Face your fears, then face them again / by Karen Staniland-Platt

I've learnt to swim three times in my life. Well four times actually but the first doesn't count because I never actually managed it. Growing up with parents that couldn't swim meant I never went near a swimming pool until I went swimming with primary school, by which point most of my classmates could already swim. So there was just myself, and John Liversidge, stuck in the shallow end with polystyrene boards on our backs attached by a string tied around our waist (I say string but I have a very distinct memory that it was actually a pair of old nylon tights!!!)

Swimming lessons back in the 80's weren't quite the same as today. In fact I'm surprised they even got away with calling them lessons as the class was focussed on those who could already swim whilst me and John were simply placed in the area of the pool where they thought us to be at least harm (and least distracting!) We were supposed to swim back and forth, width ways, clutching another of the said polystyrene boards in our hands and kicking our legs. Trouble was, I didn't even have the courage to lift my feet off the ground, and because no-one paid us any attention, I just walked from side to side, waving the board in front of me like some drowning zombie.

Hardly surprising then that I missed swimming lessons whenever I could, from stuffing my swimming cozie and towel in the hedge at the end of the road and claiming I'd forgotten it, to a repeated ear ache that meant I just couldn't be allowed to swim. If I could have faked veruccas I'd have done that too.

Once out of primary school, swimming lessons stopped, even our family holidays back then were spent in a caravan in Dorset so no pool to worry about. I had won a decade long reprieve but queue a long-term relationship in my early 20's with a guy who regularly joined his family for villa holidays in Portugal and I had to consider donning the polystyrene back-pack again. Living in Liverpool city centre, I was fortunate to have a membership for one of the hotel gyms which had a pool. I don't exactly remember what started it but it involved finding a noodle, a long strip of circular polystyrene swimming aid far prettier than the 80's version. I basically taught myself, first taking a few steps from the side and swimming towards it, then a few more steps, then a few more. I'm not sure I managed a full length but by the time I was in the smaller villa pool I was happily swimming back and forth. I'd cracked a BIG fear and it felt good. I'd swim a few lengths and then sunbathe on a lounger, feeling not only the glow of the sun but one of pride too.


It was short-lived though. When the relationship ended, along with the villa holidays, so did the swimming and the fear I'd had of the water aged 8 years old just came settling right back in again, stronger than ever, and I was once again a non-swimmer. Roughly another decade then flew by and I was betrothed to Mr S-P. Of course he knew I couldn't swim but now in my early 30's I was a little less comfortable to face the fear head on so we, sorry I, just avoided any swimming situations altogether. Even when my two step-daughters, both amazing swimmers, came to stay and wanted a trip to the pool, I'd sit on the side watching and making my excuses. 

However, despite a low opinion of myself most of the time, I will say that if there's one thing I'm good at it's tackling fears head on and so eventually the appetite to tackle my swimming demons again became too strong. Thankfully this also coincided with a honeymoon in Florence and a rooftop pool that we hardly ever had to share and slowly but surely I got myself swimming again. Sadly, my swimming confidence didn't last much longer than the honeymoon and so by the time we were on holiday again, 3 years later, with our 6 month old daughter in the pool I'd lost all my nerve again. 

To explain. I could do the swimming bit, I knew what to do and could actually do it, but my fear would just stop me cold. I'd take 2, maybe 3 steps from the side, tell myself to swim back to the edge, but I couldn't. Sometimes I'd pluck up the courage, but I'd very rarely get further than 4 or 5 steps away from the edge. As I was getting older, my fear was getting bigger. I guess also that maybe my desire to fight it wasn't as strongly motivated.


That was until my daughter started having swimming lessons and suddenly I became the biggest hypocrite in town! 'Just jump in sweetie, nothing to be scared of!' At first I just had to suffer the hypocrisy in silence but as she began to grow so did her curiosity as to why I wasn't swimming and I could wait no longer. So for the fourth time in my life I decided to learn to swim. Again.

This time though it had to stick and so I booked lessons with my daughter's teacher. Yes it felt slightly strange but honestly it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Macy would have her lesson, then I'd have mine. My teacher, Steve, was unbelievably patient. One lesson at a time we'd tackle both my technique and my fears, unlocking one gate at a time as he would call it. Some weeks were better than others and I began to really understand the part my fears were playing in all of this. Although my progress was slow, I was getting further than I ever had before. I learnt to tread water, to float on the surface like a starfish and to swim whole lengths, sometimes even 3 or 4 at a time. The sense of achievement was incredible. I'd sit in the sauna after my lessons, smiling to myself for fighting the fear and doing it anyway but best of all were the swimming races with my daughter. She'd always win but I didn't care, I'd held this vision of swimming beside her for a long time and I, I had made it happen.

So is this the happy end of my little story? Not quite. I thought I'd cracked it, so I stopped my lessons. I was fine at first, I kept swimming myself and was building up some serious lengths but then life got in the way. I stopped going as much and within months the fear crept back in.

Fast forward to today. Today we went swimming again. The pool was quiet. Just the three of us. I couldn't face a full length, far too terrifying again but different from before I quickly moved from a few steps from the side to swimming half a length. Once again I sat in the sauna afterwards feeling proud, knowing I'd be back swimming lengths again soon, after all if I'd done it once I could definitely do it again and that's when the idea for writing this blog struck. Not because I wanted to share my swimming journey but because it reminded me that life is a series of facing your fears. Sometimes the same ones keep coming back, sometimes it's brand new ones, sometimes we even create some we don't honestly need to keep life interesting, but they all must be faced.

Age 37 and finally I can ride a bike (not in that skirt tho 🙄)

Age 37 and finally I can ride a bike (not in that skirt tho 🙄)

Swimming is one of mine, so was learning to ride a bike at age 37 (story for another day) but not all are so tangible, so demonstrably beaten. Some of my fears are faced without fuss, like walking into a shop that I feel I don't belong in but front it anyway. Whilst others, are gonna take a lot longer to conquer than my meagre 43 years alone such as an ongoing fear of not being good enough, but for now I'll take my victories where I can find them, even if it's only a 25 metre swimming certificate.