I love the Firebird sequence in Fantasia 2000. It’s always been one of my favorites, but in recent years it has made me think a lot about my journey with invisible illness and navigating a “new normal.” Since that last concept has become so universal with the pandemic, I thought now was the perfect time to write about what I learned from this beautiful short.
“Normal” is Fragile
The first lesson is that this state we call “normal” is very delicate. One moment we can be happy and thriving, and the next our world is razed to the ground by some unforeseen chaos. And maybe we didn’t even know how happy and thriving we really were until everything is different.
When you first find out you have a chronic, incurable illness, it can feel like the biggest, most insurmountable threat to everything you know. The life you’ve cultivated feels uprooted and yes, sometimes burned away completely. I was newly engaged when I found out I had endometriosis, and suddenly our conversations shifted from wedding plans to planning a surgery and worries about infertility. It felt like everything was different.
Chaos Burns Out
I don’t want this part to belittle anyone’s experience. Sometimes, the chaos lasts a long, long time. The volcano can erupt for years. It might feel like it’s never going to end. But it will. The fire is not the “new normal.” There is an “other side.” And I’m not saying the volcano will never erupt again. Chaos can always come back. But it’s going to burn out. You’re going to find a balance. You’re going to get to a point where you feel capable and things feel “normal.” A new kind of normal. But normal nonetheless.
The Hardest Part of Starting Over is Starting
After the chaos of a new diagnosis (or whatever it is that’s turned your life upside down), it’s alright to mourn. You might feel hopeless, like everything you’ve built for yourself is ruined, and now you don’t know where to start. The world may be grey and empty. But, to quote a video game that helped make me who I am today, “maybe starting a new journey won’t be so hard.” And once you’re ready and you decide to begin this new journey in your new normal, you might be surprised by how fast things can regrow.
Let Your Friends Carry You
We’re conditioned to withdraw and not let people see us at our worst. But it is in these moments, when we are so small and so weak, that we most need the company of our friends. And maybe we don’t want to go with them. We don’t want someone to carry us. But if we allow ourselves to be cared for for a short time, we can blossom and flourish faster, and soon, be back to carrying ourselves. You can’t do everything alone. You can’t withdraw into sadness forever. One day, you will smile again. And if you let others in, that day will come sooner rather than later.
You Will Reach New Heights
Yes, you may reach new lows first. But this journey that you are on will take you to many new places. Don’t forget where you started, how far you’ve come, and most of all- don’t forget to celebrate the victories.