When Dreams Become Anything But

By this time last year I was dreaming about what my life would be like without school.

I was literally dreaming of being able to pick up a book or watch a TV show without time constrains, journal, and look for more meaningful long-term employment with more intentionality.

Now that I have the time to fulfill this dream it’s more akin to a nightmare than a dream.

I won’t go as far as to say I miss being in school, but it did provide me with a certain amount of structure I’m struggling to create on my own.

The congratulatory messages have slowed down, but have not stopped completely, which adds to the complexity of my situation. The questions of “what’s next?” have followed, and I feel utterly stupid saying “I have no idea,” even if it is the honest truth.

I have an idea of what I’d like my “next” to be but that doesn’t mean it will happen, at least not right out of the gate. It would be nice if that happens but age has taught me to be more realistic than optimistic.

I check job sites every day and sometimes submit 3 resumes, complete with individually written cover letters. I have gotten interviews, so that’s one step further than I had been getting in the last few years, but nothing past that.

Nothing.

I knew looking for a job wouldn’t be dreamlike. I was pretty sure it would be pretty much the opposite. But I was hoping the other things I had on the back burner for years would give me a sense of balance, not getting a job would be offset by being able to read a book at will.

I see how ridiculous this sounds, but I believe it, well believed.

I have read a fair number of books in-between writing cover letters but it’s not as dreamlike as I would have thought. The reading books part, not the writing cover letters part.

It’s a weird experience to write about yourself. You become incredibly analytical of yourself, every shortcoming gets magnified and every strength gets minimized, at least if you’re me. Then you’re left wondering, “is this really me?” “Is this really my best self?”

It’s really not the best place for your mind to be in when you need to be on your game, but you make do.

Now instead of dreaming of what my life may look like a year from now (or even any shorter window of time) I’m managing my expectations, not putting all of my eggs in one basket and not getting my hopes up most of all.

Life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would in post-postgrad life but what does?

By this time last year I was dreaming about what my life would be like without school.

I was literally dreaming of being able to pick up a book or watch a TV show without time constrains, journal, and look for more meaningful long-term employment with more intentionality.

Now that I have the time to fulfill this dream it’s more akin to a nightmare than a dream.

I won’t go as far as to say I miss being in school, but it did provide me with a certain amount of structure I’m struggling to create on my own.

The congratulatory messages have slowed down, but have not stopped completely, which adds to the complexity of my situation. The questions of “what’s next?” have followed, and I feel utterly stupid saying “I have no idea,” even if it is the honest truth.

I have an idea of what I’d like my “next” to be but that doesn’t mean it will happen, at least not right out of the gate. It would be nice if that happens but age has taught me to be more realistic than optimistic.

I check job sites every day and sometimes submit 3 resumes, complete with individually written cover letters. I have gotten interviews, so that’s one step further than I had been getting in the last few years, but nothing past that.

Nothing.

I knew looking for a job wouldn’t be dreamlike. I was pretty sure it would be pretty much the opposite. But I was hoping the other things I had on the back burner for years would give me a sense of balance, not getting a job would be offset by being able to read a book at will.

I see how ridiculous this sounds, but I believe it, well believed.

I have read a fair number of books in-between writing cover letters but it’s not as dreamlike as I would have thought. The reading books part, not the writing cover letters part.

It’s a weird experience to write about yourself. You become incredibly analytical of yourself, every shortcoming gets magnified and every strength gets minimized, at least if you’re me. Then you’re left wondering, “is this really me?” “Is this really my best self?”

It’s really not the best place for your mind to be in when you need to be on your game, but you make do.

Now instead of dreaming of what my life may look like a year from now (or even any shorter window of time) I’m managing my expectations, not putting all of my eggs in one basket and not getting my hopes up most of all.

Life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would in post-postgrad life but what does?

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Disability & Athleticism

At the beginning of December I was sitting on the edge of the warmup pool debating my cooldown, it’s something I don’t enjoy, if we’re being honest. The warmup/cooldown area at meets is worse than a highway during rush hour which makes my dislike even stronger. The internet memes don’t lie. I literally have to talk myself into the water and keep telling myself to stay in for the good of my body, especially after 1 relay, 4 individual events, and a long ride home.

