Tuesday, 15 July 2014

It happened...and I'm still alive

Well, I worried and worried and fretted and flapped and chewed my fingers and asked 'What if...?' and the very thing that I feared so much has happened. 

Swimming. Source of endless angst for me as it necessitates getting my out of shape body out of comfy jeans and T shirts and into a garment that's small and tight and doesn't cover anywhere near enough of me. I read articles about how to choose a flattering swimsuit and I can never understand it. If it doesn't cover chin to ankle in dark coloured flowing fabric, preferably bias-cut, then how on earth can it be flattering? 


I have Big hang-ups about the way I look, and I have started swimming again to try to get a big fitter, and (who knows) a bit thinner. 

I started swimming with the swimming club that my daughters go to, as they have a 'Masters' squad (ha!) that trains twice or three times a week and has in one lane a handful of older people that are closer to my level of fitness than the svelte gods and goddesses in the other five lanes. They sashay out from the changing rooms laughing and joking in their beautiful colourful swimsuits while I sort of skulk in my black one that's intended to make me invisible. 

Despite all this, I have been enjoying it.

I've perfected the art of draping my (large) towel over one shoulder, carrying my kitbag in front of my legs and scurrying between the changing rooms and the pool incognito with my hat and goggles on. You'd be amazed at how quickly I can arrange my things on the poolside and get into the comparative safety of the water if I time it right.

All this time (since February) I've been working on this. I know that it's unlikely that any of the other swimmers are particularly interested in my progress along the side of the pool, and I have repeated to myself over and over that I don't know any of them, and so what they think doesn't matter to me. 

And then. 

And then the devil upped the ante. At least I think it must be the devil's work, because no sooner had I started to get used to the way things were, things turned into a nightmare.

My older daughter swims three times a week with the same club, though at the up-and-coming end of it rather than the gasping for breath end. Sort of like the sublime to the ridiculous. There is one session a week that Elizabeth can't go to as she is committed elsewhere. Many of her swimming friends do attend that session, and it was always on a Monday at 5pm - 6pm.  This never mattered in the least, until they moved that session to 7pm - 8pm. 

This is the hour immediately preceding my swim. These kids, friends of my daughter, would be getting out of the pool just as I was getting in. Only a bunch of kids; eight, nine, ten, eleven year olds. Surely once they'd got over the hilarity of Lizzie's mum in a swimsuit and goggles surely the interest would wane? Maybe so, but the fear of being recognised by anyone made me blanch. 

Then, hot on the heels of that awful thought was another, more sinister concept. If those kids were emerging from the pool at 8pm, then their mums would be waiting in the changing rooms for them, just as I was stuffing my clothes in a locker and trying to sidle past to where the water is. 

The Sunday before this new arrangement started, I couldn't sleep. I worried and worried. I strategised that if I arrived ever so early and got changed in loads of time, I could maybe wait until the kids were just climbing out of the pool, which is the cue for the mums on the viewing balcony to get up and come down the steps to the foyer and changing rooms. In that minute while everyone was in transit, I could take my chance to dive out and down the far end of the pool, walking flattened against the balcony wall where they couldn't see me. This was the best plan I could come up with and hinged on split second timing. 

I worried and worried. I asked God to make me thin overnight (not for the first time). I asked for a mysterious blanket of fog to descend over the pool between 7.55 and 8.05pm.  I asked for courage, for discovery was inevitable.

I even had a dream about it that night; no kidding. I dreamed that I was in exactly this situation and I was so worried, but when I arrived that night at the pool everyone was leaving the building via one door, and I was able to enter through a different entrance at the other end of the building. Perfect! In my dream, my anxiety evaporated. Problem solved. I come in, they go out, and never the twain shall meet.  

In my dream, I said to myself, 'God will make it alright'.

I woke up thinking, 'God will make it alright'.

Of course, even that relief and reassurance, throughout Monday the tension mounted; I was aware on some level that it was unlikely that God would make it alright by changing the fabric of the sports centre in time for my swimming session. I seriously considered giving it all up and not bothering. If things hadn't already been so hard regarding this swimming thing, I might have decided to stop going at this point, but seriously it seemed that there had been one obstacle then another in front of me since I started this latest fitness drive that I am stubbornly convinced that it's the right thing to do. It must be doing me some good. It must. I don't want to be intimidated.

So Monday night came and I put my plan into action, and do you know what? It worked like a charm.

Nobody noticed me. Hallelujah.

If only that were the end of the story. The following week, the stress levels climbed, the same situation, and one of the kids pointed at me and waved. A couple of weeks later and I got cheers and a round of applause from the balcony. Several of the mums have asked me about the swimming; some of them have laughed. One pulled a disbelieving face and said, 'You?!'

Yes, me.

Some of the mums have said how brave I am (they don't know the half of it), and one or two have congratulated me. A couple have even confessed to a degree of envy. On the night of the embarrassing applause, one of my fellow swimmers said, 'Take no notice. You're having a go, they're just up there sitting down.'

This week I swam and as I walked onto the poolside half a dozen of the children waved and smiled. I waved and smiled back, and I didn't glance up to the balcony (with my contact lens out I don't see very much, anyway). I had a laugh with a few other swimmers in my lane, learned some things, swam a personal best and I'm starting to master the butterfly.

Yes, me.

So here's the thing that I need to keep hold of.

The thing I feared happened, and I'm still alive. They found out about me, they saw me, they laughed at me (but not all of them; and that's important), and yes, it was pretty much as bad as I thought it'd be, but I'm still here. The world is still turning, and I am still swimming.

Progress-wise, hmm, well, who knows. I scrutinise my body and the scales for signs of a dramatic up-turn in health, but if there are any, they are so gradual as to be imperceptible, but that's alright. I didn't get out of shape in the space of a few months and so getting healthier will be a slow process too, I guess.

I'm thanking God for two amazing things that have happened to me lately.

1.  I am actually enjoying myself.

2.  I am not afraid of being seen any more.

Well, not as afraid as I was. I don't relish the long walk to and from the changing rooms, but if I meet someone I know I no longer feel that I might die. This is a very small thing on one level but on another, for me, a Very Big Thing.

God did indeed make it alright.


  1. Oh, Helen. Thank you for your honesty and for allowing us into you private world, thus helping us to see ourselves more clearly.
    You are so right. The world is a bully. It doesn't matter how beautiful or fit or clever we are, there will always be something. When I thought about starting my own business, I saw all the clever, better educated, more experienced people out there who could offer far more than I could. What a cheek, the world said (and I listened). Who are you to think you can teach anyone anything, or you have anything to offer the world of business?
    Those thoughts don't disappear, but as you say, they remind us that we are utterly dependent on the One who loves us and who delights in us.
    Thank you so much.
    Ps. Your turn of phrase is a constant delight. Jen and I loved: 'at the up-and-coming end of it rather than the gasping for breath end.'

    1. Thanks, Ian (and Jen too). Those little voices that whisper insidiously, 'Who do you think you are?' and 'you're a fool to think you can do it...' They can be crippling, can't they? Thank you for the 'me too' moment; it means a lot to know that it's not just me.

  2. Helen, you are awesome. That you went through all that, felt the fear and the intimidation - the bullying as another friend rightly called it in a comment - AND DID IT ANYWAY, because you are stubbornly hanging onto God, determined to trust and be yourself, this is real courage. This is the standing that Paul talks about in Ephesians. Those fiery arrows did not hit their intended mark and you have turned a huge corner. So so proud of you. xxx

  3. I just came about finding your blog and I am so glad that I have.




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