Facing Fears

May is my month of being a big, brave dog (lion?).

I have done two of my three brave people-meeting things that I told you I was going to do. And so far? Not dead. I did NOT do my third brave thing, but I think it may have been divine intervention. (Divine intervention often takes the form of nauseating fear, right?)

The skipped brave thing involved going to a happy hour for people in the profession that I would like to be in (if that makes sense). It is a monthly thing – and their May happy hour was FANCY! With no speakers. Just free drinks! (Sidenote: if free drinks aren’t enough to lure me in – you know that is a LOT of fear.)

I didn’t go. But I later found out that the Mayor was there. So it’s good that I didn’t go, because I tend to try to humiliate myself around the Mayor. Once, I thought he was trying to sell me a bike, so I was pretty rude to him. And once, I was sitting at a table with him at the opening of Widmer’s new bike racks (oh, yeah – that’s an event in this town), gestured emphatically, and spilled my beer. All over the table. He left the table shortly after that.

Who even knows what would’ve happened if there had been terror nerves + free drinks + Sam Adams (the mayor, not the beer). Probably, I would’ve propositioned him or something.

ANYWAYS – to make a long story short (too late!), I didn’t go, but it was probably for the best, because now I haven’t been arrested. Or had a restraining order taken out against me.

Tomorrow, however, I am going to have to be super brave. Extra brave. Exponentially brave. And in order to tell you why tomorrow will require such bravery, I need to tell you about last week. And the fear.

Backstory: I am training for a triathlon. And a 1/2 mile Open Water Swim (which is this Sunday). I have done a triathlon before – last July. And in preparation for triathlons, it is a good idea (or so I’ve heard) to do Open Water Swims (OWS). Pool swimming is great, but you need to learn how to handle swimming in a variety of temperatures, with a variety of visibilities, and how to swim in a straight(ish) line without lane guides (or in my case, pool walls on occasion). I did this last year. And last Wednesday was my first OWS of 2010.

Story story: Wednesday, I met up with the Ambitious One downtown (she’d been riding her bike) and we headed over to Vancouver. I had my new wetsuit and, although nervous (it was cold), I wasn’t terrified. I’ve been putting in a lot of time in the pool this spring – and have already swam more this year that all of last year combined.

We got there, after much joking about maybe skipping it.

I put my wetsuit on (it was actually much more of a struggle than I can convey). We hopped in the water. It was cold. I waded in up to my chest, and then prepared to swim. We were headed towards a large bush.

I put my face in the water. And people – I panicked. The cold water just sucked all the air out of my lungs & I couldn’t breathe! I kept moving forward & trying to put my face in the water, and every time I did, I panicked.

Some fisherpeople yelled at us (I think they didn’t want us getting tangled in their lines or hit with their hooks), so we switch direction a bit – now we are headed to a tree, and then to a floating dock, and then back. Halfway to the tree, I am still doing a weird doggie paddle interspersed with some awkward frog breast stroke, and every time I put my face in the water, I panicked.

Vultures started circling overhead (I am serious, this happened), and I knew they were waiting for me.

I knew that I was wasting so much energy panicking, and I was getting tired (and also fighting back tears). The Ambitious One was awesome – she kept with me, encouraging me, and when it was apparent that I was not going to relax, we (once again) switched direction to the floating dock.

There were three guys sitting on the dock when they got there. I swam up to it to grab it, and when I did, my feet got pulled under the dock (yay for buoyancy?). I just lost it. I started bawling my eyes out. The guys pulled me up on the dock, and then I tried to calm down. I wiped my face off (and at that point noticed that the dock AND my hands were covered with goose shit), then rinsed my hands & tried again.

The guys, the Ambitious One, and another woman (training for an IM) kept up a chatter about how scary OWS can be, and silly stories about how one of them had done an entire swim on his back because he couldn’t put his face in the water.

Eventually, I calmed down enough to give it a go again.

I jumped in the water, panicked a bit when my head went under, and then started “swimming” for shore.  After a few strokes, I told myself that I needed to try one more time to swim – and so I did. I wasn’t calm enough to keep it up, but I did manage a few strokes at a time doing the freestyle, with my face in the water. I developed a mantra – and that mantra was, “I can do it. I am strong. I will probably not drown.” (Encouraging, right?)

Surprisingly, I decided against a second lap of the lake.

***

Tomorrow, I am going back. And I have a plan. A plan that does not involve becoming hysterical in front of four strangers (and one very supportive friend).

That plan is to get in slowly. Practice putting my face in the water a bit. Swim a couple laps close to shore where I know that I can reach the bottom quickly if I have to. And then, and only then, Do the loop.

And I probably won’t drown.

7 responses to “Facing Fears

  1. You will do great tomorrow and Sunday!

    AND the best part about it is that the the Mayor probably won’t be there!

  2. Oh girl. that is an awful experince, but it’s so awesome that you are going back to conquer this fear. As with anything – the more you do the easier it will get. Pretty soon you’ll never want to swim laps in a pool again. Usually what I do is go waist deep and then put my head down and actually breath out (as if I’m actually swimming) I do this a few times and it always does the trick. I don’t know, it just helps my brain understand that this is what we are going to do.

    I can’t wait to hear how the next one goes. It will be better. I swear! And think about this – you are a total badass for even getting in the open water. In MAY. In the pacific northwest for goodness sakes. That takes serious BALLS!

  3. Amy – you are incredible! And I don’t say that just because you’re my daughter. You determination and energy are an inspiration.
    I love you lots!!!

  4. Awww I heart your Dad’s comment!

    I totally agree you are incredible. You’re going to be incredibly fish-like today.

    We are ballsy for just getting in the water in MAY in a not so warm place—I agree with Kristen.

    You’re going to do great and you won’t drown b/c I’m a lifeguard remember?

  5. Good luck on your swim tonight!

    I was a swimmer for over 12 years, and the thought of OWS scares the you know what out of me… You are definitely brave (especially in this weather)!

    It looks like you have a great plan (and a great training partner)! Take it slow, and I’m sure you’ll be fine! 🙂

  6. I’m not saying this to sound like a badass but to make a good comparison…

    When I jumped off the boat at Alcatraz to swim back I completely freaked out. I was more than confident about my ability to swim and take the cold but the cold just knocked the air out of me. I temporarily forgot how to swim and it was the scariest thing I’ve experienced in the water. Since I had no choice to continue I was able to finish…but it took a WHILE. Point is, we’re both badasses who know how to overcome tough situations (and drink a mean martini).

    Keep it up!