The Lion King

I recently bought myself an Eeyore stuffed toy from Disney. He’s really soft and super cuddly. He’s my sofa pal. I don’t have housemates or flatmates, I don’t have a partner to come home to, or a pet to cuddle up to on the couch. So I have Eeyore.

I’ve seen things shared around online about how the characters of Winnie The Pooh embody common mental health issues:

My uncle made me a decoration of Eeyore when my eldest cousin was born. Maybe it was foreshadowing, but as someone who suffers with depression, I do feel particularly close with Eeyore.

I have also seen people refute this – mostly on the basis that most of these “mental disorders” were not given names yet when AA Milne wrote it, so how could he have purposefully written these characters with these “disorders” in mind.

Either way – it does give you pause for thought about the way children (and adults) are exposed to these things.

I decided to rewatch The Lion King a few weeks ago – around the same time I ordered Eeyore. Not the remake – the original animation, with James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons and Rowan Atkinson’s voices. I haven’t watched it in years – it’s the first Disney film I remember as a child. I was about 5 when it came out. I think I went to see it at the cinema with my dad, but I can’t really remember.

The key things I remember about it: Elton John’s killer soundtrack, the circle of life, and (spoiler alert) Mufasa’s devastating death scene. In fact, I’d actively been avoiding watching it again, because Mufasa’s death is on my list of character deaths I’ll never get over (maybe one day I’ll publish my list).

Rewatching it has amazed me how much my personal journey reflects Simba’s. He suffered a traumatic event (the death of his father in a horrible accident [which *spoiler alert* turns out wasn’t an accident]), I suffered a traumatic event (which was an accident at work, which as far as I know was an actual accident).

Simba’s reaction was to move away from his home, to runaway from feeling what happened, to deny his reality. And honestly, so did I: I left Cardiff, and I’m currently metaphorically holed up with Timon and Pumbaa. Hakuna Matata sounds great – no worries, for the rest of your days… but it’s not a reality, even Simba discovered that.

I’ve learnt a lot about fight or flight syndrome. It’s all kind of tied in with anxiety and depression. Put in simple terms, when you feel threatened, for example, a pack of hyenas start hunting you (let’s stick with the Lion King theme here) your adrenaline starts pumping and you are faced with two options: fight, or flee. Simba and Nala chose to flee, to run away. When that stopped working (they met with a dead end and the hyenas caught up) they chose to stand their ground and fight (fortunately for them Mufasa arrived at this key point).

Because I’m in constant pain, I’m constantly in the fight or flight position. But there aren’t hyenas chasing me, the truck that hit me has long gone – there is nothing for me to fight. So I am plagued with the feeling that I need to leave, I need to run, I need to be on the move. The only time I feel good is when I’m on holiday (yes a large part of that is because I’m on holiday) because I’ve done it – I’ve run away. It’s also a reason I find returning home after I’ve been away to be so difficult. My post holiday blues are a serious dip in my depression.

Back to The Lion King – when Timon and Pumbaa meet Simba, he’s in a really bad place. Timon tells him he needs to put his past behind him: “when the world turns your back on you, you turn your back on the world”. Hakuna Matata: flight.

Simba denies who he is in order to run away from his past and his problems. He eats grubs… he’s a lion. He’s promised no rules or responsibilities… he should be the king of pride rock. He’s denying everything about himself in order to forget and flee.

A message I heard a few years ago… I can’t remember if it was Christine Caine or Lisa Harper or someone else entirely… but they said that when they became a christian, they thought God would heal them of their past pain, but that’s just not the reality. God isn’t in a rush (I mean, he’s been here since before anything existed including time) and we’re taught that his timing is perfect – it’s us who aren’t ready to reconcile our problems.

If the day after the accident, God healed me of it, I wouldn’t have been able to take it. The pain and the feelings were so raw, I hadn’t even started to process it, let alone actually understood what I needed healing from. I would have asked for the pain to stop, but not understood that the pain is only part of the problem.

God waits patiently to heal you at the right moment. Although Simba had turned his back on where he’d come from, it never went away. Lying looking at the stars, he was reminded of the words his father said to him, and the pain returned. As much as you can push things away, they always come back.

Nala returns, Rafiki helps Simba to remember who he is… for me, I go to counselling and physio. You can’t change the past, but you can come to terms with it.

Simba does return to pride rock – not as the boy who had fled so many years before, and not who he would have been if he hadn’t lost his father – who knows what that iteration of Simba would have been – he is the man that his journey has shaped him to be. He defeats the bad (Scar) and becomes (what we can only assume) a great king.

I don’t remember the story of The Lion King being a journey of Simba feeling like he’s not enough, like he’s incapable and discovering that despite that feeling he pushes through and does the right thing regardless. In the great words of Rafiki: you can either run from your past, or learn from it. And as Simba knows – you can never truly run from your past.

The thing is, we’re kind of robbed of part of the story. Between Simba’s iconic battle with Scar and the final shot of him with his new family – Nala as his wife and a new baby (thus completing the circle of life) – we’re missing that part where the healing happens. It’s not deemed integral to the story (I mean, it’s a kids film after all) – but to my story and to yours, that is an important piece of the puzzle. Although you’ve faced up and fought the battle, you’ve taken down your version of Scar – how you heal then is just as important as facing up to it.

I’m so pleased I’ve watched this again – I mean Mufasa’s death will live on as one of the worst character deaths of all time, but the story is worth watching again for the message I never saw before. (There are so many more bits I missed – it’s a fantastic film with so much to offer!)

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