The following is a Gust Post by a woman named Claire. Claire suffers from OCD, Agoraphobia, Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Depression and fought for 2 long years to be able to take this single vacation. This is her story, in her own words, about her magical trip to Walt Disney World.
If you would have told me back in 2007 that I was going to go to Disney World and love it, I would have thought you were crazy. In 2007 I was diagnosed with having an extreme panic disorder and agoraphobia. At one point it was so bad, I could not even leave my bed. But after years of therapy and the right combinations of medications, I have been able to live a semi normal life. 2 years ago, with the help of my therapists, I started on my journey to Disney. I wanted to do it for my 3 Disney obsessed daughters. And I am so glad that I did.
I am a single mom, not by choice. My daughters are everything to me. And it hurt seeing them talk about their friends going to Disney with an uncertainly. So I decided to make their dreams come true. For a solid year, with a date in mind, I worked on myself, overcoming some crazy irrational fears. I was also going through a nasty divorce and custody battle as well as having a special needs child. It was the wrong time for me to become vulnerable but honestly, the right time would never come if I kept avoiding it. This was probably the single most horrible time in my life but with pain comes growth and I sure did grow. I started to understand my condition and how to get through the dark panic and fear. To know I would survive, thrive, and be ok, which is very hard for those of us with this condition.
A year before our trip date, I told my 3 daughters that during Mardi Gras break 2016, we were going to Walt Disney World. The sheer excitement on their faces made every hard second totally worth it. But my work was not done. Not even close! I had to be ok with leaving my home for a week. When you have agoraphobia your home is your safe place. It is hard to leave your safe place, even for a few minutes. And I was going to leave it for a week. So how did I do it?
First I started with a safety item, something that I could take with me to help me feel safe and comfortable. For me that was an ancient stuffed animal that always brought me comfort. This would be that stuffed animal’s first trip to Disney too and we were doing it together. I also brought along someone to help me when I couldn’t handle it, when I was freaking out, when I needed to be slapped back into reality, and also to help with the kids. I prepared for the trip for a solid year and at the last minute, I freaked out. I did not want to leave, I wanted to cancel the trip, I wanted to run away and hide. I couldn’t breathe and I completely melted down over leaving my home. But that is normal for someone like me, completely normal. Thankfully I have an amazing village of friends that lifted me up when I could do it myself.
Once the day arrived, the day we were leaving for Disney, I could not breathe and the thought of leaving my home, any moment now, sent me into an intense panic. But I got into the car and settled in for a long drive. There were tears, moments of nausea, cold sweats, and more panic attacks than I care to admit but I made it, we had arrived at Walt Disney World. Check in was quick and easy they even let us check in hours earlier than the normal check in time, and I asked for them to give us a very quiet room and they completely accommodated my request. Our room was quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the resort, and exactly what I needed. We spent the day adjusting to our surroundings and unpacking.
The next morning we woke up and headed to Magic Kingdom on the resort bus transport. That was probably the worst mistake I made this entire trip.
Magic Kingdom on a Friday (and on Monday’s) is always the busiest days and we were smack dab in the middle of a huge crowd. It was not easy or fun but I tried to power through for my daughters. I had zero fun that day and when we headed back to the hotel to rest, I was secretly relieved to be leaving. After we rested we went back and that is when I could not hold it in any longer and HAD TO get out of there as fast as possible. My oldest only had a chance to ride 1 ride (I did not ride) before I was dragging us back to the resort in tears. The bus was crowed and I was dripping in sweat from having nonstop panic attacks. We got back to the room and I started throwing up. I wanted to go home, I wanted to leave this awful place, I wanted it to be over. I threw up for a solid hour before I passed out from sheer exhaustion. I was miserable and was in a horrible place mentally and emotionally.
The next day, I got up and got dressed and headed out to Hollywood Studios. It was my middle daughter’s 5th birthday and I could not let her down. We were the only ones on the bus transport that morning and I cried the entire way to the park. I wanted to go home so badly that I was in actual physical pain. My girls took in a show while I found a quiet spot to calm down and get myself together. Quiet spots do exist in Disney World, you just have to ask a Cast Member and the Cast Members that I met that morning were amazing. They helped me map out spots in the park to escape to when I needed it. They were completely understanding of my condition, proud of me for even being there, and actually made me feel really at ease. I got up the courage to see the Frozen sing along attraction and I am so glad that I did because I laughed so hard, I had tears rolling down my face. The only other attraction I did was the Beauty and the Beast live show and it was beautiful and comfortable for me. I told a Cast Member and she made sure to sit me near an exit and to not crowd the area I was in. To say that Disney is accommodating is an understatement. They go well above and beyond for their guests.
