When I first started dating my husband, Doug, he was the Manager of the Aquatics Department at a local gym. Doug was a competitive swimmer in high school and is passionate about swimming; I mean PASSIONATE. I on the other hand see the pool as a place to play. I am very comfortable jumping off the diving board, doing handstands underwater, and I can play a mean game of ‘Marco Polo.’ But what I didn’t know how to do is swim a stroke correctly–I had no idea how to swim the front crawl or the backstroke. So I decided to take lessons from Doug.
Honestly, signing up for lessons had more to do with me wanting to spend more time with Doug and less to do with learning how to swim correctly. I was a treadmill/weights kind of girl, and swimming in my mind was for playing. But if there is one thing my High Functioning Anxiety has taught me, it is how to rise to a challenge.
If the upside was spending time with Doug, the downside was I had to practice my swimming between lessons. Each week Doug would give me assignments for my practice sessions, and occasionally, he would make his way over to my swim lane to check on my progress. Getting to see Doug was a bright spot—but for the most part, I did not enjoy these practice sessions.
One week he challenged me to swim 75 meters–without stopping. For those swim novices, that is the length of the pool three times. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is a LOT when you are new to swimming. So me being me, I swam like a bat out of hell for the three laps because I was so afraid I wasn’t going to be able to finish.
When I reached the edge struggling to catch my breath, I looked up to see Doug standing there. He kneeled next to me, “Did you enjoy that?” he asked.
“No!” I replied, between gasps, “That was awful.”
“This is supposed to be fun. You don’t have to white knuckle through it.” He said, smiling, “What I love about swimming is that it is it isn’t about the destination or getting it done it is about enjoying the strokes and just having fun with it. If you slow down your pace, you can go further and might actually enjoy it!!”
I laughed at him. Not because he was funny but because what he was saying was totally foreign to me. Enjoy the strokes? No need to white-knuckle? Don’t worry about the destination? Just have fun? What nonsense was this man speaking of?! I wanted to embrace this philosophy. I wanted to let go of the pressure to do it perfectly, quickly, and with as little effort as possible. But the concept was foreign.
As I started back across the pool, concentrating on form, trying to enjoy the journey. I could hear Doug’s muffled voice coming from the side of the pool, saying, “relax, relax”. I felt my body relax, and I smiled underwater. Because less than 15 meters into it and I was already back to white-knuckling, and he knew I would need the reminder. This story is one reason my husband and I make a great team—he is lovingly pushing me to enjoy the journey, and I am lovingly pushing him to keep the destination in mind.
With High Functioning Anxiety comes white-knuckling. When my anxiety gets high, white-knuckling becomes a go-to response—holding on for dear life, over-analyzing, looking at the situation from all angles. I can get tunnel vision on my life and my relationships. Because somewhere I learned the lesson: the tighter I hold on, the more control I have, the happier I will be. The idea of letting go, relaxing into life can feel counter-intuitive.
When I see, I am holding my breath and grinning and bearing life rather than experiencing it. I remind myself to get into my body. To feel my legs, to stand up and stretch. Or do the five senses meditation: What do I see? Hear? Feel? Taste? Smell? Doing a full-body movement, getting into my body helps. Sometimes I need to do that multiple times a day.
I probably won’t ever be someone who, by default, enjoys the journey, but now I can recognize when I am white-knuckling. I can picture Doug walking next to my swim lane saying, relax, relax, and I know what that means. I take that as a win.