In a pool, the “gutter” is the gateway to the filtration system.  Water gets pulled into the gutter to be filtered, before being sent back in. In large pools, the gutter runs the entire length of a pool.  The gutter lane is a fascinating lane.  I am just learning about it, as I’ve only just occupied it.

I joined a local adult swimming club/team in the grand hope of improving my stroke for a triathlon in a couple of months.  I am new to team swimming and found out quite quickly how amazing “real” swimmers are.  They can complete two laps (or three) to my one.  They are amazing and inspiring.

As the new kid (and the very slowest swimmer) I have inherited (drum roll please) the gutter.  As if swimming the slowest (by a lot) and the accompanying humility isn’t enough, I now have to fight with being pulled into the wall on the regular.  The slower you go, the more affected you are by the drag, so in many ways having the newbie slow poke in the gutter doesn’t make much sense.  Perhaps it’s a hazing ritual that will build “character.”

We all know the courage it takes to try anything new.  There’s the negative self-talk, “what am I doing here? I’m just imposing.  I can’t ever compete with them.  This is too hard.  It’s just not worth it.  I’m messing with their flow and slowing them down.” The potential for self-deprecation is up front and center.  Add the gutter to my serial negativity and I might as well just quit.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

I’ve been absent from posting over the last month, as I needed some time to face some health challenges while also facing and coming to terms with my mother becoming eligible for end of life (Hospice) services.  During challenging times, life can feel a lot like that gutter lane.  If life isn’t hard enough, something outside of my control gets tossed on my “to be faced” list and I find myself getting sucked into the gutter and gasping for air.

The gutter lane is a humbling place to be.  You toss my strengths and weaknesses together with what life tosses at me and I’m asking myself if I have what it takes to get through.

While my time in the pool gutter is short-lived so far (though I expect my residence there to be of some duration), I’ve learned a few things pretty quickly:

  • The gutter is there and it does suck you in.  That’s the gutter’s function and role.  It’s not out to get me.  Don’t take it personally.
  • The amazing swimmers around you, they’re not making fun of you in the gutter.  They may even share a story of two of having started in the gutter and since moved up.  Trust their empathy.
  • Negative self-talk slows down my stroke, speeds up my heart rate, and jumpstarts panic.  Being hard on my self is the surest way to bring on hyperventilation and an asthma attack in the pool.  It’s quicker than fatigue, and more hurtful too.  Negative self-talk is kryptonite, just don’t.  If I do catch myself going down the path of “I’m not capable” I need an immediate mantra to balance it off.
  • Know your allies.  There are some who want to show you how much better than you they are.  They exist, but they are few.  There are some that are just focused on themselves and neither help nor hurt, except perhaps as inspiration.  Be inspired.  There are those who know where you are, the former gutter gals.  They are your allies, use them.

Metaphors and life lessons are everywhere, in the face of a dying parent and in the gutter on a side of a pool.  Sometimes what we learn in one place can help us immensely everywhere else.  As I walked through my month of pretty extreme self-care, while hoping to help my mom find a little peace, these life lessons got me through many tough moments.  May they serve you.