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Why Disney's 'Maleficent' Made Me Cry as a Person With Chronic Illness

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I’m not much of a “movie crier,” so to speak. Occasionally I will tear up during a particularly sad scene, but even then, the tears stop quickly. However, there is one movie that made me sob uncontrollably: Disney’s 2014 rendition of “Maleficent.” This may come as a surprise to many of you; out of all the movies to weep during, why this one?

For anyone who has seen the movie, remember that at the beginning, Maleficent is a bright, happy person. She cherishes life to the fullest and is constantly seeking adventure. Her most prized possession is her wings; they are at the very core of her identity and give Maleficent the ability to fly through life.

Then late one night, tragically deceived by Stefan, the person she trusts the most, Maleficent’s wings are brutally stolen. Upon realizing this the next morning, Maleficent sobs in anguish, grieving the fact that her most prized possession, her wings, are no longer.

Maleficent’s loss of her wings reminds me of my journey with chronic illness. I was born healthy and lived a very full, satisfying life. I sought adventures on a regular basis and cherished my very active social life with friends, the way Maleficent did with her fairies in the Enchanted Forest. But when my chronic illness set in during my early 20s, all of that began to change.

Like Maleficent, I experienced severe grief at the loss of my most prized possession: a healthy body. My once active lifestyle full of travel, sports and constant sociality changed drastically. Sports are no longer an option, travel is quite limited and I rarely have the spoons for the kind of sociality my heart craves. I was bitter, angry and full of sadness over the loss of my former abilities. I felt betrayed by my own body, the same way Maleficent was betrayed by Stefan – someone who was supposed to be her ally and truest friend.

Toward the end of her movie, after 16 years of grief over her tragic loss, Maleficent’s wings are restored. Oh, what joy! My tears flowed again at this point, so happy for Maleficent and her restored identity and ability to fly. Gaining her wings back was everything Maleficent could ever hope for after such a heartbreaking loss.

Then, my tears started again, except this time, I wept for myself. Will my wings ever come back? Will all the efforts I am making to reduce my symptoms and go into autoimmune remission pay off? Will I be able to return to full-time work? Go on more adventures? Play sports again? Climb mountains? Socialize with friends without giving up a week’s worth of spoons for one night out?

In all reality, I just don’t know. Sometimes I have hope for health restoration and the return of my former capacities; other times, I try to convince myself to be grateful for my “new normal” and the abilities I do still have.

All I know for sure is that the loss of my health, just like the loss of Maleficent’s wings, is an agonizing hurt that must be mourned.

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Image courtesy of the Maleficent Facebook page.

Originally published: January 20, 2017
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