Imagine being on a cruise ship with friends. You’re dancing the night away on the dance floor on the upper dock, as the ship calmly floats on the ocean. As your body sways back and forth to the music, you hear the waves calmly crash up against the cruise ship. The night air is breezing through your hair and in between your fingers, as you lift your hands high in the air while dancing. The mood on the dance floor is light and free, and you don’t have a care in the world. After a few songs, the waves pick up and hit the ship a litter harder, but you continue dancing completely unbothered. Although the once steady sway of the ship has now become an angry back and forth jolt, you refuse to let it interrupt your night. The other people on the dance floor quickly notice that the mood of the waves have changed, and begin leaving the dance floor to return to their cabins. One by one you see the crowd on the dance floor dwindle. Despite everyone’s rapid departure, you continue dancing. Unlike the other people on the dance floor, you have a secret…a valuable one. You can swim. See, you know that even if the situation becomes scary and you somehow fall into the water, you won’t die. Even if life allowed you to unexpectedly be thrown into that open and untamed water, you only die if you can’t swim.
Friends, I recently learned that I’m an amazing swimmer…even when I have made a conscious decision not to swim. I was recently thrown into unfamiliar, deep, untamed, open water; and had to quickly decide whether I would allow myself to drown or swim. I’m sure it’s no surprise that I fought like hell and I swam. If you aren’t surprised by this…good, you know me well and have been paying attention. But, I gotta say, I was quite surprised that I swam. When I was thrown into the water unexpectedly, I immediately made the decision to drown. Yep, you read that correctly. I decided I would allow myself to drown…because swimming was too much work. After years of having to fight, swim, push, and be on my A game, I was done. Finished.
Well friends, something within me had other plans. The minute I was thrown into that untamed, unfamiliar, deep, water, my survival instincts and training kicked in and I immediately began swimming to make sure I wouldn’t drown. When my arms and legs got tired, I conserved energy and simply treaded water. When I became too tired even for that, and thought I couldn’t take any more, I laid on my back and prepared myself to drown. To my surprise, despite being completely worn out, my training kicked in again and wouldn’t let me to drown. While on my back, I arched it which made my body float as the waters pushed me along.
See, there is a fighter within me…and she is something else. The fighter within me will not stop fighting, even when I think I have reached my breaking point. The days that I look at myself and don’t recognize what I see, that fighter is STILL there. The days I contemplate throwing up my hands saying “forget it all” and retreating to the bed, that fighter is STILL there. While the intensity of her fight may change…the fight NEVER stops. Despite my efforts to ignore her, rid myself of her, and even silence her…she continues to fight. Mind blown? Well, mine was…keep reading.
For 35 years I have always viewed myself as a person that had no breaking point…and I am quite sure those close to me viewed me the same way. For so long I actually took great pride in my reputation as a woman that had “overcome so much”. The woman I see in the mirror every day can withstand any challenge and overcome any circumstance or obstacle…in fact she has. Well friends, let me tell ya, I was kidding myself. This had to be one of the top 5 greatest lies ever told. Now don’t worry, I won’t be too hard on myself because I’m quite sure I am not the only person that lived in this section of Denialville…am I? Well if I was, because you are still in denial and can’t acknowledge it, my house in Denialville was just put up for sale.
One of the downsides of being strong all the time, is that AT SOME POINT, life will give you a situation where strength simply is not enough. THIS, my friends, is called the breaking point. Do you know yours? Well, I just learned mine…actually mines…yes with an “s”. I learned that I was not as strong as I thought I was. If hit hard enough, in just right spot, I will crumble like a fortune cookie. See, my whole definition of strength was wrong. Mistakenly, I thought strength was the ability to withstand anything. It’s not.
As many of you know, these past few weeks for me have been complete hell. In a very short period of time, I experienced serious health challenges, had a couple hospitalizations, parted ways with multiple members of my medical team, seen several specialists and doctors, been subjected to lots of invasive tests and exams, missed multiple opportunities and events, and pressed pause on my career. As you can imagine, this all became a lot to deal with. So, I needed to take a time out from life.
