Sink Or Swim? – I Choose To Swim!June 25, 2010
They say feel the fear and do it anyway. Well I’ve finally decided to confront mine by taking swimming lessons for the first time in over thirty years.
“Wow, Pie,” you say. “That’s a long stretch.” You’re right, dear reader. It’s been a while, but that’s because I don’t like the water. When I say I don’t like the water, I mean I really don’t like the water. Although I’m more likely to die in a car crash than a sinking ship, I won’t get on a boat unless I absolutely have to, even if it’s moored. This fear means I will never allow myself to go further than knee deep in the sea and there’s no way I’ll walk along a canal. Having said that, I walked along the canal recently as a kind of immersion therapy, if you pardon the pun. However, I made sure I was as far away from the edge as possible. Here’s why.
When I was seven years old, I went to my first ever swimming lesson. I was as excited as any other child in the class. Once we were all in the pool, we were instructed to walk to the other side of the width. Easy, right? I got halfway across when I suddenly lost my footing and went under. I tried to get up, but I kept going under. The harder I tried, the worse it got and the bigger the panic. My seven-year-old self became aware that death was coming, with no way of being saved from the grim reaper. No one had noticed I was in trouble. I was going under for the fourth time when I finally found my footing again and managed to stay upright. Now I was crying hard in the middle of the pool. It was only then that the teacher realised something was wrong. The damage had already been done and even though I continued the lessons until I left primary school, with a more sympathetic teacher who gave me extra time, I could not get past the notion that the water would kill me. I wouldn’t even try and swim without floats or inflatable armbands because I was convinced that if I did, I’d sink, drown and ultimately die. Even as I write this, I feel quite sick and I want to cry. It’s as if it happened yesterday.
I had been toying with the idea of learning to swim again and conquering my fear for some time, but I’d always put it off. The real tragedy of this story is I’d always imagined myself swimming brilliantly. Maybe like Patrick Duffy in The Man From Atlantis. But I knew my reality was as far away from that fantasy as the dark side of the Moon and it gave me a heavy heart.
Mind you, I also imagine dancing on skates like Gene Kelly in It’s Always Fair Weather, but if you saw me on my inline skates, you’d realise I have a far better chance of landing on Mars. But I digress. The universe must have heard me because I came across an advert for a course of six swimming lessons for free in a local paper. I applied online, received a call two months later and last Thursday found myself poolside, being introduced to the instructor who was a perky Aussie (as if there’s any other). When I told her I was nervous, she snapped, “Don’t be silly.” in her perky Aussie way. I was not impressed. I gave her the biggest skunk eye to no effect, hermetically sealed as she was in her perky bubble. I decided to not let it get to me and proceed with the lesson, but I had also decided that if this was how it was going to be for the next six weeks, then I’m gone. You won’t see me for dust. There were three other people with me, including a Chinese girl who said she was a little afraid of the water. It was great to hear I wasn’t alone. She became my new water phobic best friend – in my head, at least. The teaching pool has a movable floor, so it can be as deep or as shallow as required. This may be how all pools operate now, but I thought it was super cool.
The first thing she got us to do was to put our faces in the water and blow bubbles: “As long as you exhale, you won’t swallow any water and it won’t get up your nose,” she said. My face was in the water the longest, apparently. I was cock-a-hoop – piece of piss! Next, she threw in some brightly coloured rings in front of us that sank to the bottom. She then asked us to pick up the rings, which meant going underwater. Now, I know what happens when you’re underwater – and it’s not good. Seven-year-old Pie was now starting to panic. I gave her a look that said: “Are you taking the piss, bird?” She was not. As the others dived in and picked up their ring with confidence, including the Chinese girl, whom I had now decided was a liar and no longer my water phobic friend; I just looked at the ring at the bottom of the pool. The longer and harder I looked, the sicker I felt. Eventually I looked up and told perky Aussie I couldn’t do it. She asked me why not and what I was feeling at that moment. I told her I couldn’t go underwater because memories of my trauma were coming up. I then burst into tears. She gave me a pep talk, outlining that now she knows what she’s dealing with, she can help me more effectively. She knows she can get me to swim. At this point, I could’ve finished the session, gone home and not returned, because it really was painful. But I knew by taking this step it would bring up my fears – and I have to deal with them if I’m going to win. I can’t yet prove it, ladies and gentlemen, but I do believe that if a fear is conquered, many doors open, some unexpected. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Once I learn to swim, I’ll be able to go to public pools with confidence and sample such old school delights as verucas, dive-bombers and the odd floating log.
Bring it on!