It was 2013.
It was my daughter’s birthday and in Southeastern Idaho, we were in the midst of a very snowy winter.
And I was dying.
As I came back from death, the searing, agonizing pain was more than I could bear.
I welcomed unconsciousness.
I had contracted bacterial spinal meningitis and at the same time, a large mass the size of a golfball had pushed against the side of my skull behind my right ear until I had succumbed to near death.
The infections that had attacked my brain left destruction in their wake.
I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t see correctly.
I couldn’t use my left side.
I couldn’t walk.
I couldn’t stay conscious without the help of massive amounts of pain medication.
Steroids helped to save my life, but I gained weight and had no way to exercise.
I couldn’t even move.
My husband had been in the midst of consulting a company in Florida, so we moved to Orlando.
As a teen, I had enjoyed living there while my dad was stationed at the naval air base for a few years. We spent some of our happiest moments exploring the brand new Epcot theme park, and now I hoped the warm air, distraction, and ocean breezes would help to heal, if not my body, my spirit.
It did. The first time I went back to the Magic Kingdom, I was in a wheelchair. As I watched the fireworks that night, I vowed that I would work to be able to bring my kids with me–on foot.
And I did it. I would take them, and we would walk. I got to know where all the best restrooms were, because I would be in so much pain from trying to walk that I would have to throw up sometimes.
I remember standing in the Tomorrowland bathroom watching some girls fixing their hair and putting on makeup and all I wanted was to one day be able to focus on that instead of having to shakily brush my teeth and pray that I would make it out of the park without collapsing.
That was in 2013. I moved back west and I tried to get better. In need of a good place to test my progress, I decided to visit Disneyland. Twice a year, for the last three years, I have trekked to California to measure my progress. The first few times were pretty hard, just like Orlando had been.
I hired a personal coach and started Crossfit in September of 2017. My last trip to Disneyland in April was proof that I was progressing at a much more rapid pace. It was my first Disney trip since the spinal meningitis without any pain medication.
My confidence was so great that my husband and I decided to see how I would do in Florida. We wanted to see how far I’ve come since 2013. So we did.
I got off the monorail and entered the park on a warm May day and I started walking down Main Street. The sounds and smells and everything were so familiar, but I was different. I was better.
I turned and there was that castle, and my heart almost burst.
I was here. Standing on Main Street, walking like a normal person and in no pain.
I was even comfortable. Standing. Looking at that beautiful blue and gold and silver home to dreams and wishes and hopes…
Some people might say that Disney is just fake and cheesy and too expensive.
I know that for me, it was a safe place to learn to walk again, without fear of being made fun of, because there was kindness everywhere I turned.
And that kindness, it got me through some hard days.
I would like to be able to say that I kept it together as I gazed up at Cinderella’s castle, but I didn’t.
I stood there, sobbing and overwhelmed with gratitude for how far I have been able to go. For all of the people who have helped me on the way. For the idea that “where there is courage, there is kindness, and where there is kindness, there is magic.”
It was enchanting.