Lessons from Disney: Migraines, Fairy Tales, and Growing up with Ariel

As many of you are probably aware, this month is Migraine & Headache Awareness month. As in past years, we writers here at Migraine.com are tackling the Migraine & Headache Awareness Month Blog Challenge prompts. Today’s MHAM Blog Challenge prompt is to discuss “The fairy tale or character that best describes you” and to “tell us why.”

When I was a child, I memorized every word to every song in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” A headstrong, curious girl who loved adventure, I identified strongly with the Disney Ariel – a young woman who would forget important family events (such as a major concert) because she was out foraging for treasure and who was more interested in living her dreams than in fulfilling her societal obligations.

I watched the movie over and over again, and each time Ariel sang “Part of Your World,” I sang alongside her at full volume, not as a mermaid wishing for a life on land but as a young girl wishing for a life outside of childhood. Adulthood, I imagined, offered me the same things that Ariel imagined human life offered her: freedom, adventure, and self-actualization.

Two-and-a-half decades later, the affinity remains the same though the reasons are different.

It’s no longer an adult world I imagine and long for, but a migraine-free one. I want to live not as a grown up (which hasn’t turned out to be the awesome free-spirited adventure I had imagined), but as an able-bodied person. A woman who can take a new job, go shopping for groceries, enjoy a night out, and plan a future trip without worrying about what any or all of these might do to her health. A woman who doesn’t say “no” to life, when she’d so often prefer to say “yes.”

Sadly, like Disney’s Ariel and my child self, I still feel like my inner self – the “real” me – is at odds with the realities of the world in which I live. I still feel trapped by life’s circumstances. I still long for a moment when I will be able to claim full control over my world and my life, a moment when I can become the woman, the person, I always dreamed I’d be.

Complete self-actualization, it seems, is as much an unfulfilled hope as it ever was.

Thankfully, however, I have changed and grown in ways that my childhood self couldn’t have imagined, and this has – strangely enough – brought me even closer to my Disney alter ego. Unlike the 7-year-old me who accepted that I simply had to wait for life to change my circumstances for me, I have – like Ariel – learned that if we want something, we have to go out and get it for ourselves. That though life isn’t always what we dreamed it could be, we can make changes to bring us closer to those dreams. Instead of turning to someone or something else for help, however, I have become my own savior, my own heroine, by practicing good self care and shifting my perspective.

I can’t change the fact that I have migraine disease, nor can I change the fact that, so far, there’s no cure. Sadly, I can’t bring about the world of my dreams. I can, however, make the best of the one I’m in, and amazingly that’s often enough. It is this, I suppose, where the similarities between me and Ariel end. In the course of growing up, I’ve realized something she never did: My happiness is dependent not on living a dream, but on deciding to be happy in spite of the reality.

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