As the school year comes to a close, I am finding it harder and harder to keep it all straight. End of year picnics, brunches, dances and finals all fighting to be remembered in a brain that has about half the memory capacity that it used to. Sports schedule changes and team dinners are announced in daily e-mails that get looked at and put aside to respond to at a later date and then forgotten. Three separate schools all with different end-of -year activities all hoping for a piece of my time. Time which I see ticking down, my personal time, those precious hours alone soon to be over as the final half -day looms above me. Add to that work, running, biking, spring clean-up inside and out and general daily living; it’s enough to make someone feel like they are drowning in a sea of expectations.
So is it just a coincidence that I almost actually drowned at Walden Pond 2 weeks ago? In the midst of all this scheduling and training, Susan and I rode to Concord. The plan was that we ride the 25 miles there, I swim, and then we ride 25 miles back. Simple enough, I am training for an olympic distance triathlon(.8 mile swim/26.2 mile bike/6.2 mile run) so this should be no problem, right? The problem was that it got very cold. That Thursday the temperature had dropped to about 50-60 degrees, down from 80 degrees the previous week. I hadn’t noticed that the only two other swimmers that day had wet suits on and I didn’t.
Needless to say I found myself smack in the middle of the pond, dizzy and disorientated coupled with a very disturbing sensation of not being able to move my arms. For a short time I considered just closing my eyes and resting because I couldn’t move from my vertical position. I started to panic when I realized that this is how “strong swimmers” drown. Had I closed my eyes at that point I am sure I would have sunk to the bottom. It’s very difficult to explain how close I was to that point of sinking, but I know that I was, the same way you instinctively know when your kids are sad even when they say they are ‘fine’.
In an article my friend Beth sent me the other day called “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” (See Full Article Here) it states that,” Drowning is not the violent, splashing call for help that most people expect,” but rather it is “almost always deceptively quiet.” It was extremely quiet out on the pond that day. Susan sat 1/4 mile away on shore waiting patiently for my return so we could ride home, but I had no way to alert her, because “drowning people are physiologically unable to call for help.” And I couldn’t move my arms–this is called The Instinctive Drowning Response. “Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface.”
At some point, which seemed like a very long time but I realize now had to have been only seconds, I got on my back and kicked without using my arms. I made my way toward the side shore and after a few minutes flipped back over and swam back to Susan, the whole time consciously hugging the shoreline. We then rode home to Reading and although I was quite shaken by the whole experience, I was more baffled as to why it happened. I didn’t think I was that tired getting into the water and I am strong enough to be able to handle that kind of training.
I found out later it was a simple explaination. The water was cold that day. Colder than I thought since I was hot from my bike ride when I entered the pond. A little research told me that cold water that enters your ear can cause dizziness while swimming and that a cheap pair of earplugs would alleviate the problem. It’s true. I swam yesterday with earplugs and had no problems.
Although I am now safely on land I can’t get the image out of my head. And as my days get more and more crammed with activities and responsibilities and as my life seems to be whizzing by, often I am left with the same feeling that I am drowning. Just like in the water, drowning people on land get very quiet; as they get busier and more overwhelmed by their lives they close in on themselves and become quiet and distant, unable to call for help. I’ve witnessed this first hand in friends who are overwhelmed and depressed–they move toward solitude–I’ve done it myself. At the time when you most need to talk and vent , you lose that ability, because you are just trying to stay above water, get through your day, not forget something like your daughters chorus recital or your son’s soccer dinner.
Most fascinating to me is this business about the arms. A drowning victim cannot move his arms. At Walden that day, they felt as heavy as lead and I couldn’t get my brain to move them no matter how hard I tried. I’ve had this happen both in the water and on land. There have been times when I have been so overwhelmed that I just can’t muster the energy to wrap my arms around someone. But that’s what I should do. A hug can be a life-line. At those times when I feel like I am drowning in life, if I could get my arms to move it might make it better.
So look around today; look for the signs. If a friend or family member is getting quiet on you, pulling away, beware, they may be drowning in their own life. Try to get them to talk to you, try to get them to use their arms, you just might save their life.