Growing up in Southern California, Disneyland is one of those staples of being in the area it seems and I was lucky enough to be broken into the aptly named Happiest Place on Earth at the ripe age of 6 months old. Up until college, I went every year with either my family or a friend. We have video of me meeting Mickey and being sung to during the parade. I even performed there with my high school choir. It’s for this reason that it’s always held a special place in my heart. Yes I realize it single handedly brings out the worst and the best in people. I realize it’s overpriced and sometimes cheesy. But through all my liberal leanings and sometimes anti-corporation stance…my love of the place has never faltered.
That being said, Disneyland has also been a blaring representation of my disability. Growing up, though I loved going with all my heart, it was also a very stressful experience. I’m sure many people also find going to Disneyland stressful but probably not for the reasons I did. First of all, most of the rides have stairs not only to get on the ride, but they have stairs when you get off the ride, depending on which side you get let off on. Couple that with the copious amounts of walking you do in the park, it could easily be a person with a physical disability’s worst nightmare. And for a lot of years for me, it was. I got stressed out when there wasn’t a long line for California Screamin’ because I knew people behind me were wondering why we were going up the stairs so slowly (one kid even made it a point to yell out “why is it taking so long?!” as I made my way up the steps). Then I’d stress if the ride was going to let me off on the side that had the stairs, but not before I had to try get out of the ride first. That would create even more weird looks and people wondering why it was so hard for me to get out of a roller coaster car. So to put it in a nutshell, though I couldn’t have loved Disneyland more, it was also a very torturous experience for me because I was so concerned about other people and how they were perceiving me and my disability.
But ever since last year, when I really started to embrace my disability, my attitude has taken a rather large turn in general. After Christmas, my friend and I decided to take the plunge and buy a season pass. I’ve already been 5 times since the year started. And you know what? I take my time getting through lines. I let my friends help me out of the rides however they need to and I don’t care about the line of people waiting and wondering why they can’t in yet. I can even laugh at myself when I get stuck in the Matterhorn and can’t get out.
Of course, I’ve since discovered a great invention known as the Guest Assistance Card too that allows me to avoid any and all stairs on any of the rides which I wish I would have known about on all those 13 hour days I spent there as a kid, pre-teen, and teen. It makes the experience of going on rides even more enjoyable and a lot less stressful. But the biggest reliever of the stress is just not caring what other people think. Just being in the moment…my moment… and not getting caught up in everyone around me. Just laughing with my friends and letting go. It’s funny how something like a theme park can have such a valuable lesson hidden inside not just for going there, but for life in general.
Let go of worrying about what others might think of you. Let go of thinking about their needs before your own and just enjoy and see what happens. No matter where you are, I think just being you can make anywhere the Happiest Place on Earth.