Finding My Soul or, Mental Illness in The Snow Queen

I’ve been meaning to read this fairy tale for years, and I’m so glad I finally did. It’s beautiful, and it’s such a perfect illustration of everything it takes to overcome mental illness that I really have to share. (Pause: yes, this is the Hans Christian Andersen story they took as their inspiration for Frozen, but the two bear only a passing resemblance. Let’s move on, shall we?) The way I read this story, you’ve got two parts of a person. A male child is the smarts, the part of us willing to fall for the cold and distant world where words and appearances reign, as long as they seem logical. Following the glitter of perfection, he commits himself to a half-life without emotion. This is important: it all seems so perfect! Look at the snowflakes, magnified, he tells his best friend, they are truly beautiful, because they are perfect. The female child is all heart, and she can’t understand or follow her friend, because she loves the imperfect beauty of living, growing things–namely, roses. Now, I’ve talked to a whole lot of people about mental illness, at this point in my life as blogger/activist/patient/friend, and the glitter of perfection that is just out of reach? That traps us every time.

My own spiral down into a suicidal state began with the pursuit of perfection in school. I believed that if I could just try a little bit harder, I could Be Perfect, and then, I would rest. Like the small boy in the story and the Snow Queen who whisks him away, each time I seemed to get closer to my goal, I would feel the kiss of perfection’s promise, go numb to the cold, and continue to put every effort into solving meaningless puzzles. There’s a very important distinction, though, in the story and in life: the puzzles involve words whose meaning has been lost, because they have been reduced to shapes, in silence. Cold and silence surrounds the depressed mind, until there is nothing else left, and no other goal to strive for but the puzzle of Perfection. Hans CA uses a different word, but the point is that without the breath of life, there is no meaning in the word. Try as he might, the little boy cannot make the word he needs to gain freedom (and a new pair of skates) with the shards of ice he has been given to play with. No life. Silence. Pursuit of ever-elusive perfection. Numbness. That, friends, is depression.

His way out is through the imperfect and very much alive little girl who survives the journey through The World, reaches the Snow Queen’s palace of light and ice but no beauty, and she rescues her friend using one tool: her voice. She keeps moving, and every time someone or something blocks her path, she tells her story, and the story of her friend, and her path clears. The faith and love that pour out with her words literally removes all obstacles. Her heart saves them, when his head only leads to danger. I hate to spoil a good ending, but since this story has been around for an awfully long time, I’m going to go for it–the two, together, solve the puzzle the Snow Queen has set, the word that he must shape in order to gain his freedom, when they embrace. They are not in love. They are children. But they’re just so happy to be alive, BOTH of them, together, that they weep and hug and all that mess of imperfect life breaks the spell. That is the way out of depression: ALL of it has to come out, and it must be safe for everything to just release.

The two remain linked, without romance implied, because a happily-ever-after comes from within. (From deep within, not in the superficial Disney oh, they’re beautiful and rich and will get married! and oh, right, they’re also good people, silliness.) These two hold on to each other, life, beauty, and the joy of childhood, because they find faith in the goodness of warm, imperfect, messy, glorious life. They are not the most beautiful, the most talented, the smartest, the best anything, in the end. They simply sit, holding hands, and they FEEL. Sure, they sing a song about Jesus, but it’s about finding Jesus in the beauty of roses. You have to feel that kind of faith from a place beyond words and logic. (Sorry, STEM friends, but math is a bit dangerous, in this one, but only because it’s a language too far removed from human emotion. I think we can all agree that the STEM world needs an injection of humanity, in the kindness and decency sense.) The faith that my life matters, without the ability to explain or reason the Why behind that–it saved me.

I remember lying in my room, as an inpatient in a psych program for depression, and stepping away from suicidal thoughts with one conviction: my path had been wrong, because it had lead me to wanting death, so a new and better path must be out there, in life, somewhere. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t see it. I had no idea what it would look like or feel like. I still felt numb. But I remember choosing life, whatever that meant. My mind had been carried away by the Snow Queen, into her glittering, icy world of Perfect, and I had to send my soul running after. Soul is the word I have for what was left, in the dark, to choose to seek healing.

My soul ran, as fast as she could, and when my mind and soul reunited, and I was warm, I had learned to always choose life. Even if it meant the horrible Imperfect. It hurt like hell. The poor girl in the story is often without shoes or warm clothing, and the children walk back home through all of Scandinavia. Spring or not, that’s a long walk. I’m still walking. But I’ve got a hand to hold, now, and even though I really, really, really, REALLY, hate having to face my own flaws, and the messes I make, I’m not going back. I have walked this far. I will keep walking. My rest will be in complete faith, whenever I find it, and that is how I will know that I am home.

snowy road sq

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