My ‘Frozen’ World: Concealing Mental Illness

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“Frozen” hits another record
“Frozen” video sales pummeled previous DVD sales recordsselling 3.2 million in the first day alone. Now it’s also shattered box office numbers. After this past weekend, it became the highest-grossing animated film ever:
$1.072 billion worldwide. I’m not surprised.

Ever since I watched “Frozen” for the first time, I was spellbound. The music was inspiring and the messages, solid: don’t let fear rule your life; secrets are destructive; embrace your gifts; and love others above yourself.

Comparisons have been made between “Frozen” and the Bible, as seen here in “The Gospel According to ‘Frozen.‘” I get the Scripture connection, but I kept thinking there was something more. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Until now.

“Frozen” by ice powers or mental illness?
Looking at Elsa and her struggle to conceal and control her inner freeze reminds me of someone who is living in the cold, dark, lonely world of mental illness.

Mental illness covers a broad spectrum of conditions: depression, schizophrenia, Depressionbipolareating disorders, panic disorderADHD and others. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 60 million Americans live with some type of mental illness. Even so, there is still great stigma associated with this complex health arena. Our society has a tough time accepting things it doesn’t understand.

Seriously, how many people run to their friends and colleagues after they’ve been diagnosed with bipolar or depression?

Imagine someone else, though, who is diagnosed with a more comprehensible and physically tangible, yet equally devastating disease or disorder. He or she may immediately reach out to those in his or her personal and professional circles. There is compassion, love and prayer; with mental illness, there is often gossip,  judgment and shame.

My ADHD Diagnosis
I suffer from ADHD, non-hyperactivity. My friends and family joked about my obvious ADD for years, but I was only formally diagnosed three years ago. It wasn’t until last spring, however, that I found an effective treatment for the symptoms that had, for years, made everyday tasks arduous struggles. I found myself paralyzed, frozen in fear.

Following my diagnosis, I learned a lot (“Delivered from Distraction” by Dr. Ned Hallowell became a treasured resource) and discovered what I already suspected: People suffering from ADHD may be “cursed” with lack of focus and impulsive behaviors, but they also have gifts, like creativity, “colorful” personalities, compassionate spirits, and the ability to see the big picture. Hallowell calls ADHD an asset rather than a liability.

But until people with ADHD accept that as their reality, negative symptoms usually dominate their lives, choking their talents, harming relationships and extinguishing hope. The same can be said of those living with other psychiatric-related conditions.

Elsa was “born,” not “cursed,” with ice powers. Still her father told her, “Conceal, don’t feel.” The poor girl was locked up and isolated from everyone, even her sister and best buddy, Anna. Love escaped her. Her spirit deteriorated and fear, what the troll warned would be her greatest enemy, thrived.

When pressures escalated at the Coronation celebration, Elsa could no longer control her ice powers. She unleashed her inner demons, at first to quiet her sister and then to ward off perceived enemies.

The great escape
Elsa fled and with every freeing footstep, she rediscovered her power’s beautiful potential, relishing the frozen works of art she crafted on her way up the mountain.  Have you ever longed to do that, run away, singing goodbye to the “good girl (you) always had to be!”?

Here’s the catch: she was still alone. No one had the opportunity to appreciate the loveliness of her power. They had only seen its foreboding and called her a monster. Elsa didn’t care.

She welcomed “A kingdom of isolation. And it looks like I’m the queen.”

Like Elsa, people with mental illness often feel isolated, whether they’re on a remote island or in a crowd of people.

The internal storm
When Anna finally finds her sister and breaks the news that, “You’ve kind of set off an eternal winter… everywhere,” Elsa is devastated. Her focus returns to her liabilities. She proclaims, “I’m such a fool I can’t be free… No escape from the storm inside of me.”

That’s how I felt sometimes: That there was a blizzard brewing inside of me and I was self-destructing in my own storm. There was no way out. But how do you explain that to a close colleague at work or a friend over coffee? It’s not easy. You’re afraid that you’ll be trapped in icy solitude forever.

And no matter what you say, the cold bothers you.

Freedom from judgment and fear through acceptance and love
Elsa’s revelation came toward the end of the movie when Anna was willing to sacrifice her own life to save her sister’s. “Love can thaw.” Elsa finally discovered the power of love — something that had been shut out of her life since she was a little girl — and acceptance. She also realized that her powers didn’t define her. Mental illness shouldn’t define anyone, either.

When doubt creeps back into my mind, the movie’s signature song, “Let it Go,” reminds me that “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through.” With professional guidance, I’m learning how to harness my talents to create a full and beautiful life.

There are many interpretations of Disney’s “Frozen.” Some may see mine as a stretch, but those living with a mental illness, whether it’s ADHD, anorexia, depression, schizophrenia or something else, may sense a special kinship with Elsa. Actually, anyone who has been ashamed of, or tried to hide, any part of who they are can probably relate.

I know I do.



About minndixiemom

I'm a Minnesota native with an Alabama heart, reflecting on the past while looking toward the future. My husband, David, and I landed in Huntsville in the late 90s through my former career in TV news. We have two amazing girls, Serina and Sophia, whom we are raising with God's guidance and grace. Besides faith and family, my passions include writing, walking, mental health, and recovery. By day, I'm the Director of Development for WellStone (another passion), North Alabama's largest and most comprehensive mental healthcare provider.
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7 Responses to My ‘Frozen’ World: Concealing Mental Illness

  1. Melissa says:

    What a beautifully written revelation, Karen. Your personality is what has always drawn me to you, beginning with the days that you were a news anchor on the local station. Then, I loved your newspaper column when you were a guest columnist for The Huntsville Times (I know I’ve told you this more than once) and always enjoyed seeing you when you worked at the Southeast YMCA. You have a gift – a gift for bringing people together for whatever the reason may be. Bless you for putting this out there and giving others who may have ADHD encouragement and hope. I don’t know of anyone who would not call you a successful wife, mother, daughter, friend, co-worker…and the list goes on. I, for one, am proud to call you my friend.

  2. Kristina says:

    We all have our “stuff”…. You go girl!

  3. Allison says:

    Love it! So proud to know you – you are a brave, inspiring woman!

  4. says:


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