Hollywood studios ended up being not crowded at all and I was able to walk the entire park without feeling really uncomfortable. By the time the park started to get busy, we were done and already headed back to the hotel, the only ones on the bus. I will never forget my 5 year old proclaiming that Disney had given her, her own bus, for her birthday.
I had scheduled us a break day the following day and I am so glad that I did. We walked around the resort hotel and took tons of photos, rested and took it easy. I was able to recharge and get ready to visit Epcot. The next day I woke up, got ready and boarded an empty bus to Epcot. It was another slow day, no crowds, and honestly, I had a ton of fun. Epcot is a great place to meet characters and my girls were LOVING meeting them. I never had to wait in a line longer than 1 or 2 people, everyone was so nice and accommodating, and my girls rode a few rides. I actually rode a ride and only had 1 panic attack while on it, so it was a great day! We saw all of Epcot and were back in the room by 2pm, resting and getting ready for our last day. Magic Kingdom, again.
I am not going to lie, I was terrified of going back to Magic Kingdom. I did not want to go back, But it was impossible to see the entire park in one day and there were still things the girls wanted to see and do. So I braced myself for another panic filled, puking, horrible day. But it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
There were small crowds that day in Magic Kingdom, nothing like the first day we were there. My girls rode all of the rides that they wanted to ride and even met a few more characters. No long lines, lots of space, and I actually felt ok. We settled into a really nice spot right in front of the castle to see the Festival of Fantasy parade and it was awesome. Crowds were still low and everyone was so nice. I really wanted to stay for the fireworks show that started at 9pm, it was our last day and we had not seen any of the fireworks shows. So I got my 2 youngest to fall asleep in the stroller and my oldest went to go ride some rides while I sat by the least crowded spot by the castle and waited. I actually had a great time people watching and right when the girls woke up, a show started right in front of the castle. We caught the entire thing and it was awesome. I found myself swept up into the magic and excitement that is Disney World.
We went and grabbed a bite to eat and then found a great spot again right in front of the castle for the Electrical parade and the 2 Fireworks shows at the castle. We chatted with 2 sets of families’ right by us and ended up making friends. I was surrounded by amazingly nice people from the same state we lived in and I felt safe in a crowd, which I have never experienced before. And I am glad that we stayed because it was pure magic.
After it was over, as everyone was moving down Main Street to the transportation areas, we moved more towards the castle to wait out the crowds. I was finally able to stop and take in the day. I had rarely had any panic attacks that day, my anxiety was in check, I felt warm and happy and loved and most importantly, safe. Nothing bad ever happens at Disney. It is true what they say, the Disney Bubble exists and it is magical. When the crowds died down and we were leaving the parks, I started to cry. I was going to miss this place with my entire heart. I had found my home away from home.
There were still long lines at the bus transport back to the hotel but I informed the Cast Member about my condition and they made sure I had a safe and non crowded spot on the bus. I never knew I could be ok in a full bus full of strangers. I made it back to the resort with only having 1 panic attack on the bus. A huge victory for me.
I didn’t want to leave but our time was up. The ride back was pretty good up until about 4 hours away from home. My anxiety came back and came back hard. I had a few panic attacks and realized that I needed to drive so that I would feel more in control. So I drove us home. I was so happy to be home and back in my safe place but a part of me was left in Disney and I wanted to go back. So we are planning our next Disney vacation for 2 years from now. I now know that I can do it as long as I embrace the Disney Bubble and stay away from the parks on the most crowded days. I will have panic attacks and bad days and want to go home with every fiber of my being and I may throw up and pass out, but I will survive. And that is the secret to surviving agoraphobia. Knowing that no matter what, you will survive. You will survive you will get through it and you will look back and be so unbelievably proud of yourself for taking your fear by the balls and telling it that despite it, you are going to live.
Disney is truly a magical place and a place that even I felt safe and at home. And I hope you one day will too.
Claire received 2 One Day Park Hopper Passes to Walt Disney World in exchange for writing about her experience. All photos are property of the writer and of As Dreamers Do.