I visited Disneyland during the early stages of the Coronavirus, but that's not what this post is about. Initially, I wanted to write a post about hygiene at the park. I thought sharing some wisdom of my two days there during a pre-pandemic would somehow be beneficial to a reader out there. Then I realized I had so much more on my mind. More important things than how to eat your churro with a napkin and a fork so that you'd never have to touch it (which totally takes away from the experience, by the way).
Like the rest of the world, I'm navigating this crisis with heaps of uncertainly, dabs of fear, and as much unwarranted positivity as I can muster. I've taken my own personal emotional roller coaster that all started with my Disneyland trip. Thunder Mountain Railroad keeps coming to mind as a good metaphor for me.
I think the situation could certainly compete for Wildest Ride in the Wilderness.
The Coronavirus epidemic has so far felt like the photo above: our lives in the hands of a crazy conductor taking us through peaks and valleys at various speeds, never expecting the drop we feel in our stomachs even though we know it's coming.
It all started in mid-March for me. Society was just beginning to learn about the severity of what this virus could become. It wasn't enough to scare me into not going. Selfishly, I had a particularly hard start to the year and I wasn't going to be deterred by this early stage information. Even so, I went back and forth constantly before deciding the afternoon before that, yes, I would definitely still go into the parks.
Any feelings of doubt I had were ultimately overcome by my naiveté about the situation. I felt like plenty of people my age do: If I get it then no big deal. I'm young and strong and I'll fight it off. No harm done. My drive to have a good time that I "deserved" (and justified as much needed for my mental health) ultimately trounced any reservations about the repercussions of going into an area where tens of thousands of people visited daily.
I went in as prepared as I could be, complete with gloves, hand sanitizer, and the self-regulated promise to not touch anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. As a whole, I felt like I succeeded.
During my time at the parks, one thought kept nagging at me. Why was the Walt Disney Company satisfied with closing all the other global parks (Tokyo, Shanghai, Paris) but keeping Anaheim open? Clearly us Californians matter to them just as much as any other fans, so it must mean they ultimately think it's safe to be here. Even though common sense told me better and that it was just a matter of time (Disneyland closed its gates two days after I visited on March 14th), my personal take on this information got me through my visit with a sense of confidence. Disney knows best.
The major dip in emotion on my roller coaster happened the day after visiting the parks. I came home to an email letting me know that my company was officially on a WFH basis. Shit. This is serious. What on earth did I just risk by going to Disneyland?
I went down a very large, Alice in Wonderland sized, rabbit hole. How many people did I accidentally touch while there? I avoided all railings and queues while waiting in line, right? Did I wash my hands - like really wash my hands - enough? There became no way to appease my anxious mind as I flew back to the Bay Area and I kept wondering if I had done enough to not put my husband (and apparently, my cat) at risk.
In the days returning home to a shelter-in-place life, I consumed factual information about the virus and quickly learned that I could be a carrier without even showing symptoms. This gave me immense feelings of guilt wondering if my frivolous, self-serving trip to Disneyland was worth the risk of putting people whom I love in danger. Soon, I learned this was no longer a narrative that affected just me and my little corner of the world. Not isolating myself was a necessity that the community as a whole needed for survival; I felt like I'd let everyone down.
Those feelings of invincibility, confidence, and willful ignorance left my body and were replaced by sadness, regret, stupidity, and guilt. My coaster had done a complete 180 and I was now stuck at the top of a terrifying loop.
Like most people experiencing an unprecedented epidemic, it took some time to find a middle ground with my emotions. I realized how essential it is to be informed, but not overwhelmed. I've made it a practice to refuse to shy away from information that scares me just as much as I refuse to let it consume me. And I'm definitely not going to slip into self-punishment if I feel a certain emotion that I didn't expect to.
As humans, we range drastically in how we are dealing with this virus. There are those who remain stuck in the beginning of my ride: believing they're invincible and refuse to let their lives be interrupted by something they "can't" control. There are also those who remain stuck in a permanent upside-down loop, concentrating on all the overwhelming and uncontrollable aspects of this pandemic. For me, it was important to go on the entirety of this ride in order to find balance. To both experience a naive way of thinking in order to discover where I needed more education, and to get stuck in a terrifying loop so I could be forced to find a way out. My conclusion? We are all going to feel frustrated and even depressed with our inability to change this situation, but that doesn't mean we can't also make the best of it - or even, crazily enough - enjoy it for how it's tested us.
I would be lying if I said I didn't find things I enjoyed about this ride. The way my cat purrs heavily in my lap as he spends a suddenly increased amount of time during the day there. A friendly wave and smile from a couple whom I encounter on my run as if to say "I understand. We're in this with you." The simple pleasures that are suddenly awarded new appreciation, such as stepping into the sun outside or seeing your friend's beautiful face during a call. These feelings of butterflies and enjoyment are just as much a part of the ride as the twists and turns. You can't have one without the other.
It's possible you're someone who just doesn't enjoy roller coasters (and that's OK!). They might leave you with a feeling of being permanently stuck in that upside-down loop with your stomach in your throat. There are others, like me, who love roller coasters. I enjoy the feeling of not having control, because it offers a feeling of gratitude once it's regained. There's something to the idea of being tested, of being scared, that can clear your mind to what's most important. The ability to live in the present and being willing to experience the emotion right then and there - not thinking about how you felt yesterday or how things will be tomorrow - is freeing. We must remember that we're human beings, full of complex emotions that tend to contradict themselves at times, and that's perfectly fine. We're doing our best to learn and live.
It's all part of the ride.