You’ve probably been stuck in quicksand before, even if you didn’t realize that’s what it was. Maybe you’re stuck in it right now.
I heard the expression “emotional quicksand” on the radio last night – right alongside another resonating term “doomscrolling” – and realized even as I learned about its existence that I was already in it and sinking fast.
It might start with a feeling of loneliness brought on by isolation, or frustration and anger at an injustice you heard about or experienced or are experiencing, or sadness and confusion at being ignored/ghosted by a person you had high hopes about, or panic and fear brought on by something you read or saw while “doomscrolling.” There are so many ways you can step in emotional quicksand, but once you’ve dipped a toe in it, the sand starts to take your whole foot, then the other foot, then your calves and your knees and your legs and before you know it, your waist is all the way stuck. The thoughts and feelings just get worse and worse and there are more and more of them and you feel stucker and stucker.
The deeper you sink in quicksand, the worse it gets, the more you feel as though you’re being crushed. It’s a totally expected response to panic and thrash about trying to escape. But as we probably all know from Indiana Jones and The Princess Bride and so on, the brilliant and horrible thing about quicksand is the more you struggle, the faster you sink.
The same is true for emotional quicksand, but thankfully the solution is the same too.
How do you keep from drowning in quicksand once you’re stuck in it?
You. Stop. Moving.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to do sometimes but it’s also the only thing that will save you.
Yesterday I stopped by the beach on my way home from a late night work shift because I was already up to my neck in emotional quicksand and I didn’t know what else to do and I thought the ocean might know.
I sat on the shore and looked up at the stars and let the sound of the waves wash over me.
As I forced myself to stillness I was surprised at how quickly the panic subsided.
The ocean was still there. The stars were still there. I was still there. I am still, as Carl Sagan would say, star stuff. Fear and injustice and loneliness and sexism and the pandemic were all still there too… But me and you, we are made of star stuff. And like the Neowise comet currently crashing slowly through the sky, we will not be around forever, and none of these things can stop us from shining in the short time that we have.
I watched a video about how to escape from quicksand and was surprised to learn that adding water is a way used to loosen people enough from the compounded quicksand to begin to pull them out. It seemed ironic that the solution to drowning was more water.
But I realize this, too, is true for me. The ocean calms me down: every time, without fail. If you aren’t lucky enough to live near the ocean maybe there’s something else: a lakeshore, a waterfall, a pond, a stream. There’s something about water that loosens us enough to get pulled out of the quicksand we find ourselves sinking in.
Emotional quicksand is just as dangerous as regular quicksand but how to survive emotional quicksand is similar:
Be still. Look up. Add water.
Have you been stuck in emotional quicksand? How do you get unstuck? Where do you go when you need to calm down and be still?