So Alive

I have a whole new level of respect for 13 year old me. Yes she had hiccuping health, and was blissfully unaware that she was going to end up hospitalised for months and months at a time, but I’m pretty amazed at what she was capable of in terms of physical activity. I’m impressed because today 20 year old me got into a 25m pool for the first time in years, to attempt to swim. And she struggled, and she hurt in ways swimming had never hurt before, and she was pathetic, but hey, I SWAM. FINALLY, I SWAM AGAIN.

Processed with MOLDIV

Processed with MOLDIV
SUCH A BORING PICTURE BUT IT MEANS SO MUCH TO ME! Swimming bag, goggles, and Bob Jr. who was not supposed to be in the photo, but from whom I had just disconnected myself in order to be able to swim, and so here he is.

 

I am on top of the world. 

Feeling like a hero, but I can’t fly
No, you never crash if you don’t try
Took it to the edge, now I know why
Never gonna live if you’re too scared to die” –
Goo Goo Dolls, So Alive

Swimming was always something that was so effortless to me. But I gave it up. I had to. Eventually I couldn’t breathe while I was swimming and would feel like I was drowning without having inhaled any water… And so as I grew older, I never got the opportunity to push myself until I couldn’t lift my arm, until my whole body was searing and screaming at an effort it wasn’t used to… And prior to that, when I was 12-13, my body was used to the effort. I ran, I swam, I sailed, I mountain biked for miles, I played on our trampoline… I was that person who could get into a pool and swim laps for hours without stopping and still be faster than the adults. It didn’t hurt, I was out of breath but not uncomfortably. And I never realised how impressive it was that a body could do that. I never realised how much effort it took to swim. Until today.

I didn’t think I’d manage a length, given the fact that walking 1/4 of a mile makes my heart freak out so much I almost pass out and then have to sleep for hours (but hey I CAN  WALK 1/4 OF A MILE AGAIN NOW WHICH MEANS GOODBY WINSTON WHEELCHAIR CAN WE ALL JUST PAUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE HOW GREAT IT IS THAT I CAN WALK MY DOG AGAIN?! Who cares if it’s short lived, I’m living now, today, not in the future… And right now, I can walk a little way even if I pay a huge price). I told myself I would do gentle swimming. My brother and nephew were messing around in the rapids and on the slides, and were nowhere near the fitness pool. I was alone, just me and the lane ropes and one other person in the fastest lane (yeah, you knew I wasn’t going to do gentle swimming, come on, it’s me. That intention did not go to plan).

I had underestimated how great it feels to swim. I kicked off of the wall and the water rushed past me and I was instantly home, suddenly back before my health dragged me under (pun intended). I started with freestyle at a pace that I thought was gentle and slow. I had to stop after one length. Skippy (my heart) was in shock at the sudden expectation of him. I’d taken it easy in comparison to what I’d been able to do when I was 12, but I was so out of breath you’ve thought I’d just sprinted 200m at race pace. I switched to breast stroke, did another length, and had to stop for another two minutes before I was in a fit state to swim again. But I was lost in the moment. It was difficult for me to accept that my best was so far below my 12 year old self’s average. My brain still expected the same level of performance and struggled to accept that I was no longer capable of that. But I wanted to get as close as I could. I has surpassed my own expectations and managed to swim a length, and I was kind of curious as to how far my body would go. And so I pushed it. My “easy” breaststroke was faster than the other person’s front crawl (when I say easy, I mean it would have been for 12 year old me, but killed the 20 year old version).

I ended up pushing myself until I was doing one length in 20 seconds. This is an appalling pace, and it was almost cringeworthy for me. I was back in the mode of a training session, where we used to swim back to back lengths and do 1,500 metres just in the warm up. It took me 2.5 hours to do 52 lengths. I spent so long sat at the end of the pool. About 20 lengths in I should have stopped. My muscles were searing. As I got to the deep end, I felt a pop in one of my hamstring tendons, and a ridiculously loud cracking sound travelled through the water. It hurt a stupid amount. Years of swimming and I never hurt my knees or my legs. To top it all off, it was my right leg, which already has a pulled/ ever so slightly torn hamstring much higher up, and a very grumpy patellar tendon. I stopped kicking and swam to the end of the pool, where I stopped to assess the damage. “Ah, was that cracking noise your hamstring?” The man who I’d been swimming behind paused on his next lap and nodded towards the leg I was holding. “I’d know that sound anywhere trust me, something’s torn.” He said in response to my confused look. It didn’t hurt so much when I stopped swimming, so I kicked off to swim again, came to do breast stroke kick and… The most ridiculous pain, and the weird popping sensation again (only much milder this time).

