Getting Past the Swamp

In 2019, I helped open a mental health and addiction treatment centre in Victoria BC. It was an amazing, and extremely stressful, process, and I did my best to manage my own workload while supporting the staff on our team. [article updated December 2023]

These were truly fantastic colleagues, and we were taking on a big challenge: developing and launching a much-needed centre for people with addictions, PTSD, trauma and other mental health diagnoses. These were clients with complex histories, and I asked the counsellors, therapists and social workers who reported to me to step up, and step forward, to develop a world-class, new program.  Every day, I asked the members of our team to take on new challenges, learn new skills, and step far outside of their comfort zone.  And, frankly, I spent a lot of time outside of my comfort zone too.

At times, it was stressful enough to fray my nerves, and the nerves of those around me.  So I tried to make time to connect individually with all of the people in my department.  I thought that, since they were providing such important support to our clients, the least I could do was to support them, to the best of my abilities.  I made time to meet with them one-on-one, to check in and find out how they were managing their workload.  

On one occasion I had a meeting with a therapist who was being asked to step into a new role.  I was conscious that she felt anxiety about the process, and I wanted to check in, asking: “how are you handling things?”  

She acknowledged that she was feeling a lot of anxiety about her own skills and abilities in the new role (I still think she was selling herself short, as she was doing an awesome job!).  I asked her if there was anything we could do to ease her anxiety.  

Her response blew me away.  She considered it for a moment, and then replied thoughtfully: “No, I think the only way is to get through it, and build confidence as I go”. 

I was so impressed by the maturity and insight of her words.  As a psychologist, I know very well that often the only way to conquer anxiety is to push forward. 

Being anxious is kind of like being in a swamp. You feel overwhelmed, stuck, and unsafe.  Part of you wants to retreat, and get back to ‘safety’ (or, more often, the illusion of safety), rather than moving to a better place, beyond that swamp. 

Sometimes you might fantasize about something–a helicopter, or a boat perhaps–that might magically appear and carry you to the other side.  Of course you want to be out of the swamp, on the next phase of your journey, but you are afraid to move through it, and encounter all the discomfort that sits between you and the other side. 

But, it doesn’t matter what your swamp is, there is no magical solution that will save you from unease and adversity. Whether your ‘swamp’ involves carrying out a new project, getting sober, getting help and doing the work for your mental health, or something else, the truth is that: 

The only way past the swamp is through the swamp. 

I’ll try to break down what I mean a bit.  With anxiety (the swamp), the natural human inclination is to avoid, to keep things comfortable.  This might entail:

  • Using drugs or alcohol, and maybe telling yourself you’ll quit tomorrow
  • Staying with other old, avoidant means of coping that keep you stuck
  • Avoiding difficult conversations with people you love
  • Procrastinating on work that you find challenging
  • Refusing to look for love or connection, because rejection is ‘too fearful’
  • Refusing to take an important risk, like taking on a new job, moving to a new place, beginning or ending a new relationship. 

What other examples can you think of?  What is your swamp?

Moving through the swamp is the only way to get to the other side.  There is no magical solution.  No secret tip or strategy that will make it easy.  You just have to get through it.  

Questions to ask yourself:

What is your swamp?  (i.e. what goal, or challenge do you want to face?)

What do you need to do, in order to get through the swamp?

How will you feel when you’re standing on the other side?

What makes it so scary or uncomfortable 

Although there are things you can do to increase your feeling of confidence, and your odds of success–a recovery coach, psychologist, or other professional, can be of help.

Reach out for a No Charge Consultation

We would be happy to speak with you confidentially to see if HBR is the right fit for you. Please feel free to connect with us by calling 1-778-700-2830 or by emailing

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