I was ready to say hello to my Creator when I recently went swimming in the open water for my inaugural 500 metre beach swim.
I had started the swim with lots of gusto. I had slipped into my wetsuit, popped on my swim cap and bought a pair of new goggles because I didn’t want to risk my old ones fogging up in the middle of the swim.
I had even spent the larger part of my morning at work telling myself how I could totally do it.
Except, things didn’t quite work out the way I had planned. I imagined myself gliding effortlessly with the waves.
What I had instead was a big panic attack.
It was a warm day, but the waves were, in my humble opinion, rather big.
I remember standing by the shoreline, waiting for the marshal to blow his whistle to signal our start. My friend and I were telling ourselves we were good to go, with her assuring me she would be right next to me.
“We’ll just cruise,” she said.
The marshal sounded his whistle, and everyone raced out to the open water. I was excited enough to start running towards the waves, but I had barely gone past the first marker when a panic attack set in.
I saw the rolling waves and the expansive body of water around me, and panic rose within me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lifeguard paddling towards me, no doubt thinking she should keep an eye out on me.
Then things got truly bad. I was drinking mouthfuls of salt water, and I was gasping for breath. In my mind, I was drowning and there was no one to save me.
However, my friend, also a qualified lifeguard, told me to stay calm, to take a few breathes, to roll on my back for a couple of backstrokes.
“It’s only 500 metres,” she said, “You do twice more than that in Sheree’s [our pool coach] class!”
That was enough to get me paddling to the second marker, but when I saw how far we were still away from the shore, my mind launched itself into Panic Attack Phase Two.
I have always heard of people going “blind with panic” and being “paralysed with fear,” but up until that terrifying Tuesday, I had never truly comprehended what those words really meant.
My legs buckled beneath me, my breath tightened, and suddenly my wetsuit felt a tad too tight for my body.
Yet my friend very calmly told me the shore was only a few metres away—if I would only look straight ahead towards the rows of shops that were visible along the shoreline.
“I can’t do this anymore! Please, call for help,” I spluttered.
But she would not have a bar of it, and in the end, I was clinging onto her as if she were a floatation device.
We eventually made it to shore, clocking in 22 minutes for the 500 metre race, but we made it.
Encourage one another
“You made it. You see, you made it,” my friend said, once we were back on land.
But I wasn’t sure if I had ‘made it’ or if I should applaud myself for my efforts. I mean, I pretty much doggy paddled the entire 500-metres, quite forgetting how to swim. Also, I felt really bad for sabotaging my friend’s swim. I was sure she didn’t think she’d have to babysit me out in the open water.
I was completely floored when she said she had come out because she wanted to support me in my first ocean swim.
My friend is a busy mum with two teenage daughters, and I knew she had to reschedule a couple of things just so she could make it to the event.
Her selflessness reminded of Ecclesiastes chapter 4, verses 9 and 10, where it says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour, if either one of them falls down, one can help the other up.”
Life can be a bit of a shocker at times and having someone to help you along the way is a wonderful thing.
But how often do we take the time to encourage a friend who is struggling with life’s challenges? Do we take the time to drop them a text message for a coffee catch-up or do we pretend we are too busy to be worrying about someone else’s problems?
Playing the role of a cheerleader or encourager can be quite trying, let’s face it, having to listen to your someone’s problems 24/7 can be draining.
And you know what, I cannot recall the last time I had rung a friend to see how they are. I have simply assumed they’re getting on quite swimmingly with life.
But I think we are called to do more than just send fluffy Facebook comments, such as “I miss you! Let’s catch up xx,” only to promptly forget to message the person.
If Tuesday’s open water experience is anything to go by, I truly believe we can always make time to actively seek out a friend or acquaintance in need of a positive word or just a hug to tell them everything is okay.
As for me, I know I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line if I hadn’t had someone yelling words of encouragement the whole way through.
Michele Ong is a former regional news journalist with a passion to be a voice for the marginalised and disenfranchised. Writing is as essential to her as breathing and she believes words contain life, which is to be used to inspire, inform, and influence readers. Michele attends Auckland's City Impact Church with her family on the North Shore.
Michele's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/michele-ong.html