Her Head So Proudly High: 2022 in Review

A League Of Their Own

Source: NPR

“Each girl stands, her head so proudly high…”
— A League of Their Own

For 20 years, I’ve stood 61.75 inches tall. 5’1 and ¾ .

For 20 years, I’ve told everyone I’m 5’1.

For 20 years, I’ve rounded down. I ignored the rules I learned in elementary school math class to sell myself short (literally). To make myself smaller. To take up less space.

It’s what we as women are so often taught to do. Make yourself smaller to make other people more comfortable. Downplay your accomplishments or strengths so you don’t look conceited. Don’t ask for what you want—or even for what you need—because that’s asking too much of other people. Deny yourself pleasure, anger, and any other big feeling that makes you look “dramatic.” Shrink your body down to whatever size and shape society has deemed “trendy” for the moment.

All this to fit neatly into the tiny, pretty boxes that we are supposed to live our lives in.

The tiny, pretty boxes that make us easier to define, to label, and to control.

During the process of trying to cram yourself into those small, confined boxes, one of two things often happens: Parts of you—the best parts, the unique parts, the good stuff—start to break to ensure a perfect fit. Or the pressure the world puts on you—and you put on yourself—to push yourself down tighter and tighter until there’s barely any of you left becomes too much, and you push back with even greater force; you explode, destroying the box rather than destroying yourself to stay in it.

Or to put it another way: You either keep rounding down, or you start rounding up.

This was the year I started rounding up.

And the media I gravitated toward this year was full of examples of women doing the same thing.

One of my most-anticipated TV shows of 2022 was A League of Their Own. As someone who can quote the original film verbatim, I approached the Amazon series with excitement and a little trepidation. However, I shouldn’t have worried. I watched the whole series with my sister over the course of one weekend (and to know me is to know I very rarely love a show enough to binge-watch it that quickly). And it gave me so much more than what I was expecting.

It gave me living, breathing examples of what it means to sing those beloved lyrics:

Each girls stands, her head so proudly high.
Her motto “Do or die.”
She’s not the one to use or need an alibi…

It gave me so many female characters who unapologetically take up space as their true selves—at a time when it was difficult and downright dangerous to do so. Queer women who love and laugh and discover a little corner of the world where they can safely step outside of their boxes—if only for a moment. Women who we celebrate for what their bodies can do instead of what their bodies look like. Women who get to be unique, complex, brave, and utterly impossible to define in easy ways.

And it showed me that when you come out of your box and take up space, you’ll find your people. Your team. Standing with your head so proudly high allows people to see you—the real you. And the women of A League of Their Own taught me that letting people see you is the best way to find people who love you. And that’s what a team really is. It’s the people who love you, who have your back, who remind you that you don’t ever have to do hard things—from playing for a championship to taking up space as your fullest self—on your own.

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Flailing My Way to Freedom: How EMKFIT Helped Me Love My Body

“Fake it til you make it…”

At least once a week for the last two years, I have said those words along with EMKFIT (aka Emily Thorne) at the start of her HIIT dance workout YouTube videos. And at least once a week for the last two years, I have lived those words as I’ve flailed, booty popped, dropped it low, and did a dozen other dance moves that I never would have allowed myself to even attempt before—despite almost 30 years of formal dance training.

You see, some of EMKFIT’s choreography is designed to help you feel strong. But some of the choreography is designed to help you feel sexy. And a lot of the choreography is designed to help you feel both at the same time.

And I have felt strong before. I have felt powerful and pretty. Maybe even beautiful every so often when the makeup and wardrobe is just right.

But sexy?

That was a word I never associated with myself—and a word I was led to believe no one would ever associate with me.

I came of age at the peak of power for brands like Victoria’s Secret, which taught women of my generation that sex appeal was stored in your curves (but also could be lost as soon as those curves became “too much”—we all were fighting a losing battle between being too much and not enough). And for a young woman who barely filled out her A-cup bras, it was all too easy for me to feel like I was stuck in a child’s body, like I could never really own my power as a woman just because of the numbers and letters on a tag on a piece of lace and wire.