Last week while talking with my friend E, she asked how I was handling everything. After a short pause to seriously consider my response, I replied, “I feel like I am desperately trying not to drown. I feel like someone threw me in open water holding onto everything I love and hold dear. Now, in the open water, I am trying to keep all those things safe and close, and at the same time I am trying not drown. Every time I secure one thing, something else slips away. With ever lunge to secure something else, I sink a little deeper into the water and struggle more to breath. Each time I sink, water rushes into my lungs, and I am slowly drowning.” As I struggled to find the words to illustrate just how overwhelmed I felt, E took a deep sigh and asked “so what happens if you drown?” Surprised and confused by her question, I sarcastically replied “um, I drown”. E laughed and said “no, really, think about this. What about letting yourself drown”. Intrigued, I accepted her challenge.
Shortly after my conversation with E, I designated that day as my “drown day”. Now, let me be clear, I did not decide to end life. I simply decided that particular day was a great day to feel sorry for myself…without any judgment, even from me. I decided that particular day would be spent eating whatever I wanted, crying as much as I wanted, sleeping however long I wanted, yelling or cursing if I wanted, and etc. It was my drown day, and I would do as I saw fit…or not do.
That morning started off like all my mornings. After lots of resting, I was finally able to get my family out the door. After seeing them out of the house, I took a seat at my kitchen table to start my drown day. I slowly pulled back the chair closest to the window at my table, looked out the open blinds into my backyard, and began to cry. As I sat there peering through the blinds, I thought about the judgmental looks from doctors and clinical staff I had received the past couple of days as I explained my symptoms, the lack of answers to explain my current ailments, my inability to work in my career, a career I wanted since I was 5 years old, and the frustration in my husband’s eyes lately and the worry from my daughters’ faces. As I allowed all these thoughts and more into my mind, thoughts I spent several weeks forcing out, tears slowly rolled down my face. Before long, those tears included verbal weeps…I made no effort to keep them in. I slowly leaned forward and allowed my head to rest on the table, and I just cried. After 45 minutes I was done crying, and decided it was time to retreat to my safe spot…under the covers.
Ever since I was a kid, I liked to hide under the covers. Whenever I felt sick or frustrated, I would climb in bed and cover my entire body with the cover. So, that is exactly what I did for my drown day. To my surprise, after 3 minutes, I was fast asleep. Around 3pm I was woken up by the alarm on my cell phone, which I did not remember setting. But, immediately I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. I immediately woke up able to think clearer, and before leaving the bed I was able to devise a action plan of next steps.
So here’s what I realized during my day of sorrow. First, an entire day is actually a long period of time…and it seems so much longer when you make a conscious effort to do nothing. LORD, the hours just crawled by. Second, I get bored very easy. I had 10 hours before anyone would return to my house..which meant I had a lot of time to wallow. Well, I cried for a total of 45 minutes out of the entire day (yeah, I timed it), despite setting a goal of having a crying marathon. After 45 short minutes, I needed something else to do on my drown day because I was so over crying. Third, and finally, I am not afraid to feel sorry for myself…with boundaries. See, I set the alarm on my phone on drown day so I wouldn’t allow myself to mope all day without coming up with a plan before the sun went down. THAT friends, is that fighter.
I THINK, what E wanted me to see was that I am not as strong as I always imagined myself to be or as strong as others said I was…I’M STRONGER. I am stronger than I ever could’ve imagined in my wildest dreams. I will have days where I need a break or where I don’t feel as strong, but I will never throw in the towel…that’s just not how I’m built. At some point, I will dig deep, get a action plan, and come back fighting harder than before. See, just when I think I have reached the end of my rope…I will dig as deep as I can to find strength, tie a knot at the end of that rope, and hang on anyhow!