The Bad Trip

We lost a member of our family last year. It was terrible and tragic, as these things are. We remember him and feel sad every day when thinking about the hole his loss has left in our hearts and our lives and in the lives of the people who loved him, admired him, and relied on him. He was a hero to his family and friends and a wonderful light that has been taken from the world.

He was also a Disney lover par-excellence. He was with us on my first trip back to Disney as an adult. I remember so clearly him gathering everyone’s park tickets (in those days they were the hard plastic Key to the World cards) as soon as we had scanned into the park. Clutching a handful of 13+ cards he would take off at a very brisk walk. (Ever the rule follower, he didn’t run. As a to-the-bone father and community leader he would never shove or push. As a consummate competitor, though, he was going as fast as possible and getting there before as many people as possible). We would gather the strollers and children and meet him outside of whatever ride was agreed upon – usually one of the secondary attractions closer to the gate. He would be there, slightly sweaty from his trek, but already clutching those invaluable paper fastpasses. And the cycle would continue. He could go all day. His daughters have memories of him tirelessly riding Expedition Everest at rope drop and again at closing over and over until the lines were prohibitive.

Facing the first Christmas after his death, his daughters wanted only one thing. To go to Disney World. The rest of us had our doubts, but along we went.

The trip was not good.

Some might call it a disaster.

My kids, too little to catch the undertones, had fun but everyone else was sad and overwhelmed.

Disney magic could not distract when so much of the magic was helped along by the one who was no longer there with us. There were tears when we ate breakfast at Cinderella castle because that was what we always did, with him. Grim faces as we rode Expedition Everest three times because that’s what was fun, with him. Full days because we always wanted to maximize our park time, with him.

Coming home, I thought: I never want to go back again. That sucked. It was too crowded, too sad, to expensive, too, too, too….

Within months, though, I knew we needed a mulligan. That siren song of low-summer crowds, low-summer rates, new treats and restaurants called. The trip back was different, we took things slow and spent time at the pool – something we never used to do. We didn’t even ride Expedition Everest once because my kids don’t love it (there’s a whole other story about how we screwed up and took our 6 year old on it because she was tall enough without fully internalizing that she might be terrified – a lesson you would think my time on the White Rollercoaster of death would have taught me). We limited our meals to 2 per day and did the after hours events. We managed to take a Disney vacation that was about the four of us as a family rather than about Disney. Or about how we have always done it. I realized that the blogs and podcasts are wonderful home vacations but planning our trip based only on them was putting so much pressure on each moment to be packed with DISNEY at all times. I wasn’t listening to what I wanted, I was only thinking about what I should do and worrying about what I might miss.

What is the point of all this, you’re probably asking yourself. You’re right, there should at least be a point if not a lesson since I’m taking the time to write this down. My point is that we were trying to recreate rather than adapt. We needed to do things on our own terms rather than expecting things to be how they were. Self care is about listening to self and doing what feels right, rather than what society or community (even the smaller community of Disney-lovers) deems right or necessary. I’m not claiming that our approach this trip was unique – judging by the number of people in the pools with us it certainly isn’t – but it was our own.

In DBT mindfulness is one of the four groups of skills taught. Mindfulness, which I’ll certainly talk in greater detail about another day, means balance. Balance is sought between reason and emotion, between being and doing. It is a curiosity about self and experience that requires one to continue looking for all of the information about their experience and to be kind to one’s needs.

On our last trip, I was finally able to balance my being and doing minds by doing less and finding time to just be way more. To just be on the balcony with a book and my feet up rather than rushing to the next.

Those speed walking, busy to the last minute trips were wonderful and they contain memories that I will always cherish, but they are not true to who our family is now. We lost a member and a piece of the whole and it changed everything. I’m sad to see those trips and those moments go. I’m also at peace thinking about the ways that we might experience Disney and our altered family in the future.

The man that we lost was an individual who knew himself completely and was at peace with who and what he loved. I can only hope that we are able to find similar self knowledge and acceptance as we shift and change without him here to show the way.

Why Disney?

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Mary Poppins

Disney is the spoonful of sugar that allowed me to begin a self care journey. It allowed me to take my mind off of the difficulty of learning to run and gave me something to look forward to. I plan Disney trips for my family because I love imagining and planning for the next trip. Disney offers endless permutations and options to consider.

