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The Realization I Had When Anxiety Wouldn't Let Me Jump in the Pool

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Two years ago, I stood for 40 minutes with my toes curled around the edge of a ledge and stared down 15 feet and 7 inches into a cold, somewhat dark abyss. My stomach churned, my brain swam, and I wasn’t quite sure oxygen existed anymore in my general vicinity. No matter what brain said, my body was not going to cooperate.

In reality, the abyss wasn’t an abyss but the local recreation pool, and I wasn’t in any danger, except nobody bothered to tell my anxiety that.

I had decided earlier in the summer that at the ripe age of 17, I was going to learn how to swim. I was going to submerge my face in the water and breathe from my nose and act like a real college-bound senior who had a handle on her fears, even if this was just one of many.

With all this in mind, on a Thursday evening in late July, I failed to jump in to the pool.

It seems trite. Silly. Inconsequential. But after four years of losing battles to my anxiety, of failing to do things, of thinking I wasn’t “enough,” of constantly struggling against my various mental issues, this failure affected me more than anything else before.

The instructor was kind for the first 20 minutes. Then she became frustrated with my many failed attempts to jump. I became frustrated. She gave up. I gave up. She went home and probably moved on. I went home and beat myself up for not being good enough to overcome my anxiety.

I’ve always wanted my mental problems to just disappear. Maybe if I just tried enough, focused enough, then I could will myself “normal.” The solution to anxiety was to stop being anxious, just like the solution to being fat was to stop eating. (Simple solutions appear to be a pattern in my mental health.)

That night, though, as I cried to my best friend over the phone, I realized something wasn’t working in my plan; if it was, I wouldn’t have been walking the entire neighborhood convincing myself I was worthless for this failure. I was losing this fight to anxiety, as I had been for four years, and no amount of brute force was going to make it go away. I needed to be smart. I needed to pick my battles (and jumping into a pool was certainly not one of them). I needed to accept that anxiety was a part of me as much as my poor eyesight. Most importantly, I needed to internalize that having anxiety, just like not being able to jump into a pool, did not make me “less.”

I’m not at peace with my anxiety yet. I still struggle, a lot. However, I’ve learned that “fighting,” as they so often tell mental health patients to do, isn’t just about biting your cheek and continuing; that’s called ignoring, and it only works until it doesn’t. Instead, I’ve learned to explain, to talk, to count, to ease in, and, sometimes, to accept, truly accept, that it’s just not the right time.

They say jumping into a pool is refreshing, but I have never felt more refreshed than from the realization I gained from failing to jump: I have an anxiety problem, and I need to own it before I can fix it.

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Thinkstock photo by oneinchpunch

Originally published: March 7, 2017
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