Room on the Road: In the Deep End

Standing in the kitchen, rattling off a written list of activities to do for my son’s birthday party, my eyes skip over the word swimming, omitting it from the list. I feel my daughter’s gaze. Busted.

“Mom! You skipped swimming!” I look at the list again, acting like it was an error on my part, even though I skipped it on purpose, “Silly me, of course I did. Sorry about that.”

Reading my mind, she says, “You never go swimming with us.”  Seeing the disappointment in her eyes, a lump appears in my throat. She’s right. I don’t go swimming with them. But I want to.

A rush of sadness and anger swell up inside of me. Sad about missed opportunities with my children. It’s just one activity; we do a lot of other things together. The anger less defined, pumping through my body. But it’s THE one that holds me back from so much.

The emotions follow me into the next day. You never go swimming with us, you never go swimming with us, you never go swimming with us, echoing in my head, becoming louder each time it circles my thoughts.

I think I’ve reached my tipping point. Not learning to swim is something I will regret. As a person that doesn’t live comfortably with regrets, I struggle with this. It scares me. I don’t want to be 80 and asking myself why I never learned how to swim.

Enough is enough. I’ve had it. Well, I think I’ve had it. I really have but… I’ve been here before. Here, in this moment, the moment where I’m racing towards a hurdle that I can’t clear. The moment where the fear of doing something is faced with fear of doing nothing.

Taking a deep breath I try to center myself. Swimming. Fear. Trust. It’s all tangled together, keeping me in one place for too long.

Learning to swim, for me, feels like the release of a dam, emotions and strength that are finally set free. It sounds so good. But what if I can’t get past my fear? That thought scares me the most. I have to make this happen. There has to be a way.

I reach for my laptop in search of the magic answer. Sitting next to the laptop is an envelope, labeled "swimming money," a small cache of savings patiently waiting for the right opportunity. Most days it sits on a shelf in my closet, right next to a small Virgin Mary and a statue of Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.

Right now my biggest obstacle is resisting the temptation of spending it on a couple of lattes.

Overwhelmed by my simple google search -- fear of water, adult learners, fear of the deep end -- I redefine my query and add the most important word of all CONQUER.

A book title pops up, Conquer Your Fear of Water by Melon Dash. Within minutes it’s sitting in my Amazon cart. This is where I need to start. It’s true I am afraid. But I can do this. Then another title catches my eye, Some Nerve by Patty Chang Anker. On the cover is a woman diving into the water. In my cart it goes. I feel an instant connection with this book. Anxious to read it, I pay for expedited shipping. I want to start NOW. I want to overcome this fear NOW. I have no time to waste.

A day later, the books land on my doorstep. Excited, I fumble to get the books out of their box. Out comes Conquer Your Fear of Water, I toss it on the table like it was a hot potato. I don’t think I can go there just yet, I might have to work my way up to this one.

Waiting for the right moment. Until then it is tucked away in my nightstand.

Some Nerve on the other hand is practically screaming at me: what are you waiting for? Read me! Grabbing the book, I make a beeline for the sunroom, where the good reading happens.  Desperately wanting it to contain the answers I’m looking for, I open to the first chapter.

An hour passes and I’m already deep into Patty Anker’s life and those she interviewed. People like me, finding ways to conquer their fears. By the time I hit chapter two, I want to pick up the phone and call her for a coffee date. We have so much to talk about.

I reach page 56 and stop. I had been so afraid of letting go. The words jump off the page, haunting me, and not wanting to forget how they make me feel. I rummage my desk drawer for some sticky tabs to mark this moment.

From then on, while reading the book, I keep the sticky tabs with me at all times, marking every sentence that resonates with me. By the time I reach page 200, I’m startled by how many tabs are peering out of the pages.

My well-loved copy, with just a few sticky tabs. My daughter suggested that I should just highlight the entire book.

Ten sticky tabs later I’m faced with words so provoking they warrant two sticky tabs. Words I can’t forget, words that follow me around for days, like a shadow.

“…you’ve been addicted to your story and you are using that story to keep you out of the driver’s seat.”

I’m not learning to drive, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not about holding a steering wheel or swimming freestyle. It’s what stops us from doing it that matters.

Rattled by those four words, “…addicted to your story…” I question my story.

What is my story? What am I really I’m afraid of? 

Answers instantly appear, words waiting in the wings, always ready to remind me why I’m afraid. What if I drown? What if I’m not strong enough? What if I can’t do it? I’m scared. I can’t touch the bottom. It doesn’t feel safe.

I can’t swim. 

I almost drowned. 


But I didn’t.

Am I addicted to my story? And not just my swimming story, my life story, my running story, have I used these stories to protect myself or excuse myself? I’ll never lose weight, I’ll never run faster… are these the stories I truly believe?

I make my way to page 328 and can’t get myself to finish the book. I’m not sure why I don’t want it to end. I admit, I’m a little afraid of not being immersed in the pages connecting me to familiar stories.

I’m also a little afraid of finishing the book and never finding the opportunity to learn how to swim. I’m afraid of getting to a place in my life where I stop racing towards the hurdle and give up. Addicted to a new story. My opportunity has passed, the window has closed, I’m too old, it doesn’t matter anymore.

