Putting My Head Under Water
I will no longer keep my head above water.
"What is going on here," you might wonder, "does this mean Isabell is loosing it - she can't keep up with her life anymore?"
Not at all....
I have decided to wo-man up and put my head under water: finally learning how to master the freestyle/front crawl stroke. It turns out that swimming freestyle is really hard to do while keeping your head above water. If you swim, try it - it's miserable.
"Wait a minute," you might wonder. "Are you telling me you can't swim?"
Actually, I can swim, but only in the past four or so years have I been able to muster up the courage to experiment with letting water rise above my chin line while in the pool, and it wasn't easy.
You see, when others dreamed of snorkeling and the peaceful environs of the underwater world, imagining myself under water would make my heart rate go up.
When I was a young child, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons, some time before or around 1st grade. I just remember always feeling extremely uncomfortable with my head below water. My ears would hurt, I would loose all sense of direction, and every time, that dreaded feeling of "OMG - I AM DROWNING!!!" became louder and louder in my head.
Despite all that, I somehow mastered the breaststroke, a stroke that can be executed rather easily without your head being under water. I also became proficient in the backstroke, as that movement didn't require my face to be submerged in the water. So in a way, yes, I can swim, but I would always have a simmering feeling of dread in my stomach when I entered the water, knowing that if by accident, my head would go below the water, doom and dread would descend upon me. Hey, I am not exaggerating here! The thought of my head submerged under water was beyond uncomfortable, bordering on trauma inducing.
It turns out, I am not alone in my difficulty with swimming. Based on a 2016 survey by the Red Cross, only about 56 percent of Americans can pass a test devised of five core swimming skills, and on average, 10 people a day die because they drown (Check out this Time article for all the background information).
As an adult in my early 30s, I decided it was time to face that fear. It all started with an group adult swimming class I took more than 10 years ago at my alma mater the University of Maryland, College Park. One of the swimming teachers recommended to wear ear plugs while swimming. I tried this out for a few lessons, and it actually worked, but I just couldn't get over the fear and panic I felt when approaching the pool for a lesson.
When I met my husband David, who loves the water and is a great swimmer, he seemed incredulous when I told him about my dread of being under water - well, until he saw me in the pool, trying to swim with my head under water (which I was doing to show off and impress him - oh, the foibles of youth!). It didn't take me long to have a semi-emotional breakdown, and I think he realized how serious I had been when describing to him my lifelong fear of being under water.
But I also experienced my first breakthrough at that time. Somehow, with the help of goggles, blue earplugs (that I still wear), and David beside me, who, I knew, would not let me drown, I was able to start swimming the breaststroke with my head properly submerged under water. I started off with 1-2 laps doing that, taking breaks whenever I felt that familiar sense of dread bubble up - which it did, like clockwork. But with time, that dread started to get less and less powerful.
And don't you know - with practice and loads of inner self talk that I could not possibly drown in a public swimming pool with life guards, I added lap after lap, steadying my stroke, finding my rhythm going in out and out of water. And in all of that, I found an unparalleled piece in moving steadily up an down the pool.
But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't find that peace when trying to do freestyle.
I joke around that I used to look like I was drowning when attempting to do freestyle - which has probably some truth to it because that is exactly how I felt. I just couldn't put all of the movement that goes in to the freestyle stroke together: the arms, the head, the side-to-side barrel movement, the leg kicking - and dare I mention the breathing?
So for the past four years, I would go swimming once to twice a week for a few weeks here and there, never sustaining a continued practice. I would always start feeling disencouraged when, in my swimming induced euphoria, I would try freestyle again, and I would invariably fail - every time.
This might have continued for the remainder of my life, but here is what happened:
I took a job at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
"Wait a minute, what does that have to do with swimming," you might ask, rightfully.
Well, it's simple. I took a job at UMB, which put me in a building directly under our gym's swimming pool. This must be a sign, I thought.
Again, I started up my usual swimming routine, taking solace in the fact that the breaststroke and the occasional backstroke would give me a solid workout. And then, like all the times before, I tried freestyle again - and again, I grew frustrated.
But I did one thing differently - I started talking about my frustration, and one of my colleagues at UMB told me that she had struggled with this her whole life as well. A few years ago, she said, she just had enough and started, stroke by stroke, to master the beast of freestyle. She didn't give up, like I did all the times before. She pushed through and persevered - and, as she said, if she could do it, so could I.
How could I argue with that?
With renewed resolve, I continued my foray into the land of freestyle once more. This time, though, I knew I needed more than just perseverance and grit - I actually signed up for swimming lessons.
It took a little over a month before a swimming instructor became available, but I knew that eventually, somebody would contact me. This strengthened my new-found resolve to continue working on my freestyle on my own, and so I did. And for the first time, I could sense a glimmer of hope.
When my swimming instructor Claire finally contacted me, and we set up our first lesson, I almost choked and cancelled the whole thing. All these years, actually decades of not feeling that I could ever glide through water with seeming grace and alacrity made me choke in fear and doubt.
But my colleague's voice kept ringing in my head: "If I can do it, so can you."
It is hard to pinpoint moments that really impact the course of your life, but that conversation surely was one for me.
So, two lessons down, three more to go, I am happy to report that I no longer feel that I am dying of cardiovascular exhaustion after half a lap of freestyle and that I can actually move up and down the lane with the kickboard, even though it is a pretty slow progression.
In today's lesson, Claire had me use a pool noddle while practicing, and for the first time EVER IN MY LIFE did I feel, for a brief moment, a level of effortlessness that I would see in others freestyling up and down the pool, but that I didn't dare dream about for myself.
So the morale of the story: Don't give up on ding something that you don't think you can do it. If I can do it so can you!
10/18/2019 08:25:41 pm
We all need to put our head underwater at times. This is a strange phrase to say, but it is the truth. There are times when we need to make it difficult for us, and that is just life. Not everything is going to figure itself out. It is also bad to think that your life will just remain good forever. No matter who you are, you are going to have to roll with the punches every now and then.
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