Playing with Dolphins

You’ve got your daily self-care habits nailed down. You floss most days. You say, “I love you” to your people. You try to move your body every day. You take your vitamins. 

Isn't it great when self-care habits become routine, and we no longer need to motivate ourselves every day? If we're in a vulnerable, fragile or sensitive state of mind, these routines may be the only thing that gets us through the day. 

For me, staying within the comfort of routine helps me worry less. Worried about what you may ask? It doesn't matter. There's always something right? Too much dependence on routine, however, can make me rigid and not want to leave home for fear the other shoe will drop. Or so I think. 

There is no mention of playtime as a form of self-care in the article "Extreme Self-Care, Should I or Could I?" I also did not mention how accepting help from others is also self-care. These are things I don't do well. Unfortunately, stubbornly clinging to not showing my vulnerabilities keeps me from living fully. 

I became hyper-focused on the details and my fears. 

Recently I kayaked with my husband and a couple of close friends during a Spring break vacation. Initially, I was excited about a kayak outing until I became hyper-focused on the details and my fears. Would we be taking single or double kayaks out on the ocean? What if I got tired or my blood sugar dropped? If I tipped over in deep water, how would I get back in the boat? Should I go barefoot or use water shoes? Repeatedly making my husband promise he would stay near me and almost panicking when he said he did not want to double kayak with me. With my endless questions, is it any wonder he wanted his own?

The backstory is I have great respect (read fear) of the water, even though most of my life I've lived near large bodies of water. I learned to swim as an adult after being unable to experience the joy my traveling buddies were having during a Caribbean vacation years earlier. I found I could educate and train my body, but the underlying fear continued to impact my confidence to some extent. 

But I digress. It was a beautiful early morning on St. Joseph Sound. The tides were in our favor to paddle, in four separate kayaks, across the Sound and into the mangrove kayak trails throughout the state park. The kayak rental staff said it was only a 25-minute paddle to cross the Sound. Once we were floating on the water, I understood their definition of a 25-minute paddle was just to approach the nearest tip of the island. It was another half-hour paddle up its shoreline to locate the park entrance. 

It may be helpful to note, I’m the weakest link in this group, with minimal kayaking skills or upper body strength. Twenty minutes out, my first sign of trouble was my friend saying, “If you keep paddling like that, you’re gonna wear yourself out.” Um, thanks for noticing! My arms already felt like lead, and we had a long paddle ahead.  

I was most certainly not enjoying myself and started grumbling about everything that was wrong with this outing. The paddle's drip guards undoubtedly were not correctly installed as I was getting wetter by the minute. Regardless of wind strength or direction, the bow of the kayak continually veered right despite my attempts to stay on course. Blame the equipment is what I did. Stupid paddles. Stupid kayak! As if it had a mind of its own instead of being attached to me. 

My friend offered her paddling gloves and a quick lesson. The gloves slowed the blisters forming, and her blessedly nonchalant lesson opened the window for me to ask further questions. My paddle strokes became more efficient than earlier once I learned core torso out powers arm strength in this sport. However, I still found myself paddling non-stop just to keep abreast of the group while they appeared to float lazily along waiting for me. Ugh! I was having difficulty enjoying the beauty of the shoreline because I was hyper-focused on the stupid kayak, my tired biceps and how I had already blown through all my breakfast calories.

Whatever you do, he said, don't turn around.

We finally glided into the island's park, pulled our small crafts onto the kayak dock and took a welcome break at the park ranger’s café. After an encouraging snack and the ranger's advice to get moving before the tide change, we set out again. The shallow and narrow mangrove kayak trail is a tangled and dense canopy of roots, branches and leaves filtering the sunlight and muffling the whooshing sounds of wind and ocean. The vegetation is so thick you can't see past the next bend but trust the ranger's advice. Whatever you do, he said, don't turn around. (Now there's a metaphor for grief grace). It's like driving at night where you can only see as far as your headlights, but you know you'll eventually find your way.

 playing with dolphins, lifeisaprettyword.com

Thankfully, the group graciously agreed the shortest trail provided enough sense of the mangrove's beauty. Likely this was a covert way of saying, “How are we going to get Ms. Weaklink back to the mainland? Did anyone bring a tow rope?" But I jest. 

During the paddle homeward, we were rewarded with a trio of dolphins playing and splashing about in a shallow cove. They used teamwork to capture their breakfast efficiently. They seemed happy and stayed long enough for us to beach the kayaks on a tiny sand island and observe from a safe distance. The dolphins' hunting frolic attracted hungry pelicans who started dive bombing for a share of the catch.  Nearby the pink-tinged roseate spoonbills patiently watched the jumping mullets ruffling the surface water, scurrying away from the big fish below. An osprey screeched and circled high overhead waiting her opportunity to feed. 

A shift happened.

This interaction with nature was exhilarating! I felt great! Whether it was the much-needed endorphins kicking in, my sense of accomplishment, the fresh sea air or being with the people I love best in the world, I am not certain. I stopped whining. A shift happened. 

I had pushed a little beyond what I thought I was capable of, and I had faced my fear of deep water. My daughter always said, "take risks but first do the research." I asked many questions of the kayak vendor. I surrounded myself with people I trust. I wore a life jacket. Essentially, I wove my safety net as tight as I needed. 

With my safety needs completely addressed, does it not beg the question of whether there was ever a valid reason for my worrying and complaining? To be honest with myself, I have to say it wasn't about risk. It was my out-dated, nagging, stereotypical grief assumptions--people in grief aren't supposed to have fun. 

We feel guilty if we feel good.

Doing something enjoyable isn’t something we allow ourselves often enough. We may tell ourselves, "In sorrow, we shouldn’t feel good." Or we feel guilty if we feel good. What if we give the false impression we’ve healed when we have a whole lot of leaning on others ahead of us?

Mind, body, and soul were all pressed into action on this kayak adventure. My mind overcame resisting joy (manifested as fear) and shifted from nagging worry to accomplishment and happiness. My body was tested and developed new muscle memory after improving my paddling technique. My soul felt soothed as being in connection with nature will often do. 

I feel tremendous gratitude for my friends and husband who, while secretly wishing I’d stop whining and put that energy into paddling faster, instead supported me without even realizing it. They were present for me. They offered help gently, didn't abandon me, and let me figure it out for myself.  I can’t ask for more than that. 


 blog post, lifeisaprettyword.com

How is it for you? Do you rationalize having fun? Are you concerned about giving a false impression that you are feeling well? Can you give yourself permission to open space for enjoyable moments while in grief? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. 


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Monica Sword

Monica Sword is an aspiring author and artist living a deeply heartfelt life. Following the early death of three family members, including her daughter, she struggled to balance home and work life. Once she discovered how to apply her conscientious and high-achieving personality to honor her passions, be mindful of her emotional reactions and focus on self-care, she developed a creative mindset that produces her most meaningful life work. On her website, lifeisaprettyword.com, Monica inspires and encourages others to honor their heart and soul in mindful ways.