I don’t want to be afraid of water anymore. I love the ocean and one day want to explore it. I didn’t want to sit around and waste my prime years, so I decided to start learning to swim at 25.
Growing up in Hong Kong and not knowing how to swim almost sounds like a paradox. We are blessed with some really pristine beaches and there are swimming pools in every nook and cranny. So why didn’t I learn to swim sooner? Anxiety. This year, I decided to step out and do something for myself. I’ve decided to spend my spare time learning to swim at 25.
A little throwback…
Growing up, I was terrified of the water. I loathed going to the beach and it got worse tenfold when the 2004 tsunami happened. I’d get paranoid that the waves were getting larger and bigger (but c’mon this is HK we’re talking about!) and my mind was never at ease, even at the beach where people go to relax!
Much of why I was so entwined in fear was due to anxiety and the fear of death and drowning in the deep sea – yes, I was intense as a kid. Not that I’ve had near-death experiences in water, I just avoided it altogether. This may sound crazy but I even made a hand shield every time I took a shower as a kid, to avoid water getting into my eyes (don’t even get me started)
So yes, water and I were off to a rough start.
What made me go from hydrophobic to hydrophilic?
In short, many many reasons. In long, my friends, endlessly watching nature documentaries, and the feeling of letting loose. Most of my friends knew how to swim and seeing them have a ton of fun in water made me feel left behind and it sucked.
But I guess the real turning point was David Attenborough’s documentaries (amongst others) – I developed a profound love for sea-animals and started feeling an itch to go underwater one day. When watching the documentaries, I’d picture myself being one with water and getting up close to sea creatures.
To brush off my hydrophobia, I did a wee bit of practice – I’d slowly go a little farther from the shore and it felt uplifting to not think about the worst-case scenario. It was calming to feel the water and sometimes I didn’t want to get out of it, then again I didn’t want to go in any deeper because I didn’t know how to swim.
Why I signed up for swimming class
I guess it was this realisation that I had turned 25 and I was missing out on one very crucial life skill. So I decided to set a goal for myself: to work on as many life skills as I can before turning 30. I’m not trying to say age or time should define how we live life but setting a timed goal sure is a driving force. So I got Googling and found an adult swimming class just a couple minutes away from my home, and I signed up for a trial class before my anxiety got the better of me.
First lesson jitters!
I felt like I had outdone myself by merely signing up when the real challenge was up ahead. I was becoming increasingly nervous about being in water that I even had mild nightmares a couple nights before my first lesson. My palms would get sweaty just thinking about it. Oh no, what had I done to myself?
I had a good month’s time to brace myself for my first swimming lesson and yet, the day before I was nagging my sister with all sorts of questions. Best believe that I asked her if I’d drown in a swimming pool, but my sister is an understanding soul, she assured me that I will be fine and she even came along with me for moral support (love you, sis!)
If I’m being honest, I was nervous before my second lesson as well but it was definitely better than the first. When I got changed into my swimwear, I felt even more self-conscious than usual. I was so judgmental of myself – will people notice my body fats and wide hips? Will people laugh at me for struggling to kick high enough in water? Will I lag behind in class?
Every time I heard laughter, I’d get paranoid that people were laughing at me. Every time I saw little children swimming with their parents, I’d feel a little bit of shame. This is when I’d train my mind to shift to myself and myself only. That I am learning to swim for myself, not for anyone else. I’d shift all my energy to improving my skills rather than dwell in daunting thoughts. Plus, when I’m in the water, it feels like my surroundings don’t matter, I just feel the water against my skin and let loose bit by bit.
What has changed since (and what hasn’t!)
I felt ecstatic to feel my body float and my coaches were very understanding of my fear of water. Keeping my head underwater for five seconds and not thinking about death and drowning made me feel euphoric. I was comfortable in water. I was happy in water. I felt a little safe even. My anxiety didn’t shoot up the sky or anything, it was still there to remind me it’s there. My body is naturally stiff and tense, so every time I tried to float without holding the rails I’d sink. Loosen up a little! I am trying and I’ll keep trying!
With repeated practice, I have so far managed to float without holding on to anything. I started by clinging on to floaties and asking my coach to guide me but you can’t live a life depending on others so I pushed myself to overcome my fears and go for it. I didn’t think about drowning (it’s a beginner’s pool!) Plus, the fact that my whole head was immersed in water didn’t scare me. I still suck at kicking though but one step at a time, slow and steady wins the race.
My fear of water hasn’t completely resolved, I am still very much afraid of the deep, endless ocean but I’m confident I’ll slowly come to terms with it. My body is very much tensed up all the time but I’m patient enough with myself to not give up on swimming.
No, I can’t swim just yet but it’s all this effort I’ve put into taking the first strokes that has made me proud of myself. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for being brave to do something we’ve always wanted to do. So pat yourself on the back for every little achievement you’ve done.