Over the last year I have become a keen swimmer, which is in stark contrast to my childhood self. I didn’t start learning how to swim until I was about seven-years-old, and I was terrified. Looking back now I realise how lucky I was to have a pool at my school, but as I was struggling to stay afloat from one end to the other while my teacher shouted at me, my good fortune was quite far from my mind.
Everything about the experience was horrible; the cold changing rooms, the foot bath, the deep end in which I thought I would drown, and having to stay behind and swim extra lengths because I was rubbish. I love swimming on my back now, looking up at the water reflected on the ceiling and listening to the muffled sounds all around my little cocoon of hat and goggles; but as a child backstroke was accompanied by my teacher walking along the side of the pool holding a large pole, which she allowed me to hold onto, at first, and then she would pull it away and I’d suddenly panic and start to sink as she reminded me to kick, kick, kick! The only positive of all this was the Kit-Kat I’d be given afterwards to restore my flagging energy.
As with all things at school, the children were divided up according to ability, and so I spent most of my time in the slow lane on the right-hand side of the pool for the less able swimmers. Occasionally, if I swam well I’d be moved to the next group, which should have pleased me as the further along I moved the better I was; but I hated this because it took me away from the comfort of the side of the pool. I would even try to sneak back to the slow lane in order to maintain my sense of safety, only to be told off for doing so.
Reflecting on all this has made me realise that much like my frightened younger self who tried to cling to the side of the pool, I have continued to play it safe throughout life. This was also due to shyness, which held me back until my late twenties; in addition to a fear of the unknown and unpredictable. Unlike most young people, I didn’t experiment with drugs, hardly drank alcohol, and never touched a cigarette, which I’m sure many would argue is not necessarily a bad thing (and I’d probably agree with them). However, I don’t have all the ‘stories’ of fun, crazy times with friends, but then that’s also because I didn’t have that many as a teenager and young adult. Fortunately, as I have got older, I have grown in confidence and my life has opened up too, but there is so much I missed out on as a young adult, which is a shame.
That reticence to leave my comfort zone was partly due to the safety of the side of the pool, and my reluctance to let go and bravely swim out into the world and experience it more fully and freely. Instead, I spent many years watching from the side as others lived life to the full. I feel a certain sadness that I missed out on many rite-of-passage experiences in my younger years, but as I now swim happily, improving all the time, I hope that success and increasing confidence in the pool will once again translate into life and enable me to continue to expand and embrace all that life has to offer me without fear.