Just Keep Swimming

It’s been a struggle.

Mental health continues to be a hot topic, which is why I felt so compelled to write this blog post. As this pandemic continues, many of us are struggling to adapt. We are all be forced to do new things and move out of our comfort zone. Not an easy task to do.

This crisis is especially difficult because it is not following the ‘typical crisis’ pattern (Brown, 2020). In a typical crisis, we use our stress response (flight, fight or freeze) to survive the immediate dangers. Adrenaline is our main fuel source and we don’t notice our normal is gone until the crisis is over. When the immediate danger is gone, we become aware that everything has changed and are forced to build a new normal while we grieve for what we have lost.

In this crisis, the immediate danger continues yet our typical stress response is no longer able to sustain us. We are being forced to create a new normal while the immediate danger still exists. This can cause us to feel a variety of emotions such as anxious, sadness, uncertainty, hopelessness, frustration grief, gratefulness, hopefulness and optimistic. Its normal to feel these emotions. All these emotions are valid.

Rest assure we will survive this crisis because we have survived difficult situations before. We have made it this far because we have overcome difficult situations in the past.

It is important we figure out a way to feel calm and in control even though the danger continues to exist. Once again, a difficult task to achieve. Our typical strategies may not be work as well or we may have to work even harder to achieve the same kind of effect. It is normal that we feel awkward and uncomfortable as we move through this crisis for the first time.

This crisis reminds me of my swim across the Northumberland Strait. The lessons I learned from that swim are helping me cope with this ever-changing crisis and maybe it can help you too. This swim had many moments that reinforced the idea that I needed to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; I needed to focus on what I could control and experiment until you find something that works, sort of….

 

Here is how I learned.

Swimming across the Northumberland Strait is not an easy task. It takes lots of preparation and planning. The bridge is 13 kms long but the swim can be 15-26 kms long depending on the tides and mother nature.

In August 2013, I decided to take on this challenge. At the time I lived in Ontario and didn’t have any distance swimming in the ocean.

One hour into my swim, I was struck with nausea. It forced me to vomit for 4.5 hours. Yes, I vomited while I swam. I tried so many things to kick the nausea, but nothing worked. I had to accept the fact that being sick while a swam was my new normal.

Along with the nausea, the Strait determined how my speed and the direction I swam. At times, the swells were so high I could not see my sister who was kayaking beside me. Other times I thought I was swimming in a washing machine and being tossed off course. And there were moments of calm and stillness which was pure bliss. I was forced to notice some progress even though I wasn’t making great headway.

Throughout the swim we were forced to try so many different things to make the swim smoother. We tried dragging me behind the boat so that I could rest while I vomited, I tried swimming beside, in front and behind the boat in hopes the navigation would go a little better. I changed my goggles a few times hoping that it would help me see clearer. Some of the experiments work temporarily but many of them failed. All I could do was figure out how to keep my feet kicking and arms moving while believing that it was possible for me to get through this.

Carrie was Stacey's support system.

Carrie was Stacey’s support system.

 

Something to consider:

As mentioned above, the lessons I learned from that swim are helping me cope with this every changing crisis and maybe it can help you too.

 

  • – Accept and acknowledge how we feel. Pretending that the emotions don’t exist will eat you alive (Brene Brown, 2020
  • – Lean on your support system – My sister was my rock – Find your rock and be a rock for someone else
  • – Take your breaks –Initially I resisted rest because I thought I was a failure and weak, but once I rested, I felt like I could swim a little bit more. Take your rests and practice self care.
  • – Look for what you can control –All I could do was keep my arms and my legs moving. Keep yourself moving in a way that is right for you. When you do this notice what difference it makes to you
  • – Experiment, experiment and experiment. Keep trying until you find something that works

We will survive this crisis. Just keep kicking and moving your arms.

 

Stacey is a registered Clinical Social Worker trained in Solution Focused Brief Therapy with over twelve years experience. She firmly believes that engaging in exercise while having a manful conversation is the best way for someone to become the best version of themselves.

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