Beautiful blog post written by Lee Chetwynd, Swim & Tonic member and the guy with the awesome stroke, he glides through the water so effortlessly.
I’m thinking about something mundane, perhaps it’s where I used to live. Maybe I still live there, I’m not sure. “Let’s see if I can remember the post code, I just need to take a breath first….Oh. I’m swimming. Yes. I’m definitely swimming. I can’t remember why, I just need to keep going, but yes, I’m definitely swimming…..over there…..in that direction…yonder… I think I’m cold, or hot. Not sure which yet.” A deeper voice comes from the back of my head somewhere. It’s definitely my voice but it’s a bit stern like I’m telling one of my kids off. “This is hypothermia you know.” Consciousness begins to dawn inside my head like the sunrise only nowhere near as warm. It’s definitely time to get out.
So that was me swimming for about two hours in 9-10 degree water snuggled up in a wetsuit with neoprene gloves and socks. After shaking violently for a couple of hours, so violently that I couldn’t hold a mug without spilling my drink (even with two hands), I decided that a channel swim was probably not on the cards.
Fast forward a couple of years and it’s late Monday afternoon. It’s that time of day when my eyelids shut involuntarily and my head jerks violently towards my computer screen with every blinking micro sleep. Coffee no longer does anything except make me need a wee. I’m looking out over the office window. I can see miserable grey skies and the rain is falling at an almost horizontal angle. Then I think about getting into a cold lake and swimming a stupid amount of Kilometres. I shiver. I don’t want to go. I want to snuggle up in front of the telly with a bowl of soup and a crusty roll. I am in a bit of a bind however and it’s entirely of my own making. My youngest son is a boxer and he used to struggle to get out and go training so I came out with this fantastic fatherly advice:
“The times when you least want to go training are the times when you need to go the most”
However good that piece of advice may be, right now I want to invent a time machine so I can go back and punch myself in the face before I say it. Going back home and trying to justify (to myself mostly) why I have not gone swimming is not an option. What sort of example would I be setting? That is precisely why I said it and we are both much better off after that pearl of wisdom. The telly would be rubbish and I’d probably burn my tongue with the soup anyway.
Sometimes I get really anxious before swimming. A visit to the toilet to settle my nervous belly is a common occurrence especially towards the beginning of the season. It doesn’t make sense to me and it makes even less sense to my wife. I imagine anxiety very rarely makes sense to anyone. Getting myself to the lake is the hardest part definitely. I’ve probably made it sound like I don’t enjoy it but nothing could be further from the truth. I love swimming but I suppose I can’t really explain why I enjoy outdoor swimming so much without explaining the nervousness that comes with the thought of getting into open water.
I swam for years in a pool. Up and down continually in perfect safety. The worst thing that could happen to me in a pool is an ear infection. Anything more serious and I’m sure I could drag myself the maximum of 16.25 meters to the nearest side. Failing that, there are lifeguards, fellow swimmers, ambulances and the general safety net of civilisation. I’m probably safer in a swimming pool than I am travelling down a motorway.
When I swim in open water, especially when I swim alone, I have a healthy respect of the danger I could be in and I have to trust in my own judgement and ability to keep myself safe. I choose to put myself into positions where there is nobody to come and save me if I get into trouble. Being alone in an expanse of water strips away the feeling of entitlement to survive that seems to come from being a human in this part of the world. As I bob up and down in the water I feel no more superior to the birds and the fish. I’m far away from all of the hazard signs and safety railings that herd you down the pavement like sheep to the next crossing to wait for the green man. I’m just another creature on this planet.
Overcoming anxiety and trusting in my own strengths and abilities is a massive part of why I swim outdoors. I’d probably consider myself a solitary swimmer. It’s not that I’m anti-social, I enjoy a good chat, but when I’m swimming I zone out. I meditate putting one hand in front of the other continually. I drift off and all the troubles of the day go around in my head until they are compartmentalised and sorted into perspective.
Wherever I find myself, no matter how anxious I may be, It doesn’t matter how deep, isolated, murky or cold, I have to remember that it’s just swimming and I can do that.
Presently my favourite swimming weather is when it’s absolutely pelting it down with rain. I swim feeling the rain on my head and I have to stop when I am as far away from everything I can get. I watch the raindrops pound the water. It’s mesmerising as each drop breaks the surface, taking air down with it that later pops up as a bubble. Meanwhile the surrounding water rushes to fill the gap and then bounces back upwards. It’s fascinating and hypnotic and is just as interesting when viewed from below. I feel so connected to nature, immersed and surrounded by water while more water falls from the skies above me. I find myself smiling as I float vertically watching the rain. This makes me very happy.
In calmer weather, sometimes I slow and elongate my stroke so I can take an extended breath looking across the unbroken water and seeing the reflections of hillsides and trees meeting their real counterparts. I love the turning twilight when the colours are so vivid and vibrant and the clouds are lit from below. It really can be a magical experience.
Swimming in the dark can be amazing too. In the calm, clear water of Dosthill Quarry, looking down at my hands as I float face down in the blackness, I can almost imagine that I am floating in space.
Lee Chetwynd – October 2017
Doodles by the amazing feelgoodinsta – using doodles to ease the pain of her long term health condition: https://www.instagram.com/feelgoodinsta/?hl=en