Finding Peace — Manuscript Post #7
The stimulus for all this was the trip to Hawaii. Once we got there we all enjoyed the pool where we were staying. When we visited family that was also vacationing there, I was one of the few adults in the pool with the kids. Most everyone else chose not to get into the pool. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to feel embarrassed that I couldn’t swim. I didn’t have to make up any excuses for why I wouldn’t get into the pool. It felt great to able to choose whether I wanted to swim or not. I didn’t have to look at it from a place of fear.
During the trip, we took a dinner cruise. The ship was small so we were close to the water. The water looked more like obsidian than a blue liquid. I looked at the water and for the first time, I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to be thrown overboard in some accident, but I knew that if I was, I would be able to kick to the surface, breathe, and stay alive for some period of time. I would not be the first to drown. I would have a chance to survive, a much better chance because I had learned to overcome my bullshit and actually learn to swim.
Through this process, I realized what it really means to ‘know how to swim’. I know this sounds silly, because, of course, we all know what it means to know how to swim. The definition of swimming is simple: to propel oneself in water by natural means. Once I actually learned how to swim, I could look at it from a different perspective. If a boat struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and a person found themselves in the frigid water, no matter how good a swimmer they were, they would be dead in a very short time. You can be a great swimmer, but you can’t swim to shore from out at sea. If you hit your head while falling overboard, you can’t overcome a concussion as you go into the water. Swimming really means you have learned to stay alive in deep water for some amount of time. With respect to my sibling and their statement that I would ‘fall into the ocean and die’, they couldn’t survive falling into the ocean for very long either. It’s good to know how to swim, but knowing how to swim doesn’t mean you can overcome all possible aquatic disasters.
Along with my learning how to swim, my son learned enough to do well in PE class. His experience was nothing like mine. I could have used my fear of swimming as a reason to not find swim lessons for my sons. If I didn’t need to learn how to swim, why did my sons? I did not let my fear and all the bullshit I had built up around my fear, from affecting my sons.
I could have followed the pattern I saw while I was growing up. First, find a rationalization for not doing what needs to be done. Second, justify it any way you can. Third, apply your rationalizations indefinitely to keep avoiding the hard work that needs to be done. It’s a great way to keep the denial going indefinitely.
Now that I have told you this story of how I finally learned how to swim, why did I want you to know all this? Because, if you replace ‘swimming’ with ‘therapy’, you now have the story of my experience with therapy.
I was afraid of the water and I was afraid of what was causing me to have the symptoms that led me to therapy. I had to deal with my symptoms by finding a place where people could help me. I had to accept that someone else knows more than I do, about swimming and about therapy. I felt better as soon as I started looking for swim lessons, and as soon as I started looking for a therapist. I had to try hard over a period of time to make progress at both swimming and therapy. Learning to swim doesn’t mean I can survive all water disasters and going through a course of therapy doesn’t mean my symptoms will go away completely. The pool at the swim school was a safe place to learn to overcome my fear of the water. The therapist’s office was a safe place to talk about what I was feeling and to learn what was causing those feelings.
There is a stigma surrounding therapy and anyone that needs it. I wanted to change the story, to use different words. My story of learning how to swim is very similar to my story of how I benefitted from going to therapy. I think many people would benefit from therapy, just as many people would benefit from knowing how to swim.
I wonder what my life would be like now if I had chosen to resist my wife’s suggestion that I learn to swim. What would my life be like now if I had chosen to resist my doctor’s suggestion that I go to therapy? I was afraid of the water, and you may be afraid of being labeled as crazy or mentally ill. We have to decide it is more important to get the help we need to get better than it is to worry what others will think.
I’m not qualified to diagnose your situation. I am qualified to tell you what it is like to be a patient going through the process of needing, finding and working with a therapist. I am qualified to tell you how therapy helped one patient — me. As I describe my experience I offer my personal observations and I speculate about things that my therapist did not specifically tell me. I will quote my therapist sometimes, and when I do, I will be very clear that I’m doing so. While I am not qualified to diagnose, I can describe what therapy can do for you from the patient’s perspective. If you or someone you care about is considering therapy, or should be, my observations will help you understand what therapy can and can’t do. You will find books and other resources authored by experts in various fields related to therapy. My therapist had me read two such books during my therapy and I benefitted greatly from both books. However, both were written by experts in the field, from the perspective of someone that is treating others. I am offering you the perspective of the patient, a perspective that is much closer to what you will experience as a patient.