Growing up was hard for a variety of reasons, my mental and emotional health has been questionable for most of my life, even as a little kid my peers found me unpredictable and annoying, their parents felt I was a bad influence, then I got fat and socially unacceptable to be around so I really struggled to find a place where I felt accepted or ‘good enough’.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first started learning how to swim, between 4 & 6 I think, but I believe lessons began shortly after my mother, who was talking to her friend one day, didn’t notice that I had fallen into the rather deep lake alongside the park we were at.
Luckily I was fished out by a stranger who’d witnessed my failed attempt to show off my not so great balancing skills along the top of the concrete edging and had dived in and pulled me out from the murky depths and deposited me to the relative safety of my shocked mother who was wondering why on earth I was suddenly all wet.
I was left feeling extremely embarrassed and to this day I can’t stand the smell of lake water, but otherwise I was unharmed and my mother promptly enrolled me in swimming lessons.
At some point we realised I had found my niche and for a long time swimming became my outlet, I wasn’t too bad at it either and eventually got accepted into a local squad then as the years passed I was even head hunted into a state squad, we trained several nights during the week, had 5am starts on a Saturday morning and regular competitions. I wasn’t Olympic material, but I often won ribbons and medals and it was the only part of myself I felt truly proud of.
Unfortunately, despite my love of swimming and the regular squad training, as I grew up my penchant for McDonalds as a tasty snack and handy emotional crutch meant I also grew out and my tweenage physique was not exactly flattered by a swimsuit.
While my team mates never made mention of my weight (probably because I was faster than most of them) eventually the teasing from perfect strangers around the pool started and just kept coming, the pool, my place of safety, was no longer a welcoming home away from home and eventually I heard the word ‘whale’ one too many times and humiliated I hung up my goggles for good.
Over 20yrs and an eating disorder later and I can still count the times we have been in a swimming pool since on one hand, unfortunately we still can’t let it go, not even for the sake of the children which is a shame for several reasons, not least of all because there was something about swimming that just felt right to me.
The harshness of the world had disappeared under the silent comforting blanket of the water, it was the one place I could actually feel like I was good at something, I felt weightless, like I finally had some sort of control over something in my life, I was free.
Did you have a place or activity that made you feel safe or free from the troubles of the world when you were a kid?