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Living With Depression in the 'Happiest Place on Earth'

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A close up of Natalie's name tag, and a ribbon that means "earning my ears"
Natalie’s name tag.

I’ve officially “earned my ears” at Disney. That means I no longer have a red ribbon on my name tag that reads “earning my ears.” The training wheels are off. I feel much more at peace now that I’m working and know for at least 30 hours a week, I’ll be occupied and helping people.

As I have met new people, I’ve brought up my affinity for Sadness from “Inside Out.” It sounds odd… maybe it is, but since I work at Disney it isn’t that unusual to discuss favorite Disney characters, restaurants, parks and memories with coworkers. I also have a Sadness phone case so she was bound to come into my conversations at some point. What I’ve gotten from a lot of my coworkers, and what I really get from people in general, is that I am a mixture of two character/emotions: Joy and Sadness. Do I agree, yes. But it’s complicated. And Sadness is my soul sister.

The late Robin Williams once said: “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” I could not agree more. I know all too well what it’s like to feel alone in a world filled with billions of people. I know what it is like to be stuck inside my own head. I know what it’s like to feel unimportant. I know what it’s like to wallow in sadness.

So, I try to be that shoulder for people to cry on or the person to bring a smile to someone’s face. I send cards because I want people to check their mailbox, read my card and smile for a minute or two. I want to help bring a smile to people’s faces.

Why did I write a note that said: “Hello! Have a beautiful day!” and leave it on the computer screen at the end of my shift? Because I want the cast member that begins working at 6 a.m. to see it, smile and maybe start the day in a slightly better mood than before he saw the note. To me, it really is the little things that mean the most. While I was writing these notes someone said to me: “You really are the antithesis of Sadness. I love the dichotomy.” I seem to be the opposite of Sadness. I convey a personality of happiness and joy. I know I do. I don’t need people to tell me I do. And sometimes I truly feel those emotions, but most of the time I’m just floating along on the waves of emotions. I get caught in my head and worry about unnecessary things and those are moments I want other people to avoid. Therefore, I try to be happy so that other people feel happy, too.

I know that bad things happen. I know that mental illness, cancer, lost pets, natural disasters, delayed flights, car accidents, divorces and misplaced car keys are real. I try to accept these things instead of getting mad or ignoring them. We have to accept things before we can heal.

Now, I will say that there is one part of “Inside Out” where I identify with Sadness and Joy equally and that’s when the two first find themselves in longterm memory. Sadness plops onto the floor and says: “I’m too sad to walk” so Joy grabs Sadness’ foot and drags her around. Like Joy, there are days I’m the one helping a friend through a hard time. But, there are also days when I simply don’t have the energy to do much more than brush my teeth, eat some snacks and lay in bed on my phone. There have also been a couple times where I have been crying too much that I couldn’t walk to my destination without the help of friends.

So, if you think I am actually more Joy than Sadness, think again. I’m joyous so others don’t ever feel as sad as I have felt.

Natalie meeting Sadness from "Inside Out"
Natalie meeting Sadness from “Inside Out”
Natalie meets Sadness from Inside Out
Natalie meeting Sadness from “Inside Out”

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Originally published: April 7, 2016
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