My arms and shoulders, even my wrists were sore and aching to the point where I could barely lift my arm out of the water when I switched to freestyle to try to finish that lap of the pool. But pain wasn’t going to stop me. I had no intention of stopping swimming until I was physically unable to do so and in my mind the only muscle that would bring that about was my heart. And I wasn’t even listening to Skippy. My heart rate after one length was well over 200. It was so fast that I counted 112 beats in 25 seconds and then lost count. There was an aching in my chest, but the pain of my newly messed up tendon thankfully shut up the crushing ache spreading out to my shoulder, and so I pushed on.

I stopped for a long time between laps. This gave me time to watch the swimming lessons taking place in the end lane. And that was what nearly broke my heart because I saw the sweetest thing. There was one swimming teacher in his late twenties (happened to be very attractive) who was just amazing. There was a little boy in a wheelchair. He can have been now more than six or seven years old, and he didn’t have enough muscle tone to support himself. The swimming teacher took his top off, walked over to the little boy in his wheelchair, and picked him up as if her were his own child. They both broke into giant grins, and this little boy just hung limp and like a rag doll, so light the swimming teacher could carry him with one arm. The swimming teacher climbed into the pool and let the little boy float on his back and started dragging him around in the water and helping him do flips and just playing around in the water while his mum watched. The little boy laughed and cried out, and the swim teacher kept having to take him over to the side of the pool and lay him on his stomach and rub his back while he choked, but he even did that so affectionately I was blown away. He put the little boy on his hands and knees, and the boy’s legs shook uncontrollably and couldn’t hold his weight, but he threw himself into the water towards the swimming teacher, who took hold of him and lifted him above his head smiling. It was so lovely to watch the two of them together, to see what this swimming teacher had done for a boy who on land was stuck in a chair. And it also made me think well if he can swim, I’m going to swim. 

I told myself I’d stop at 30 laps. Then 40 (by which point I could hardly move, and had gone a little blue because Skippy was freaking out, but he was only skipping the occasional few beats so I decided he would just deal with it). Then 50. Then 100. I gritted my teeth through the pain (and believe me, by this stage there was a lot of it). My tendon kept having the occasional twinge, so I mostly swam with my right leg training behind me. On my 52nd lap, I started to swim breast stroke, kicking with just one leg. Halfway through the length, I decided to kick with my right leg too, because it hurt to keep instinctively trying to do breast stroke kick with a straight leg. This was a mistake. Another crack shot through the water like a gunshot and that time I knew it wasn’t good. I stopped at the end of the pool, my fingertips blue and feet blue, my lips tingling, my heart beating too fast to count… And it was all so worth it. I stayed there for ten minutes before my heart could deal with me standing up on dry land. I hobbled to find my brother and nephew, my semitendinosus tendon screaming at me whenever I moved my leg in a certain way. My body hated me. For two and a half hours at me it had been screaming at me NOPE, and I had spent just as long screaming back SHUT UP YOU’VE HELD ME BACK FOR TOO LONG. JUST LET ME HAVE THIS ONE SWIM. 

“My body tells me no, but I won’t quit, cause I want more” – Young The Giant, My Body (this song was my anthem all the way through sixth form when I took risk after risk and achieved things nobody ever thought I would, like making it to my exams, and getting into uni…)

I don’t know how I used to swim so far so effortlessly. I don’t know how I used to swim 5km without stopping, or just get in a pool and swim 300 lengths while my family messed about diving to pick things up off the bottom of the pool. I hurt. I ached all over afterwards – my abs, my thighs, my wrists, my shins… There wasn’t a single bit of me that didn’t ache. The breathlessness never left, although to be honest that was there when I woke up this morning. And to be even more honest, by the time I went to bed last night my mother (who is a midwife) had told me I looked 7 months pregnant (the joys of ascites) and my ankles and shins were really puffy. Either my kidneys were being stupid and retaining water, or my heart was being stupid and not moving my blood (which may have annoyed my kidneys in turn actually). It still didn’t stop me today.

