These past few months I have been attending weekly swimming lessons. It’s an adult class, full of panicked folk eager to combat their fears and teach their bodies skills that most people raised in Australia take for granted. When I started I couldn’t swim a single lap, hated putting my head in the water and would pull up short of the deep end every time I struck out for the far end of the pool.
I’m a determined soul. I pushed past the feelings of imminent drowning and now swim several laps in a row and tread for many minutes at a time. I happily swim along with each of my sons in turn, while the other does his own lesson. I resent it when work or other commitments come between me and my opportunities to get in the pool. The calm meditative nature and attention to breathing is all very soothing really, once you get used to it.
Years ago I was given the label of cyclothymia – cyclical variations in mood, a bit like having bipolar disorder, only milder (and apparently unrelated). I used only to recognise the down swings and be fearful of them. The times when I felt really well and productive went unnoticed – or perhaps were not freely expressed during my previous relationship and periods of very intense work. I was frightened of these moods and what they might mean for my health. I’ve been working at managing them for many years, gaining skills to cope but powerless to alter the biological ebb and flow.
Now that I’ve learned to swim, I can bob on top of the moody ocean, rather than be crushed on the rocks on the foreshore.
learning to swim
in deep water waves reach
giant continuous sinusoids
smooth peaks and deep broad troughs
over which a swimmer
might bob oblivious
to the forces shaping
her gently exhilarating ride
as the waves approach the shallows
they grow taller still
towering steep and jagged
the sea bed drags at their base
tops racing away in chaos
their arcs crumble to mayhem
swimmer tossed breathless and gasping
lucky if she arrives battered on the shore
I’ve been learning to swim these ocean moods
finding courage to brave deep water
yet all this time
it was the shallows I should have feared