Just Keep Swimming

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I said, “I am down, lonely and afraid.” To better help you understand how I’ve felt over the last couple years, I used the analogy of a person laid out on the concrete, getting their face bashed in. I asked all of you to meet me down there, hold me, ask me where it hurts, and what you can do to help. Many of you did just that, and it gave me that little bit of strength I needed to get up. I am standing. I may be a little weathered, but I am upright and ready to walk on. Actually, that’s metaphorical because I’m actually horizontal on the couch with two IV’s in my arms, but I’ve eaten today, I’ve rested, I’ve given love and received love, I put some laundry away, and I’m writing this. If you are struggling, if you are obsessing over what the fuck, why the fuck, and how the fuck, the one  piece of tangible advice that never fails me was said by Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.” It was also said by like a bazillion other people in a variation of other words, BUT Dory said it best if you ask me, and I’d like to honor the release of “Finding Dory.” I’ve been practicing this for years though the situation I’m currently in has been the greatest challenge. There have been countless times I’ve wanted to just stop and sink, but I’ve experienced the benefits of  keeping on too many times in my life to give up now.

I was heart-broken (again) a few years ago. I was stuck in bed, restricted by panic. It had been light out recently enough that I still hadn’t turned any lamps on. As it grew darker outside, it grew darker inside, which reflected MY insides. I’m so sensitive during that hour-long adjustment when the light turns to dark. I can do the light and I can do the dark, but the in-between, the purgatory, the new, the gray- THAT I do not like. I laid flat crying, fuck it’s already night-time, he still hasn’t responded to my texts, I can’t get out of bed. I called a woman who was 20 years my senior and sobbed to her, “I can’t get out of bed! He hasn’t responded,” snot filled my shirt, I choked on some phlegm, and I made a whole case supporting my sadness and paralysis. She was so compassionate- this beautiful  woman with 3 children, and a host of her own more threatening struggles, took the time to talk me through the pain of “he hasn’t responded to my texts.” She said, “It’s OK sweetie, listen, I want you to get up and make the bed. That’s all you have to do. Get up and make the bed. Do the dishes, take a shower, come over for dinner. That’s ALL you have to do. Get up and make the bed.” I swung my legs around, I got to a standing position, I turned a lamp on, and I made the bed. It’s easier to keep moving when already in motion – that’s like simple science, I think. I did the dishes, and I took a shower and I went to dinner. I didn’t feel good, but I certainly didn’t feel any worse than when I was laying in bed. That wasn’t my first lesson in “just keep swimming,” but it simplified something I had been hearing/practicing for years.

Both of my parents taught me this lesson- through their words and actions: they made life so fucking hard that I had no choice but to learn to tread water or drown. When I was 12 and made the beautifully stupid decision to be an actress when I grew up, my Father challenged me to study the craft, and I did. I studied it as much as I possibly could for a girl that age. When I got nervous that I wouldn’t succeed, he said, “Doesn’t matter, you never fail if you don’t quit.” I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I didn’t hear that so clearly: Would I have quit after so much rejection? Maybe. Years later, during my first year of college, I called him in an attempt to connect. He had already slipped out of my hands into the world of insane drug use, but this was in my denial phase. I called him very upset- why he was my first phone call is a lesson in psychology 101, but regardless, it worked out because he said something I’ve never forgotten: “There’s only one thing you need to know all through life. ONLY ONE NECESSARY PIECE OF ADVICE. The only rule you ever need to follow is ‘just do the next right thing’.” Just do the next right thing. I’ve found that to be true- it’s all I ever need to do.

My Mother told me a story once that really stuck with me, too. When she was dealing with the true horrors of being married to a violent alcoholic and trying to raise two children, she had many mornings where just  seeing the daylight pained her. She told me that during those times, she started taking out one book at a time from our encyclopedia collection (oh my- I’m showing my age. I grew up with encyclopedias!). She went from A-Z and studied. She learned something new everyday which led to some college courses, which led to meeting a professor that changed her life, which led to TWO Master degrees. Just keep swimming you get places.

I feel lucky to have  the ability to persevere, to persist, to try again, to get up, stand up and TAKE ONE STEP. I comfort myself often by visualizing the path I’m on, and I think “well if I just keep walking forward, I WILL get healthier, I WILL get a job, I WILL grow as a partner and a friend and a human.” It doesn’t  all happen at once. It’s in the small little steps, one foot in front of the other, that we make progress. I know that last week’s post was a hard one to swallow for some people, and I know that it was a binge on comfort food for others. I’ve had a lot of pain in my life; I’ve had plenty of obstacles to surmount- some self-inflicted and others where my part was victim, straight-up. It brings me so much comfort time and time again that, in this world where I’m powerless over so much, the power to keep walking is mine. I always have a choice about whether or not I want to get out of bed, make the bed, do the dishes, feed myself, write, apply for jobs, apply for government assistance, make that next phone call, find that new doctor, go to the next audition. The most freeing part: I don’t have to FEEL LIKE doing any of it, I just have to do it and shit gets done. I keep moving forward, growing, walking the path, and, MY GOD, at some point, you acquire all the tools you need to surpass the weeds, your legs are so strong you can climb any hill, your knees are so strong you can go through any valley and when an earthquake hits, somehow, you’ve developed enough balance to stay standing.

PS: First stop after Iv treatment: FINDING DORY.

WITH FUN AND LOVE,

JACKIE

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