Turning the Corner, with Help from Disney

OK, I realize that last week’s post was kind of a downer, about hitting the bottom of depression, losing perspective, deep denial of feelings, and the need to stop and turn things around. It even got me feeling more depressed again. But while it was necessary to exorcise those demons and warn against letting them into your life, it’s time to turn back again. It’s time to get back to repairing the breach in your life (and mine).

Let’s talk a bit about how I really started making the breakthrough to turn my perspective around and to start deciding to move forward again. For starters, a lot of it is thanks to some Disney and Disney/Pixar movies.

“What? Animated movies helped to turn your life around? How can Disney movies change your outlook on life?”

Obviously, if you asked those questions, you don’t know me very well.

Disney movies – well, Disney everything – is a big part of my life and has been for a long time. From the time that I rediscovered Disney in college to the point where I started sharing my love for Disney with my wife, with The Kid, and eventually the world through my writing at MousePlanet, my connection to Disney keeps growing. And their recent animated features, especially those done up in Emeryville, CA (home of Pixar Animation Studios), have really resonated with my emotions. They’re not just great animated films, they’re great films period.

So what actually resonated with me to help me turn my emotions around?

Let’s start with a movie called Meet the Robinsons. An unlikely candidate? Probably. But there were a few interesting points that stood out for me. I had been feeling particularly bad about myself at the time. There’s a point in the movie where the concept of “Keep Moving Forward” is explained to the hero, Lewis. The eccentric Robinson family talks about how they would never accomplished any of their oddball achievements if they didn’t shrug things off and keep moving forward.

Later, Lewis finds out that the villain, the Bowler Hat Guy, is actually Mike Yagoobian, his former roommate at the orphanage. It seems that “Goob” blames Lewis for the mess that his life had turned into, and was dedicating his life to destroying Lewis. Lewis tells him “Look, I’m sorry your life turned out so bad. But don’t blame me you messed it up yourself. You just focused on the bad stuff when all you had to do was let go of the past and keep moving forward.“

You just focused on the bad stuff when all you had to do was let go of the past and keep moving forward. Smack to the forehead! Ignore those trees, there’s a whole forest here! I started trying to focus on the mantra “Keep Moving Forward.” I even made it my computer password for a while so that I’d have to type it in every day and reinforce the idea. (Don’t try it, I don’t use it any more.)

That started me on the path back and gave me something to focus on. But it wasn’t quite enough yet. I could try to keep moving forward, but there was still something holding me back. Something in the past wasn’t allowing me let go of it. It would take another movie a couple of years later to help with that.

Up was released in May 2009. Until then, I really couldn’t fathom just how much a movie – let alone an animated movie – could affect me with no words being spoken. But the opening sequence of the movie, wordless through most of Carl and Ellie’s life together, had me in tears. From the time that they find out from the doctor that they can’t have kids through the time that Ellie dies, it just grabbed my heart. We then meet Carl as an elderly man, angry that he was never able to have children with Ellie, and angry that he was never able to provide her with the adventures that she craved, never seeing Paradise Falls with her as she had always dreamed.

I inhabited Carl as he went on his Quixotic quest to at least bring their house to Paradise Falls, to fulfill her dream on his own, and to at least bring her picture to the falls. It was a crazy dream, born of the feeling of loss and duty, and the only way that he could constructively deal with his emotional pain.

And then, in his darkest moment, he comes across the journal that Ellie had planned to fill with souvenirs of all of her adventures. When he had gone through it earlier in the movie, he had gotten to a point where the entries stopped, as if her ability to attempt any adventures was gone. But this time, he finds that Ellie had added more to the book that he hadn’t seen. It showed their life together and everything that they had done, even if it wasn’t the high adventure that they had originally planned. And on the last page, she had written: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”

She had given him permission to leave the pain, the unfulfilled dreams, and the guilt behind, and to move forward in a new direction. I don’t think my eyes were dry for the next 5-10 minutes as I went through this catharsis. (In fact, there are tears in my eyes as I type this, a year and a half later.) It was as if Benjamin was releasing me from my pain, unfulfilled dreams and guilt. It was OK for me to go on with my life without Benjamin being there. It was OK. I could live my life again.

From that day, I’ve been doing what I can to put my life back together again. To do things the way that I want to do them without feeling bad that Benjamin was dead. My life could be (mostly) complete without him. I’ve been working hard to open up my emotions again, to allow myself to feel the good and the bad, and to be a full part of my family again. There have certainly been bumps along the way, and habits and behavior patterns that had developed over the years still intrude at times, but on the whole I think that things have been improving tremendously, and I can only hope that they continue.

What has helped you to make changes in your life? Have you undergone a cathartic experience that helped you to come to terms with a loss or other major life event? What was the trigger and how did it help? Please share, so that others can benefit from your experience.

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