Asking for Help

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The thought of drowning frightens me in a way that mirrors the way some others regard the idea of being around spiders or mice or snakes. Just the thought of it makes my heart rate tick up and my breathing change. When my kids were young, I routinely would dream of losing them to the ocean, or a lake, or even the bathtub. Believe me, for years I was no fun to sit next to at the beach as I spent the whole time counting 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. There was no relaxation for me on those ostensibly “lazy summer afternoons;” it was nothing but high blood pressure, bordering on a seizure.

You’d think with this sort of fear that I’d become a fantastic swimmer and “power over” the phobia. Nope. That would take way too much practice that would necessarily require me to be in the water and . . . (wait for it) . . . I could drown. If we human mammals were meant to be swimmers, like whales and seals, we would have been equipped with blowholes and nostrils which naturally close when going under. A simple assessment of our biological structure is enough to convince me we shouldn’t press our luck near H2O.

A few years ago, I read an article about how drowning itself is not painful. I didn’t believe this. So I went looking for the opposite hypothesis. Well, I quickly found a lot of other anecdotal accounts of it being a terrifying way to go, the worst. I’ve decided to let confirmation bias rule on this: One should be afraid of drowning because not only is it a rational thing to fear (as compared to a daddy-long-legs, a field mouse, or a garter snake), it could happen were one to be put into that situation–by “situation” I mean any body of water, including a five-gallon bucket with a couple of inches at the bottom. (The warning on the side clearly shows a small child falling in, head first, and coming up dead.)

Now don’t get me wrong: I learned how to swim when I was young. My four children all were required (by me) to take lessons. If someone dropped me in the middle of Walden Pond, I could make it to the shore. Physically, I think I have the strength and coordination to not die by drowning, but I just don’t see the need to ever put this theory to a test, especially because said test would involve swimming and . . . (wait for it) . . . I could drown.

Objectively, I may be regarded by others as someone who can “do it all by herself.” As for swimming– and not drowning, if I absolutely had to, I suppose I could save my own skin. It would be arduous and anxiety provoking. No sense of accomplishment would result; only a thin sense of relief that it was over.

So despite having the knowledge and capacity, I would rather have a boat or flutterboard. To get from the center of a lake to the shore, I’d want some help: something to make the way easier.

The desire for assistance is not exclusive to “life and potentially deadly situations.” We all could use the help of others, yet so few of us ask. This might be specific to our up-by-the-bootstraps cultural or rooted in rugged independence. But to what end? Why not ask for help? If you’re inclined to say, “Because I can do it all by myself.” I’d parry with, “Why go it alone if I’m here to help you?”

So if you are one who needs help, ask. And if you are one who can give help, offer. There are plenty enough swim noodles for everyone.

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8 thoughts on “Asking for Help

  1. When I was kid, I loved swimming. I was a fish. But somewhere between childhood and adulthood, I got a little nervous around the water. I can swim, but I’m not a strong swimmer. I especially don’t like walking on iced over ponds or lakes. No way. Still working on teaching Lilly to swim. I’d get her lessons, but she’s not continent yet. It’s such an important skill, though. My mom nearly drowned when she was younger, and has never set foot in water since. So an understandable phobia.

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  2. I still have visions of Mo in the lake last summer. Going under. Struggling to surface. The life guard oblivious to her mere inches from him on the dock. Eric racing to her in slow motion. I play it over and over in my head. How did we let her get that far from us? Why didn’t I remember about the silty bottom which can slip away under foot. She’s become a far more accomplished swimmer over the past year, but I will never forget that moment.

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  3. “Why not ask for help?” There are myriads of reasons. Shame could be one. You’re right in saying that a lot of people won’t admit they need help because they’re ashamed. Maybe they’re ashamed that they found themselves in the middle of the lake, whether it was their own fault or not, and won’t ask for help but instead will struggle to get to the shore somehow, on their own, even if it meant drowning along the way. Another reason would be fear that even if they asked for help, nobody would extend a hand, and everyone will just watch, unmoved, as they struggle. And finally, maybe they believe that nobody can help them, that the situation is just beyond assistance. And yes, I know you’re not really talking about swimming.

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    1. Jolanta, just throw me a lifesaver already!

      By seriously, shame is frequently the other side of the in-need-of-help coin.

      Thanks for breaking it down so clearly. And you’re right, it’s not really about swimming, though I am truly frightened of drowning.


  4. Next time I’m there let’s swim across Long Lake. I promise not to let you drown. Or even better, a nice ocean swim in the Pacific next time you’re here. Facing the fear of being eaten by sharks is a proven way to forget completely about the fear of drowning!

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    1. Nope, no thanks. In fact, last summer when you swam so far out into the lake, I began scripting in my head how our family would have to move some things around in order to accommodate my sister and the girls, because after YOUR drowning, they moved in with us.

      I don’t even like to watch others swim.

      (You do understand that the swimming was metaphorical, despite being a real fear. And for the record, I’m not afraid of swimming, just drowning.)


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