I forgot what swimming is like. I literally think of nothing while I swim. Nothing. It completely cleared my mind, and that was heaven, to have no worries, no stresses, no judgement, nobody talking to me or looking at me (other than the lifeguard, who was extremely concerned at the way I looked). It’s my own little bubble. I’d forgotten how amazing it felt, I just knew it would be amazing. I can see why I used to love it so much (I used to dread training sessions in the end because my heart couldn’t deal with them, but until that stage it was HEAVEN). I can see why my mind has been fixated on the idea of getting back in a pool and swimming again. And it’s all out of my system now. So much frustration and the emotional pressure building inside of me has been released. Because that’s what swimming does. It sets me free. It makes things bearable. It wrecks my body in the process, but that was a sacrifice I had to make today, and I’m glad I did. I don’t think I will be going to swim in the olympic pool every day before lectures, maybe only once a week, I don’t know.

My tendon is currently throbbing (mostly on the inside of my knee and where it inserts into my tibia (shin bone))and my leg is swollen over the top of it; the breathlessness hasn’t left me, I have a wheeze, water keeps catching in my throat as I exhale and crackling as I inhale, and I feel like I’m breathing soup; the ache in my chest will not leave and my heart is still beating at an alarming rate even for it, (my resting hr when sleeping is 100, laying is 110-130, standing is… Higher) and after several hours of 180bpm while slumped on a sofa, I feel completely rubbish and my hands and feet are pale and tingly, and my stomach, which had returned to its normal flat self, is now so distended I look like I’m pregnant with triplets (Seriously, kudos to my former self for being able to run 5km, then do about 5 times the distance I swam in less time than I was in the pool!). I’m a little bit wrecked, basically.

But I’d do it again right now. Because my heart did so much better than I thought it would, and mentally I feel so much better for that swim. Swings and roundabouts, right? I’ve never been so happy to be feel a little pants. I’ve felt so, so much worse and to me this is nothing, this is worth it, this is liveable and I can deal with it. This wasn’t worth it, it was more than worth it.

I was lost, I was in such a bad place, and now, on the day the Olympic Games start, I got back to sport, and sport saved my soul all over again.

And yes, I feel on top of the world, because I overcame something I never thought I would overcome to achieve a dream I thought would never be achieved. I overcame myself. I overcame my health. I took a huge, huge risk and I was an idiot, but it more than paid off.

I feel a little invincible, and also totally not and completely humbled by my incapability all at the same time. But I am happy in a way I had forgotten how to be. I am not a waste of space. All is not lost. I am someone. I am good for something. All those gallons of water were powerless against the fire of determination inside of me. And it has completely changed my outlook on myself and of life.

“Time to raise a flag for the cease fire
Staring down the hole inside me
Looking in the mirror, making peace with the enemy” – 
Goo Goo Dolls, So Alive

Never underestimate the power of a pool.

No way but blue.

Processed with MOLDIV
It’s been so long since I’ve seen a sight like this! Hopefully not too long again!

“Feeling like a hero, but I can’t fly
No, you never crash if you don’t try
Took it to the edge, now I know why
Never gonna live if you’re too scared to die

Gonna disconnect from the hard wire
Time to raise a flag for the cease fire
Staring down the hole inside me
Looking in the mirror, making peace with the enemy

I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to
I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to

Open up my heart like a shotgun
Blinded by the light of a new sun
Get up, get up, get out and get done
For the first time I feel like someone

Breaking down the walls in my own mind
Keeping my faith for the bad times
Get up, get up, stand like a champion
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem

I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to
I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to

I am no man of steel
I have no heart of stone
Don’t tell me how it feels
I’ll find it on my own

Never gonna live if you’re too scared to die

I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to
I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to

I’m so alive, I’m so alive, I’m so alive” – Goo Goo Dolls, So Alive (This is my song for today. I first heard it about a week or two ago and I LOVE IT).

I am sorry this post was so long and dull and awful. But I’m not sorry about all of the stuff it contains.

Like I said, no way but blue (unless you’re swimming in a lake or a river or the sea… In which case the colour is debatable).

 

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