Never swim alone

Well, yesterday I went for my first swim in months.  It didn’t feel like it used to. Where I was strong, I am weak.  All the muscles that used to work together are out of tune and awkward sounding. All the movements that used to blend together jar and jangle.  And today I ached all over and slept too much.  But I am still happier than I was the day before yesterday, because yesterday, I went for my first swim in months.

Even before injury and illness and the seasons of body and earth kept me from the pool, I was not a good swimmer. When I am at my best, strongest and most consistent, I am neither fast nor powerful, my  form is bad, I don’t know how to whip kick, I can’t front crawl anymore because I can’t seem to coordinate my breathing– it makes me gag, like going to the dentist does.  So I slowly make my way from one end of the pool to another– breast stroke, side stroke, back stroke without the arms. I just kick, not even using a flutter board. I swim for 40 minutes, if you can call it swimming.

People who don’t know what a good swimmer really can do, think I am a good swimmer. But compared to almost anyone who swims regularly, I am almost ridiculous. I swallow water, end up stopping and coughing and gagging almost every occasion I am in the water, at least once.

One day I was in the lane next to the very slowest lane. A tall young guy got in the slow lane and started swimming. it wasn’t swimming really… it was like he was a living submarine. He kicked once or twice,  and travelled  the length of the pool without coming up for air. I was in awe, because I had never seen anyone swim that way. I imagined he might be an Olympic athlete visiting from some other country because I never saw him there again.

If I compared myself to people who are good swimmers, never mind giants of towering greatness like that guy was, I couldn’t set foot in the pool.  But I don’t, anymore. No matter how uninspired and unaccomplished a swimmer I am, I love the water. I feel at home there, as much as I feel at home anywhere.  Swimming gives order to my body and my mind and my life.  Weirdly, it gives me hope. I think that’s because it strengthens me, and when I feel strong and capable, I feel like  other things don’t matter, because I know I can survive on my own strength if i have to.

I am not sure where desire to feel I can survive came from, because I have been incredibly lucky not to have suffered lack of money or family support or to have been hurt by anyone in a way that would make me preoccupied with survival.  The only person I have had to fight for survival against is my self.

I grew up like so many perfectionistic kids, anxious about a lot of things and tortured, like so many women, by hatred of my own body. But at the same time as I wanted to be a twig and a waif, I wanted to be able to outrun or if necessary outkick, punch and bite  anyone who wanted to do me harm.  It may be because I did a lot of walking by myself, but more likely it was because I had hermetically sealed myself off from almost everyone, psychologically.

I still find it hard to be a human being. When I am ill, I am very, very ill and it always comes down to whether or not I am too afraid to die or not. No question about wanting to live, just fear of the pain of dying and what comes after.  I argue  with myself. I try to think my way out of hopelessness. Nothing works. I make a plan.  I clean up my place, wear the clothes I want to be found in, and go somewhere, but I don’t go through with it. Last time I made it to the hotel desk to rent  a room, so no one would find me for a while. But in the end, I think I have too much fear  in me, at bottom, even at my darkest, to go through with it.

I guess this fear has saved me, and  drives me to do a lot of things, including swimming. But so does love. I love swimming. I am afraid of people but I love them too. I am afraid of writing, but I love it. I am afraid of having nothing but myself to depend on, but I am still aiming for that.

I love the idea of owning nothing but what I can carry on my back, like a turtle and being strong and healthy and capable enough to survive anywhere. But I know somehow I am just trying to get free of myself and the way to do that is not by swimming or writing or any of the other things I do. I know what I have to do. It’s not a secret. And it doesn’t involve running away or kicking and biting.

It doesn’t exclude swimming and writing though. It encompasses them. It smiles when I do things I love in the service of my own health and happiness. It likes joy, it is abundant and forgiving and helpful. It is what I’m swimming in and for and toward.

5 thoughts on “Never swim alone

  1. I enjoyed the open first voice of this emmesly…especially the common desire to swim. It’s been at least four years and the struggle to get back to the pool to face my insecurities have been held back by illness, financial, travel and chlorine sensitivities. With that I have recently resolved all my challenges only now to follow through. I did mention insecurities, but I know it’s not with the swimming dexterity for I will also take the slow lane but as your fellow swimmer submarine. I surmise this enjoyable skill is because I am a daughter of a retired Deep Sea Diver Navy Veteran. ;-)

      • Not as much as I would like and on so many levels…I prefer keyboard typing than paper and my computer is unconscious yet still breathing and those detexties I don’t process unless I want to teach it to swim. Haha

  2. ANNA… I COULD NEVER SWIM, BUT I WOULD SPLASH AND RUN AND WHATEVER WITHOUT SWIMMING… I WATCHED AS OTHERS HAD ALOT OF FUN, I ENJOYED WATCHING… UNTIL ONE DAY MY THREE GIRLS BOUGHT A GIFT CERTIFICATE AT THE AGE OF 57 TO LEARN HOW TO SWIM, AT THE SPORTPLEX… I NEVER KNEW THE THRILL OF SWIMMING IN A 14FOOT POOL, ALL BY MYSELF… WHAT A NICE FEELING, THAT I MISSED ALL THESE YEARS… AS A CHILD I WAS ALWAYS IN THE WATER, AND IF ANYONE WANTED TO KNOW WHERE I WAS…. I WAS IN THE WATER… UP TO MY NECK.. BUT A FEAR OF DEEP WATER.. TILL I LEARNED HOW TO SWIM… TODAY I SWIM, AND ITS JUST TO DO MY OWN THING… I LOVE FLOATING ON MY BACK.. AND SPLASHING, OR MAYBE TRY TO TO JUST DO WHAT I FEEL… AND THATS FUN, AND IT DOESNT HAVE TO BE PERFECT.. AND I FIND WE ALL HAVE A TALENT… AND THAT PERSON YOU SAW.. GLIDING IN THE WATER.. WITHOUT EFFORT, IS HIS GIFT.. YOU ANNA, HAVE MANY GIFTS … ONE I ADMIRE, IS THE WRITING YOU DO, AND HOW YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF… AND MANY MANY MORE.. YOUR NICE SMILE, KINDNESS.. A PURE BEAUTY… KEEP SWIMMING AND YOU WILL GET THE STRENGTH YOU THINK YOU NEED… WATER IS JUST PLAIN FUN.. DO YOUR OWN THING… HAVE FUN…. AND PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT… ALMOST.. FORGET WHAT OTHER PEOPLE CAN DO, GIVE YOURSELF A CHANCE… LOVE HEARING FROM YOU… ALWAYS.. YOUR FRIEND.. WHITE NOW.. NOT RED… ANNETTE

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