Nope, the boy in this picture is not my daughter. But his awkward expression reminds me of her during her swimming lessons.
As I watch my 3yo daughter brave her fear of the water during her swimming lessons, I am reminded of the struggles one faces on the road to mental health recovery. Let’s just say my biggest goal for my little girl is to – get her head under water. Seems really simple? Well, not quite.
It was only about the 19th lesson that she suddenly put her mouth to the surface of the water and started blowing bubbles, giggling to herself, saying “it’s not scary! it’s not scary!”. Today, the 20th lesson, she wore her goggles and peered into the water a few times. WOW. Amazing achievement, and I say that without sarcasm.
I think back on all the steps leading to today’s achievement, and I realise what a parallel process it has been for my daughter’s swim journey with someone who is trudging towards mental health recovery. If that is you, let me share my reflection points below:
CONSISTENCY – Getting my little girl to swim lesson every week is one of deliberate routine that has developed into a good mental habit – something that she automatically does each time without thinking much. Every week, we go through the same routine – brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, get your last pee done, walk fast so we don’t be late, once we get to the pool remember that Aunty K is your teacher not mama, so don’t look for mama. Without this routine, there might be tantrums, laziness and just simply inertia (engine can’t start). If we cannot get to the pool, there will be no swim progress.
Are you consistent in practising helpful routines?
COMFORT – My little girl is a cautious and stranger-averse human being. But Aunty K has managed to build emotional safety with her, such that my daughter trusts her. Just yesterday, she told me “even if I ploooomp into the water, it’s ok, because Aunty K is there”. There was even a time she thought she was drowning because she fell head-down into the water. But she later told me “Aunty K was there, so it is ok”.
Are you surrounding yourself with a reliable safety network? These are people you should be able to trust to keep you going when the going gets tough. People you are comfortable with, even if they challenge your negative thinking and habits when it is necessary.
COURAGE – Courage does not have to be a huge leap of faith. My daughter’s courage was for all of 1 second – the first time she decided to put her lips to the water surface to blow bubbles. Thereafter, she blew more and more, and longer and longer, because “it’s not scary!”.
Sometimes courage may falter again because of factors, like tiredness or mood changes. But it is ok, try again. And you might be more prepared for these factors in future once you tweak how you sit with them. Remember, the bigger picture is more important.
Having said all of the above, I am also highly aware that my daughter’s expectations are different from mine. I want to see her head under water. She, on the other hand, has found other experiences more enriching. When I asked her today what she learnt at swim lesson, she replied happily “I learnt to kick”.
Indeed, she has spent many lessons practising kicking in the water, up and down continuous laps in the pool. And I failed to recognise that endurance and persistence she has shown. She is quite a trooper 🙂
Sometimes, you really need to go slow in order to move faster. If kicking is what is training you for the future, keep at it and don’t let others tell you otherwise.