Don’t give up the ship! That was my dad’s favorite call to action. He loved that phrase. He boomed it at the sailors he trained in the Navy; he exuded it at home, and he even quietly asked it of his own father, who was dying of lung cancer.
Don’t give up the ship.
I didn’t appreciate this phrase until after Dad passed away in 2020. Struggling with depression and a negative self-image for most of my life, it sounded too blunt. Too much like someone’s pain is just being dismissed.
Except, it’s not. Hidden behind my father’s loud voice bellowing, “Don’t give up the ship” at every turn isn’t a judgment call. It’s the cry of someone who knows what it is to be at sea adrift and is merely calling as loud as he can for you to hang on.
Because you must fight for yourself, and sometimes you need a blunt human megaphone to bellow the fact.
So, on what would have been Dad’s 63rd birthday today, here’s my tribute to his rallying cry. I suffer mental health issues too and, having been in the position of nearly giving up, I can look back now and tell you that not giving up is the best decision you can ever make.
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them.Hamlet Act III, Scene I, lines 55-59
You are the ship tossing at sea. Don’t give up on yourself.
Life is a sea of troubles. Shakespeare knew that as well as any of us. It can be stormy, it can overwhelm you, it can batter you relentlessly until you think it will break you apart. When, and if, it breaks you apart, the evilest part of it is the whisper that it’s easier to give up. Better to give up.
It will be less of a burden. You’ll be able to rest that way. You won’t have to fight anymore.
That is your depression speaking. Your anxiety, your fear, your worry, and everything within that says aren’t worth the fight. Except that you are.
Don’t believe the lie. That takes a kind of will all on its own. Because it’s easier to believe the lie than it is to believe you are worth fighting for.
But that is why “Don’t give up the ship” is such a rallying cry. Because if you aren’t going to keep your own ship afloat, no one else can do it for you. And the sea of troubles certainly will not spare you.
Learn to fight for yourself, one wave at a time.
That which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield“Ulysses” Alfred Lord Tennyson
Dad would probably say that the first thing about life in general, but particularly military life, is learning how to survive. If the ship sinks, you must figure out how to survive.
And how do you do that? Food, water, shelter. The basics. Those will guarantee that you can at least stay alive.
It’s the same with mental illness. What do you need to survive? Food, water, shelter. When the sea becomes overwhelming and beats you back, the things you must live stay the same: food, water, shelter.
Only, since the war is partially in our minds, we must figure out what food, water, and shelter mean for us mentally as well as physically.
So, Build yourself a toolkit. What feeds you when you’re in an episode? What waters you? What shelters you? What brings you the necessities you need to “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”?
Whether that’s your favorite dish, a walk in your neighborhood, a prayer to your favorite saint, a session with your therapist, reading a favorite book, or even binge-watching Lord of the Rings. Again. Find out what makes you want to carry on.
And then allow yourself to have those things.
Good men, the law wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.“Do not go gentle into that good night”
I’ve always had a fondness for Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Most likely because it is “Don’t give up the ship” in another form. It’s the semicolon symbol for those who faced the prospect of ending their story. And chose differently.
You don’t know that a happier, more joyful version of yourself is waiting around the corner. You don’t know that life can and will get better. Because you can only see the present. You can’t always look at the horizon and know what’s coming.
Are you going to give up the chance for your deeds to dance in a green bay? Are you going to give up giving your story a happy ending?
You are more than your feelings or your mistakes. You are more than your depression and you are worth it. Don’t miss the chance of falling in love with yourself again. Don’t give up the ship.
Even if you can’t see it now, it’s worth surviving. It’s worth fighting for yourself. It’s worth it even if you can’t see it, feel it, or even wish for it right now. Survive. Get professional help, spiritual guidance, or simply bundle yourself up in blankets and binge on Netflix until you are ready to face the next wave.
Whatever you do, though, don’t give up the ship.
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5 thoughts on “The Best Advice My Father Ever Gave and Why It’s a Rallying Cry for Mental Health”
What a beautiful post, Kathleen! It made me teary eyed as well made my heart swell with inspiration – “Learn to fight for yourself, one wave at a time.” !
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Kathleen, Awesome job! I just read your post and you make me so proud to be in your life. I miss your dad very much and think about him every day! Keep up the great writing… Love u Uncle Dave
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Thanks, Uncle Dave! Love you too and thanks for reading!
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