As a mom of two and high-powered attorney, Jessica Thomas never wants her claustrophobia to get in the way of her children's experiences. But when she was feeling a panic attack rear its ugly head on her kids' first trip to Disney World, she accepted the fact she couldn't go on Na'vi River Journey — which is based on Avatar — with her little ones, David and Julia. In a turn of good fortune, a helpful employee named Samantha helped Jessica squash her fears. Now, she's thanking Samantha in a thoughtful Facebook post.
"I am claustrophobic. Anyone who really knows me, knows this," she wrote. "It's bad. I can normally control my panic attacks with breathing and visualizations but theme parks keep me anxious from the moment we park."
Despite feeling overwhelmed, Jessica wanted her kids' first experience at Disney World to be as fun as possible, even if she had to sit out. "My children have never been to any Disney parks," she explained. "As moms, we feel a TON of pressure to create these 'memories' for our children. We feel obligated to overcome our shortcomings for them. We do everything in our power to remove their worries or fears, so ours take a backseat."
Despite doing previous research and trying to put aside her struggles for the sake of her son and daughter, the ride simply wasn't an option for Jessica.
I hate rides, most all of them cause me to have severe panic attacks. This is the Avatar boat ride. I researched the ride, asked a ton of questions and even sat down. Then I looked up and I immediately was triggered from a grade school field trip to the Mariana Caverns. My heart was racing, my breathing was hard and I felt genuinely scared of being trapped. It looked like a small cave. I stood up and got off asking my friends and husband to take our 1-year-old so she could ride. She cried as I got off. So I grabbed her and headed for the exit. I was embarrassed, sad for her, and sad that I also wouldn't get to see my 3-year-old enjoy yet another experience because I was scared.
Everything changed when Samantha saw Jessica tearing up as she headed for the door. Rather than letting her run out of the attraction, she pulled her aside. "She stopped me and asked if I was okay," Jessica said. "I cried and explained all of the above. She stopped whatever she was on her way to do and first offered to let me sit in the ride briefly to test the actual space while explaining all the details of the ride, but that was not the above and beyond part."
"She said, 'Do you want me to ride with you?'" Jessica said. "She asked that question with such sincerity and understanding and overall compassion. All I could muster was a nod. She walked over with me and my baby to the front row. She not only held my hand the entire time but she also pointed out every single exit to me, told me about the all the ways I was safe and how the cast members could come get me out if any of my worst fears came true. While she was helping me through this, she simultaneously pointed out every detail of fun for my little girl and didn't miss a beat."
Although Jessica would've been OK with sitting out at the end of the day, the fact that a stranger did everything in her power to make her comfortable was touching. "At 33, I don't mind missing rides at parks. I am happy to take the stairs," she wrote. "I am always content to wait for the next bus or for a tight spot to pass for a more open option. But I am a mom now. And I don't want my children to miss out on anything or me to miss moments of their childhood."
After the experience, Jessica snapped a photo with Samantha and gave her a major shout-out on social media. "I just can't thank her enough. Your friends and family love you and try to understand; but after years, sometimes even they get worn down with accommodations or inconveniences associated your issue," she explained. "But a perfect stranger immediately knew what to say and do. Today, I didn't feel like less of a mom or less than at all. She made me feel, well, just magical at Disney today."