My father, the explorer of all things web, recently shared a TED talk from long-distance swimmer Diane Nyad.
At the prime age of 62, Nyad embarked on a 103-mile swim, from Havana to the Florida coast. Her extreme expedition entailed gearing up with arduous 24-hour practice swims, fending off dehydration and hyperthermia, succumbing to the world’s most venomous creature the box jellyfish. Likely to spark extreme opinions, we may not all share Nyad’s extreme (even obsessive) determination, but we’ve all experienced great disappointments in our lives.
A longtime swimmer, I personally can relate to her tales of sensory deprivation and physical duress. Long torturous practices and nerve-wracking races were quite common. But the rigorous nature of the sport didn’t come close to explaining the worst pain I had ever felt.
Some 15 years ago, during an ordinary swim, I felt my heart palpitating, a shortness of breath, an overwhelming panic. I couldn’t breath, I felt I was drowning, I felt I may die.
My box jellyfish was anxiety.
Day after day, the box jellyfish would come back. And each time, the sting would feel progressively worse. Along with making swimming unbearable, it was also impossible to ride public transportation and enter crowded rooms. I felt I was taken hostage by a silent, gelatinous predator that was making me and life miserable.
Nyad’s conviction may seem insane to many. But so was my constant worrying, fretting, and fear. And I would have much rather spent my precious life chasing a dream than alone in a constate state of panic.
I believe the box jellyfish comes in many forms–depression, cancer, addiction. Yet no matter the name, or how it may manifest in our bodies, it does not define us. The pain of being stung by one of these box jellyfishes likely dwindles in comparison to living a lifetime of disappointment and regret. Because it’s not the obstacles or setbacks that make us our best selves but our unwavering passion to overcome them.
Like Nyad, my father and mother chased a dream. It too involved crossing a body of ocean. To raise a family and provide their children opportunities.
They experienced plenty of box jellyfishes along the way. But despite the devastating stings and scars, the jellyfishes couldn’t kill their dream. It lives and blooms in their children.
Their hopes and dreams are alive in me today, inspiring me to fight my own jellyfishes, to get back in the water, to keep on swimming, and to move foward. Or as my mother likes to say, Siga Adelante!