First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt often gets credit for the line, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” The correct attribution may go to Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich who used that line in a graduation speech she penned for young students. Included in her list of advice was:
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
The point of doing something that scares you is to move past the comfort zone which can be like bubble gum on your shoes if you stay in it too long. It’s also a reminder that you are so much stronger than you ever gave yourself credit for. At least that’s why I try to stretch myself every now and then by doing something that triggers heart palpitations. Like swimming 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake Bay—starting at Sandy Point State Park and finishing at Libby’s Coastal Kitchen on the Eastern Shore.
I have swum the event before, but I’m guessing not for the same reasons endurance athletes run marathons or compete in triathlons. I could care less about my time. I am merely after a fresh reference point to help me tackle suffering – a visual to inspire perseverance in those white-knuckle moments when I want more than anything to throw up my arms and say, “NOT POSSIBLE.”
In these harder hours I envision myself between mile marker two and three, where I am most vulnerable to sinking, and I say to myself: “Don’t you dare look at Libby’s. You know you will get discouraged if you do and find yourself on the kayak of remaining bodies after the awards ceremony. Put your damn face in the water. One stroke at a time. Concentrate only on getting to mile marker three. The world could be over before you reach mile marker four. Stay in between the spans of the bridge so you don’t get disqualified. And eventually, I swear to you, all of this will be over and you’ll be on the beach smiling for your victory shot.”
There was more significance this year attached to my crossing the finish line. The swim commemorated my decision three years ago to shift health philosophies in managing my chronic conditions – from a biochemical model that aims to treat illness to a holistic approach that promotes long-term healing of body, mind, and spirit. As I ambled unto the beach of the Eastern Shore, I celebrated the remarkable health gains I have achieved as a result, including a peace that I didn’t know was possible for a person who has struggled with depression since age eight.
Out of chaos came creation. That’s how the Bible begins.
People who have lost a loved one sometimes describe their grief as a disintegration of the self. They don’t know how to access their own person detached from the one with whom they have shared decades. For them the loss feels as if it has penetrated their very DNA, provoking a search for their identity in things both old and new. Everything looks different. Everything is different.
I haven’t mourned the passing of an actual person in recent years. But I am familiar with this shattering of the self on a cellular level and the efforts required to rebuild whoever is left into a new creation. Enough loss occurred in my health over the last six years to make me question health philosophies that I had espoused since I was 19 and promoted for 20 years in my writing. While I have definitely benefited from traditional treatments for depression during stretches of my life, in the latter years they created more problems than solutions, adding to my suffering more than subtracting from it. Despite this established pattern, I kept trying one medication combination or neurostimulation intervention after another until I nearly exhausted the arsenal of psychiatry.
Life coach Tony Robbins says that “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” My version: The seeds of courage often sprout in the soil of desperation. The day arrived when I knew I had no choice but to leap into the unknown and explore a new paradigm of wellness. So I made a bold move. I reached for the helm of my health and secured it tightly in my hands. I allowed my intuition to have a say in the decisions I made – filtering the recommendations from my physicians, therapists, and mentors through a set of instincts I had honed in my 40 years of navigating health challenges.* Forget about crossing the bay. This process of trusting my own wisdom is the scariest thing I have ever done in my life because I have always doubted myself, looking to other people for the answers.
Eleanor also said, “Do the thing you think you cannot do.”
There was plenty of sweat demanded here, but even more nerve. I attempted to uncarve and redirect neural pathways of distress that had been set shortly after I was potty-trained with original techniques not presented in any office or book. Each day I worked at replacing narratives of illness I have been told my entire adult life with messages of hope and possibility that don’t show up when you google a health condition. My strategies were simple and unscientific – not the kind of evidence touted in a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. And yet they led me to a calm I had yet to experience by following the protocols of mainstream medicine.
Augustine of Hippo defined a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” In this sense, crossing the bay this year was indeed sacramental. As I maneuvered through the temperamental waters of the Chesapeake, I recognized the loving arms of God carrying me across the turbulent passage from the sands of unsuccessful treatments to the shore of sustained recovery, providing me rest from an uncompromising current when I most needed it.
I am, at heart, an insecure person. Only by the grace of God did I conjure up enough courage to tell my physicians that my story wasn’t found in their data. And I certainly couldn’t have done it without the support of a dedicated side walker—a loving husband who supplied me, along with my espresso each morning, with a dose of the reassurance I needed to get through each 24 hours: “You are doing so much better. Stay the course.”
Eleanor or Mary was spot on in prescribing us to do one thing each day that scares us. You don’t know what you’re made of until you do.
*Please note that I made all medical changes under the supervision of a physician. I do not endorse making medical changes apart from the care of a physician.
I am getting ready to launch a series of inspirational quotes that emboldened me to trust my own wisdom and be guided by faith, hope, and love in my health and life decisions. I will be featuring them on my Instagram and Twitter handles and on my Author Facebook page. Follow me there if you’d like to receive them.