The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.Into The Wild (Penn, 2007).
Lately, I find myself being drawn to the water. I don’t know how to explain this because I am actually terrified of large bodies of water. For myself, it was always the idea of sharing space with creatures and waves that I don’t know. These things might not have had my best interest at heart, so to place myself in a state of true vulnerability seemed foolish.
To back track a little here, I remember my first realization of this was swimming in the deep end of a neighbor’s pool. My feet couldn’t touch the ground. I was probably no older than 13. I panicked and never went back in. I’ve spent my entire life looking for certainty and choosing to dismiss things I couldn’t be absolutely sure about. I need to know. I always “just want to make sure”. It’s why I watch the same movies and shows over and over–the ending is always the same.
There is a certain strength that comes from simply knowing. This is true. The other thing I know to be definitively true is this: our perceptions of what it means to be strong are fluid. Much like water. And it can surround you, provide you with a sense of calm, serenity. Or it can drown you, in its cold grasp with its harsh blows and vastness. You can see it as scary. Dark. Full of monsters. Or you can see it as beautiful. Full of surprises. Home to billions of things waiting to be discovered.
Strength exists in some version of itself in your head right up until the point where you realize you don’t know anymore. That is really strength. When I reflect on this further, I find that my truest, strongest moments, were moments of uncertainty. Where I trusted myself enough to know I could find my footing in the deep end of life. With my own brain, using tools I have picked up along the way that act as life jackets. Relying on family and friends to be good anchors when the waves get rough. I am lucky to have these things. But these things have only ever helped me be strong. As McCandless says above- the real challenge, the truly important thing is actually feeling strong. And I have to be honest, those days are far and few between. I have clinical depression and anxiety. A touch of OCD. A smattering of PTSD. I’m currently facing some uncertain health issues. I’m floating at sea right now, and I am so terrified. I find myself gripping to my tiny sail boat tighter than ever.
It is rarely when I wake up feeling as though I am ready for what the day is going to throw my way. I find myself constantly asking myself questions: “How will I make it through today? What do I need to do? What do I need? Period. What do I need?”. My therapist and I have been focusing on this a lot these days. Exploring what it is I actually need in order to feel strong. And some days it is rest, quiet, alone time. Others it is love from my loved ones. Sometimes it’s forgiveness. What I’m saying is, the things that truly make me feel strong have to come from within. To weather the storm, and ensure safe passage, the ship has to be manned by people who want the best for the whole crew. But in order to build camaraderie amongst the crew, a level of trust and vulnerability have to be present. Each member has to be willing to engage in this way for success.
So that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to ask parts of myself to engage in vulnerability and trust amongst one another so that the whole ship can be successful. I’m asking myself what I need on a daily basis. If you are anything like myself, it might be hard not to see this as some selfish act. But the reality is, is that to be aware of this is to be advocating for the best you. As a therapist, it is difficult for me to see it any other way because I find my inner critic and my altruistic self hang together on the regular and they tend to be extremists. So much so, that they would run me ragged. So I am learning to be realistic and aware. I am trying to discover how everything can be balanced, and how one eight pound head can hold so many thoughts and still have no idea how to plant its feet on the ground.
But it’s about using my resources. What I already know. To be accepting of what I do not know. Trusting myself enough to be vulnerable with myself just enough so I can feel safe floating. So I can start to be okay with the waves. So I can discover what is under the water’s surface and not be so scared. So I can start to feel strong.
I leave you with this food for thought: What do you need? To meet the inner needs, to unite your ship’s crew– what can you give yourself each day? True self care isn’t about face masks, and tea. While these things are great, enjoy them while you answer the bigger questions: What do I need today so that I can feel strong? Where will it come from? How do I make it sustainable? If I do not have it, how will I get it in a way that is healthy and reasonable?
The water will never slow or calm or change itself for you or anyone else. The only real way to handle this is to make sure you have what you need to make it through when the waves get rough. Because the one thing we seem to forget often is this: Water is cleansing too. It refreshes. Allows us to start new. And if we are able to feel strong, it too, can be refreshing.