About two months ago, I made a significant parenting mistake that will haunt our family for some time, and according to my magic 8 ball, our family’s “future outlook is not so good.” Eek. What you ask is this horrific lapse of judgment I have bestowed upon my family? I let my daughter watch Frozen for the first time when she was sick. It seemed innocent enough at the time. I mean, she wasn’t even into television, and I had never seen the movie. I hardly expected a barely two year-old to form any attachment to a script that was miles above her cognition level. (Hubby and I have actually decided there are subliminal messages in the movie to draw toddlers in. We believe it is most definitely a Disney cult conspiracy pirated by someone that hated their Mom).
So we watched Frozen. And then… another day, we watched Frozen again. And then… well… And then in a nutshell, our lives as we knew it were completely over! Now I have cursed my husband and I with a tot that requests (READ: demands, temper arms flailing style) to watch “Anna and Elsa!” “ANNA and ELSA” “ANNA and ELSA!!!” And if we are not watching Anna and Elsa, we are dancing and singing to “Anna and Elsa.” And as I sit here, Bad Mom style, giving in to my daughter’s (this time syrupy sweet request) for Anna and Elsa, I cannot help but start to feel this deeper connection to this annoyingly catchy movie. (Side note: Why have I listened to “Let It Go” no less than 100 times, and I swear, that’s the only line I really remember every time it starts playing in my head on repeat).
So, true story. You simply cannot watch a movie like Frozen no less than 100 times, and not begin to find some semblance of deeper meaning. For me, the depth I found in the movie that will haunt me for an undetermined future came in its parallel portrayal of Elsa to a person suffering from a mental health disorder.
[So apparently I am not the first, and probably not the last, over-thinking mom that has noticed this connection, as after a quick google search I discovered this revelation is hardly “new” news.]
After years of working in the mental health field, facing my own mental health battles, and hearing friend’s similar stories of struggles, I could not help but see so many mental health metaphors in this tot cult classic. The fear, anxiety, and isolation of feeling different from everyone else, and the sheer exhaustion of having to hold parts of yourself in from the world is a story which plays on repeat for so many that have suffered from various types of mental health disorders, addictions, traumas, and hidden disabilities.
The effort expended to “pass” within our socially constructed norms can honestly be challenging even for the most socially adept adult, but to a person struggling with mental health issues, the mask put forth to the world can be a wholly depleting feat. Additionally, the fear of being “found out” can be a legitimate fear as there IS a significant stigma towards people with mental health disorders. Thereby, the sheer exhaustion of trying to present as “normal” is key to understanding the survival mechanism of isolation often found in people suffering from mental illness.
Unfortunately, isolation from loved ones and connection to the outer world cannot erase problems, but rather freezes them in time. The path of chaos left behind, though not someone’s fault, is still there, and facing and overcoming these challenges is no easy feat. As Elsa flees to “freedom,” she leaves behind a trail of destruction cast from fear. Paradoxically, she is free but more trapped than ever before. Anna reaches out to her to face this together, without judgment, and with love. But the isolating, overpowering, loud, fear is an overriding cacophony too powerful for Elsa to hear Anna’s voice.
Awe, if only we all had a sister like Anna. She is of course a perfected depiction of empathy and understanding, and in realty people are oftentimes… not so much. But maybe there are a lot of ‘Anna-intended’ people out there, trying their best to reach out in love to those that are drowning or frozen, even if the messages fall short of perfect deliverance. Perhaps they are family members, or mental health professionals, possibly teachers, and even friends, but they are out there.
I had a conversation the other day with a friend about how proud I was that my daughter’s heroine in the movie was Anna and NOT Elsa (because they all love Elsa let me tell ya). “Elsa!” I laughed. “She ran away and left a huge mess for Anna to clean up. Now Anna, that is the real heroine.” You are probably thinking two things right here.
One, I really should not be talking about Anna and Elsa over my girl’s night out happy hours. #Truth. And two, how awful of a person am I that I would shun Elsa as I just have. So as I watch this movie closer, I re-evaluated. Elsa is so strong. She survived and lived in a way that she felt was necessary to save her sister and her family from herself. It takes strength and nothing short of heroism to live with and overcome such a “curse.”
One last important lesson to be taken away from Frozen. It’s a movie, which means there was a “happily ever after” that is just a little too rainbows and unicorns for real life. Elsa, could not get rid of her “curse” but she learned to use it as a tool and repair the damage through love. The lesson is beautiful, but the truth is living with a mental illness is not an “and then she used her curse as a gift for all the world to see” type story. There are no magical repairs to the years of effects of untreated illness, and it takes strenuous effort to rebuild a life. Mental illness is terrifying, and learning to own it, and live a fulfilling, functional life, is a story of true heroism no matter how you paint it.
If you can relate to Elsa, you are a heroine, and you are beautiful. And if you can relate to Anna, thank you, keep fighting for all the Elsa’s in your life. You are actively fighting and reducing the stigma attached to a terrifying and overlooked national health crisis.
So there you have it. I have officially watched Frozen so many times that I have decided it to be a worthy endeavor to not only analyze the movie, but to write about it. Send help now!!! And wine…?