Before I dropped into the water, my preferred method of entry, I struck up a conversation with another swimmer. I didn’t know her at all (and I still don’t) but our conversation will probably stick with me for a long time (and will make me think again about using the warm down area).

She congratulated the meet organizers on including swimmers like myself in the event, even after I pointed out that it was in the rules that “swimmers like myself” be included in such events, because one must be willing to be an educational moment at a moment’s notice. She then went on to compliment me on how brave I was for being willing to overcome my obstacles and compete regardless.

At that point I just smiled, smirked really, and dropped into the water. There was nothing more I could’ve said at that time to change her prospective (and I don’t think I wanted to put forth the effort at that point either).

Last month I watched a video of various Paralympians discussing various misconceptions about para-athletes and it reminded me of that day in the warm up area.

 

Having a disability, especially Cerebral Palsy in my case, does not mean someone cannot be an athlete.

I work just as hard as my teammates, sometimes harder (according to them anyway), to achieve my goals.

I may be a person with a disability, but I am also an athlete with a disability. Someday I’d like people, who I don’t know, to think of me as an athlete before thinking about my disability first.

 

Sports As Therapy

When I tell people that I’m a swimmer it’s not uncommon for them to think I swim as a form of physical therapy, even when I say that I’m part of a swim team.

While aquatic therapy can be beneficial, and I have taken part in the past that isn’t why I swim.

I swim as an athlete would swim. I show up to practice and swim, basically, the same workout as my able-bodied teammates. While I have gotten stronger, the goal is to make me a better athlete, unlike physical therapy which seeks to treat weaknesses.

I wasn’t involved in sports as a kid, for a few reasons, I wasn’t good in gym class, inclusion in sports wasn’t as popular or accepted as it is not, and I had physical therapy after school.

I don’t blame my parents for not putting me in sports, I wasn’t interested in what was available to me, so I wouldn’t have lasted long anyway. I also wasn’t a kid who could do something every day after school and not loose my mind. I tried it, it didn’t work. Plus, I wasn’t a good student, so I would’ve been kicked off any team based on that, even if I was allowed to be on one.

But times have changed, kids are allowed to at least try being on a team (if they meet the standards) regardless of their abilities/disabilities.

It’s a step, but I see a big drawback.

Parents are using sports as a substitute for physical therapy.

It’s not the case for everyone but that doesn’t mean it probably happens more than it should.

Physical Therapy offers something organized sports doesn’t and vice versa.

One is focused on the individual, increasing function, minimizing deficits, and reaching goals to please bureaucracy.

The other has some similar objectives but it’s more team based while the goals are determined by the individual to measure success.

Both require work, but one is more like a job and the other is more like a social activity (in my opinion).

They are not interchangeable, so they should not be treated as such.

If you treat sports as therapy rather than a fun activity then there’s a chance that a child will see any physical activity as therapy, an unwelcome activity that sets them apart from their peers, they should not be robbed of the opportunity to interact with their peers in a way that only athletics can provide.

Sports should not be seen as another form of therapy, rather they should be seen as what they are activities in which people can find their passions.  

12 Days Of Christmas, Kinda

There are so many reasons why I hate the start of the Christmas season, at least the commercial version of it. I’m not sure when it started but I was ecstatic in college when I was given an Advent calendar that included the Christmas Octave.

My cousin says it’s because I know too much, that may be the case now, but back then I think it was just an annoyance.

I hate having to buy Halloween decorations in early September, that Christmas movies run 24/7 on some TV stations from October 1st through New Year’s, and the supposed “war on Christmas, among other things.

I look for anything for an escape, at least until Gaudete Sunday, so imagine how I felt when my coach told the group about the “12 sets of Christmas” challenge.

I’ve heard stories about swim practices during holiday breaks, “Grinch week” or “hell week” are common terms, although mostly in younger groups. Usually time around the holidays is devoted to fun games that happen to double as technique work or some sort of cross training, so I thought the sets would be like that.

