Keeping Your Chin Up

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Brian Callanan
Keeping Your Chin Up

I always found the expression “Keep your chin up!” to be a simple encouragement in times of difficulty, but recently I have realized that the position of my chin makes all the difference in my physical and mental well-being. Recently swimming again, I noticed that looking straight down in cloudy waters was a coping mechanism for maintaining my orientation and direction while blocking out the scary and unknown surroundings. But keeping my chin down also presented its own threats.

This year’s COVID pandemic has pounded our globe physically and economically, and existing through this with multiple factors contributing to being considered “high-risk” has resulted in unbearable levels of fear, stress, anxiety, and depression that has been shared by millions.

Carrying the stresses of such weight for so long has caused me to stay looking down at the next step in front of me perpetually. Looking out to the foreseeable future was not only very scary, especially from the standpoint of keeping the CFLF alive and well, but also became increasingly cloudy in not knowing how long this would last, what actions would or would not be taken on a federal, state and local level. As part of the coping mechanism of keeping my chin down, I have largely tuned out all types of media as the antagonism was only making the stressors worse.

SeagrassWhen I swim in the ocean, the water is only 10-15 feet deep with seagrass on the bottom. Sometimes the water is clear enough that I can clearly see 40-50 feet in any direction, especially if the sun is shining. These days I feel a sense of confidence in knowing my surroundings and if any clear threat is in my vicinity. I can track my direction toward the next buoy instead of veering left or right of my target and I can see breathtaking wildlife like the stingrays above.Bouy line

When the water is cloudy, like the world we have been living in the past several months, I am tense. My breathing is a little more shallow and rapid, and while I have no idea what is around me, approaching, or what direction I am heading, I tend to try and keep my sight on the seagrass below me for some sense of orientation. Keeping my chin up in these cloudy moments means that I am looking into nothingness. I can only see my hands extend beyond my face and the bubbles that rise to the surface with each swimming stroke. Lifting my head above the surface to get perspective on my heading is only momentary and takes significant effort. Looking straight down is the easiest and safest.

HandBut on days and weeks that are calmer, the water is more clear and visibility has a greater range. From looking down for so long ignoring all the unknowns in our current world, the tendency of my chin being tucked and my awareness being short ranged has become the norm for me. Without the beauty, stimulation and perspective of being able to look up and out for so long, looking down has also contributed to a chronic depression.

SunraysIn my swim yesterday, the water was clear. I was able to look around and see the beauty of rays of sunshine beaming through the water. I was able to dive down to see things up close. I was able to hold my breath a little bit longer, and I was able to breathe a little bit easier. 



While I realize there will still be cloudy and murky days in the water, and in life, it is important to remember that keeping your chin up, although more difficult at times, is what enables our ability to recognize and appreciate the natural beauty that still surrounds us and offers inspiration, whether through glowing sunsets, vibrant foliage, glistening snow, or the warmth of the sunshine.

Keeping our chin up, and our sights searching the horizon is how the CF community will continue to look out toward a future cure for cystic fibrosis with confidence in keeping to propel forward.

Where we set our eyes and line of sight defines our trajectory. If we keep looking down, that is where we will head - physically and mentally. So keeping our chins up and maintaining sights set far off despite the sometimes cloudy and murky surroundings that we are all experiencing, will enable us to maintain the treatments and medication routines that have kept us living toward a cure without losing our direction and momentum in life.

Bouy line silhouette



Help Others Live STRONGER and LONGER- 

Brian cycling



Brian Callanan is now 43-years-old, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the CFLF, and practices an active lifestyle primarily through swimming and cycling on and off road, but also enjoys snowboarding, hiking, sailing and rock-climbing. You may email him directly at







***Views expressed in the CFLF Blog are those of the bloggers themselves and not necessarily of the Cystic Fibrosis Lifestyle Foundation*** 

***Please speak with your physician before making any changes to your CF management***


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