|Art by Peter Ellenshaw|
On May 10th, 17 days ago, there was a single moment when I realized our Disney vacation was over. My husband and I were sitting in the airport, waiting at the terminal to board our plane, and I was snacking on some McDonalds fries while I tried to call our neighbor who was watching our cat while we were gone to let her know that we were on schedule to get home around midnight that night. But I couldn't reach her. I knew she had an answering machine, but her line just kept ringing, like the power was out. And very quickly I could feel it: my monkey mind returning, my anxiety brain churning out worst case scenarios and imagining a tornado swooping down our street in central Ohio. I felt my heart sink, not because of what I feared, but because of my fear itself. Oh. There it was. For six blissful days I hadn't felt it once, hadn't dealt with my anxiety or OCD. I was just fine; more than fine, I was in my happy place, where imagination can be real, and dreams come true. And now I had to leave, and remember that not only was the everyday world a different place, but I was a different person in it.
You might have heard the story that went viral around the internet a while back, about the girl who met Peter Pan and he told her she was beautiful. Here it is, in case you haven't:
This story went viral because it's a perfect example of the sort of magic you find at Disney parks...not just free hot dogs or a glitter wand dusted over your head, but moments that touch you deeply, a feeling of being in a world where other people truly care. And a place where no matter what you deal with in your every day, you can rest for a moment, be still for a while, and be ok.
When I am at Disney, the fearful voice in my mind that needs to know that everything is under my control and nothing is going to break or die or collapse or be ruined is quieted for a while. I am staying on Disney property: I don't have to worry about repairing the tub if it leaks. I am staying on Disney property: someone is going to drive me where I need to go. My meals will be delicious, my days will be filled with fun activities, and people won't think I'm crazy if I want to wear mouse ear flower crowns and carry around my stuffed animal in my backpack all day and cry when I see the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast come to life before my very eyes.
When I get home from Disney, I try to carry that magic with me. For at least a week or two afterward, I make eye contact with everyone I meet, and smile. I engage people in conversation even if they are perfect strangers. I look for what I have in common with everyone, and try to find opportunities to make someone's day brighter. And then the real world slowly creeps back in. My smiles are greeted with furtive, nervous glances or outright glares. And I return to my normal, not grumpy or mean, but apathetic, default self.
Here's another story about Disney that is similar and makes me cry, where a young lady who had anxiety and was suicidal met Merida, and she told her to "be brave." These are not isolated incidents people. Disney magic helps heal and make us better than we were before.
And always there is the memory of Disney. When I say that every time we go there, it gets harder and harder to leave, and the PDD (Post-Disney Depression) gets worse, I'm not talking about the longing to be back in 90 degree humidity with my hair a giant ginger puffball. I'm not referring to a desire to eat Dole Whips all day and spend $100 on supper for my husband and me. I'm talking about the way I feel when I'm there, the way that all of us who truly "get" Disney feel. I'm talking about the fact that I can spend months ahead of time creating buttons and necklaces and medals to give away, and know that instead of receiving an awkward look or a glare, my attempt at bringing cheer will actually...successfully bring cheer.
And yes, I'm talking about the fact that for just a few blissful moments, the cares of this world, the things that make us cut ourselves both literally and metaphorically, all fade away, and we remember not only the enjoyment of our childhood, but its innocence too.