A few years ago, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t do up my
bra, but now I’m over halfway to swimming the channel!
Everyone knows someone struggling with pain and / or depression so let me tell you my story as it might be able to help you or a loved one in a similar situation.
I started swimming regularly in my early twenties as I knew it would be good for a bad back. I used to do gymnastics, trampolining (as well as coaching them) and a whole host of other sports but after a skiing accident at 15 a bad back developed and had to stop all these sports. I loved it and used to get up at 5.45 am regularly to go for an early morning swim before work and sometimes managed to fit one in in my work lunch break.
Fast forward a few years and depression had made an annoying
entry into my life. I still swam but mornings were out for me, so I just managed to fit it in where I could. I knew it would help and with back trouble, that and a bit of cycling and Pilates were the only sports I could really do.
It really helped with my mental health, and with being bullied in my awful NHS job, it was one of my lifelines.
In 2009 I did the Great East Swim which was a mile in open water. I’d never done any open water before and it was great. I promptly booked in to do the one the next year. I had started having
some shoulder problems (rotator cuff tendonitis / impingement) after a scooter accident the year before – some nice driver thought it would be a great idea to see me flying over his car bonnet – which had affected my left shoulder as I’d landed on it, and then out of nowhere my right one started playing up too and got so bad I had to unfortunately withdraw from the next Great East Swim.
This obviously came with extra issues related to mental health. Swimming was good for me, my mental health and my back but the pain I was in meant I couldn’t swim, which made for one big vicious circle.
After various injections the left one calmed down but the right one got so bad, I couldn’t drive for 5 months, had trouble getting dressed – doing up a bra was a complete nightmare – and even pulling up clothes I had to done one-handed. It affected my thumb as well and actually found it more debilitating than my usual back pain. This one got to the point of being a frozen shoulder. No amount of injections seemed to work on this one (which I didn’t really want anyway but didn’t feel I had a lot of choice at the time) and it was only through some intensive private treatment and a lot of money spent that I started to improve.
Since then – around 2012 or so – I started swimming again. There were times I had to pull back on it, times when I doggedly wanted to swim so could be seen doing one-handed back stroke because the other shoulder was too sore, times when I didn’t do any at all, so never got any momentum up. For those who struggle with exercise, I do encourage you to do something. Sometimes I would only be in for slow 15-minute swim, but it still gets you doing something which can help heaps with the mindset.
Eventually about 2018 I started again properly. A few blips with shoulders and viruses have put me back now and again but I finally feel I’m built up my swimming mojo again! I just have to go with the flow, and I know there are times I need to be gentle or lay off for a bit. The shoulders are way improved but still have their little grumbles!
Last year, 2018, I was looking into where I could open water swim as I wanted to give that a serious go! I’d seen “The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs” who had covered open water swimming as a treatment for depression. The only place I knew of was Gosfield Lake at Halstead which is a good 45 minutes from Wivenhoe. After some searching, I found a new place called Curve Wake Park which had recently opened in St Osyth and offered open water swimming, about a 25 minute drive from us! So, I started there and went a few times last year and regularly this year. When the water’s a bit cooler the staff always say they don’t know how I can go in without a wetsuit! I also went regularly to the Brightlingsea Lido which whilst it’s not ‘officially’ open water, is colder as it’s unheated. On my first swim of the season in Brightlingsea this year it was 15 degrees! I got out and felt a bit wobbly so decided it best to swim when it was a couple of degrees higher! :) A proper swimming wetsuit is on my “to get soon” shopping list! That way I can keep going for longer when it’s much cooler!
Recently I saw the Aspire Channel Swim advertised. This is a challenge to swim 22 miles (wherever you are able – open water or pool) in 12 weeks in aid of Aspire – a charity helping those with spinal injury. So, I signed up. At the time of writing I’m at 13 miles, with 9 miles to go. I’m absolutely loving doing it.
We go to S Africa every year to see my mother-in-law and there’s the biggest open water event in the world held in Pietermaritzburg called the Midmar Mile (which isn’t that far from where we stay and happens to be on whilst we’re there) … so I signed up for that.
I’m also going to be signing up for the Great East Swim which used to be 1 mile, but now does a couple of shorter events for children as well as 2 miles 5k and 10k. I’m still deciding on the distance as I want to do the 5k but want to be sure I’d be good to do it! I only swam my first 2k a few weeks ago … but know I have until June to prepare!
I know there are other local events and will be looking into joining into those too – the chilled out Mill to Mill from Dedham to Flatford is one.
I’d love it and really appreciate it if anyone can support me in my Aspire Channel Swim.