I email the author, Patty Chang Anker, telling her how much I related to her book, that I have an embarrassing amount of sticky tabs scattered throughout and that I’m on my own mission to overcome my fear.

She warmly replies, thanking me, wishing me luck with my plans, and letting me know that she has completed three open water triathlons last year. Amazing. Now I really want to meet her for coffee.

Rewriting this story won’t be easy, but I have a newfound determination. I’ll keep searching for an instructor and program that feels right (I have my eye on an all-women’s week long class in Florida) and I’ll keep stashing away some cash so I’m ready when it happens.

In the meantime I will finish the book, trusting that the right moment will appear. I will find my strength in the deep end. And just because the book ends doesn’t meant the story is over; it just means that the next chapter is up to me.

19 responses to “Room on the Road: In the Deep End

  1. Dang it all- now you made me go and think about the things I am struggling to commit to!!!! Oddly enough I sometimes feel like this when running. Self sabatoge- too fat, too slow, too busy, too …scared to commit in a way I need to for myself to make progress. I am everyone else’s cheerleader. What is “Go Donna!” the hardest to say and mean?
    When I married my husband I felt no fear of commitment and I have never regretted that. Sometimes I think we need to commit to a goal or desire, or conquering a fear, the same way we commit to a marriage. How that commitment looks will ebb and flow, and change over time but it is always there. Stick with it, hang in there and work thru the hard parts. Wh so hard? I know I am addicted to my story- it defines me. Here is to looking for new definitions and new commitments. Thanks Denise for being the person you are in such an honest way.

  2. I wish I could meet up with all of you and give you private lessons. Before I was a mom I taught swimming. I was successful in helping several women over come their fear, at least enough to enjoy the water with kids, grandkid and family. Sometime the book wont do. It take the right person to hold you hand in the moment and encourage you through it.

  3. I could write this exact same story! Fear of water, almost drowning, and everything. I can’t wait to hear an update. Best of luck:)

  4. Addicted to our stories, just about sums up all of the reasons we can’t do something doesn’t it? I look forward to your posts…I really do. You have the gift of putting things out there that everyone can relate to. Much love Denise.

  5. Good stuff and I think you struck a chord with us all! I wanted to share this: when my daughter was in high school she taught swim lessons at the YMCA. She loves the little kids. But one session she had an adult class. She was very nervous but like you so were they. She ended up teaching them just like she did the preschoolers and they all loved it! They appreciated how she tried to alleviate their fears. I hope when the time is right for you the right person will be there to help you get that nerve and courage you want! I know you will conquer!

  6. Denise, this is fabulous on so many levels, just like you. It’s been playing over and over again in my mind all day. I’m with you, 110%. Love you DD!

  7. Denise, it’s just like you shared with me right away. About being addicted to our stories! Thanks for sharing, being vulnerable, and helping me move beyond my stories too. And remember, Oprah was afraid of swimming too 🙂

  8. Denise, I feel as though we have more similarities than differences though we’ve only met once. I recently admitted to a counselor that fear is what keeps me from so much right now. I think I need to read “Some Nerve”. Thank you for sharing your story because each time it helps someone else.

  9. We are addicted to our stories! You are so right. I heard a gentleman speak to our school today about living in a wheelchair as a young adult. He says there is no room for fear when there is so much gratitude. I’m anxious to hear how it goes.

  10. Thank you for expressing your vulnerability! This lesson applies to any of our fears. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is acting despite our fear. (I’ve added Some Nerve to my Amazon shopping cart.)

  11. Denise, I love it. Our Moms on the Run season begins tonight and this post was added to our Facebook page! I love this line – “The moment where the fear of doing something is faced with fear of doing nothing.” I just finished listening to the AMR podcast featuring Louise, the plus size runner. She said basically the same thing. I know you will conquer your fear of swimming and be so glad you did!! Go get ’em!!

  12. Oh, Denise, what a raw & beautiful post! I love the idea of how becoming addicted to your story can keep you out of the driver’s seat. I can relate on many levels. Why is the driver’s seat so scary?? (I don’t know, but it just IS!)
    Keep us posted on your progress. Maybe I will join you in Florida. Do they have wine & concierge lounges? 😉 <3

  13. Denise, you are so brave. Just picking up the book and reading it makes you brave. And you’re brave whether you learn to swim or not!

  14. I love that you’re not afraid to go deeper. That you realize this is more than just signing up for swimming lessons at the Y. This is about so much more than water. “Addicted” to our stories – man, that is so good. You made me think of the stories I’m clinging to that prevent me from doing the things I really want to do. Thank you, Denise!

  15. I learned to swim at the age of 45. I will offer my words of encouragement. You CAN do it. You have caused me to look at what “my story” around my fear of water. It’s amazing how abuse got connected to my fear of water. I still cannot open water swim. Not there yet. Get there when you can. Where do you live? I hope it is where the best swim teacher I know is. She changes lives with her swim teaching. Good luck to you. Good luck to you. Good luck to you. You can do it.

  16. Take those lessons….reading is one thing. Actually DOING it is another. You won’t regret it! I have swum from Alcatraz 9 times and done countless other swims in the ocean and in lakes, ponds, pools. It’s freeing. You only get one life…

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