I’m not a strong swimmer. When I was young, we didn’t spend much time around water, so I was thirteen years old when I took swim lessons. I was fine the first week of lessons. Of course, we also spent the first week in the shallow end. During the second week, we moved to the deep end of the pool and my panic set in. I especially hated treading water. I flailed around day after day unable to coordinate my movements. I couldn’t maintain my balance and keep my head above water while treading. My fear prevented me from hearing the instructor’s directions. I couldn’t focus on learning the movements. I was too scared.
Fast forward to today, my kids swim like fish in the pool and in the lake at camp. The water is a source of joy and fun for them. They’ve taken swim lessons from the time they were toddlers. While we’ve taught them a healthy respect for the water, they are not frightened of it, like I admittedly still am at times.
A while back, I felt like I was attempting to tread water in life, and not doing it well just like when I was a kid. In every situation, I assessed and analyzed and second-guessed myself. Anxiety played through my mind and body as I anticipated potential scenarios. Panic set in quickly and didn’t dissipate easily. I was flailing again.
Then, one day, this thought came to me: “stop struggling.” I felt a sense of calm come over me. To me, stop struggling didn’t mean give up and allow the water to overcome me. Instead, I realized that by constantly living in flight or fight mode, I couldn’t relax enough to tread properly. I couldn’t focus on figuring out how to fix problems that had resolutions because I was always in conflict, even when a lot of it was self-imposed. I couldn’t set aside issues that didn’t need instant attention because my thoughts were too erratic.
But if I stopped struggling, my mind would still. My movements would become smoother and less chaotic. I would accept or ask for help without resentment or guilt rather than dealing with everything on my own. The fear and panic would subside for a while, and I would regain my balance. Then, I would coordinate my mind and choices better so that I would regain my equilibrium.
I may not be able to tread well in the water, but now at least, the lesson is not lost on me. When I am unable to hold my head above the waves of this journey of life due to my fear and anxiety, I remind myself to stop struggling and take a deep breath because only then can I start treading.