagine where each road will put you in ten or twenty years’ time.

It is very easy to go along with other people’s ideas of who you are and what you should become. Always remember that you have the power to decide your House and whatever it is you want to be known for. You can negotiate with the Sorting Hat.

5 experiences I would have missed if I had died as planned

Today marks the first anniversary of my suicide attempt. My emotions regarding this milestone differ by the hour, but mostly it feels like any of the other things one suddenly remembers, such as, “Oh yeah, I’ve been living in this house for five years now,” or “Huh, can’t believe it’s been nine years since I graduated.” It changed my life, but it doesn’t define me. What a relief to realise that.

Looking back, I can only relate to that day in terms of all that has happened since. Now, I can’t imagine my life without the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had over the past year. Here are five of them:

1) Feeling proud of my body for the first time in my life

And not because of how it looks, but because for the first time, I have taken charge of my body and know what it is capable of. I used to take my body for granted and treated it as a functional tool for getting around and expressing myself. The rest of my body has had to compensate for the loss of my legs. I have pushed it and challenged it. My body has risen above my expectations in ways I would not have thought possible. Body, you rock.

2) Playing volleyball with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met

I have never been a sporty person or an adrenaline-junkie. My hand-eye coordination sucks. But learning to play paravolley (sitting volleyball) has been a liberating experience for me. I have learnt that you can do anything if you practise long enough (despite my hand-eye setbacks, my volleyball skills are improving). I have also gotten to know several other people with disabilities (including a Paralympian!), who just happen to be awesome. We are all learning from each other and encouraging each other. Most of all we get each other when it comes to the challenges posed by our disabilities.

ParaVolley South Africa | Facebook Page

3) Acknowledging and understanding my depression (and myself)

It wasn’t until after my suicide attempt that I spoke to anyone about my feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and failure. When I finally understood that there was a medical cause for them and that treatment was possible, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, I could be easier on myself and life could get better.

No matter what scary thing you’re going through, sharing the load with someone will always make it easier. Yes, sometimes they won’t be able to fix it or solve it, but they can hold your hand and go through it with you. There will always be someone willing to help. If you don’t want to make a loved one responsible for coping with your struggle, talk to a professional or call a helpline. The people on the other end of the line really do want to help and they’re usually experienced. Wouldn’t you rather learn to drive from a seasoned driver than from your brother who takes the bus?

4) Finding a new passion and purpose

For a long time it felt as though I had pursued my dreams and failed at all of them. It took a disability to help me realise what I had in me and how I could use my experiences to make a difference. Always have faith in yourself, because there is no one else exactly like you and somewhere out there is a need and a gap the perfect size for you.

5) Making new friends and reconnecting with old ones

Over the past year, my depression, disability and rehabilitation have introduced me to a number of kind, intelligent, talented people that I would never have known otherwise. The road to recovery has also been smoothed by the constant, unfailing love and support of old friends and family. Near-death, life-altering experiences seem to erase the social barriers between people. We say the things we almost didn’t get a chance to say and reassess the content of our lives. The wonderful people in my life have taught me how great and diverse the world is, and shown me how bright the future can be if we nurture the good in it.

6 songs that helped me through a winter without legs

In every culture, music has the power to connect people in spite of their differences. Music encourages the spirit, stimulates the imagination and inspires emotions of all sorts. My life has been enriched by music and I could not imagine living without it. Over the past few months I have been accompanied by music through the rain and cold to making a new life with wheels, instead of legs. These are a few of the songs that gave me strength and joy and motivation.

1) Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding

This has to be one of the most hope-inspiring songs I have ever heard. When the chorus bursts out, like sunshine through the clouds, you really can believe that the future is bright with endless possibilities.

Favourite lyrics:

After the war we said we’d fight together
I guess we thought that’s just what humans do
Letting darkness grow
As if we need its palette and we need its colour
But now I’ve seen it through
And now I know the truth:
That anything could happen…

Music for a winter without legs

Album: Halcyon Days (Deluxe edition)

Other good songs: My Blood (after my suicide attempt went so gruesomely wrong, I can relate quite grotesquely to the line “blood on the rocks”), the earworm Only You, the buoyant JOY, Dead In The Water (especially the opening lines), Lights, You My Everything, Hearts Without Chains, and lastly the cover of Alt-J’s Tessellate (featuring a jazzy saxophone solo quite different to Ellie’s other music).

2) Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is) – Pet Shop Boys

This is such a feelgood song; a celebration of life with the sound of a Caribbean carnival.

Favourite lyrics:

Although we see the world through different eyes
We share the same idea of paradise
So don’t search in the stars for signs of love
Look around your life you’ll find enough

Album: Bilingual

Other good songs: The whole Bilingual album has a Latin American flavour, with exotic rhythms and instruments carrying PSB’s trademark wistful, satirical and political lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Before and A Red Letter Day are excellent songs, and Metamorphosis features a rare rap. I also recommend all PSB’s other albums, but especially Release, Very, Introspective and Actually.

3) Heart and Soul by Joy Division

On the eve of Joy Division’s first US tour, their singer and lyricist Ian Curtis committed suicide. His lyrics are some of the most articulate and poetic expressions of the overwhelming powerlessness, despair and loneliness that comes with depression. You might think it would be depressing to listen to songs like this, but in fact it is encouraging to hear someone put words to my feelings and to know that I am not alone in these feelings.

Favourite lyrics:

Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can.
The past is now part of my future,
The present is well out of hand.

Album: The Best of Joy Division

Other good songs: Isolation, Disorder, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Twenty Four Hours.

4) Go the Distance by Roger Bart

"Go The Distance" from Disney's Hercules

No song list would be complete without a number from a musical, and this winter I have been drawing inspiration from Disney musicals. One song in particular struck a chord with me: Go The Distance from Disney’s Hercules (this is the film cast version of the song of course, not the yucky Michael Bolton single version). This song beautifully articulates my desire to fit in and find my own sense of purpose.

Favourite lyrics:

I will find my way, I can go the distance
I’ll be there someday – If I can be strong
I know every mile will be worth my while
I would go most anywhere to feel like I belong.

Album: The Magic of Disney

Disney's Hercules - Go The Distance

Other good songs: There are so many, but these are my favourites – Circle Of Life (from The Lion King), Someday (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Best Of Friends (from The Fox and the Hound), I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) (also from Hercules), If I Didn’t Have You (from Monsters, Inc.)

5) Part Of Me by Katy Perry

Katy Perry has written so many empowering songs of self-acceptance, but the defiant Part Of Me strikes a particular chord with me. Perhaps it is because with the loss of my legs I felt that not only a physical, but also a psychological part of me had been taken away, i.e. the part of me that did all those things requiring legs – dancing, exploring, skipping and Pilates. There is so much of me left over, though, and I am rediscovering the impulses that motivated all those actions and learning new ways of expressing them.

Favourite lyrics:

Throw your sticks and stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows,
But you’re not gonna break my soul.
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me.

Album: Teenage Dream – The Complete Confection

Other good songs: The whole record-setting Teenage Dream album is fantastic, but particularly the singles, as well as Hummingbird Heartbeat and Peacock. I also highly recommend her new album, Prism. I find KP’s music grows with her, so although the themes she deals with on all of her albums are much the same, each album has a more mature and sophisticated delivery.

6) Hero by Mariah Carey

Okay, I know this is super corny, with an extra side of cheese, but this song helped me achieve one of the most important revelations of my life: Over the past year I have realised that I need to be my own hero. Friends and family are vital, but if I am to survive those moments when I have to make a decision or face a challenge alone, I must be able to fight for myself. A similar song is Proud by M People, which is a great motto to live by and always reminds me of Sarah Hadland from Miranda holding Heather Small’s head on a stick (…lulz for days!). To me it is not about being a holier-than-thou do-gooder, but about nurturing a sense of self-worth and accountability. You have to live with yourself every day, so are you proud of the person you are?

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Favourite lyrics:

When you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Album: This is a song I bought online, but it was first released on Mariah’s 1993 album, Music Box, and can also be found on all her compilation albums.

Other good songs: Mariah Carey gets a lot of flak, but I am impressed by her songwriting skills. She has written some of the most perfect pop songs ever, including All I Want For Christmas, Fantasy, Emotions and Dreamlover.

Now it’s your turn

Which songs have you had on repeat over the past few months? Let me know in the comments.