Water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and comprises 60% of a human’s body. Like air, shelter and food, it’s one of the basic needs necessary for our survival. Why had I been so afraid of a basic need?
Growing up in mountainous North Idaho with its many rivers, creeks and lakes, I was never far from water and have always been intrigued with water and fish environments. Watching the commonest perch or bluegills in slack water, trout in flowing streams, or the salmon at spawning time going up-river fascinates me. My father was an avid lake fisherman and when I was very young, I’d peer over the side of the boat as we trolled Lake Pend O’Reille hoping to catch glimpses of their silvery forms or spot a school swimming near shore. Sometimes I’d curl up in the bow and lie so I could hear the water splash the boat’s sides as we slowly motored our way around on his favorite fishing routes.
At a young age, I spent time on my belly in the warm shallows chasing minnows but never getting any deeper than my chin. As I grew older, as long as I stayed where my feet could reach the bottom even if meant tiptoeing on a rock, I felt secure. I imagine it was very perplexing for my family when they realized I was afraid of immersing my face in water. Floating on my back, doing a sidestroke, the dog paddle with my head held high, and the back stroke came naturally but never the front crawl and I rarely swam out over my head. I struggled on the edge of panic whenever I got water splashed in the face. Needless to say, I failed waterskiing and after a very painful series of belly flops, my diving career never got off the platform. Even getting my face wet in the shower’s spray caused anxiety. I was okay getting my chin wet but always held my hand over my mouth and nose to insure I could gulp air. Even swim lessons in college didn’t help.
When Michael and I moved to Alaska, the opportunities for swimming were pretty nonexistent what with the waters being super cold and/or often silty from glacial action or murky from the decomposing vegetation off the tundra. Plus exposing my flesh to the ever-present mosquitoes starting in May/June and finishing with the biting black flies or white socks in September was a not even in the realm of a possibility. Since we didn’t have running water at our homestead cabin, convenient showers at the gym in town, or saunas in our log sauna with an occasional spit bath via the basin, kept us clean.
Upon moving back to Idaho, I tried swimming again but made little progress without lifting my head out of water and staying near shore. I truly enjoyed soaking au naturel in the cold water of creeks and lakesides after a long hike which may have been in reaction to having to wear layers of clothes all those years in Alaska for protection from the biting insects!
When we visited Maui, HI, in my late fifties and visited a tide-water pool full of tropical fish, I was smitten and determined to get my full face in the water. Fortunately I had lots of support from Michael and his brother Steven who helped me get the snorkeling gear, identification keys and in finding the perfect lagoon. Once I began paddling with fins and having the ability to safely breathe while trailing after fish, I challenged myself to learn how to do the front crawl without a snorkel and hopefully come to grips with my fear.
Upon moving to the Puna side of the Big Island, southwest of Hilo, we lived in a gated community where green sea turtles hung out in warm, thermal pools along with a wide variety of young tropical fish. It felt akin to swimming in a tropical fish aquarium. But still I felt if I lost my snorkel, I could easily panic. I still preferred having a mask or swim goggles for eye protection.
Once a resident of the Big Island, I got a pass to Kalani Retreat Center near where we lived and availed myself of their outdoor showers, massage therapists and pool. Lilia Cangemi, a Watsu water therapist, mentioned her work in the therapy pool with people who had the same fear as I did. It appears more widespread than I ever believed. After a few sessions with her in the Watsu pool which included a series of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique aka Tapping) exercises to examine the cause of the fear, I hesitantly laid my snorkel aside in the swimming pool and began teaching myself to do the crawl. I can remember the first time I did ten feet. I was ecstatic! Then with each swim, I’d extend the time and length I did the crawl and even began free diving the length of the pool. Through practice, reading books, visualizing, watching swimmers and surfers on the local beaches plus continued tapping to uncover more reasons for water-anxiety issues, I began relaxing.
Michael valued what I was doing and supported me wholeheartedly making sure I had the gear, got to my swimming destinations plus being a watchful companion.
I finally got serious enough to try the public pool in Pahoa and found the most delightful times were when the tropical rains chased everyone else inside, leaving me to witness from underneath the agitation of the water plus having warm rains pelt my body. I continued free diving when the pool wasn’t too crowded building up my gutsiness and stamina.
My most challenging times came at the beaches where it was just the sea and I. For these times I wore a snorkel, mask and fins but I no longer had a fear that if I lost them, I’d immediately falter and panic. And they gave me some extra courage in case there were sharks about and I had to hasten a retreat.
My last confidence test came shortly before we left the islands when my wonderful soul-sister Dawn took me out into deeper water to watch the fish and hopefully conjure up a few dolphins. Right before we left sight of the ocean floor, a large parrot fish appeared, its white beak-like mouth standing in stark contrast to its blue, neon-netted coloration. I just stared, afraid to make any movement to disturb it. Too quickly it turned back and swam out of sight. Swimming farther out, I encountered really deep water, the abyss to me, and being it was the west side, indeed, the abyss was a relevant event! Speared by the sun’s rays, it emitted an incredible, mesmerizing blue light.
Dawn’s a triathlete and swims almost daily along the Kona Coast so I could trust I was in good hands. Motioning me to join her, she undulated and breached like the humpback whales and then swam deep, spiraling by me before poking up, displaying a broad smile, clearly loving the watery environment.
Time passed and it wasn’t until Dawn mentioned it might a good time to head into shore that I realized I was getting tired. Upon looking how far we’d ventured out I wondered it I could, indeed, swim back. Fortunately, salt water being very buoyant, made the swim casual but I was tuckered from overall excitement and began getting chilly. Michael had towels to dry off and water to drink when we got to shore and an attentive ear as we filled him in with all the sights.
Now not everyone has access to the therapy Watsu pools to aid them in getting over a fear of water, but I attribute my success with the fact I had a goal, found a way to deal with it and then practiced until I felt comfortable. EFT energy medicine helped me not only with my swimming skills, but I’ve used it for many other anxiety concerns. It is definitely a rather unobtrusive go-to tool I recommend. Since returning to the mainland, I don’t swim in the public pools because of chlorine issues, but I’m still very comfortable getting my face wet in the shower and even if I get water up my nose, I don’t panic…whew!
“Water was a key to opening the door to creativity!” ~ A Wondrous Journey
Until we meet again, may we find our pathways safe and filled with beauty.