What I Want

I want to be okay. That’s all. I want to be healthy, happy, unconcerned. I want to wake up in the morning and be excited to get out of bed.

I want friends. I want people who like me and understand me. Not a lot of them, maybe – just one or two would be nice. One or two who stay. One or two who don’t move away or find other people or just stop talking to me all of a sudden. I want to sit in a group of people and not feel like the outsider for once. I want to be with them and not feel like I have to keep trying for them to like me.

I want to fall in love. I want to meet someone who is attracted to me and who I am attracted to as well. I want a relationship that goes beyond an exchange of phone numbers and maybe an awkward kiss or handshake. I want someone who understands me.

I want a job that I enjoy. I want to spend the majority of my day doing something that makes the time go by, and yet I still make money nonetheless, at least enough money to survive. I want a stress-free place to stay in and depend on. I want the opportunity to feel free, like I can grow and change and become who I was meant to be. I want to be in the light and the earth, growing tall and new and green like a vine, rather than stunted and ugly like a weed.

I want a mind that remains calm in the storm. I want to face difficulty with a carefree smile and a shrug, rather than the question of whether or not this is it, the thing that breaks me for good. I want confidence in my ability to weather the hurricane, rather than the fear that I will be drowned in it. I want arms that are clear and soft and free of cuts or claw marks. I want hope and thrill and contentedness.

I want little, I think. I just want to be the way people say I should be – a happy, beautiful, well-adjusted young woman with my whole life ahead of me. That’s what I want. That’s all.

The Beast’s Depression in Beauty and the Beast

So I pretty much think of Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast as a pretty perfect movie. It’s got a remarkably strong and proactive heroine who I, as a lover of books and stories, always saw myself in very strongly. It’s got some of Disney’s best animation of all time. It’s got a loveable and diverse cast of characters. And it seems like every time I watch it, I can find something new to be in awe of in the film.

Like the last time that I watched it, when I was struck by just how much the Beast suffers from depression throughout the entire film.

I think I always knew this was true to some extent, but I didn’t realize how strongly it was until my most recent viewing, when some of the Beast’s behaviour began to tie together in ways that it hadn’t before. And, I know, I know, some of you are going to be rolling your eyes and telling me that “it’s just a kid’s movie, there’s no way that they put something like that in there intentionally” – but think about it. It’s too consistent for it not to be intentional.

Think about how willing the Beast is, in multiple scenes, to just let himself give up or die. From the moment that he meets Belle, he assumes that the situation is hopeless, that she’ll never love him enough to break the spell. It’s his servants who have to talk him into actually trying. And when Gaston shows up at his castle with the clear intention of killing the Beast, he doesn’t even raise a hand to defend himself until Belle shows up and gives him reason to. He doesn’t personally care if he lives, dies, or stays a Beast forever – he only cares if other people are involved, and then he cares for them.

Think about how low the Beast’s self-esteem is. I mean, yes, I assume that low self-esteem would be common side effect of being cursed by a sorceress with the express intention of making it difficult for people to like you, but the Beast constantly refers to himself as a monster throughout the film. He doesn’t even try to be likeable for Belle at first, because he just assumes she wouldn’t like him anyway.

And I know that we’re getting into metaphor territory here, but think about the way that the characters talk about their years spent cursed. They’re described as doing nothing, as just staying in this dark and secluded castle without any hope for years at a time. On my last viewing of the film, I couldn’t help but think, “wow, what a shame that is, to lose years of your life like that”, and it was then that I realized how much it reflected the way that I tend to think about the years I spent depressed. Those years that I lost doing nothing, feeling unmotivated and disconnected from people. Those years that I spent feeling like I was an unlikable monster.

The more that I thought about it, the more that I realized just how significant the Beast’s depression is for his character. And the interesting thing about it is, I don’t think that any real resolution is reached for it.

I mean, yes, Belle confesses her love for the Beast, and he transforms into a prince and everyone lives happily ever after, but at the same time, the last time that we get any substantial dialogue from the Beast, just a few seconds before his transformation, he implies that it might be better for everyone if he did just die. “Maybe it’s better this way,” he groans through the knife wound in his back, and that makes me think that, as much as the story promises a happily ever after shortly after those words are uttered, maybe the Beast’s depression didn’t just go away with his claws and fur. I’m sure that not being a beast anymore and falling in love certainly helped, and I like to think that the happy ending promises that he’s at least on the road to recovery, but years spent in such a low mental state doesn’t just go away. It’s not as easy as all that.

And maybe I’m over-thinking it. Maybe his depression was magically cured along with his curse and his knife wound, but I sort of like the idea that it wasn’t. I like to think that the movie ends with the Beast, not completely cured, but certainly improving. I like to think that the happily-ever-after wasn’t meant for right now, right this minute, but it’ll come, and he’ll be happy and everything will turn out the way that it’s supposed to. I like to think that there are still obstacles on his path toward that happiness, but he’ll get through them, because despite what he might think, he deserves to. And if he ever forgets that, he has people by his side to remind him.

I like to think of that as the ending, because it states that there is no easy or magical cure for depression, but all the same, happiness is still possible, even for those who cannot currently imagine it.

How Anxiety Has Made Me Stronger

Some days are better than others.

I can’t really say what distinguishes the bad days from the good. Sometimes, it’ll just seem like a thought strikes me when I’m in a bad mood or when I’m hungry, and then my mind will refuse to let it go, clinging tight to it.

You’re directionless, and you’ll never amount to anything unless you change that.

Oh my god, you’re right, I realize, and suddenly the next few weeks are spent in a mad rush to get things done – even if there really isn’t much to get done. Especially when there isn’t much to get done.

