A Disney World Redemption

Hey everyone!

I was working on a post about an October reading wrap up, but then I went to Disney World for a week with my husband and our family and friends. And the October reading wrap up had to wait.

To give my enthusiasm for writing about my Disney World experience some context, we need to go back to February 2022.

My panic disorder had come back full force in August of 2021, and by December of 2021, the daily anxiety and near constant panic showed no signs of abating. Around Christmas time, I took an online class with Nicole Sachs called Freedom from Anxiety and was doing a meditation challenge through Gabby Bernstein’s website. I was journaling every day and attending weekly therapy, but I was living in a body that felt as though my raw emotions lived just underneath my skin. I’d wake up to the feeling of a racing heart, a tight chest, and pressure in my head and throat.

Did I forget to mention that I had a bachelorette weekend to Disney World planned with my sister-in-law and niece the first week of February 2022 and my wedding was scheduled for six weeks after that in March?

I was struggling, but I was too scared to take medication because of all the what if’s. I’d tried Lexapro in the past and had a bad experience. And with my wedding so close, I didn’t feel like journeying down the trial and error road of anti-depressants.

So, I kept meditating. And journaling. And going on walks. And around January 2022, my anxiety started feeling better. Not 100%, mind you. But a noticeable difference which gave me confidence that the Disney World bachelorette weekend would be a hit.

I think you can guess what happened next.

I had a panic attack the morning of the flight to Florida and ended up taking a small dose of as needed medication before leaving my house. Once on the plane, I couldn’t eat or drink anything because of my intrusive thoughts. “What if I have to go to the bathroom, but we’re landing?” “What if I have an adverse reaction to something I eat, but we’re still in flight?” I spent the entire plane ride holding onto my prescription bottle of anxiety meds while listening to “Lost” by Coldplay on repeat. Oh. And I almost forgot to mention the part where everyone was boarding and the door to the plane was still open and my intrusive thoughts yelled, “GET OFF THE PLANE! YOU HAVE TO GET OFF THE PLANE NOW!”

I did not, in fact, get off the plane. But the tiny troll that controls my anxious thoughts was doing the most to scare the snot out of me. I’d like to commend that troll for a job well done.

Once we landed in Orlando, we got our bags and took ourselves to the resort to drop off our belongings and get started on our vacation with a jaunt to Epcot.

I opted out of riding “Soaring”, sighting that the ride made me motion sick. Really, I was too afraid to stand on the line. This would be a theme that followed me throughout the trip. My anxiety would get caught in my throat as we walked through the parks, through walls of people, through searing heat. Trigger. Trigger. Trigger. I was up against all of my triggers with no working defenses aside from a bottle of prescription anxiety meds that I was too afraid to take a full dose of.

The second morning at Disney, we went to the restaurant in our hotel for breakfast, and while we sat waiting for the waitress to bring us pastries and water, my panic caught me. I asked where the bathroom was, but when I couldn’t find it, I started to cry. I excused myself and went back to the room where I ate oatmeal alone on my bed watching YouTube videos and sobbing.

I felt scared that this would be my normal state of emotions for the duration of the trip. I felt guilty for not being the best, most fun version of myself on an extremely special vacation. And I felt awful for wasting my family’s time and money. Disney is not cheap. Time off from work and school is not cheap. And I felt like I was letting everyone down.

After my sister-in-law and niece came back from breakfast, I got myself on the Friendship Boat to Hollywood Studios. The further we walked into the park away from the exit, the more anxious I became. We walked into Toy Story Land and were greeted by a flood of people. The sun battered down on us. I had to get out. I waited for my sister-in-law and niece to get off a ride before calling an Uber and going back to the hotel. I couldn’t even make it an hour at the park.

That trip, I spent a lot of time in the room by myself napping and crying and waiting for my medicine to kick in and make the anxiety manageable. Bearable. We were in Disney for five days and I went on two rides the whole time and had a minor anxiety attack in the Tiki Room at Magic Kingdom. I left parks early. But we had a fabulous night at the California Grille which still sticks out in my memory as a peak event of the trip.

I went home with my tail between my legs, ashamed of how bad my anxiety had gotten, and wondering how I was going to get through the subsequent six weeks of wedding planning.

Another spoiler: my anxiety manifested itself in every physical way it could, to the point that I was ready to see a doctor if my physical pain didn’t subside after the wedding day. But I woke up the day after the wedding and felt absolutely fine as if all of the serious issues I’d been having had never happened. Riddle me that.

I finally started taking Zoloft in April, after the anxiety got worse. After my therapist said I needed a break. After I sat in my doctor’s office and sobbed about a fear of my body that I couldn’t make sense of in words.

When I started feeling better, I made some plans for trips throughout the Fall. Newport in September. Vegas in October. And a Disney World redemption trip in November.

I upped my dose in July after a round of Covid brought back my anxiety and I started to exhibit avoidant behaviors again. And then, around the end of August, as though a light switch cut on, I started feeling better. Not the false better I’d felt in January. This was real better. My husband and I went on our trip to Newport and I actually had fun. I was excited. I wanted to see and try new things. I wanted to be out and about in the world. We had such a good time that I was actually looking forward to my girl’s trip to Vegas in October. And that trip ended up being phenomenal, too.

But there was one last trip we had planned. A trip to Disney World at the beginning of November.

5 days. 4 parks. And my trusty bottle of Zoloft. Would I make it through? Would I have a good time? Would I get on rides? Or would I end up a ball of anxious tears in our hotel room for a week?


I did take extra as needed meds every day to make my anxiety manageable. But they worked. They actually worked!

And this time around I got on Soaring and enjoyed it. I did have a bit of an anxious moment on line for The Little Mermaid at Magic Kingdom. But my husband reminded me, we could always get off the line if we needed to and that nothing bad was going to happen. Our week in Disney was spent park hopping, eating Mickey pretzels, and trying to get on as many rides as was possible given the amount of people there. There also was a tropical storm that passed through and kept us in our rooms from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday evening. We spent time watching Disney movies and taking naps. (Ratatouille and Encanto are BOPS!)

But my big take away from the trip was that I felt like my full self again. One of the many things that my anxiety took away was my ability to feel excitement. And as we walked through the parks, I found myself marveling at the decorations and checking the times for each ride to see what we could get on next. I couldn’t do that in February. I was too afraid. Too stuck in my body.

So, this is why the October reading wrap up had to wait. Because I was too excited about my trip to Disney and needed to tell someone. This felt like a good place. Oh, and my therapist. I told my therapist. She was pretty excited that I had such a successful trip, too.

And, of course, if you struggle with anxiety or travel, I’d love to chat with you!

Thanks for going on this journey with me. See you next week.

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: