A dear friend of mine has a daughter who just began her new life at college. It’s not in Houston, but it’s only about an hour’s drive away. No biggie. She’s a good kid, a strong student, and the type of person whom you know will be successful. Life has dealt her some very hard kicks, but she is resilient and will not be defeated by the adversity that confronts her.
But she is drowning in this new world of college. The days have barely begun, and all she can focus on is getting back home. Her separation anxiety is off the charts, and she is missing her family to the point of being locked in place and utterly inconsolable. She feels like she is going under and sheer panic has taken hold.
I understand this feeling far too well. My husband and I went on a trip overseas many years ago. While we were there, I badgered him into taking the hotel’s Cliff’s Notes version of scuba (a.k.a “An Inappropriately Brief Summary of How Not to Die While Swimming Deep in the Ocean”). An 18 year old trainer gave us the ten minute speech (that in reality should have been explained in a classroom over multiple days of training), slapped some tanks on our backs, and plopped us into the resort pool.
I. Freaked. Out.
We are talking a complete and total meltdown. Massive claustrophobia. Unimaginable terror about being unable to get enough oxygen. Horrific fear about drowning. All of it. I was very literally hyperventilating into my regulator and tears were streaming down my face inside my mask. It was absolutely terrifying.
My husband had been swimming a few feet away from me and immediately recognized that I was circling the mental drain. In his old soul wisdom, he knew that he had to intervene and proceeded to do something that truly saved me. He grabbed my shoulders, pushed me up out of the water, and said with a seriously annoyed tone, “Dude – Stand up.”
In my terror (a.k.a. complete doofus attack), I had literally forgotten that we were in the most shallow of shallow ends. Of a frickin pool. At a hotel.
The water was maybe 4 feet deep. Probably more like 3.
Embarrassing. So so embarrassing.
The anxiety attack was immediately gone only to be replaced by an “I’m a dumbass” attack. As I was too humiliated to continue showing my face above water, I dropped into the pool once more and of course knew from that point on that I was a-okay. Later that day I did a 40 foot dive without batting an eye. A couple of years and multiple certifications later, I went to almost 140 feet. But this isn’t about that kind of depth.
We sometimes feel like we are drowning in a flood of debilitating fear when we are in unfamiliar surroundings. We lose our sense of safety and control, and we begin to spiral wildly. The trick is to recognize when the depth of terror is of our own making. Sometimes it takes another person to jar us out of our anti-fantasy, but ideally we learn to find a way to recognize the delusion so we can then snap ourselves out of it.
Change is terrifying, and staring into the unknown rattles us all. But more often than not, the water is nowhere near as deep as we imagine it to be. In most cases, we truly just need to remember to stand up.
The floodwaters of anxiety cannot be allowed to overpower you or steal your hope and joy. Stand up so you can see who is standing by your side in support. Stand up and be willing to distinguish what is a true threat versus what is simply unknown. Stand up and realize that you are okay in this moment and that you can release the panic that distracts your mind and obscures your purpose.
And after you have regained your confidence and maybe even laughed at the comedy of your overreaction, you can dive in once more and at last begin to see the world of wonders just waiting to be discovered. ❤️
Big hugs to you all. Jo