Let me tell you a little secret:

I was an odd, anxious little kid.

I was afraid of so many things–roller coasters, boats (still not a fan), elevators (ok, I still don’t like those), fireworks, and so much more.

When it was time to go to Walt Disney World for the first time, I honestly wasn’t all too thrilled. I was a freshman in high school, and had never gotten over my fear of thrill rides, fireworks, and large crowds–I sincerely thought Disney would be just another Six Flags, a theme park where my anxiety always took over.

I was so incredibly wrong–I’m so grateful for my younger sister for constantly and consistently pushing a trip to Disney World, or I might have never gone. I even owe the Disney College Program to my little sister–she wanted to go to Disney World gosh darn it, and so my family finally booked the trip.

My first trip was not without its anxieties, however. Yes, I was sixteen and in high school, but I still didn’t like thrill rides or fireworks. I remember flipping through one of those guide books you pick up at Barnes and Noble, reading reviews and expectations of each ride, giving myself pep talks so I wouldn’t let my family down. We wanted to experience everything together, so I wanted and needed to buck up and step foot on some rides that I was apprehensive to board.

A list of some of the attractions I wasn’t looking forward to: Rock ‘N Roller Coaster (I hated most roller coasters in general), Splash Mountain (the drop!), Soarin’ (heights), The Haunted Mansion (I hated haunted houses…still do), and any of the fireworks shows (explosions, loud noises).

When I arrived, however, I was so enthralled by the magic of Disney that I got over my fear and did every one of these attractions. I loved them. Most of these have become some of my all-time favorites. I love Splash Mountain and The Haunted Mansion especially, and I’m so glad I overcame my fear to have adventures with Brer Rabbit and to board a “Doom Buggy” and survive the stretching room.

There was one attraction, however, that I couldn’t bring myself to do on that first trip: the fireworks.

I couldn’t get myself to relax as the crowd gathered to watch the glittering explosions in front of Cinderella Castle. The amount of people and the anticipation of the explosions and the noise were almost too much. I had a small panic attack and retreated to a quick service food place to get away from it all. I ate some chicken nuggets, calmed down, and missed my first chance to see the fireworks that I have now come to love.

I was disappointed in myself for letting those fireworks slip by, for not being brave enough to watch a quintessential part of the Disney experience. That was our last night during that trip, so I didn’t have a chance to brave the show until my senior trip in 2012.

I stood there as the crowd started to gather to watch Wishes!, freshly graduated from high school,  quivering just tad. I was still nervous, but I had decided to overcome my fear once and for all. I wanted to see those fireworks, so I stood among the crowd and decided to just acknowledge my fear and function despite of it.

And, of course, I loved it. Every single minute of it. I cried not because I was scared, but because I had been so moved by the show.

So. I’m here to tell you it’s ok to be afraid, but it’s absolutely wonderful to experience new things, to gather yourself for only a few seconds of bravery. You might still be afraid, but at least you know you tried to work through it, to overcome that particular anxiety. You might be able to push through moments of terror to find moments of wonder and laughter.

I still get nervous butterflies before the end of Splash Mountain (that huge drop!), but my heart always finds joy as we float through the joyous welcome party for Brer Rabbit. A few moments of fear sometimes give way to many moments of joy. 

If you’re a daredevil and not afraid of “silly” things like fireworks or attractions or life in general, that’s wonderful. Just don’t force things on your more anxious friends or family–my mom and sister and grandma did not force one attraction: I  just decided to board the roller coaster, the Doom Buggy, to watch the fireworks. I decided on my own, and I really think it made all the difference. It might not work with every situation, but a gentle push is far more effective than a aggressive shove. Now I love fireworks and those Disney attractions more than anything. People will always have irrational fears; they’re not weak for it. They just need time to decide to step on a Doom Buggy, to watch Wishes!, and to follow Brer Rabbit on his many adventures.

Life can be magical because of its experiences. The magic can be amplified when we can muster up a bit of courage to go after what we want, no matter how scary it may seem.


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