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In at the Deep End. Literally.
How I Overcame My Lifelong Fear of the Deep End
My first experience of a swimming pool wasn’t good.
I was eight. Mrs. Parsons told me to get in the cold Seymour Place pool with the rest of the class watching.
Then she said “Swim then!”
The results were humiliating. I went under the water and she used her metal crook to pull my head out of the water. Again, and again.
I never learned to swim until I was 36, when I took private tuition from Steven Shaw. He was brilliant. He helped me overcome my fear of shallow pools, that is, pools in which if my technique failed, I’d put my feet down and stand up.
Not an option in open water, obviously. So I was basically still terrified of drowning.
Two weeks ago I got to go into a pool with a deep end with just my family. I decided it was time to overcome my lifelong fear.
First, I used reason.
“I can stand here and breathe because my feet are touching the pool floor and my head is out of the water. I won’t drown”
Then I inched towards my fear. The floor fell away a bit and now I was tiptoeing. I was breathing a bit harder, but not terrified. I used reason again.
”I know I won’t drown here. Let’s see if I can just use my feet to push away from the bottom of the pool and then breathe when I surface”
That worked. My fear ebbed. I knew that even if the pool was too deep to stand up in, that I could push off the bottom. I did that. The fear ebbed.
Then I tried doing it with just my hands. That worked.
So I tried with just my hands. And that worked too, which meant that now I had two ways to get to air, reliably, and I didn’t need to rely on the pool floor anymore.
”If this works here, it will work when I can’t stand up”
I inched closer to the deep end. I held on to the side.
I pushed up with my hands. It worked. I pushed away from the floor with my head fully under the water. It worked.
Day by day, I moved several inches closer to the end of the pool.
On the last day of the holiday, I stood at the bottom of the deep end and looked around. I was calm. I was serene. I was trying not to get elated, because I know when you get too cocky too quickly, it can be ruinous.
I pushed away and swam.
First time in my life, I swam from the deep end of a pool, and I was not afraid.
Inch by inch. Never moving into paralysing fear. Reasoning, experimenting, verifying, repeating. Ever expanding into the uncomfortable, without ever crossing over to panic, using reasoning and self talk as my guide, using repeatable experiments as proof.
The scientific method and reason is so much better than superstition and fear, isn’t it?