When I was 17 years old, I had a breakdown inside the Electric Umbrella restaurant in EPCOT.
Looking back on it, it’s easy to see what caused it. It was my last family vacation as a high school student, before I “grew up.” It was also my last family vacation with my grandfather—my Disney trip buddy for my entire life up to that point. He was getting older and slowing down, and we didn’t know it then, but we’d lose him about 6 months later.
But in the moment, I didn’t know what was happening to me. I couldn’t name it. All I knew is that whatever I was feeling was too much. So I cried into my Disney World french fries—not quiet, gentle tears, but ugly, loud, scary sobs that felt like they were never going to end.
I didn’t even feel like a person. I just felt a vessel for feelings that I couldn’t control.
And all I really remember were the looks on people’s faces. Confusion from my grandfather. Fear from my little sister. Embarrassment from my parents. Concern from the strangers around me.
In that moment, my feelings weren’t just mine anymore. They overwhelmed not just me but everyone in my path. And I couldn’t stop it.
Sometimes I still can’t stop it.
I have big feelings. I feel things deeply and express my feelings openly. And there’s power in that. It makes me a better writer, it helps me forge deeper and more honest connections with people, and it often makes me a bright light to be around—because when those big feelings are enthusiastic and warm and good, they’re infectious; they spread positivity and encourage others to embrace their own vulnerability.
But when those big feelings are dark and difficult and bad, that power isn’t used to help people. It makes me more impatient and melodramatic, it causes me to lash out or cut people off, and it can make me a hard person to be around—projecting my pain onto others just so I don’t have to carry it anymore and making myself the main character in everyone else’s stories because my pain feels more pressing than theirs.
Wanda Maximoff’s journey through WandaVision meant so many different things to so many different people. Some people empathized with her path through grief. Some people connected with her story of self-acceptance.
And for me, I learned a lot about myself through Wanda’s struggle with her powers and how deeply they’re tied to her feelings.
When I watched Wanda’s powers force themselves out of her as she stood in the ruins of a life she’d finally started to believe she could have, I felt seen. I felt understood. I felt like I was watching my own struggles over the last year—as I felt the life I’d built for myself and the person I’d dreamed of being slip away into loneliness and loss—play out in the form of this woman whose feelings were so big that her body physically couldn’t contain them anymore.
That’s what it feels like sometimes—like the weight of what I’m feeling is too heavy, and it has to find some outward escape or else it’ll crush me from the inside. Sometimes, I can channel that outward escape into creative and thoughtful expression—into something good. But other times—and probably far too often in the last year—I’ve let my pain define me instead of allowing it to be just one part of me. I’ve let it become a driving force in my life and—even worse—in the lives of everyone around me.
Like Wanda, I’ve let my sense of loss take control of my narrative this year instead of letting it be a chapter in a more complex story. I’ve let it not just change how I see myself and how I present myself to the world, but also how I see others and how I treat them.
When Wanda is in control of her powers, she can be a hero. She saves people and fights evil and stands confidently on the side of the protectors.
But when Wanda lets her powers control her, she’s not the only one at the mercy of her own pain.
“We have your nightmares.”
Watching Wanda face the truth of what her powers—her pain—did to the people of Westview was one of the most haunting moments in the series. Because it was a physical representation of what happens when we let our struggles become more important than other people’s stories, when we pass our trauma onto whoever is in our path.
Often, we don’t mean to hurt people when we’re hurting. But that doesn’t make it okay.
However, that doesn’t make us irredeemable, either.
It makes us human. Not heroes.
But not villains, either.
We’re more than just vessels for feelings we can’t control. We’re capable of hurt, but we’re also capable of healing.
That’s not always easy to believe. When we see the people we’ve hurt and hear the voices of our own Agathas—telling us that we’re monsters who don’t know what to do with our power—it’s so easy to hate the part of us that feels deeply and openly and forcefully. It’s so easy to see those feelings only as destructive, as something that makes us strange and scary to everyone around us.
There have been so many times when I’ve wished I didn’t feel as much and as openly as I do.
But it’s a part of me. It’s my power. And in the end, it’s up to me to choose what I do with it.
That’s what made Wanda’s transformation into Scarlet Witch so powerful.
Wanda had to let go of her powers so that she could choose them for herself. She got to finally make her choice—to finally define herself on her own terms. And she chose to embrace the truth of who she is and the pain she carries and the powers she struggles to control.
“I don’t need you to tell me who I am.”
And who is she?
She’s a full person—one who has seen the damage her powers can cause but also the good they can do. She’s a woman who’s known pain and loss but also hope and love. She’s someone with the power to create and to destroy—to hurt and to heal.
She’s the one writing her story now. Not Agatha. Not her grief. Not even her magic.
It’s her story, and in that moment, she chooses to accept all of it—the beauty and the broken pieces, the power and the pain.
And that acceptance makes her stronger.
It’s only when we accept the totality of who we are—the good and the bad—that we become our strongest self. If the old saying is true and knowledge is power, then knowing ourselves and all we’re capable of is the key to unlocking our power and potential.
Wanda embracing her full identity as Scarlet Witch is one example of her accepting herself for all that she is, but another comes when she finally names all of the feelings that went into creating Vision.
“You are my sadness and my hope. But mostly, you’re my love.”
This is Wanda’s final step in taking ownership of her power. She created Westview to escape all that she felt, but here, in this moment, she stops running, stops projecting, and finally gives herself the grace to feel those things without fear or shame. And they may be big feelings, but they don’t drown her. Instead, naming them and making peace with them gives her a sense of control that allows her to use her power to do the right thing.
