I shivered slightly as the cold air hit my bare skin. A hint of nervous anticipation wafted down into my stomach and settled comfortably. I followed her through the door and into the humid, humming warmth of the pool room. I surveyed the pool, mentally taking in the size, as memories of deep blue and chlorine returned. She slid into the pool and I followed, finding my own lane and putting on my cap as I went in. The water’s slight warmth was reassuring, comforting almost. It lapped lightly around me, inviting me in. I looked across to where the deep end was. Ghosts of muscle movements moved across my mind. I felt prepared. I knew what was coming. And I was ready. Nervous but excited. I lined my feet up against the wall, inhaled, and pushed off.
The water turned. It resisted, fighting against my body, forcing itself into every orifice. My mind went blank. With every mouthful of water that poured in with each breath, I could taste the panic. The ghosts were just ghosts. My lungs remembered nothing, my heart pounded the same words into my brain over and over again and they lit up my mind. Filled it and pushed everything else out. They screamed ‘You’re drowning. Stop’. I could feel my legs and arms choosing flight instead of fight. I paused in the hope that following the order would save me. My fully submerged legs searched in vain for solid ground. The water around them whispered words of fear that crawled up and sunk into my already fragile mind. I could feel myself shutting down. Using my last reserve of some long-forgotten instinct of self preservation I raised my arms and legs again and fought. I could feel the uselessness of my feet and the clumsy, inefficient motions of my arms. Frustration, disillusion, hopelessness flooded through me. The water blinded me, hitting me in the face every time I tried to take in a breath. My lungs screamed. I stopped kicking and stretched out my hand in a dying effort. The solid concrete under my fingers felt like redemption. I coughed, chlorine pouring out of my mouth and nose, the air that was swallowed rather than inhaled, coming out in spurts.
That was half of my first lap. The remaining half an hour I spent wrestling, less with the water and more with my fear. I tried swimming the regular style for two more half-laps and then switched to the backstroke for another three and a half laps. I cajoled, motivated and threatened, pushing myself in any way I could to do them. I couldn’t understand it. How my legs and arms fought against the water instead of moving with it. And the panic. The pure and sheer panic that engulfed me every time I began my journey across the pool. Where did it come from? When did it slither into that dark corner of my brain where all my other fears are imprisoned?
I felt relief wrapping around me as I got out of the pool. And I hated it. I saw my ineptitude reflected in the concern in her eyes. My heaving breath and my shivering body made me feel so frail. Disgust filled me as I studied the pathetic creature I had become. I found refuge in the hot, safe water that poured out of the shower. But the disgust and disappointment stuck to me, refusing to be rubbed off my skin. The vague scent of chlorine clung to me as I wiped off, mingling with the hint of fear that couldn’t be washed away. At that moment, I hated myself. I hated myself for thinking, with apprehension, about the seemingly endless number of laps I had left to finish before the end of semester. I hated that my heart beat slightly faster every time the image of the blue, lapping water crossed my mind. I hated myself for being so weak. Whether it was worse that she was there is questionable. I don’t know what I would have done if I was alone. But having someone you know seeing you fail so terribly is horrible.
Regardless, I intend to go back and finish my damn laps, if it’s the last thing I do. I will force myself. Push myself. Swallow my fear even if it has me gasping for breath. Having a foot injury, not swimming in more than two years, not having strenuous and continuous exercise in a long time. None of these are excuses I will accept. This makes me feel more like my old self. My old self that forgave others easily but couldn’t forgive herself. The old self that was critical and wanted nothing less than perfection. That put herself down, but defended against the worst of external attacks from other people. The strength against other people that I had has come back to me, and I feel empowered by it. But for the first time, I find myself questioning whether I really want to be like my old self. Being hard on myself, pushing myself, putting myself down, being my own worst enemy. And I know I can’t be both self-confident and protect myself against other people. It’s either the walls and a weak inside or a strong inside that is simultaneously vulnerable in all the worst places.
I guess it’s all a question of consumption.
Would you rather be consumed from the inside out or the outside in?