“I’m facing my fear!” is what I shouted mid-length to my sister and niece, as they looked down at me from the pedalo they were using to follow me around the lake I was swimming in.
“Yeah you are!” They replied back.
Only 10 minutes earlier, gingerly tip-toeing in to the lake—the cold water filling my wetsuit as I lowered my body into the water—I pointed to a tree covered island in the lake, and said, “I’m going to swim to that.”
I’m fucking terrified of swimming in lakes. I didn’t know this until just 3 weeks ago as I hyperventilated and cried, while clinging on to my partner’s kayak in the middle of a lake.
It’s the not knowing what’s below me or ahead of me that I find so terrifying. The local lake’s water is murky to say the least, and I literally cannot see beyond my hands. Sometimes a leaf or a floating piece of wood brushes my hand, OR AT LEAST I THINK IT WAS A PIECE OF WOOD, WHAT IF IT WAS A DEAD THING LIKE A DOG OR A DROWNED HUMAN HEAD AND OMG I NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS LAKE RIGHT NOW.
I’ve thought a lot about not swimming in the lake any longer, because, really, what’s the point in swimming in lakes anyway when there are perfectly good and clean swimming pools dotted around my village?
I’ve thought about not always having to face my fears and do things that scare me, because, it’s not like lake swimming is getting in the way of me living my life, right? Lake swimming is not necessary or life-giving, is it? It’s not like BREATHING. I don’t HAVE to do it, so why bother? Why put myself through being frightened?
I’ve thought about pulling out of the lake race I signed up for in September and just having a nice weekend away somewhere instead.
I’ve thought of numerous ways I can tell my friend, Josie, who I signed up for the swim with, that “I’m sorry, but I’m out.”
But I haven’t.
Because my fear is not really about swimming in the lake.
When I was little, the clothes hangers in my wardrobe had to face the same way, because if they didn’t face the same way, it would mean that something bad would happen.
I also used to touch the side of my bed 10 times before I went to sleep, because if I didn’t, it would also mean that something bad would happen.
In my twenties, I used to have to go back home and check that I’d turned the gas off, or locked the door—sometimes 5 times or more—because I was always certain that if I didn’t, something bad would happen. You know, like my house would blow up or someone would stroll through my unlocked door and steal everything I owned.
Obsessive compulsive disorder dominated my life for most of my twenties. I used to drive down the street, and have a “feeling”. A feeling that I’d knocked someone over and hadn’t realised. And so I’d go back, following my route, looking for the person I’d mown down.
They were never there.
Nor did my house ever blow up because I left the gas on.
My home was never robbed because I’d forgotten to lock the door.
And just like swimming in the lake, those things, those obsessions were not really about what I thought they were.
They were about control.
And my unease with not knowing.
And the discomfort of uncertainty.
Life is uncertain. We never truly know how it’s all going to go down, do we? I mean, we’re all on our way out. We know that. (You do know that, right? That this life you’re living right now, that this is IT?)
And so we spend our lives trying TO CONTROL EVERYTHING, keeping our lives locked down and zipped up tight, avoiding things that scare us or challenge us or test us in ways that feel far too unleashed and cut loose.
One of my favourite lines from a film—the movie, The Family Stone—I watch it every Christmastime without fail, is “It must be so exhausting, to keep that lid screwed on so tight.”
It is exhausting, isn’t it? To keep the lids on our lives screwed on so tight. To not do things, because we’re terrified of what might happen if we do.
Things happen anyway. Whether we want them to or not. People die. Jobs are lost. Mortgages fall through. Lumps appear in places they shouldn’t appear. People leave. We get hurt and injured. Accidents happen. House do blow up due to leaking gas. People are mown down. Houses are robbed. Drowned human heads are found floating in lakes.
And there’s not a turned-the-right-way-round clothes hanger in a wardrobe that can avoid any of these things from happening.
The only thing we have control over, the only thing we can really avoid in life is avoiding living our LIVES fully.
I swam to that island in the lake. And when I got there, instead of turning back straightaway, I swam all the way around it and then back to shore.
And this week I’ll swim beyond that island, right to the other end of the lake.
I won’t quit.
Because if I quit the lake swim, I’d be fucking terrified of something else instead.
It’s not about the lake, remember?