Just Keep Swimming: A Lesson in Survival
A year ago, I stood in my condo and marveled at the growing number of boxes - all well labeled and organized of course - as I packed up my life and prepared to launch a brand new chapter. I thought I had limited myself to just taking the essentials, that my fresh start would be a minimalist one. I was leaving all the big things save for some dressers, my childhood book case and desk, and the copious amounts of glassware from our registry. But alas, I discovered that minimalism isn’t really for someone who apparently hoards bath products. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It was the first of many lessons I learned about myself in the past year. A small one, no doubt, but significant because it showed just how little attention I had been paying to myself, my habits, and my coping mechanisms (like buying copious amounts of bath products...).
It took me weeks to pack everything as I painstakingly went through every single article of clothing, every high school newspaper (thanks for highlight all my articles, dad), every figurine, looking for dead weight to shed.
Instead, I started to remember who I was - past and present - and think about who I wanted to be in the future.
It would be a long time - six months - before I would take the time to reflect some more. As the move took place, unpacking became a major project, and life and work got more complicated. So I did the only thing I was capable of doing to survive: just keep moving.
One day at a time, I’d tell myself, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The only way out is through, I’d chant when things got really tough. JUST. KEEP. SWIMMING.
The act of doing was equal parts survival and avoidance. If I just kept moving, nothing could catch me and destroy me. If I don’t stop, I won’t have to feel the depths of my sadness, my loneliness, and my disappointment. I don’t blame myself for it though. Honestly, it was all that I could do to hang on at times, and ultimately, I made it through.
A mid-year break in August and my first solo trip in Hawaii was a much needed respite from the madness.
My first moments alone on Kaui’i, when I was truly alone and away from the madness, I collapsed into a heap in my hotel room and sobbed. I don’t know for how long, but it was the greatest relief I had experienced maybe ever. I had no where to be, no one to please, no responsibilities to fulfill. It was just me and I was so tired.
I came home refreshed and renewed. Which was good, because things were about to get worse. And better. Because, well, that’s life.
Simultaneously, I started dating in earnest and also my divorce blew up in the most epic way possible. (I might launch a new TV show: “Law & Order: Divorce”) I fell for someone new and also discovered that the life I had escaped earlier in the year wasn’t the life I thought I escaped at all. It was much more sinister, and I had had no idea.
For the first time, I realized how much and for how long I had been on autopilot. I missed so many signs and red flags along the way. Or I saw them and either ignored them, rationalized them away, or allowed myself to take the (often undeserved) blame. I discovered that the reasons I left my past life were merely the symptoms of a much larger, more nefarious problem. And boy, did I make it out by the skin of my teeth.
The six months since my time in Hawaii have been a hell of a roller coaster. The highs were incredibly high, and the lows, well, they were soul crushing. And to be honest, I didn’t even realize how heavy things had been until I landed in Belize last week for my second solo venture and first solo international trip.
Much like the start of my Hawaiian adventure, the moment I hit my hotel in Belize I had a very intense reaction. This time, it felt like I had been running at top speed and just hit a brick wall. I realized that the pace of my moving for survival had picked up exponentially.
So one of the first things I did here was create an inventory of all the things that had happened to me or that I did during the six months since my last reflection time. It was incredible to see the full scope of everything I’ve been dealing with. Y’all don’t want to see it (or maybe you like to watch a train wreck) but just know that it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that stopping to take stock of my life gave me whiplash.
It made me simultaneously proud of myself for how strong I’ve become and for surviving so much, and also shocked that in an effort to just keep moving, I ignored the severity of my situation and didn’t give myself any breaks - both figurative and literal - along the way. No wonder I’ve been so effing tired, cranky, sensitive, and impatient.
One of the reasons I like escaping to tropical destinations is that it’s really healthy for me to experience life at a different pace. “Island time” is a mindset that’s about more than whether people are prompt or not. It’s about accepting that things will happen when they happen, no matter how hard we try to bend the universe to our will.
I’m going to take a little bit of “island time” home with me from Belize and infuse it in both my personal and professional lives. Life is tough, man, and even the good stuff is intense. So even though I will often “just keep swimming” to survive sometimes, I can do a better job of letting myself off the hook sometimes, and creating some space to think, reflect, and, most importantly, feel.