Now, this set off a real firestorm in the Disney community, especially among bloggers and Twitter followers and other Disney enthusiasts. The usual sentiment goes from “Oh my, that’s awful” to “How could someone choose to take their own life” to “HOW COULD SOMEONE TAKE THEIR LIFE AT DISNEY WORLD, THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH.” And, I get the thoughts. But, as Disney expert Jim Hill notes, people die by suicide enough at WDW that they have an entire procedure in place for when this happens. So, the question, then, is why would someone make this choice at WDW?
While I do not know that answer to all people’s decisions, I do know why I have wanted to end my own life while on vacation at Disney…and it usually stems from the Disney itself. Actually, that’s not correct. It comes from my mental illness which is exacerbated at Walt Disney World. So let’s get into how this happens.
First, being in the happiest place on earth can make one quite miserable. There is an expectation that I should also be in the midst of this happiness, especially more so than the humdrum of my normal, everyday lives. Entering WDW, the smells, the tastes, the music, everything is supposed to make you feel as joyous as you can – it really should rival your wedding, or so it seems. And when you do not feel that happiness, do not partake in that joy, then it is magnified. Walking down Main Street in the Magic Kingdom – with the singers and dancers and “happy” families getting photographed and the castle right there and everything else – is a recipe to remind me of my own misery, of the fact that I cannot escape my demons. Or, it can be. There is a difficulty that those who do not struggle cannot know.
Second, Disney World is anxiety inducing. The crowds (and there are always crowds) are difficult and inconsiderate and close the world in around you. However, my anxiety is further heightened by the fact that I feel the need to make sure my whole family – and sometimes my extended family – is having a great time and getting the most out of their vacation. As well, the waits for Disney World transportation is frustrating because you simply wait and it eats into your vacation. The lines can make you explode, when they don’t move or when you enter and they read “20 mins” and you actually stand for 45. As well, my kids give me anxiety, which sucks to say. But, I have 3 boys and they are rambunctious at times, especially standing in line or trying to get food. And I want to make sure they don’t act in ways that make others anxious. In all, it is quite anxiety inducing and this can worsen my (and others’) depression which leads to the desire to end life.
Third, I assume money is major factor for people. I know that when my wife and I booked a trip when I was feeling overly good (being bipolar means that when I’m good, I don’t mind spending money and when I’m depressed I won’t spend a penny) and we got a good deal through one of the specials that Disney World ran. However, when you get to the park, all of a sudden there are meals to pay for and souvenirs and little extras and it is all expensive. I was slightly, semi-depressed when we actually went on the trip and I saw all that money and it just made me more and more anxious and nervous. And that could have sent me to the edge.
Fourth, and mostly, for me being bipolar, Disney World offers none of my familiarity and nowhere to hide. I have become more and more regimented as I have dealt with my mental illness and this has helped me greatly, even though it often feels unnatural. However, my time at Disney World offers none of my regimented schedule. I can’t make my cup of coffee and read a little in the morning. I can’t ease into my day because everything is so “go go go” and this causes stress and can really cause my depression to get worse (or my hypomania to amp up so that I am jumping off walls, sometimes literally).
None of these cause one to die by suicide, I realize that. However, all of these factors can cause someone to feel more and more like the only option is death. I could describe how one gets there, but it’s not necessary – just know that Disney World can make mental illness much, much worse and very hard to deal with. And that is why someone would choose to jump off the Contemporary Resort and end life.
Now, as a postscript, I want to offer some quick thoughts on how to Disney World (or, really, any vacation). First, control what you can. I like staying in semi-secluded spots where tourists are not flocking and where I feel out of the “Disney” bubble (Fort Wilderness is one of my favorite places to stay; we are trying Animal Kingdom Lodge in October). I can also have a semi-normal routine in these places. Second, I bring or rent my own car. Relying on Disney transportation is fine, but it is less frustrating and takes less anxiety if I just have a car available if I have to get out or, God forbid, need to get to a hospital. Third, I try to find activities that I will really like or enjoy and do those, with or without my family. One such is RunDisney events: I did the Dopey Challenge in January 2015 and it was great for me even though my family wasn’t there (my wife and oldest son did do the 5k, but I thought I had to run a certain time and left them, but I didn’t need to, but it was ok). Find another thing like that: Disney has fishing and golf available, but there is also all sorts of stuff in the Orlando area. The fourth tip is, inside the parks, if you have a mental illness, go to Guest Services and say you have a disability and get a card for skipping lines – now, this does not mean you do not have to wait, just that you do not have to wait in line (so, if you want to ride Space Mountain, you go to the Cast Member at the front of the line, show her your disability card, they write a time to come back, and you come back at that time: no waiting in line, but not jumping over everyone either). It takes a little stress out. Last tip is go back to your resort (in or outside Disney) and relax for a little bit during the afternoon. You can take a nap, watch TV, whatever – just unwind a bit and then go back to the parks.
So, those are a few tips. And, hopefully, you know yourself and recovery well enough that you can help yourself.