When you grow up hearing the phrase “Real women have curves,” you start to wonder if that means you’re not a real woman because you’re more rectangle than hourglass. And you start to carry yourself accordingly.

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Ten Years Later

Today, Nerdy Girl Notes turns 10 years old.

Ten years. A decade. Almost a third of my life.

What a wild ride.

There have been times along the way when the ride has felt easy and smooth—and other times when it’s felt rough and bumpy. There are times when I’ve sat confidently in the driver’s seat on this journey—and other times when I’ve felt like I’d lost control.

But that’s how life feels.

And NGN has always been a reflection of my life.

A reflection of me.

Looking back on 10 years of posts, that’s what stands out more than anything else—the versions of me contained within these pretty pink borders.

I’ve spent months trying to plan what to say in this post. Ten years is no small feat when it comes to content creation on the internet. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve doubted I would get to this milestone. So I knew I wanted to celebrate today.

But what should I celebrate?

That was the harder question.

And it was made even harder to answer this week when a lovely second line showed up on my COVID test, confirming that I was going to be confined to my couch on a day when I was supposed to be toasting to 10 years with a cocktail at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. (Fear not, friends: I’m working with a relatively mild—though still not fun—case, and my WDW trip has already been rescheduled for a few weeks from now.)

So what should I celebrate on a day when I’m feeling pretty far from a celebratory mood? (And when doing too much celebrating would undoubtedly trigger a coughing fit?)


When I think about all the versions of me contained within these pretty pink borders, I think about all the versions who would have been afraid to talk about something frustrating, hard, and not anywhere close to positive on a day like today. But I also think about all the versions who took baby steps to get to a place where I can stand here and say that I know today is a big day—but I’m not really in the mood to make a big deal of it.

It took a lot of baby steps to make NGN what it is today. To make me who I am today. And every single one of those baby steps is chronicled in some way on this site.

When I look back at 10 years of posts, that’s what stands out the most.

Every single post is a chapter in a story.

And it’s the story of a woman finding her voice.

NGN began as a place for me to reconnect with the kind of writing I missed doing after I graduated from college—analytical, academic, using “I” as little as humanly possible. As time went on, I eliminated some of that distance by writing more from a place of enthusiasm and less from a place of academic insight. It was closer to my authentic voice—but it was still self-conscious, still trying to present an image to the world. But instead of the image of a smart, critical media analyst, it was the image of an always positive, always happy fangirl.

But some time in the last couple of years, I stopped presenting an image and started just being myself—my messy, vulnerable, unfiltered self.

I found my voice. Not the voice I thought would make my college professors proud. Not the voice I thought would make me liked by my fellow fangirls.

My voice. Mine.

And those of you who are here have found the most honest version of me.

You’re all a part of this story too.

That’s another fascinating part of looking back on 10 years of posts. I was able to see the first comments left by people who have become some of my closest friends (Does it shock anyone that Heather left NGN’s first comment?), comment threads where lasting friendships were forged, and stories shared that have helped me hear so many of your voices as I learned how to find mine.

In so many ways, the story of NGN is a love story. It’s the story of how I met so many people I love, how I strengthened relationships with people I loved long before this site first took shape, and how I learned to love myself through speaking myself—finally letting go of my need to be perfect and accepting that the thing I really needed most was to be honest.

So this post gets to be another chapter in the story of NGN—the story of me. Some chapters are high points (going to NYCC, that time I thought I was going to write a book, all the love posts and reviews of incredible hours of television and letters to fictional characters who stole my heart). Some chapters feel lower (the rare times fandom drama bled into NGN’s comments, posts about depression and anxiety, that time I did not actually write the book I thought I was going to write). But they’re all a part of a larger story.

