What Do You Do When You Reach the End of Your Rope?

Finding NemoBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Some of you might have noticed that two weeks ago I had a week where I disappeared from the online world. I posted on Monday morning, but didn’t reply to comments. No Wednesday writing post. I didn’t tweet, and popped on Facebook only once or twice, briefly, mostly in groups where I felt safe.

I had one of those weeks. You know the kind. Where if it can go wrong, it will.

I came down with a serious sinus infection the Friday before. Puffy face, teeth that felt like I had a mouth full of cavities, and pain bad enough I suffered through four sleepless nights. On Monday, we had to say goodbye to our seven-year-old Siamese cat after three days of rapid decline because there was nothing more the vet could do for her. (My pets are part of my family.) The rest of the week became death by a thousand paper cuts.

By the weekend, I ended up curled in a ball in our recliner sobbing over the death of a character in a TV show. I knew the death was coming. I was prepared for it. And I’m not the kind of person who cries over TV shows or movies. But my anger over the death of that character proved to be more than I could take.

When we have days, weeks, or months like this, it’s normal to want to pull the covers back over our heads and allow depression to swallow us up. We feel like giving up because nothing we do is going to turn out right anyway.

We actually need to do the opposite.

Almost everyone has seen the movie Finding Nemo, but in it, clownfish Marlin lost his wife and all his eggs but one in a barracuda attack. When his only surviving son, Nemo, is captured by a diver, Marlin sets out to find him and bring him home. Dory, a regal tang with short-term memory loss, soon joins in his search.

Marlin and Dory find the diver’s mask with his address on it. They need to find a fish who can read, but in the process of escaping from a shark, surviving a mine field explosion, and barely missing being crushed by a sinking ship, the mask falls into a deep, dark crevice.

Marlin thinks the crevice is too deep and too dark to find the mask again. All seems lost. He doesn’t want to go on anymore, because everything just ends in disaster. He’s given up hope.

Dory pushes her face close to Nemo’s and makes pouty fish lips. “Hey, Mister Grumpy Gills, when life gets you down, you know what you got to do?”

“I don’t want to know what you gotta do,” Marlin says.

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”

Later in the movie, when they have Nemo back and are headed home, Dory gets caught with a bunch of other fish in a fisherman’s net. Nemo swims in to help her encourage all the fish to swim down together and tear the net from the boat.

The other fish are panicking and start to give up when it doesn’t work immediately. It seems like Marlin will lose the only two fish who matter to him. Then he remembers what Dory said.

“Just keep swimming,” he yells at them.

The principle is simple but profound. When everything is going wrong, the best thing to do is to keep moving. Keep trying something. Just don’t give up.

Because if you just keep swimming, eventually things have to change for the better.

What do you do to get through the tough times?

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