In case someone reads this post two years from now and doesn’t remember the name Diana Nyad — she is an American endurance swimmer, and today, at age 64, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark tank.
It was Nyad’s fifth try to complete the approximately 110-mile swim. She tried three times in 2011 and 2012. She had also tried in 1978.
Her last attempt was cut short amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and jellyfish stings that left her face puffy and swollen.
“I am about to swim my last 2 miles in the ocean,” Nyad told her 35-member team from the water, according to her website. “This is a lifelong dream of mine and I’m very very glad to be with you.”
I learned about her success on Facebook. My timeline was filled with supportive responses to her amazing feat.
“Diana Nyad is my hero.”
“This just proves what I tell my children. If you try hard enough, you can succeed in anything.”
“I hope to be like her when I get older — accomplishing greatness in MY sixties!”
“What do you think of the woman who swam from Cuba to Florida?” I asked my mother at lunch.
My mother wasn’t following the story. She was watching a Labor Day Perry Mason marathon on the Hallmark Channel.
“What woman? I haven’t been following it.”
“Her name is Diana Nyad. And she’s sixty four years old!”
“That’s great. Amazing. Was she trying to escape?”
“Escape? Escape from what?”
“Escape from Cuba for asylum? Is that why she was swimming to Florida?”
“No. She wasn’t swimming to escape. She was swimming because she is a long distance swimmer and this was her lifelong dream! She never gave up.”
“Her lifelong dream was to swim from Cuba to Florida?”
“That’s crazy. Couldn’t she just take a boat?”
3PM, Labor Day
I’m in my bed. Thinking about swimming from Cuba to Florida. There are vibrations going up and down my body, as if a thousand electric toothbrushes are powered up and pressing against my skin at once, shaking my nerves.
There is something about Diana Nyad’s accomplishment — the fact that she never gave up, even for a goal that my own mother saw as rather unnecessary — that has brought me close to a nervous breakdown.
3:30PM, Labor Day
Maybe I was being a little over dramatic before. I’m fine. I can be a bit of a drama queen. Everything’s fine.
4:00PM, Labor Day
I’m sitting at my laptop. I’m feeling better. Not sure what happened before. But let me tell you — during the last couple of weeks, I have been acting very strangely, more so than usual. It’s as if my body is sending my brain a message. Or more likely, the other way around.
4:30PM, Labor Day
In the 1960s, there was a popular therapy technique called “flooding.” It was used on patients with various phobias. A woman scared of elevators, for instance, would be forced into a closed elevator to confront her darkest fears until she would pass out from hypertension, but then, miraculously, from that day on, she would be able to take elevators without a problem. While the method seems primitive and cruel today, it was also quite effective.
During the last two weeks, I have been flooding myself, almost as if I want to fix every leaky valve in my brain before the start of Rosh Hashanah. While none of my personal little goals have been as dramatic as swimming a shark-infested ocean, they have been dangerous to me in that they forced me to swim into the dark waters of myself.
Two weeks ago, I submitted a screenplay that I had been working on for three years.
My thoughts at the time: (Is it any good? What if it isn’t any good? What if he doesn’t like it? What if it was better in that draft from two months ago? Why did I take that friend’s stupid advice of changing the “priest” character when it was way better before? Why am I so weak and compromise so easily?)
Last week, I placed a banner ad in my sidebar of my blog.
My thoughts at the time: (Am I being a hypocrite after everything I’ve ever said against monetization? Is it even worth if for such little money? How will my readers take it? Will they see me as too needy? Did I lose face with myself? Why do I feel nausea when I see the ad on my personal blog? Should I tell everyone to use an ad blocker so they don’t have to see the ad when the read my blog? Why WOULD I tell everyone to use an ad blocker so they don’t see the ad — isn’t that the point?!)
This weekend, while most of my friends enjoyed the last weekend of the summer swimming in lakes or hiking mountains, I stayed home, with an eye on a new prize — putting a few of my instagram photos for sale on my blog as prints.
My thoughts at the time — and now: (How much should I charge? Will I look like I am extorting friends? What if I charge too little and my real photographer friends feel like I am degrading the art of photography? Do I deserve to even make any money on an iphone photo? Who am I fooling? What if someone feels obligated to buy one, and they don’t really want to? What if someone buys one and then in a month they start a Kickstarter campaign for their own project, and I feel obligated to donate to it?)
Today, as a sixty-four year old woman finished achieved greatness in the water, my body, as a reaction to my own thought process over the last two weeks — gave up.
“This is not normal,” I told myself while lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling. “You have anxiety.”
I can hear some of my friends laughing.
“Dude, I could have told you this YEARS ago.”
I hate when people call me “dude.”
Why am I suddenly so obsessed with this idea of “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” Why am I pushing myself? What am I trying to push myself to do? Would anyone care about Diana Nyad if she failed again, and decided it was time to give up? Why is she a hero? What did she do? Is she a nice person? What do I need to prove to others? To myself? Do I want to be the second person to swim from Cuba to Florida? Wouldn’t it better to just take a boat?
I exhaust myself.