My story.

And that means they all have their place. They all matter.

Ten years.

What a wild ride.

And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2022 Oscars


Source: MentalFloss.com

Hey there, movie fans! (Please tell me someone gets this reference to the best Oscar pundits on the internet.)

It’s finally Oscar Sunday! After another longer-than-average awards season, it’s finally time to sit in our sweatpants, open our $10 Prosecco, and toast to the movies that made another weird year just a little more bearable.

And there were some truly magical movies in that regard this year.

Whether it was the stunning escapism of Dune, the catchy catharsis of Encanto, the sweeping old-school grandeur of West Side Story, or the sincerity and warmth that filled every frame of CODA, movies once again gave me exactly what I needed this year. From the rare breaks in the anxiety when I got myself to my beloved movie theater or Saturdays spent on my couch with the latest streaming story, movies transported me, comforted me, and allowed me to get out of my own brain in a year where that seemed more claustrophobic than ever before.

Every Oscar Sunday, I feel like I do more than just celebrate the best movies of the year. I celebrate the gifts that movies as a whole gave me. And this year, more than any other, movies reminded me that I can still feel. I love my fluffy romance books, but they’re more passing diversions than fangirl love affairs. My adoration of BTS is well-documented around these parts, but it’s not quite the same as sitting down to watch something and feel your whole world open up in one moment. And TV just has not been resonating with me in the way it used to—on that visceral, emotional level that unlocks something in your soul and makes you feel glad to be alive at the same time as this exact piece of media.

Movies gave me that.

One movie more than any other this year gave me that.

CODA gave me that.

So tonight, that’s where my heart lies. With this little film that came into my life and reminded me what great movies do. They make us feel. They make us happy to be alive. They make us appreciate our collective humanity and see the world as just a little bigger and more beautiful than it was before we walked into the theater or pressed play at home.

In a year that still felt isolated and isolating and a time when I was feeling disconnected from my own humanity more often than not, that’s a gift I want to celebrate with everything in me tonight.

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Some Long-Distance Love

Galentine's Day

Courtesy of the official Parks and Rec Twitter account.

Happy Galentine’s Day, all you poetic noble land mermaids!

Leslie Knope was right (as always), Galentine’s Day should be a national holiday. It’s a day to celebrate female friendship in all its forms—from the sisterhoods we established in school to the best friends we found in fandom and all the love we’ve chosen and nurtured along the way.

And if ever there was a year when we needed Galentine’s Day—a day designed to remind us that friendship is a valid and essential kind of love, a day to reach out to the women in our lives to tell them we’re thinking of them and that they matter to us—it’s this year.

We’re all a little more isolated this year.

Last year, we found ways to connect—we had Zoom happy hours and FaceTime dates and coffees shared on porches or in parks. But this year, we’re all a little more tired, a little more burned out. So many of us have faced struggles even beyond the universally traumatic experience of living through a global pandemic for two years, and we bear the scars of it.

Connection is hard when you’re just trying to keep your head above water, when all you can think about is surviving from one day to the next or how you’re going to find the energy and strength to get out of bed in the morning.

Even on the Internet, the place where we should be connecting with more depth and enthusiasm than ever before, things have changed. Social media has become even more of a void we all just shout into, an increasingly negative space that so many of us have had to take breaks from for our own sanity.

Things are hard right now.

Loneliness and loss of connection is hard.

But there’s a difference between acknowledging that and staying in it. And today I refuse to stay in it.

So consider this my hand, reaching across the void to pat you on the shoulder or hold yours or offer you a hug or a cup of tea or a mimosa (fair warning: I make them strong).

I see you—whoever you are.

And I’ve got you.

Today, on this day to celebrate the power of women and the bonds we form with each other, I’ve got you. I’m here to remind you that your struggles are valid—no matter what they are. I’m here to celebrate your victories—no matter how small they may seem to you. And I’m here to remind you that even when things feel lonely and weird and hard, you are loved.