Then, sometimes, I can go for days, weeks, even months without even remembering that I have anxiety. I’ll be relaxed, happy, driven but not to the point that I’m causing myself stress over it. I’ll think hopefully to myself, I’m cured! but even at the time, I’ll know it won’t be true.

Because at the end of the day, I know what I am; I am a person with anxiety, whether I like it or not.

I first discovered that I had anxiety when I was about nineteen years old, though I know that I had it long before that. I simply hadn’t attached a name to it yet, because I was still frantically Googling “why am I stressed all the time” to figure out what was wrong with me. Putting a name to the problem was a huge relief, but even still, I elected not to use medication. I wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea, but I wanted to find out if I could learn to control it on my own first.

After reading about the problem and coming to understand it a bit better, my first attempt at controlling it was through diet and exercise. I tried to eat healthier, tried to keep myself active, and with time, I did find that it made a bit of a difference. I was less prone to stress when I ate a good, healthy meal every two to three hours. The only problem with it was whenever I couldn’t depend on that level of regularity, whenever the third hour drifted by and my stomach was left empty and yearning, I got just as bad as I had been before. I have been known to go into panic attacks simply because the person in line behind me at Shoppers Drug Mart was just a tiny bit rude. So, yes, eating healthy and keeping active most certainly helped, but in no way did it cure me.

My second attempt at controlling my anxiety was through a simple change in thought. I tried to be more mindful of my condition and take things slower, recognize when I was getting bad. If I felt myself going into a panic attack, I’d try to talk to myself, remind myself that I was alright and that it was only my anxiety. If I felt like I was going to fast, hurdling toward a brick wall that I knew would break me, I’d remind myself that I needed to slow down. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes I simply forgot about it.

My attempts at controlling anxiety have, as you can see here, been flawed – but effective nonetheless. Regardless of their moments of failure, they have, nonetheless, made me a much stronger person. When I discovered that I had anxiety, it was only because I was crippled by it – I had no other choice than to confront it. That most certainly is not the case anymore. I’m a functioning, self-aware person who is striving to meet my goals – not despite my anxiety, but regardless of it.

My anxiety will always be a part of me – I will never be cured of it entirely, but maybe I don’t have to be. Maybe my anxiety is less a disorder, something that stands in my way and mars me somehow, and more just a part of me – a character trait. Just like some people have to learn how to function in this world regardless of the fact that they’re abrupt or stubborn or self-absorbed, I have to learn how to function regardless of being frequently anxious. I’m a person with anxiety in the same way that I’m a person with red hair, and a person with an affinity for pop culture.

It is nothing for me to be ashamed of, and it is not something that holds me back. It is something that I have learned how to control and live with. It is something that makes me stronger, not weaker.

The Importance of Failure

I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young” – Walt Disney.

The first time I heard this quote, I was fifteen years old, and the thought terrified me. It was around the same time that I had begun to adopt Walt Disney as my hero, and so I assumed that there must be some amount of wisdom in it, but I didn’t want there to be. My life had barely even begun, and the thought that, in order to become great, I needed to suffer some terrible loss or hardship was daunting. It made life seem harsh and cruel, and to put it simply, I just didn’t like it.

Because of that, I don’t think it was a quote that I really thought much about over the course of the next six years. It didn’t come to mind when I fell into the depths of depression, or when my anxiety crippled me for a year or two, or when I started to pursue my writing career with whole-hearted dedication and received nothing but rejection. But it comes to mind now, and the more that I think about it (from the wizened old age of twenty-one), the more that I see some truth in it.

There were a couple of years after I succumbed to depression and anxiety where I resented myself for letting it get so bad. I felt like I never really had the chance to live between the ages of eighteen to twenty – during those years, I was just a hollow, empty shell of a person, just barely doing enough to keep myself alive and pass all my classes. Life was so incredibly short, I decided, and it didn’t help matters when you threw away a few years of it so carelessly. The person who came out of my depression was therefore an entirely different person from the one who went into it. I was determined to do every important, meaningful thing that I had neglected during those years – and not only that, but I found myself appreciating feelings of passion much more than I ever had before. Passion is something unknown to the depressed mind, after all, and so I bask in the glow of every fiery anger, of every untold joy, of every unyielding commitment. It didn’t happen to me overnight, of course – it took months, years even, to get from Point A to Point B, but my point is that even if my experience with depression was terrible and even if I consider it a failure now, it wasn’t a waste of those few years. It made me a much stronger person than I ever was before. It made me the person that I needed to be.

And as far as my anxiety goes – whether I like it or not, it’s a part of me. It’s something that I’ve lived with my whole life, something that nestled into my heart at birth and that I will never be entirely free of. It was there even before it had a name, when I was a high school student googling feverishly the statement, “why am I stressed all the time” in the hope that someone might have an answer and a cure for me. It was something that was going to get bad sooner or later, and at least once it did, I was able to put a name to it and learn more about it. I was able to find a way to live with it, to adjust my thoughts and actions around it. Even if it crippled me for a time, that experience taught me how to be a person with anxiety, rather than anxiety itself.

And here I am now, dealing with another bout of failure – with the rejection of my work as a writer that, really, if I let it, could end me the way that my depression and anxiety could have ended me. I could have given up when my traitorous brain told me to, and I can give up now that the universe tells me to, but I won’t. I will keep pushing forward, even when my failures cause me pain, because I know that once I heal from that pain, I will heal stronger and better than ever. After all, I’ve done it before.

And if I could go back and speak to the fifteen year old girl who was struck with fear of that quote, I’d tell her not to worry. I’d tell her that failure is a bitter pill to swallow, and it will hurt, but life isn’t about avoiding pain. If anything, it’s about chasing it – about doing the things that make you afraid and have the potential to hurt you, because those are the things that bring you joy and pride in the long run. And once you overcome the initial pain, you will be so grateful for it.