The A Word: Sink or Swim?

Sorry I’ve been missing for a while life’s been busy.  This month’s blog is a tale of two halves and I’ve called it sink or swim for reasons that will become obvious. Writing it has brought back memories that have been hidden away for decades.

When I was 7 years old, I nearly drowned.  I can’t remember much about the event itself other than I was pulled out of the local river by a friend’s older brother, having been under water for too long.  I was unresponsive for a while, received some form of CPR, brought back most of the river water I’d swallowed and went to hospital to be checked over.  The tiny piece of memory I have of my drowning episode is stepping off a stone on which I was standing, thereby taking me out of my depth.  The rest is what I learnt afterwards.

It wasn’t just this trauma that contributed to my fear of water, but the aftermath.  Somewhat understandably, growing up, I was never ever allowed near water again without the presence of an adult so I just didn’t go.  I had some swimming lessons in the local pool, but my fear of open water increased the older I got.  I’ve swum in the sea when abroad on holiday, but never go out of my depth and to be honest, I just prat around rather than swim.  I do swim in pools, but, its not something I enjoy.  I don’t go on boats and I haven’t swum in the sea in England since that fateful day; that is until this week.

As everyone knows, I write my blog to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and over the course of the last 18 months some very kind readers have sent me lots of information about the benefits of cold-water swimming for sufferers of autoimmune disease.  Research suggests that if I can adapt to cold water through repeated immersions, it may reduce my body’s inflammatory response.  This makes complete sense to me but trying it out was a different matter.

In general sea temperatures in Cornwall range from around 7°C during a cold winter up to 18°C in the warmer summers.  For those reading my blog outside of the UK, Cornwall is South-West England and does tend to be 1 or 2 degrees warmer than other coastal areas further North.  To put this into perspective yesterday’s sea temperature where we are in Cornwall was nearing 17 degrees (16.7). Compare this to the Mediterranean, Malaga for instance , where its currently 22 – 24 degrees or Naples in Italy where it is around 26 degrees. 

So, 4 days ago, my sea swimming adventure started.  I had no wet suit, just a bloody holiday bikini as I don’t own a swimsuit and, boy, was it cold! I immersed my feet until they were so numb, I couldn’t feel them. Then I managed to cover my legs until I couldn’t feel them either.  I’d listened to all the RNLI advice about the dangers of cold-water swimming if you’re not used it.  I knew I had to enter the water slowly to get over the peak cold shock response and to be able to control my breathing before starting to swim.  I didn’t want to bail out.  It was really hot outside, and this was my best chance so, mind over matter, off I went, swimming and swimming and swimming until I was exhausted, and it was absolutely amazing.  I read afterwards cold-water swimming activates endorphins, the chemical the brain produces to make us feel good and it certainly made me feel good.  I was so pleased with myself too for putting my fear to one side and just getting on with it.  Jamie and I have swum every day since and we’re now considering investing in wetsuits so we can continue sea swimming when the air temperature is not so warm.

Has it improved my AS?  My honest answer is I don’t really know.  Its probably too early to assess and it will need to be a regular activity to make any real difference.   I think this completely unrelated, but last night I did have one of my “nerve stabbing headaches”.  I’m lucky enough not to suffer these regularly but when I do, they’re terrible.  It’s called occipital neuralgia and it’s when the occipital nerves, the nerves that run through the scalp, are inflamed. This causes headaches that feel like severe piercing or shock-like pain in the upper neck, back of the head or behind the ears.  I can’t even brush my hair as it’s so bad.  I also get this down the side of my face.  I have an ongoing prescription for my neuralgia so I’m able to sort it relatively quicky, but the medication makes me really drowsy and muzzy which I hate so I don’t use it much.  I succumbed last night and can still feel the effects of the tablets today but whoever was stabbing at my head has thankfully stopped.

Moving on, work has picked up and we’ve closed some business for the first time since the pandemic began.  I’ve written 6 chapters of my book and I’m thankful I’ve given myself a year to complete.  Jamie and I still have about 20% of the coastal path to walk which we need to do quickly so it doesn’t delay my writing but latterly it’s been too hot.  Yoga is progressing well, my flexibility has improved massively.  Our grandchildren stayed and I now seem to be following every footballer on the planet on Instagram! And Jamie and I are really enjoying ordering a pint at the bar since Covid restrictions have been removed.   

Finally, I couldn’t write a blog without talking about COVID!  What a nightmare, every time I get optimistic about normal life returning, Covid packs another punch.  We cancelled our French holiday last year and the owners of our apartment were kind enough to carry over our deposit to this year.  Two weeks ago, we rebooked for the last two weeks in August.  I was very excited until the announcement was made that quarantine will still apply to all passengers arriving from France, the only country on the amber list where we’re required to self-isolate for 10 days.  EasyJet has already cancelled the flights we booked 10 days ago so if we do go, we’ll drive.  Jamie and I driving to the South of France will create many memories, I’m sure!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, my takeaway this month is that whilst my swimming technique was pretty terrible, all I felt was relief. Overcoming fear feels so good. Perhaps I can try speed boats next.

Take care and bye for now xxxx

 

2 thoughts on “The A Word: Sink or Swim?

  1. Well done Andrea. I’m not a very good swimmer but I love going in the sea. Its 18.9 in Bognor. I don’t swim every day but it does make you feel good.
    I hope it helps your condition.
    The girls bought me a wet suit for the cold months. I also have socks, gloves and a hat. It takes me longer to get ready than the time spent in the water. Someone told me that if the sea temp is 7 then you should only stay in the water for 7 minutes. Check out the bluetits Facebook page.
    😊

    Liked by 1 person

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