You are so loved.

Yes, this is obviously a love post (see the bottom of this post for how to play if you’ve never been around NGN for one!), but I know that’s not everyone’s favorite kind of content. So if you don’t want me to shower you personally with love today, please consider this a general blanket of comfort for all of us to snuggle under until things feel better.

I love all of you. NGN wouldn’t be what it is without all of you. I wouldn’t be who I am without all of you.

And no amount of time, distance, or global pandemics can change that.

I love you on the days you feel like a badass and the days you don’t want to get out of bed. I love you not for what you give to me and to everyone else, but for who you are. Because if you’re reading this post, chances are we’ve interacted in some way, and if we have, then I love you.

That’s just how my heart works.

So if you ever have days when you don’t feel loved, Bookmark this post, even if you choose not to leave a comment on it to get some specific love. Read it and remember that even if we don’t talk often or we’ve never met or we live thousands of miles apart, I love you. I see your struggles and your strengths, and I feel honored to call you part of this family. Because even one visit to NGN—if you come with an open heart—makes you part of the family.

Join the love today if you’d like, but if you’d rather just lurk and enjoy from afar, I hope you still know that today is a day I’m celebrating you. Because you deserve to be celebrated.

You deserve to be and feel loved.

That’s what today is all about.

Ladies celebrating ladies.

What a day to be alive.

**For anyone new to a Love Post, here’s how it works: Make a comment on this post with your username (and things like your Twitter or your Tumblr URL if you feel like people might know you better by those identifiers). Then, sit back and let others reply, telling you how much and why they love you. Finally, if you want to, you can share the love! Reply to your friends’ comments on this post and tell them how awesome you think they are.

Even if you’ve never posted at NGN before or think no one will know or remember you, leave a comment. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

Let Us Shine: Lessons from BTS to Begin 2022

2021 American Music Awards - Arrivals

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 21: BTS attends the 2021 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MRC )

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

I was 17 years old when I read those words from Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time, but I don’t think I fully understood them until now, more than 15 years later.

When I look back—as one does at this time of year—it feels clear: 2020 was a year that asked a lot of questions, and 2021 was a year when I started finding some of the answers.

The years that answer are harder.

The years that answer challenge us to confront hard truths about the world, about the ways we live our life, and about ourselves.

And this year, one of the answers I found was that so much of who I am and how I interact with the world was built on a shaky foundation because it was all external—it was all about appearing perfect and seeing myself through the eyes of others. I defined myself using the words other people had used to define me, which feels good when the words are good but also means you’re constantly looking outside of yourself for answers to the big questions asked in years like 2020: Who am I? What do I want? Am I worthy of love? Does my story matter?

At times this year, I honestly didn’t know the answers to any of those questions.

But then, this year answered back in a big way.

It gave me BTS.

And somewhere in the middle of countless YouTube videos and car singalongs in my bad attempts at Korean and talking to my best friend about these seven men who’d stolen my heart, some of those answers, which had been evading me for so long, started to become louder and clearer. The part of me that had always known those answers—that voice in my gut that has stubbornly stuck around even during years when I didn’t want to listen to her—grew more confident.

Maybe it was the therapy I finally decided to commit to. Maybe it was the self-compassion journaling and the hard work I started putting in to understand myself and to be gentle with myself instead of always looking to shame and punish.

It was all of that.

But it was also BTS.

Because it can’t be a coincidence that the year that taught me that I hadn’t ever learned to love myself as I am in an internal way—independent of how other people perceive me—also brought me into the orbit of a band who sing songs with lyrics like:

You’ve shown me I have reasons I should love myself…

I am the one I should love in this world…

You can’t stop me loving myself…

That’s the big lesson I learned from BTS this year—and it’s the answer to one of the questions asked by years like 2020, years when I felt isolated from the other people I always looked to when I needed to see what about me was worth loving, why I should love myself:

Loving myself doesn’t require anyone else’s permission.

