Finding Inner Balance
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
Sometimes I wonder what spawned my incorrigible indecisiveness. Often, my inability to make decisions creates holes in my life which I must then overcome to find myself back in a state of content equilibrium. Last week I was overwhelmed with the decision to sail with the U.S. Brig Niagara again or drive with my boss, Erin, to the next port in Bay City, Michigan. When I discovered I would be on Niagara, I was with a few of the crew from the ship at the crew party on Sunday evening. When Susannah and I told them we would be sailing together for the upcoming transit, they were ecstatic. They started fighting over who would get us on their watch. Even though I loved feeling included, and I’d come to view the crew as good friends, I questioned if I was mentally stable enough for another trip with Niagara.
Later that evening, I shared my fears with Susannah over a plate of vegetarian tacos which I’d heavily covered in Tabasco. My fear boiled down to social interaction. On Niagara you will never be completely alone. While some people find this comforting, I find it exhausting. The most solitude I experienced on the transit from Toronto was covering my face with my blanket, cocooning myself from the swaying bodies in the hammocks around me. I don’t know how to be socially present all the time and, when I must be, I resent myself for my need to separate myself from others. It’s almost as though it’s a weakness I should be compelled to apologize for. I was incredibly torn, wanting to prove to myself that I was strong enough to overcome my extreme discomfort while simultaneously dreading the discomfort to the point that I was repeating “everything is fine” in my mind.
Susannah reminded me that no one was going to judge me for taking the easier option. I explained that I didn’t care about other people’s perception of me. Rather, I was worried that I would think of less of myself for choosing the more comfortable option. I’m a survivor, pushing myself into uncomfortable situations with the perception that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s just what I’m used to. If I’m not practically killing myself with work and constantly challenging myself, I become self-depreciative, viewing myself as weak and unworthy of the people around me. Susannah told me I needed to prioritize my mental health, we had a long summer, and I shouldn’t burn myself out so early on. Something clicked when she said that. Perhaps the true challenge would be taking care of myself. I decided to look out for my mental health, even though I was certain that I was overdramatizing how difficult my experience would be.
On Monday morning, I shadowed Erin. We dropped Susannah at Niagara, packed up our gear, went to a safety meeting at the Cleveland Coast Guard, and boarded a boat to set up the race start. An enormous inflatable orange tetrahedron, which made up one end of the starting line, took up about a third of the boat. The other side of the race start line was our little boat. On the boat with us were two members of the Edgewater Yacht Club Race Committee officiating the race, and four news representatives creating social media content about the tall ships race to Pelee Passage. They had professional cameras and filmed several live videos, reminding me how much of a spectacle these races could be.
It was odd to be an observer of the race, no longer a participant, setting sails and racing around the ship. Instead we bobbed on the water, setting up different flags signaling the countdown to the start. I was given the task of taking down one of the flags to show that the race had begun. One of the officiators counted down from ten. At zero, I pulled the blue and white flag out of its holder and the race began. The flags were more of a formality since we also counted down over the radio, but it still felt good to be a part of the race in some small way. As the ships passed over the starting line, I felt regret as Niagara crossed the line and I wished I was onboard. Her sails opened to the wind and she glided through the water effortlessly- an absolute dream. My social anxiety seemed insignificant compared to my newfound desire to sail and be part of a crew.
I believe I made the wrong decision not getting on Niagara. I let my discomfort and fear prevent me from enjoying sailing. I will not make that decision again. Sometimes fear grows when it’s acknowledged. It’s dangerous to acknowledge purposeless fear. Nothing bad would truly happen to me on Niagara. I let those small worries take control of me because I was unsure of myself and what I wanted. I needed to step away from sailing for a moment to realize how much fun it was.
As much as I have enjoyed some time to myself here in Bay City, which has certainly improved my mental health, I’m bored. Life is moving slowly again and I find myself struggling. I wonder if a comfortable balance between boredom and exhilaration truly exists. Sailing is engaging, forcing you to pay attention, to rely on others, and to trust yourself. My struggles on Niagara originated with my inability to do any of these things. I didn’t trust myself so there was no way I could rely in the strength of others which made it impossible to engage with my environment.
Now that I have had a moment to breathe, I am ready to try again. Balance and certainty begin with the self. Yet, the self is constructed by one’s interaction with others and one’s environment. In a changing environment like the sea, one must turn both inward and outward. Introspection is often difficult, requiring one to recognizing the difference between permanent expressions of self and temporary emotions. While extroversion depends entirely on one’s ability to communicate with and understand oneself fully. Everything is linked. I’m excited to re-engage and to sail on Niagara when the opportunity presents itself again.