(Shhhh, don’t tell anyone I’m cheating on my nanowrimo project and posting here!)
Confession: I am 33 years old, I never learned how to swim and due to that, I have a large fear of water.
Up until I got sick in 2011, I didn’t really care that I couldn’t swim. Every summer when my friends would jump into lakes or coast on inner-tubes, or swim on pools, I would sit in boats, or hang out in the shallow end, or sometimes not even get near the water. I always had a moment of jealously that I couldn’t participate with them, but my fear always overpowered my drive to change my circumstances. I just assumed that I would never be a part of water activities and never get over my very, very reinforced fear. But, facing a life-and-death situation changes your perspective on pretty much everything in life. You realize that you can conquer anything and it makes you willing to take on a bit more risk.
So, after all my treatments were done and I was assured that I was going to live, I set out to learn new things, one of them being swimming. I looked high and low for the right place to take lessons, that would cater to an adult and not a kid, but some place that also wouldn’t cost me my entire savings. I landed on the City of Seattle public pools and scheduled a handful of private lessons with a female instructor over the course of a couple weeks. While I learned a lot in those lessons about holding my breath, floating, breathing, the basic concept of the freestyle stroke and a bit of the doggy-paddle. But, what we didn’t solve was my fear of water. So, while I have spent more time in the water since my lessons, I still haven’t ventured into deep waters or water activities. The fear was still a constant. The fear was still paralyzing. And I had no clue how to fix it because the idea of my body being in deep water was so incredibly foreign to me. All I could imagine was me sinking to my demise and never being found in the abyss. Maybe a bit dramatic? Yeah, but I just didn’t understand.
When I finally booked my 5th and final trip for 2015 to Puerto Rico, I knew I had to do something about my fear of water because I wanted to participate in all the glory of a beach vacation. I wanted to snorkel or at the very least be able to walk into the ocean without completely losing it. So, I went back on the search for a new instructor who would help me overcome this. I found two that specialized in adult swimming lessons and emailed them both. One replied back quickly and one never replied, so obviously I went with the first one. Her name is Carol and over the course of a few emails, I got a good sense that she would be able to help me get through this. The problem was that she was all booked up through the end of October (this was in August when I went to book), so when the next round of appointments went on sale, I booked two lessons for early November and hoped that I could at least start the process.
Both of those lessons were this past week, and I have to be honest, when the first one came around, I thought long and hard about if I really wanted to pursue overcoming this fear. I wrestled with just letting it win. I was already tired from work, I had a lot of things going on personally that had depleted my emotional energy. I was just not in the mood to learn. But, these lessons weren’t cheap, so I promised myself a reward of really greasy food and set out to the pool.
Fun fact, when I walked into the pool, I quickly recognized what it was mainly used for: Underwater diving. There was a small section of 3 foot water, then immediately into 6 feet and then 12. And there was no gradual change. It was a step and then down, down to the abyss. Just sitting in front of the 12 foot section gave me anxiety. I had no idea what I was going to do.
Carol started me in the 3 ft area and we worked through some basic techniques, but within 10 minutes, she had me in a snorkel mask and that one thing changed my world. By the end of lesson one, I had successfully swam in 6 feet of water from one side to the other, though not without one snorkel fail where I ended up with water in my mouth and mask and flailing around for Carol’s hand, and a couple moments of irregular breathing due to my anxiety of being in deep water. But I felt invincible. I also felt incredibly tired, and mostly on the mental side, not so much physically. Overcoming fear is hard work!
My second lesson was the very next night and Carol said that by the end of it, I would be swimming all across the pool. I laughed because I truly didn’t believe her, but I chose to trust her guidance, and I’ll tell you right now, she was right. I swam from the 12 foot side back down to the 3 foot side easily, with only goggles on and complete confidence. The two most impacting moments came in my second lesson where she had me let go of the wall in the 6 feet of water and feel my own buoyancy and practice light treading and when she had me in the 12 feet of water, holding onto the ladder and she told me to walk myself down to the very bottom of the ladder, while holding my breath, and then let go and feel how quickly my body comes back up to the top. My first attempt was a complete fail as I couldn’t get my body under water (there was my first clue), but that gave me the drive to get down, so on the second attempt I made it all the way down, let go and sailed to the top in a split-second. It was absolutely life-changing. Those two things were exactly what I needed to prove to myself that my fears have been unfounded this whole time. In fact, Carol stated that I actually knew everything that I was supposed to do, my technique and body were great, it was just all my mental state.
So, what does this mean now? Am I cured? I don’t know, the test will come when I’m in Puerto Rico in a couple weeks and I’m faced with water. I can imagine that I still may have bouts of anxiety and nervousness. I don’t foresee myself jumping off a boat into 30 feet of water or anything, but I do want to push myself while there. So, we’ll see.
For now, I’m just basking in the new-found confidence and hard-earned freedom from this fear.