And there are times when that seems easy and times when that seems like such a lofty concept that it’s impossible to put into practice. But luckily, BTS has illuminated the path not just for the big picture of self-love, but also for the million little ways we can actually put it into practice. From each of the seven members of this band, I’ve learned lessons about what it means to love yourself and why that should be the most important resolution I make going forward—to commit to a practice of truly, completely learning how to love myself.

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Lights in the Dark Forest: 2021 in Review


My journey through the dark forest of 2021 began with Wanda Maximoff. (Source: TVLine)

“Believing in rom-communism is all about believing that everything’s gonna work out in the end. Now, these next few months might be tricky, but that’s just ’cause we’re going through the dark forest. Fairy tales do not start, nor do they end, in the dark forest.”

I can’t write about Ted Lasso.

But every time I think about 2021, I come back to this quote.

(And maybe that’s why I can’t write about it.)

So much of the last two years has felt like a long walk through the dark forest. And in 2021 things felt like they got even darker. So it was hard for me to watch a show—whose first season had given me so much comfort—take its characters through that dark forest and not quite out of it yet.

I didn’t like that Ted Lasso had changed.

And I felt that way about a whole lot of media this year. From The Rookie’s decision to all but abandon the challenging storylines that had made the first half of its third season so compelling to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s emotional farewell that took its characters in different directions, some changes were for the better and others less so, but it still seemed like a lot of the media I had used for comfort through the toughest parts of early pandemic life had changed.

And I hate change.

When I look at the only piece of scripted television that motivated me to write on an almost weekly basis, the only one that consistently moved me and stayed with me in a meaningful way, it was a show about a woman who resists change so strongly that she creates an entire new reality to escape the fact that her life had changed in deeply painful ways.

WandaVision is a show about a woman in the dark forest who spends so much time refusing to admit she’s in there that she builds herself a home and a life in the middle of it because even if it’s an illusion of control, it’s still better than the terror and unknown of the dark forest.

Control—however fake, however fleeting—feels better than uncertainty.

I don’t have a lot in common with Wanda Maximoff. I don’t have her powers or her tragic backstory or her tortured romance with an AI system turned sentient. But her need to hold on to some sense of control in a world that feels scary and lonely? That I get.

I spent the beginning of this year trying to build a world that I could control—a place that felt like nothing had changed even though everything had changed (both inside and outside of me).

There’s a reason WandaVision was the show that produced the most writing from me.

When I couldn’t control anything else, I wanted to control this little corner of the internet. I wanted it to be what it was when things felt better and brighter. I wanted to be who I was when things felt better and brighter.

Because, like Wanda, I didn’t want to acknowledge one of the truths of the dark forest: You don’t come out of it in the same place you were when you went in.

Slowly, steadily, my writing has started to move toward that truth. NGN has started to move toward that truth. Instead of being Westview—a place created to desperately hold onto a piece of the past because the present is sad and the future is scary—it’s growing into something that feels more real, something that feels more honest. It may not be sitcom shiny—a beacon of constant positivity where every problem is fixed and hurt is healed by the end of a post—but it’s stronger because of its messy reality.

I’m stronger because of my messy reality.

I’ve changed so much this year, and that means my writing changed too. And that’s part of life. Change is a part of life.

You can’t grow if you refuse to change.

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There’s No Place for Her: A Letter to Sadness

Screen Shot 2021-10-15 at 4.23.22 PM

Dear Sadness,

I don’t want to write this.

And that’s exactly why I’m writing this.

I’ve fought this post with every fiber of my being—putting it off, changing its focus 10 different times, doing every household chore imaginable to avoid listening to the nagging voice inside of me that keeps insistently whispering that this will help. That you will help.

You can never just stay in your “circle of Sadness,” can you?