No.

It was going to be unpleasant, to the point where I would probably hate it.

I tried making the argument that it was Advent and not Christmas, at least at the time. I threw out the “Catholic card,” knowing it wouldn’t get very far but it was worth a try. It wasn’t totally bailing on the challenge, just putting it off. Anything that would buy me a few more days without time trials makes for a better practice.

However, the “12 Sets of Christmas” was to be completed in December. Thus, covering both the Advent and Christmas seasons, more or less. So even if my argument had held up it wouldn’t have been for long.

It did get me to focus less on Christmas and more on what I was actually doing, which is a good thing, and an essential for a 400-yard Individual Medley, for time, among other things associated with swimming well, or at least well-ish.

I survived Advent and Christmas, and the associated swim sets, actually, I think the swim sets helped take the edge off the intensity of the holiday season.

Although I think it’s weird that the Valentines paraphernalia made an appearance during Advent.

One Word: 2018

Build. Chance. Providence. Transition. Endurance.

Now?

Flux.

Why?

It just feels right.

It sounds better than “blank”, which is really how I feel right now.

I was going to class it up with “transition,” but been there, done that.

This time feels less formal than a transition, like taking a deck of cards and throwing it in the air kind of formal (as in there’s no order to it, at all).

I’m not completely lost, but things are more or less wide open in terms of my next steps.

It’s not like I wake up every morning wondering what to do with myself, at least not every morning.

It’s more of a discernment thing.

One of my most favorite things to do.

(Not really)

I’m not on the verge of existential crisis or anything, at least not yet, but it can easily go that way, based on past performances.

I’m not in any particular predicament either, but again, it could easily go that way.

I do have a tendency to misjudge situations, like staying in temporary jobs too long or not staying in a position long enough to make it a solid life decision.

Do you see why I chose “flux” instead of “transition” (again) this year?

Similar situation, but far less structured, less direction, more questions that will need answering, at some point.

(I’d like it to be sooner rather than later, but God tends to have other ideas)

One Word: 2017 Review

Endurance

There were a few obvious reasons:

-Attempting to become more of a distance swimmer, because although a 50m doesn’t seem like a lot of work it can be just as hard as swimming a mile. I need the endurance, literally.

*I’ve been focusing on 100s & 200s. It requires endurance but if I pace myself I don’t find them to be as difficult as 50s, mentally or physically.

-Although I’ve made it through the bulk of my degree program I’m really just getting to the hard stuff. I won’t be pushed out of my comfort zone I’ll be blasted out of it, no matter how much I prepare.

*I survived, give or take a mental breakdown. Enough said.

The not so obvious reasons were:

-Starting a search that would lead to an actual career.

*Can we talk about how unfun the searching and applying processes are? But I’m making some progress, it’s better than nothing.

-Basically become better at “adulating,” because I’m (hopefully) going to be an adult for a longer period of time than I was a kid.

*What does “acting like an adult” really mean anyway? How does one measure how “adult” they are?

-The older I get, even though I’m not that old, the more energy I need to get things done. I’m not just talking about physical energy but mental and emotional energy, probably even more so than the physical aspects.

*I love naps. The older I get the more I like them. Ironic considering, I was that kid that never napped in daycare or pre-school. I appreciate being able to go to bed (and fall asleep) early. I’m not envious of people who get to wind down their day at 9pm.

-Developing endurance will give me the opportunity to have more time to devote to one thing at a time, hopefully.

*I don’t have the slightest clue what I meant by that. I’m not sure I’m wired in such a manner than would make that achievable. It is a nice thought though, I’ll give myself that much.

Normal Is Nice

Fall means a season of follow ups, and usually a mix of emotions.

The emotions are still there, but I’ll get to that later, or not.

The follow ups are still there, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but they’re different.

I was sitting in an exam room waiting, actually I was staring at the sink, when I thought of a poem.

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Yes, I was waiting a long time. Yes, I do get philosophical the longer I wait.

