September 2, 2016

How I Learned to Jump Headfirst into My Deepest Fear.

Todd Quackenbush

Six weeks ago, I decided to tackle my main paralyzing fear head on.

It’s a fear that I vow to face until its loud cries become faint whispers.

My fear of swimming in waves and open water started out like many fears—through a traumatic experience. Two years ago while embarking on a winter swim, the cold water hit my lungs and caused a hyperventilating breath. Rather than disappear after a few seconds as normal, the breath stuck around for over five minutes causing me to panic under waves and I choose to exit the water instead.

Up until six weeks ago, every time I saw or attempted to swim far out in open water, my mind not only convinced me that these terrorizing experiences had a high chance of happening again, but that I would almost certainly drown and die.

I realize this may sound dramatic, but that’s how deep my fear actually took me. Wherever the mind goes, so does the breath and then the physical body. So for me, big waves and swimming far out in open water now caused me to experience a panicked hyperventilating breath and strong fear of dying.

This led to two years of me watching swimmers and triathletes swim 200 meters out to the buoy as I looked on enviously and paralyzed with fear of ever doing it again myself. That was up until six weeks ago.

Avoiding heights never helped anyone with acrophobia overcome their condition, nor did playing it safe by swimming into shore help me overcome my new traumatized state.

So six weeks ago, I decided to take an Ocean 101 course through the local triathlon club in Santa Monica, California. I arrived at the beach, and although the waves were small they were still waves—my destination buoy was 200 meters out from the shore. As I approached the water with the group, wearing my wetsuit, yellow swim cap and new goggles, I was convinced there was no way I could get past the break. I had 10 excuses ready in my head why I couldn’t do it and why I would definitely drown.

Then, as I approached the water, something changed. A new voice suddenly entered my head and said, “Why don’t you act like the waves are no big deal and pretend you’re okay.”

This courageous voice and genius idea of pretending to be confident as I dove under the waves quickly ended up becoming a reality and within a few minutes I was laughing and confidently diving under the waves. By the end of the one hour clinic, I’d swum past the break twice and out into the open water with minimal panicked breathing and thoughts. I did it! I could now swim in the open water in tiny waves. I still knew that big waves would be my next challenge, as we can’t pick the size of the waves on race day.

Over the past few weeks I’ve continued to swim with groups of other triathletes and swimmers with amazing success. At Manhattan beach two weeks ago, I tackled big surf and choppy waters to swim one-and-a-half miles straight. Nine days ago, I decided to swim every morning with different friends just to tackle my fear more quickly.

Some days I still have a few minutes of panicked breathing as I swim past the break and then back in. I also still have anxious thoughts that I’m going to lose my breath in the open water and drown. Some days I even think the waves are too big and there is no way I can make it out past them without drowning. Yet everyday I do it. I swim out at least 200 meters to the buoy and complete swims of up to 2.5 kilometers.

Facing my fear of swimming head on, every day no matter the water conditions, is the only way of turning down the voice of panic. The voice that doesn’t believe I can achieve my goals. The voice that tries to debilitate me, when I want to succeed. The voice that has been holding me back from my dreams.

Most importantly, what this past six weeks has taught me is that alongside the voice of fear is an even stronger voice of courage, determination, success and love—this encouraging voice wants me to succeed no matter what, it’s the voice that is not afraid of anything and knows I can achieve whatever I put my mind to. This voice has allowed me to put the voice of fear to bed and turned up the voice of love, not only in my swimming but in all areas of my life.

What fear have you been avoiding that is holding you back from living your dreams and achieving your destiny?


Author: Kelly Weiss

Image: Unsplash/Todd Quackenbush, Pinterest

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

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