I’ve always felt proud when people compare me to Joy from Inside Out. For a long time, I worked hard to share positivity whenever I could, to spread sunshine everywhere I went. I wanted that to be what people remembered when they thought of me—bright yellow (or even hot pink) light, lots of smiles, memories dipped in gold. And even when other emotions took their turn at the console (especially fear, my ever-present companion for most of my life) I tried to find a way to make all those feelings positive—to share my big feelings with the world so that the people around me could feel more comfortable with theirs.

I was good with big feelings.

Or—to be more accurate—I was good with big feelings that made sense.

Anger was a way for me to respond to injustices—both personal and global. Disgust helped me hone my sense of taste—in food, clothes, media, and more. Fear kept me safe—sometimes a little too safe, but with some therapy and a little openness, we worked on that. And joy was my favorite big feeling to feel—I loved crying happy tears or laughing so loud people stared or dancing down a grocery store aisle because I just felt happy.

And even you had a place, Sadness. I was good with you when you made sense—when a TV show made me sad or when I experienced a loss and needed to grieve or when I felt lonely. I was never totally comfortable with you taking the console, but as long as you did it at a time that made sense, you could make things turn blue for a little while.

But sometimes you don’t make sense. Sometimes you don’t stay in the circle Joy made for you. Sometimes you touch the console and turn everything blue when I’m not ready or when I can’t figure out why.

And that’s when the version of Joy that’s inside of me gets desperate, just like the version of Joy inside of Riley.

When you created a blue core memory for Riley, Joy couldn’t handle it. Instead of accepting that not every foundational moment in life can be a happy one, she tried to destroy it—to erase any memory that wasn’t happy. Because Joy liked how it was in Riley’s head. It was perfect up there as it was.

There’s something about you, Sadness, that messes with ideas of perfection.

Because, let’s admit it, you’re a little messy. You come with tears and sometimes snot and a splotchy face and a cracking voice. You’re not something we like showing the world.

You’re not something I like showing the world.

I have worked so hard to keep you in your circle. I have tried to explain that other people around me are going through really hard things, so there’s no place for you right now. I have pleaded and begged for you to understand that I have a job to do—and that job is to cheer people up, to be a beacon of positivity, to brighten the days of everyone I come across.

But you didn’t listen.

You didn’t listen when Riley needed to be happy for her parents, and you didn’t listen when I needed to be happy for the people around me who are struggling.

You didn’t stay in your circle.

That’s what depression feels like for me.

It’s when you don’t stay in your circle.

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We’re Not Fine: Simone Biles and Journey from Good Girl to GOAT


Source: ABC News

When I watched Simone Biles warm up before eventually withdrawing from the women’s gymnastics team event at the Tokyo Olympics last week, the hardest part wasn’t watching her fall out of her vault. It wasn’t even watching her eyes as she clearly lost her sense of where she was in the air.

It was after, when she walked back to her teammates and they asked her if she was OK—clearly sensing that something was very wrong with the woman we all know as the GOAT of women’s gymnastics. But Simone put on a smile (that didn’t reach her eyes) and said two words that sounded too familiar:

“I’m fine.”

How many of us have said those words, knowing they were a lie? How many of us have said them fighting back tears or pushing down anger or pretending we didn’t just have a panic attack in the bathroom?

We say we’re fine because we want to be fine—we want to pretend. But often, we also say we’re fine because we know the alternative—the truth—is uncomfortable. And we’ve been taught for our whole lives that making other people uncomfortable is a lot worse than being uncomfortable ourselves.

So we say we’re fine when we’re not. We try to push through and push down and put on a smile.

And every time we do, we shrink a little bit more so we can fit more easily into the cute little box the world wants to keep us in. Everyone’s box has a different label, but for many of us, our labels all boil down to the same thing—a label we were given when we were too young to understand all that it would ask of us:

Good Girl

A Good Girl is always fine. She never makes a scene, never makes herself the center of attention, never asks for more than what she’s given. A Good Girl takes care of the people around her, and she’s often so busy doing this that she forgets to take care of herself. A Good Girl is self-sacrificial, always putting the needs of others above her own.