She’s able to say goodbye without falling apart and lashing out.
There’s as much power in that as in anything else she’s ever done.
Wanda’s final moments with Vision represent all she wants—for someone to see all of her clearly and still choose to accept her. His acceptance represents her accepting herself. His forgiveness represents her forgiving herself.
And then there’s Monica Rambeau.
The value and virtue of Monica’s empathy has been debated on nearly every circle of the internet this week, and it took me a long time to realize why it upset me so much to see people say that Wanda didn’t “deserve” her forgiveness or that she didn’t face enough punishment for her actions.
I need Wanda to be forgiven because I need to believe that I can be forgiven.
I need Monica to understand Wanda because I need to believe that someone will understand me—even after seeing me at my worst.
I need Wanda to be able to walk into a better future because I need to believe that I can walk into a better future after this long year filled with overwhelming feelings—that this period of pain and struggle won’t be for nothing and I’ll emerge from it better, not worse.
Monica represents a path forward for Wanda and all of us who relate to her. She’s a person who lives with pain but isn’t swallowed whole or controlled by it. A person who reaches out instead of using that pain to put up barriers between herself and others.
It feels symbolic that Monica—another grieving woman—got her powers from breaking through Wanda’s Hex.
Her empathy is a superpower all on its own.
And it’s that empathy—that quiet “I know” that gives Wanda the solace she isn’t sure she deserves—that lights the way forward for Wanda and for all of us watching. Because empathy can’t exist without emotion. It’s born from feeling deeply—often painfully. But instead of selfishly allowing our feelings to be the only storyline that matters, empathy makes us a true supporting player in the stories of others—lifting them up, standing by them, making them feel less alone.
In the face of Monica’s empathy, Wanda walks into the future with honesty and hope.
“I don’t understand this power. But I will.”
That’s the most we can ever do—try to understand the forces inside of us that sometimes feel beyond our control and genuinely believe that we’ll be better because of that understanding. It’s a long process and a hard one, but Wanda’s confidence gives me hope that she’ll succeed.
And in the end, that gives me hope that maybe—just maybe—I’ll succeed too.
I’m always going to feel things more deeply and openly than most people. I’m always going to have this power. But it’s up to me to understand it better—to learn to control it instead of letting it control me.
Which brings me here, to this little corner of the internet where I can go to try to understand myself better and use my power—my big, messy, sometimes overwhelming feelings—for good.
I’m not alone.
You’re not alone.
We’re all just trying to understand our power and claim it on our terms.
It’s not an easy journey—but it’s a hero’s journey.
Katie! First of all, what a perfect hook for a story. Sobbing at the Electric Umbrella. I’ve been there. My family and I had dinner reservations at Artist Point the night I flew home after studying abroad, but customs took too long and we missed the reservation. And I’d just had the worst five months of my life (up to that point), and to cap it off I left my iPod on the plane. I remember wailing in the car in the parking lot at the Wilderness Lodge and then just crying silently all the way through the lobby. I felt like I would never be young again.
But more importantly: This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m still behind on WandaVision, but I love that this theme resonated so deeply. It reminds me of Alias, too; I feel like JJ Abrams’ ultimate thesis (with a lot of his work, really, but especially Alias) is that even emotions that can be used against you are worth having. Connecting to people is so much better than the alternative. It never stops being a message people need to hear. I’m inspired by your hope!
Kelly! I’m so sorry you are also part of the “I had an emotional breakdown in Walt Disney World” club. “I felt like I would never be young again” got me today, and I think there’s some particular thing about WDW that brings that out because that’s exactly what I felt when I lost it all over Future World. It was like knowing I wasn’t ever going to be the same person I was when I experienced all of this as a kid.
I love you pointing out that theme in JJ’s works because it’s so true. It’s always better to reach out and to feel than to shut down. That’s what Sydney Bristow would want from us!
This is so beautiful and honest, I am so proud of you for getting this out and for being willing to share it with us all.
My emotions all tend to exist on a much smaller spectrum than yours (or Sam’s for that matter, so clearly big feelings are something I gravitate toward even if I’m not in possession of them). Or maybe they’re there in the same quantities but are less accessible at any given moment for reasons that are probably a combination of natural personality differences and poorly constructed coping mechanisms. But regardless of the size or scale, understanding our emotions and learning to control them instead of the other way around is so important. Mine might look like letting myself actually feel them and sit with them, since pushing them down because I don’t want them is not actually me being in control of them (at least not in a healthy way), but getting to that healthy state of co-existence with your feelings lets us find the place where we’ll thrive.
Thank you so much, my beautiful tropical fish. ❤
I love that you are drawn to people with big, expressive feelings. It makes me smile. And I loved what you said about everyone being better for understanding their feelings—no matter how we go about expressing them. Sitting with feelings is so hard, and I think that's why I tend to just react to them; that's my way of not wanting to sit with them. It's such a process, but it's a worthwhile one. And I'm always here to help you through it.
Pingback: Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic | Nerdy Girl Notes
I love this, Katie! It’s such good and brave writing, and I’m so proud of you and honored that you were willing to share this with all of us ❤
Thank you so much bb! ❤
Pingback: The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: BTS, The GRAMMYs, and That Fangirl Feeling | Nerdy Girl Notes
Pingback: Right in the Feels: “Magic Shop” by BTS | Nerdy Girl Notes