Lilo, Stitch, Depression, and Sand Castles
I went to Disneyland Paris last week.
One of my best friends asked me to come with her. She was staying in the area because she was competing in the runDisney races, and we’d been toying with the idea for too long.
I’m Mickey Mouse’s bitch, so I said yes so loud I woke up the dog.
We had an excellent time even if we took it slow. Nothing like the full park-wide marathons we’d pull with my family when we were all younger and still terrified of the people wearing Donald Duck’s skin as a suit (I wish I could’ve suspended my disbelief on costumed characters when I was a kid).
As we were leaving the park, I had to stop by the gift shop for a new mug. I shattered my old Mickey Mouse mug a year and a half ago. I was careless. With pretty much everything and everyone back then.
A mug was broke. A few bridges were burned. Whaddya gonna do?
So I needed a new mug. After a few minutes, I settled on a new Stitch mug. Stitch, that lovable blue alien who learns the value of family in less time than it took me to realise the washing machine doesn’t load itself.
Short-tempered, bug-eyed, violent, and quick to interpret lessons as he sees fit instead of the way they’re supposed to be understood. I relate to him in everything except stature and super strength.
Everything including the heavy drooling. Especially the heavy drooling.
I was pretty satisfied with my new mug, so in the train ride home I decided to watch Lilo & Stitch for the 15,000th time.
Here’s the thing about Lilo & Stitch that I didn’t notice before.
Castles in the Sand
Stitch is an alien that crash lands a foreign land without any friends or family to his name.
Right from the get-go, this is already relatable.
Upon meeting a little girl on Earth and swindling himself into a lovely home and the protection it affords from his extra-terrestrial pursuers, he does the only thing he knows how to do: he lashes out.
Dr Jumba Jookiba is responsible for creating Stitch. He continuously claims Stitch’s programming only allows for him to destroy. That’s his only instinct.
Dr Jumba Jookiba is a liar. There was no such programming. I am convinced Stitch was abused to the point he only knows violence. But I digress.
There’s a point in the movie where Stitch, after doing his best to push the people who care for him away, is sitting on the beach watching his future family build a sand castle. He’s on the outside looking in and has nobody else to blame but himself. For doing what he was taught to do, nonetheless, but still.
So he immediately builds a sand mountain, tops it with a leaf, and raises his hands in victory. He has built a castle.
The audience gets their heartstrings pulled like the handle on a door that says “Push”. Still, it’s a pretty shitty castle as far as structural integrity and aesthetics go.
This is when it hit me though: Stitch knows how to build stuff. Earlier in the movie, he builds a beautiful scale model of San Francisco using books and school supplies. In mere minutes.
So…what’s up with the shitty castle, Stitch?
Have you ever felt like you don’t belong somewhere? The group with your work colleagues? Your city? High school?
By nature, humans are social animals. We seek and crave interaction with other people who are similar to us, or at least know where to get the cheapest beer in town.
We’ve come up with entire cultural traditions just to get people to meet each other. And we decided that while alcohol is generally a bad idea, we’ll allow it because of how much easier it makes talking to new friends or old friends.
When this interaction is cut off, it’s like we’re Marty McFly in Back to the Future and we start disappearing slowly. We forget who we are. We forget what we like. We forget what our driving force it.
We lash out. We burn bridges. We shut down.
At least I do.
Much like Stitch, I didn’t have much in the way of social interaction last year. I had a short fuse and an even shorter list of friends. I pushed people back and stopped reaching out.
Stitch had love and affection, but he didn’t know how to process it. As soon as he landed, his competencies were intact. He thought he knew who he was. He arrived on Earth without a growth mindset, to borrow a buzzword. He builds, yes, but only to destroy. To do the only thing he’s been told he’s good at.
So he snarls, growls, and pushes little girls off of tricycles.
But his attitude clashes with his environment. As he grows closer and closer to his new family, he’s also pushed aside. He’s in the periphery of what makes everyone else happy.
So he forgets.
He forgets how to be. He forgets how to build.
Hence, shitty sand castle.
Remember When You Used To Build
It’s difficult to admit you’re depressed. It’s not always easy to spot. It’s always “if I can make it through this week”, but like every goddamn week.
And then, to add insult to injury, you forget how to “build”.
Does this sound familiar? Do you no longer enjoy doing the things you wanted to do? Is chronic procrastination a problem? Did you stop going to the gym after years of taking care of your body? Does your fridge contain more beer than veggies? Have you forgiven her yet?
If so, it’s not your fault. It certainly wasn’t my fault last year, when I stopped being me. I kept my self-destructive habits, but I forgot how to draw, and how to write, and how to make jokes without asking for permission.
Sadly I didn’t regain all that by saving a little girl from an intergalactic shark-man. I did it by opening up. Getting back in touch with people. Apologising in some instances, and bringing wine and cheese in others. Which is basically the same thing here in France.
I did it by finding my tribe.
The way Stitch did. “This is my family”, he says. He’s no longer on the outside looking in. And he remembers how to build.
At the end of the movie, Stitch helps rebuild his family’s house. He doesn’t do it alone.
He does it with his new family.
And while nothing has to be so saccharine where you’re at, the principle still applies.
Find your tribe. Find the others. Open up.
Remember how to build the things you liked to look at.
Hey, I’ve started an email list! Sign up to get updates on new posts directly to your inbox.