A Good Girl is selfless.

Because a sense of self is too big to fit in that tiny box.

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Right in the Feels: Anna Does “The Next Right Thing” in Frozen 2

I’ve seen dark before
But not like this
This is cold
This is empty
This is numb
The life I knew is over
The lights are out
Hello, darkness
I’m ready to succumb…

This moment in Frozen 2—as Anna finds herself trapped in a cave and totally alone after watching Olaf disintegrate and realizing that meant something horrible had happened to Elsa—isn’t for kids. In fact, when I saw Frozen 2 in theaters on its opening night back in 2019, I remember hearing lots of tiny sniffles as Olaf turned to snowflakes and thinking that this was going to traumatize a heck of a lot of children for years to come.

Luckily, the trauma is short-lived—this is a Disney movie, after all (and not Bambi). But as with all emotionally compelling media, the point isn’t that we know Elsa and Olaf are most likely going to be fine because we know how these movies work. The point is that Anna doesn’t know this. And she’s written so well—and her moment of grief is written so well—that we’re able to suspend our disbelief as if we’re right in that cave with her, trying to figure out how to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

Trying to figure out if we want to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

It doesn’t seem like a moment Anna should have. She’s the perky princess who sees the good in everyone. She’s the ray of sunshine to her sister’s ice and snow. She always has a smile, always tries to find the bright side, and always seems to make the best of a bad situation (see her entire childhood and adolescence kept locked away in a castle without even her sister to talk to). She’s a woman of action, never giving up—even in the craziest of circumstances.

But that’s exactly why it matters.

Because grief and depression are things that can affect anyone. And the idea that “happy” people can’t be depressed, extroverted people can’t be lonely, and take-charge people can’t be immobilized by grief does so much damage to people who are suffering but feel they have to do so in silence because struggling doesn’t fit their personality—that no one would believe them if they said they feel like they can’t keep going because they’ve always kept going through whatever else life has thrown at them.

Anna—one of the most popular Disney princesses in the most popular Disney animated franchise—is so consumed by her grief that she can’t see a reason to keep going. If she stays in that dark and isolated cave—the physical representation of depression—she’s going to die in there. And for a moment, things seem so bad and she feels so hopeless that she seriously considers it.

It’s an important moment for kids to witness—even if they’re hopefully too young to understand what she’s describing. Because they’re going to internalize the message that sometimes even the brightest people feel the darkness pressing in, that there’s no shame in struggling with loss or sadness—no matter who you are or what your life looks like on the outside—and that they’re not alone if they ever start to feel that way as they grow up. Because even Princess Anna felt hopeless and lost once too.

And they’re also going to internalize the message that there’s a way out of that darkness if they ever feel stuck in it.

Do the next right thing.

They may be 5 small words, but they’ve left a big impact on so many people.

People like me.

Do the next right thing.

Late at night last week, I had a panic attack in the shower. It was exhausting and awful, and one of the few things I remember from those moments of shaking and crying and feeling like I was drowning was saying out loud in between sobs, “I just don’t know what to do.”

I have a tendency to spiral when I’m left alone with my own thoughts for too long. That’s always been true. My thoughts race ahead faster than an Olympic track star, and they tend to go in circles like one too. I’m someone who likes to always have the right answer, but lately I’ve been grappling with some big questions that don’t seem to have one. I’m someone who believes in listening to her gut, but lately I’ve been having a hard time hearing it—or maybe it’s more that I’ve been having a hard time accepting and acting on what it’s been telling me.

But in that moment—when I was at my lowest—I could hear it loud and clear:

Do the next right thing.

There it was—the answer to maybe the biggest question.

What do I do?

Do the next right thing.

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