Like many children, I took swimming lessons in my youth. My parents enrolled my brother and me in a program at one of our local public schools, where we learned various strokes and how to dive. The Girl Scout camp that I attended for several years also had time structured swimming time, so I was fairly comfortable in the water in my younger days.
Somehow, though, all of my swim instructors allowed me to wear nose plugs for those countless lessons. Consequently, I never learned how to regulate my breathing while swimming. Did I care? Hell no! I got to jump in the water and splash around, and sometimes, in spite of my fear of heights, I’d even jump off the high diving board at our community pool.
Of course, my teenage years came along, ending my enjoyment of the water. Enter: vanity. Nerdy teenage girls who are already the frequent subject of mocking do not want to be caught dead in nose plugs. They also start feeling uncomfortable about their body in swimsuits. (And let’s not even talk about the monthly visit from Aunt Irma…)
By the time I turned 20, I didn’t own a swimsuit, and I wouldn’t again for another ten or so years. In fact, I can only recall two times since then that I’ve been in a swimming pool. More importantly, we were not a beach family when I was young. This meant that by the time I started living in a place near the ocean, I was already too afraid to go in, save for the water washing up around my feet and ankles.
I mean, really: a) I would need to wear a swimsuit.* b) I hadn’t tried to swim in years. Those two alone were plenty of reason to avoid. And then throw in: c) There would be unexpected surges of water rushing at me. No, thank you.
I’ll let you guess how displeased I was when I arrived in Darwin for my belated birthday trip, and the friend with whom I was traveling got really excited about the wave pool they’ve created there. And she had brought an extra bikini that I could borrow. (Note: They have a swimming pool with mechanically-created waves because there are sharks, crocodiles, and the world’s most poisonous jellyfish in the ocean there.)
By my last day there, I’d worked up the nerve to give it a try. If I’m completely honest, I managed to talk myself into doing it because I figured it would be a great time to play around with my waterproof camera. And it was – except for the fact that I started walking into the water, panicked because of the waves, got out, and cried.
Yes – cried. I broke down in tears, sitting in the really shallow water that I’m pretty sure they have there for tiny children. I cried, watching how easily everyone else there could go into the water, dive, laugh, and play.
And then I calmed my breathing, got up, and walked in again.
The waves run on 20 minute cycles there with a ten minute break in between, so I had some time to adjust. The first cycle, I practiced bobbing around with the waves. On the break, I tried swimming a little bit, recalling strokes that I’d learned years earlier, getting used to my face being almost under water. During the next break, I began putting my face in the water and exhaling, then submerging myself for photographic experimentation purposes. I even continued that for the next wave cycle.
This fear is something that I won’t be conquering overnight; hence, I’ve titled this post Phase One. Next steps will be going into the actual ocean, and maybe even learning how to swim again. After all, learning to surf has been one of my long-term dreams…
*Look, this one is a really hard thing to talk about, and I’m putting it out there because it is a part of my experience. For me, there’s something about swimsuits in particular that makes me really uncomfortable. I generally like and appreciate my body – hell, I even posed nude for a friend’s photography thesis project a few years ago. However, when it comes to swimsuits – even if they’re not bikinis – I feel exceptionally insecure.
**On August 5, 2012 – my 31st birthday – I committed to taking action every day for the next year of my life. Taking action and facing fear often go hand-in-hand, so I’ve got some two-for-one business happening over here. In this new Monday blog series, I’ll be exploring some of the things that I’m doing to honor this commitment – especially the big fear-conquering ones.