Do we go in the fall? or the spring? Do we stay in a deluxe resort? which one? Should we consider buying into the Disney Vacation Club? If we did, which one? Is the use year long enough at that one? Should I run a challenge? Would I ever run a marathon if it meant I could do the Dopey Challenge (that would really be the only reason for me)? Should we plan FastPass+ in a park with Early Morning Magic that day? (the answer is usually no, we’re of the sleeping in age). What about dining reservations? Can we really consume three whole meals a day? How many Mickey Bars should I plan to consume each day? (2, at least). Do I want to try that new Hei Hei cone at Aloha Aisle?

It’s fun and it’s nothing like the real problems I need to consider each day of my adult life. It’s a distraction. It helps me to get through the things that aren’t fun. It helps me in the moments when I feel overwhelmed or when I want to cry because I’m not sure that I’m actually a good parent to my daughters – I think I’m doing my best (as a Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) trained therapist that’s my operating assumption), but I’m not sure my best is enough to actually count as good.

It’s a spoonful of sugar that help me to be more effective at getting through those moments of emotional distress and crisis. It helps me to manage my anxiety.

I lead a weekly DBT skills group. Today, we were talking about distress tolerance and ways to take a mental vacation. Disney offers that chance every day. It’s why I’ve always got at least one trip planned, even if I know we’ll never take it. We can’t live at Disney. Most people can’t make a living at it. But I can distract myself with it, as needed, when things become overwhelming.

So, I’m sorry to those of you here looking for tips on running at Disney – there are so many people much better equipped and with way more knowledge to offer than I.

If I can offer three pieces of advice for planning a trip to run at Disney they would be:

  1. Go with a friend who runs about the same speed as you;
  2. Don’t plan to run your best time – stop for the occasional picture even if the lines seem almost unbelievably long; and
  3. Don’t plan to fly home the afternoon after your race (like I did,) you’ll want a nap and to walk around the park wearing your medal all afternoon hearing “congratulations” and “good job” from all of the cast members.

Like I said, there are so many people better equipped to help with planning your runDisney experience. Disney is more an idea here than a practical thing. A reminder to myself to find something I enjoy and use it to motivate myself through the things I don’t always want to do.

Uncertainty

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

Voltaire

I have never liked roller coasters. On my first visit to Disney World, my parents and I waited for 2 hours to ride Space Mountain. I was around 10. I stood there, palms sweaty, heart beat racing. Ready to ride. Completely terrified. When the time came to step down into the middle of that car for 3, I couldn’t do it. I just could not do it. It’s not the drop, I explain to people, it’s the ride up to the drop. That slow tick, tick, tick up the first lift hill. Usually, on the wooden rollercoasters of my youth, there’s even a ladder or stairs next to the track slyly inviting me, the hapless rider, to just hop out. To change my mind.

However, if I know that there won’t be a steep drop after the slow climb. I’m totally fine. Upside down, later drops all fine. It’s just the BIG ONE after an initial climb that gets me.

Space Mountain doesn’t even have a big drop after a slow climb. Sure. I know that now. I’ve since ridden it dozens of times. But on that day, I was uncertain what the ride would be like and my guess was that it would be like the horrible “white rollercoaster” an old wooden rollercoaster that was my first rollercoaster experience when I was just 6 years old at Valley Fair in Minnesota. My uncle, who took me on that first ill-fated ride, said that I kept repeating the whole way to the top “I can just get off. I’ll just get off.” And then I threw up when we went over the hill. Just threw up in his lap. It was not a good ride. That day at Disney, my parents sent me through the “chicken exit” alone with my shame and rode the ride. Even after they got off and assured me it was not that bad, I was unconvinced and wouldn’t ride.

What finally got me onto the ride was the combination of certainty – there are videos of the ride on YouTube – and fear of shame in front of my then boyfriend, now husband, when I went back to Disney with his whole family – nieces, parents, brother and sister – on a “get to know my family” trip. It was my first time back to Disney World since that ill-fated trip with my parents. He promised me Space Mountain wasn’t that scary. He promised me there was no big drop. I wasn’t sure whether he was right, but then there WERE the YouTube videos. I gave it a go. Sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, all definitely there. But the desire to fit in, to be a cool, fun girlfriend pushed me into that same middle seat of 3.

