Every moment of the build up to swimming scared me.
From the first moment I chose the compulsory university swimming session the furthest time away I started panicking. Panicking because I had not entered a swimming pool for 10 years and had no clue if my limbs even knew what to do anymore. Not that they had been coordinated and fishlike even then. I worried that I would splash uncontrollably and ultimately sink. I would do this in front of my classmates and me a PE specialist. I worried what my body would look like in a swimming costume. The thought of anyone seeing my scars and being that exposed. So I just put it off.
But things far in the future have a habit of creeping up on me quickly. And now it’s only 2 weeks away. I didn’t own a swimming costume and my limbs had no more idea how to move in water than I did.
The first bridge to cross, and a scary one, was something to wear. Having not owned even a bikini for the beach in 10 years it scared me. It scared me that my body would be that on show. Shopping is always an ordeal and this promised to be worse. But I found something, shaved my legs and got in the car.
Which found me sitting in a swimming pool car park just before lunchtime on a Tuesday. Watching cars move in and out and having to call my friend. Just to calm me and encourage me. It found me at the reception desk bumbling over my words and the receptionist thinking I wanted to swim outdoors! Hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I know and immediately bumping into someone and having a polite conversation as I innerly squirmed.
Then I was in a very small changing room worrying that everyone in this pool would be amazing swimmers. I would be lapped and laughed at when I couldn’t even float. What if I panicked, embarrassed myself and had to be rescued by the lifeguards? I paused. Spent just a little too long organising my clothes. Willingly there to be more time before I had to get in the water. I fumbled with the lock on the locker. Wanting to rush it, but my hands not responding. The walk to the pool was the longest of my life even though the steps in were just by the door. You are exposed. I went in by myself and I felt that all eyes were on me, but honestly I doubt they were.
Once I got in the water I could look around. There were a few children taken swimming by grandparents happily bobbing about and playing with toys. A lane set out at the far side with nobody in it. I started and tried. Front crawl seemed like the place to start. With my head in the water my arms and legs seemed to know what to do. That was until I needed to breathe. The lifting of my head made me sink and I had to put my feel down. Breast stroke was next and equally as unsuccessful.
But then I remembered how as a child I had always preferred backstroke. I moved into the lane to prevent colliding with any children and began. I did my first length. And then realised I could do another. I didn’t need to stop to breathe or worry about my feet. I was conscious of my fingers propelling myself through the water. My feet hardly splashing but kicking much more strongly than I imagined. I had a rhythm. 3 kicks between each stroke. Counting carefully and breathing deeply I continued.
At one point a ten year old boy joined me in the lane. They had a quick front crawl and I was happy to let him go first and lap me. I could focus on me. As my body remembered how it was supposed to move it needed my attention. It was a conscious movement and left me little space to think of anything else. Few moments to worry of the enormity of what I was doing. I kept this up for 45 minutes. Much longer than I had imagined.
Before I knew it I was home, with the smell of chlorine still clinging and my hair dripping slightly. Clinging too was the sense of achievement. Of overcoming something that had held me with fear for so many years. The worry of incompetence mixed with fear of exposure had stopped me enjoying exercise for so long.
I tweeted and the response was phenomenal. I had tweets from people that shared this fear or those that had also overcome it. But what struck me the most were the cheerleaders. The people who I had never met, but were so proud and encouraging. So thank you, because that kept me on this river of emotional high for even longer.
Now I’m ready to tackle the university swimming session and I would encourage you to swim too. Or do that thing that you’ve been wanting to do, but fear has held you back. I have found that the trepidation before the things is so much worse than the moment you throw yourself in.
Guess what? #thisgirlcan