“How do you sail with anxiety?” It’s a question I figured out the answer to this year. I hadn’t sailed much before until now, but I have worked on boats a lot over the years and I always find myself on the water. Is sailing supposed to make me anxious? I was about to find out.
Anxiety and depression have plagued me for years. Most days, I am OK. I am content and productive. Other days I feel empty, unmotivated and lost. The word ‘failure’ often creeps into my mind, and then I am faced with the toughest war there is; the war against myself. It is a constant battle between my ‘depressed/anxious brain’ and my ‘realistic/logical brain.’ I try to reason with myself and talk my way out of the fog, but sometimes the storm has to pass on its own.
When my husband and I moved back to Buffalo from Boston two years ago, I was looking for a fresh start, change of pace, and the opportunity to work as a photographer/writer full-time. I updated my portfolio, pushed the social media marketing, and networked the hell out of the city. After a few gigs here and there, things went silent. Everyone kept telling me that ‘success doesn’t happen overnight’ and that I was ‘still new’ to the business. It didn’t feel that way. I told myself daily that I was failing and even began to regret moving back from Boston.
Then one day, in the dead of winter, it just hit me. This isn’t me. Clearly doing what I thought others wanted to see wasn’t working, so I decided to do what I wanted instead. After hearing countless stories of personal branding, I thought about what mine should actually look like. What makes me, me? The water. It instantly clicked. I restructured my portfolio, logo and website design. It was going to be everything nautical, and nothing else.
I thought about what I could do in Buffalo in order to produce new content. I thought of sailing right away, but wasn’t sure how accessible that would be for me. After all, I don’t own my own boat, nor did I have any friends here who sailed. I came across the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club via a Google search and emailed the commodore of the club to see if I would be allowed to photograph the races during the 2017 season. She happily obliged and we met in person a few weeks later. What started as a meeting to discuss sailing photography, turned into a camaraderie and an unexpected opportunity. I expressed my love for sailing and how I regretted not learning while living in Boston because of the expense and ‘exclusiveness.’ She then told me she would bring me on as crew on her boat, so I could properly learn to sail and race aside from just photographing all season. I left that meeting feeling so pumped, but I had no idea what kind of an impact this was going to have on my life.
From day one onboard S/V Republic I didn’t know much, but I felt like I was exactly where I should be. I knew I would learn fast and after the first race, I was hooked. It’s an addiction I am happy to have. Sailing is so therapeutic and there is no greater feeling than being onboard. Even sailing in the foulest of weather is still better than a nice day on land. I was back on the water on a regular basis and I could already feel the change in my spirit.
Since joining the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club my depression, for the most part, has stayed away. Every time I step onboard, any anxiety I have disappears. It’s like escaping into a different world for a few hours. There is a surge of adrenaline every time we race and it challenges me to learn more and improve. Zero anxiety, only excitement. At the same time, I built friendships with people who shared the same passion as me. As one might find at the spa or gym, sailing gives me the release I need. I never felt this type of happiness in my days as a competitive swimmer. I was happy to leave the pool behind after a long day of practice, but I’m never happy to leave the boat or the marina. The sailing lifestyle and community is so beautiful and important to me, I don’t even have the proper words to describe it.
I have even seen an improvement in my career. Since taking on sailing photography, I have been met with unique and exciting opportunities, as well as booking jobs on the regular. I have launched an online shop and partnered with amazing brands. I am exactly where I want to be as a business owner and things are continually moving forward. Without such a welcoming club and sailing to keep my head clear, I would still be stuck in a miserable rut.
Are things perfect? Absolutely not. I still have my days where I struggle, especially now that the sailing season has ended (I am already counting down the days to the 2018 season.) However, I often remind myself of how lucky I am to have stumbled into this sport and community. I didn’t realize how much I needed the structure and comfort of being a part of something. I finally feel like I have found a place where I fit in. How can I sail with anxiety? The answer is ‘I don’t.’ I sail without it.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Weisansal