I remembered waiting to be told I had healed enough that I could stand up, and then feeling pain shoot up my legs as they took on my body weight. It was pain, the very reason why I put myself though all of this, but it was different pain, and I was happy about it.

As the weeks of rehab turned into months my feelings towards standing went from happiness to anger, as happened in every stage of my recovery process.

Every follow up I’d wait, and wish someone would find something that would make me better, a more improved version, faster.

That never happened, at least not yet. And no one ever declared me “recovered,” not officially, that came with some self-acceptance.

I sat in the exam room, again, but with a different expectation.

The expectation of normal.

“Normal is nice,” I kept thinking.

And it was, the follow up went as I expected, and I wasn’t upset or overly happy over it.

It was normal, and it felt nice, to be OK with this (not so) new phase of my life.

Regardless of how you feel about standing, normal is a nice place to be.

Defining normal, that’s the hard part.

Learning To Repeat

My hand touches the wall for what feels like the 100th time. This time I got it right.

Then I hear a voice behind me, telling me what I’ve done wrong, well more specifically, what I could have done better.

I’m disappointed, but only for a second or two, because this is why I’m here.

Doing something once is easy, repeating it is the hard part, I remind myself. It’s a piece of advice I was given when I was relearning to walk but it applies here too.

To the untrained eye a swim practice looks like chaos, (and/or completely boring) even though everyone is following a line that runs the length of the pool countless times. It’s for this reason that people think swimming, or more specifically swimmers are insane.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Here’s the thing, the majority of that definition doesn’t apply to swimmers, except maybe the insane part, but that’s not an all the time thing.

People think we’re doing the same thing, over and over expecting the same result.

In reality we’re making (probably small, seemingly unnoticeable) changes to achieve different results.

Then we have to repeat the process.

The hardest part, the repeat.

I’ve done this before, but never swimming, at least not in this way.

Is it frustrating? Yes.

Is it what I want to do? No.

I wish I had a brain that could compute things once and have my body follow, but I don’t have that kind of brain. Not only is it not part of my package, it’s not part of anyone’s package. But that’s not much comfort when your lungs are screaming for air, your muscles are burning, and you still managed to come up short in some way.

I’ve been here before. These feelings are not new. Oddly enough there is some comfort in this, as weird as it seems.

I’m not learning how to deal with new feelings in new situations. That’s a big plus, that my mental energy is pulled in one less direction.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was wondering if I’d ever feel “normal” like I was truly part of a group of people. So, in a way I’m happy to be frustrated because someone noticed that I could be better and wanted to help.

Learning to repeat isn’t easy and it’s not always fun, but when you finally achieve it it’s almost always worth it.

“She’s A Really Good Swimmer”

Two cousins gave me my first swim lessons, basically by letting me fend for myself & pulling me up for air occasionally. Summers were spent in the pool so that’s where I wanted to be. It didn’t matter how I got in there. I’ve never been the biggest fan of lifejackets so I learned to swim early and often.

“Did you hear that Michael Phelps has wicked ADHD & the only way he could focus was under water because he couldn’t hear anything.”

Whether that’s true or not for Michael Phelps I can tell you it is true for some. Go jump in a pool, stay fully submerged, and then look around. What can you hear? Not much. Swimming is as simple as it is complicated, swim to the “X” at the other end. It’s pretty close to perfect as far as focal points go, especially if you’re looking for ways to block people out.

I don’t talk about it often but I was bullied in school, most notably grades 5-8. I was the new girl in the world’s smallest class, I’m also different from your average person, and girls can be relentless. I could hear people whispering and I knew it was about me so I did what I always did. I pretended I couldn’t hear them.

”She’s a really good swimmer”

I had met two of my classmates the summer before school started in the pool of the club our parents belonged to. I had hoped we’d become friends once school started, no such luck, but they acknowledged I was good at something.

I was around 11 by the time swim lessons involved swimming full laps. My first lesson was pretty exhausting but by the end of the swimming “term” I was able to keep up with the class. It was breaking through a glass ceiling for me. I was finally able to swim full laps, the catch is, in my mind that meant being “old enough.”

