A New Fear

I have been a swimmer for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories that I have is of me taking swimming lessons in the baby pool at our swim club. Following that I spent years on swim team and also just playing in the pool. Many times you couldn’t get me out. I’d swim all day.

I had a respect for the water of course but I was never hesitant to be in or on the water. I spent hours riding waves with my dad and friends.

In the last ten years I stopped going into the ocean as much -the fear then was stepping on icky things. I was more wary of the currents and undertow. Probably because I had little Kids and even if they had ease in the water the fear of your child getting pulled out into the deep looms large for most parents I imagine.

I still had a love of pools if they weren’t too crowded (that’s a germ thing-yes I got more leery of the humanity in a pool as I’ve aged and well it grosses me out if there are tons of people swimming in a small enclosed body I water no matter how much chlorine is dumped in).

I love the water and I really love being near or in the water. We have a cottage just steps from a Bay. But I now have a fear of deeper water.

I was out on the bay the other day on my kayak. Kevin was along on his kayak. It was a chilly day. About 55 degrees. I’m a new kayaker. I got a boat with pedals as I can’t use my arm to paddle because Of my issues with nerve damage and pain. I was thrilled when I got the kayak. I motored around last summer and if the bay was a little choppy I found myself feeling somewhat nervous. I am no longer sure of myself as a swimmer. I can’t really swim which because of my limited use of my arms but it really didn’t seem to be a huge issue last summer because the Bay isn’t really deep and the water was warm. But the other day the water was cold and seemed deeper and it was choppy. I had wetsuit bottoms on but just a jacket and hat on. And I was wearing boots. Wellington’s. Maybe not the best choice.

While on the water as I was traversing some choppy conditions I felt myself panicking. A full out freak out was just on the edge of my brain. I kept picturing myself falling off the kayak. Or it tipping. Me sinking as my boots filled and my coat became heavy. I feel the fear now as I write this.

I had a flotation device but not on me – it was secured on the back of the kayak. I tried to reach behind me to grab but my limited range of motion and the rocking of the kayak made it impossible for me to reach it. That was a rookie mistake not to have put it in.

I told my husband I was feeling very scared. Kevin told me to take deep breaths and as I did I felt myself regain control of my thoughts. The choppy water wasn’t really that bad. The boat wasn’t really in severe danger of tipping. I tried to enjoy what I was doing and concentrate on the beauty. I’ve lost the ability of being able to do a number of things since my nerve damage became so bad and kayaking gave me the sense of freedom that I’d been craving. I didn’t want to lose that to fear.

We ended the journey on a good note. I was calmer but I had a wake up call. I’ve definitely lost my confidence that I could save myself if I got into trouble. I’ve never felt this way before. It made me mad. Just one more thing that had been taken away because of my limitation and because my body is weaker because of being mostly bedridden this last year.

But anger won’t solve anything. I’m a problem solver by nature. So moving forward I need to figure out how I can feel less fearful in and on the water.

Over last summer when I first went out to sit on the beach at the ocean I walked up to the waters edge and watched the waves roll in and I realized even then that I was very leery about even attempting to wade in to my knees and not for fear of stepping on something icky –it was fear I couldn’t even get up if I fell into the shallow but wavy water. As a result of this I decided to head to the neighborhood pool and allow myself to ease into a better comfort with the water. During the first visit to the pool I ended up in the deep end with a swim noodle and I was able to ditch that after a time and then proceeded to tread the water and I practiced floating. It isn’t easy to tread water with one arm but it’s doable. But this pool visit gave me confidence to venture into the ocean at least up to my knees or hips. And subsequent visits continued to help my confidence. I also worked on leg strength in the gym when I felt ok.

So why the panic the other day?

Well I’ve had another surgery since summer. Just four weeks ago. I haven’t been allowed to do much and maybe kayaking wasn’t a good idea. Maybe I felt vulnerable. I’m definitely weaker. It doesn’t take long to weaken when your on restrictions to not work out or do too much physically. And I think the cold water scared me. Cold water can be paralyzing. But most of all my biggest obstacle that day was my own mind getting the best of me.

I am not an “I can’t” person but over the last few years I’ve said that more times than I care to admit. I want to be strong again! Mind and body. It’s so frustrating to try to get stronger only to be met with Pain as a result. But I’m going to try to figure this out. I’m not likely to kayak anymore this year. It’s getting too cold. I plan to be in some type of workout program. We have a gym in our barn so I have no excuse to at least try. And somehow I have to get into a pool. We have some indoor pools nearby. (Maybe they won’t be too crowded!).

I just want to feel strong again. I still deal with pain and that’s limiting -I have had three surgeries in the last year to try to get rid of it and it’s much better -but there may always be some pain I have to figure this out despite that. It can be done. I know it.

Next spring when I break out the kayak again I want to feel I could cross the bay (it’s a mile). I may not ever try it but I want to feel like I could. I want to no be afraid. I want to be strong.

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