It was the unknown and my assumptions about the unknown that got me that day with my parents. Like most people, I have a hard time waiting for results or for certainty. I generally feel desperate just to know what will happen. I hear this same sentiment all the time from clients and from friends. Waiting for the results of lab tests, when we applied to private middle school for my daughter, when I applied to college. During the wait, I don’t think I even cared what the results would be, I just wanted to know. I think the reason it’s so uncomfortable not to know is the unspoken thought that:

I don’t know how I will cope with what happens.

We don’t know how to cope with what we can only imagine will be a horrible drop after a long and torturous climb. The reality is, that we CAN cope with most anything. We just don’t want to cope with all things. I could have coped if I didn’t get in to the college of my choice, of course I would have. But I didn’t want to. I can cope with the lab results not being what I want them to be, it might not be easy and it might not be good news when I get them, but I will continue to put one foot in front of the other, but I’m scared that it will be painful or unpleasant. There will be next steps to take in any situation.

I like knowing what comes next so I can make a plan for how I’m going to approach it. It’s easier to be executing a plan than it is to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. In my opinion, the worst moment on any major rollercoaster is the moment where you feel the click as the climb mechanism switches to the pulling mechanism that drags you down the hill. There’s a pause. That pause is the worst. Once the car is dropping, I’m usually too busy carrying out my carefully thought out plan: 1) scream, 2) squeeze my eyes shut while, 3) gripping the lap or shoulder restraint with both hands as tightly as possible, to worry any more. I’ve realized that it’s not scary anymore on the drop – it’s just not always fun. So I avoid the coasters with a big drop. I’ve accepted that while I CAN cope with the drop. I don’t want to.

And, with roller coasters, that’s generally OK.

The Big Promise

Personally, I am highly motivated by fear and shame. As a therapist, this is hard to admit because everyone has ideas that we should be motivated by positive things, but for me – fear and shame seem to work.

I learned this about myself a few years ago when a friend suggested that we run a half marathon at Disney World. I was excited to reconnect with this friend and, also, secretly a bit in love with Disney World and wanted an excuse to go back without my kids. So we signed up. She had run multiple half marathons and even several at Disney World. I had run to the end of the street. As soon as I signed up, the fear and the shame set in. What will she think of me when I can’t even run half? What if I get swept up by the little old ladies? What if I wait six months and then try to cram in training in a week?

All of these were certainly possible. But the fear. The fear of being ashamed and embarrassed in front of my friend pushed me outside into the Houston 100 degree summer. It pushed me through a couch to 5K training program and then a bridge to 10K training program. It pushed me through my first half marathon four months before the Disney World Princess Half Marathon. Finally, it pushed me to go to Disney World and run the Princess Half even after my friend found out she was pregnant and dropped out. Ok, maybe that one wasn’t actually fear or shame, it was Disney.

Through it all, Disney World kept me going by distracting me from the pain and the sweat and the I don’t want to do this of it all. Disney podcasts, Disney blogs, Disney message boards. What started as fear and shame turned into something that I, as a therapist, can actually be proud of (even if I’m a little embarrassed that I, a grown, highly-educated adult have come to love Disney as much as I have). I run now because I love it, but I wouldn’t have learned that without the fear.

So fear, don’t fail me now. This brings me to the promise. I promise to write a post EVERY day of the next year. That’s 365 posts. Some of them may not be very good (all of them may not be great). No one may read them. But I promise to write them.

Who Am I?

I am a therapist specializing in helping people who feel out of control of their emotions and lives. I work with them to identify their values and goals. I am also a recovered corporate lawyer who could not get far enough away from Big Law fast enough. I am also a runner and a lover of travel and, as must have been evident from the blog name, a lover of Disney (particularly Disney World).

I am a mother of two wonderful girls who often have to yell at me that they “DON’T NEED THERAPY”.

I am the wife of a charming and intelligent man who is well able to handle his own work and interests.

In other words, I am a woman with a great deal of advice and thoughts to share but no audience to hear them (sad truth to those who don’t know, therapists don’t really get to offer advice).