All it took in the end was a phone call.
Years of procrastination, all brought to an end by a single short conversation.
The topic of this conversation was swimming lessons – adult swimming lessons, to be more precise. Growing up in Scotland, swimming wasn’t as actively encouraged as it is here in Australia, so I’d never learned how to swim as a kid. And there I was, now in my early thirties, living on the other side of the world, finally deciding that enough was enough.
OK, so that last paragraph isn’t entirely true. I had learned how to swim before, but I wasn’t very good at it. Apart from a few informal lessons from friends, I was more or less self-taught, and I’d never spent much time in the water.
What I had actually learned to do was painfully move through water fifteen feet at a time, haphazardly splashing my arms and legs up and down. Gasping for air, I’d struggle to stay afloat, before finally putting my feet on the bottom so I could stand up to catch my breath. I’d then be left looking around, wondering why there were only half as many people in the pool as when I had first got in. So not only was I not a very good swimmer, I was an embarrassingly awful swimmer.
By the time I moved to Australia in my late twenties, I started making up a barrage of excuses for not getting proper lessons. As irrational as it may sound, although I was relatively fit, I actually believed my body simply wasn’t designed to swim.
In any case, swimming lessons for adults probably wouldn’t be available in Australia, where everyone seemed to turn half-dolphin as soon as their feet touched the water. What’s more, if there were any adult lessons, they would likely be at inconvenient times, and I’d end up missing half of them anyway because of the unpredictable hours of my job.
Fast forward the clock a few more years, however, and I found myself in those early thirties. I was now a married man, with the talk turning to that of starting a family. My desire to one day play with my kids in the water rather than sitting silently on the sidelines greatly outweighed the shame and embarrassment I had once felt at my previous attempts in the pool.
While discussing the topic with a friend one day, however, I made a promise. I vowed that within the week, I would call the local pool and ask about adult lessons. Just an initial enquiry – nothing else. Lo and behold, surprise surprise, well I never, by the end of that phone call I was booked into lessons starting the following week, and everything else fell perfectly into place from there.
To cut a long story short, what happened over the following months felt like nothing short of a miracle. Firstly, there were other adults in the class – other Australian adults – who could not swim a single foot. I was actually one of the better movers-through-water in the class!
I was also encouraged to practice in my spare time. I set myself a target of getting in the pool by myself for an hour every Sunday morning, and doing so until I could swim a full length non-stop and unaided.
Much to my amazement, within a few short weeks, I touched the far end of the pool with my hand before I touched the bottom with my feet. It might not have been the most elegant length ever swam in a pool, but it certainly felt like the most magical – and it was my first. I was utterly elated!
I was also hooked. I kept going, practising every Sunday morning. Before long, I was churning out two lengths non-stop, then five, then ten. Then one day as I emerged from the pool, I had to pinch myself because I had just swam forty lengths – a whole kilometre – non-stop. My name and a one-kilometre swim in the same sentence for the first time in my life!
All it took in the end was a phone call.
The same can be said about my years-long struggle with the black dogs of irrational worry, anxiety and depression.
I’d endured many years living a secret life of such struggles. At times, I was dragging myself through life one day at a time, frantically waving not only my arms and legs, but also my thoughts in the air, trying my best to stay afloat.
People tell me nowadays that I must have been putting on a brave face on the outside because they’d never have guessed I was fighting a battle with my inner demons. Unbeknownst to them, I was utterly terrified on the inside. And just like when it came to learning to swim, I started making up a barrage of excuses for not getting help.
The fact that I was able to get through each day, regardless of how hard I had to struggle, made me think that perhaps I wasn’t suffering that badly after all. Furthermore, I was also able to hold down a good job, I had my own young family now, as well as a nice home. Surely I’d just be laughed away if I sought help.
Then there were the stigmas. Ah, the stigmas! The shame and embarrassment of the stigmas! If I were ever so much as to open my mouth to a psychologist or have a prescription for antidepressants written in my name, I’d surely be labeled for life. I might even lose my job.
In any case, it would all cost too much for sure, with psychologists charging by the hour, and no doubt expensive medications that might not even work.
But the day eventually came when I’d had enough. I literally found myself that day teetering nervously on the edge of breakdown. I might have been able to play with my kids in the water by now, but my desire to be fully present with them now outweighed my shame, my embarrassment, my excuses for not seeking help.
I literally felt like a broken man. And so, full of regret for having not taken action before, for leaving it till it felt like it might be too late, I vowed that I would call my doctor the following day.
It was just a phone call. But it led to an appointment that quickly led to a pharmacy, as well as a seat on a psychologist’s couch.
While sitting on that couch, what took place was merely a conversation. And it was all about me, with someone who was trained to, and wanted to listen and ask all the right questions. What’s more, after all that previous worry about the cost of counseling, the sessions with my psychologist were heavily subsidized by the Government because I was referred to her by my doctor. And all this time, not a hint of anyone laughing me away.
It was a long, slow journey to recovery from there. But at the end of the road was a light far brighter than I had ever imagined possible.
All it took in the end was a phone call.
And so, as another year draws to a close, if you are going to make a New Year’s Resolution, why not make it nice and simple, one that you can easily keep? Why not just make a resolution to pick up the phone?
You don’t have to wait until it feels like it’s too late.
Below are the contact details for a handful of helplines around the world. If you are aware of any other useful helplines in these or any other countries, please feel free to leave their contact details as a comment below. Or, you can send me a direct message via my Dancing With The Black Dog Facebook page www.facebook.com/dancingwiththeblackdog – I can then add the contact details you provide for any other organisations to this list below, without mentioning your name.
Lifeline – Telephone 13 11 14
Beyond Blue – Telephone 1300 224636 (Info Line)
Mensline – Telephone 1300 789 978
You can also do an online self-test at The Black Dog Institute
Depression And Bipolar Support Alliance – Telephone 800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide and Crisis Hotline (Canada-wide) – Telephone 1-800-448-3000
Breathing Space Scotland – Telephone 0800 838587
Samaritans – Telephone 08457 909090
The Samaritans sum it up perfectly on their website, where they say: “Talk to us any time you like, in your own way, and off the record – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal.”
So why not just pick up the phone and make that first call right now? It may well be the first step in changing your life for the better, and in more ways than you ever imagined possible.
Remember – it’s only a conversation, with someone who both knows how to and wants to listen.