As soon as I could swim full laps I had a friend teach me how to do a flip turn and practiced it endlessly. We’d turn on the flood lights & go swimming at midnight in my aunt’s pool when we couldn’t sleep. I wore one piece racing suits & swim caps. I was ecstatic when my aunt agreed to buy me my 1st pair of mirrored goggles. I was just as heartbroken when I lost them over the winter.

I hated the words “adult swim” because the adults were allowed to swim laps only, and that’s all I wanted it do. I watched the swim team from afar every year wishing I could wear the same blue racing suit.

I read Andi’s love/hate relationship with her daughter being on the swim team.

It stirred up some feeling, mixed ones at that.

One summer I asked my mom to ask “Coach” if I could try out for the swim team (I was too intimidated by him to do it on my own), maybe practice with them a few times if he thought I wasn’t ready. I knew I probably wasn’t as ready as he would’ve liked but I knew he could work with me.

He had said “No.”

He knew he wasn’t going to let me join the team no matter how well the tryout went so he didn’t see the point in my trying.

I was crushed. If he didn’t even want me to try out I guessed I wasn’t a swimmer at all.

“Coach is a jerk. You wouldn’t have had a good time on the swim team anyway.”

It took a wise all-knowing high school aged babysitter to help me get past it, because when you’re in middle school high schoolers know more than your parents. She had also known “Coach” longer than I had and had friends survive life on the swim team. She was also the one who helped me survive the girl-piranhas. Her opinions were more than valued in my house.

I get where Andi’s coming from.

It’s hard to watch someone come in last. I often watch World Championships & even Olympics where someone comes in not just last, but painfully so. I use to wonder why someone would allow such an embarrassment for their country. One day while watching a race it hit me, like a ton of bricks.

This is the biggest stage anyone can compete on, ever. No matter what happens they made it this far. That in itself is an honor & deserves to be respected. Sometimes “just showing up” does make a difference. And just like someone has to come in first someone has to come in last. It’s one of the not so fun aspects of life.

I understand Sarah Kate all too well.

She’s having fun with her friends, and probably making a few new ones. She’s not she-who-has-cerebral-palsy is having fun with her able-bodied friends. She’s having fun with her friends.

That’s enough. In fact, that’s plenty.

Coming from a girl who wasn’t even allowed a tryout

Just knowing Sarah Kate is allowed to compete makes my loss not feel like one any longer, it’s a sign of progress.

Although it would be nice to find that coach after all these years and show him what I’m made of.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 9, 2012

Lifeguards Do More Than Save Lives

I always found it odd when people said I was “more than up for the challenge” while I was growing up, especially when I really wasn’t given a choice in the matter. However, those types of voices get fewer as you get older, and I’ve discovered that I really do like a challenge.

One day while leaving the pool I noticed that there would be a swim challenge. After looking at the flyer, and checking my unreasonable expectations at the curb, I signed up.

I’m not the biggest fan of lifeguards, especially ones I see all the time and they act like they can’t be bothered by anything. So, my least favorite part of the swim challenge was that a lifeguard had the sign off on the number of laps I swam each day.

There were a few problems with this:

  1. No one other than the swimmer was counting the laps.
  2. Most of the lifeguards were clueless about this challenge so asking them to sign off came as a surprise.
  3. Keeping the record sheet dry was difficult, to say the least.

I had a feeling from the beginning that I wouldn’t reach the end point of the virtual swim but I still held out hope that I just might make it anyway. At some point, I realized there were few days left and I wasn’t even going to make it to the half way mark. I was really thinking I would make it at least that far.

Feeling defeated I thought about taking my foot off the gas and taking a few intentional rest days, but I also wanted to see just how far I would get by the end date. On one of the last days I got out of the pool and approached the lifeguard after writing in my laps.

Swim Challenge 16 Close Up

I didn’t reach my goal but that lifeguard refueled me, which people need once and a while.  It took some of the sting out of not reaching my goal and encouraged me to try if the opportunity ever comes around again.

Lifeguards are on deck in case a life (or more) needs to be saved but sometimes they don’t just do that, and that’s just as important.