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Nicks: Swimming in the subconscious

Bi-weekly column on all things holistic health related

One of my favourite ways to move is through water. Lunch hour swim at NexSource Centre is a welcome break from sitting in front of a screen and resets me for whatever the rest of the day brings.

As a child I spent hours pretending I was a mermaid with my sister in whatever pool we happened to be in. However, due to some childhood trauma that occurred in a pool setting, I developed a fear of water - specifically of what might be underneath me. I didn’t feel comfortable in water unless I had goggles on so I could see what might be about to grab me from beneath the surface.

As I started to address the core of the trauma, my relationship with water became a vital part of healing. Camping by a raging river one night, I barely slept but the roar of the water poured through my senses in a way that gave me the very tangible sensation of having debris washed out of my system. The first thing I looked for while hiking was a lake to jump into or a waterfall to stick my head under. Long salt baths put me “back in my element” - able to flow with life a little more smoothly. On a solo trip to Ireland, I spent most of my trip near the coastline, often spending hours watching the waves and feeling the immensity of the ocean.

However, swimming in a pool still raised a certain level of anxiety. Rather than avoiding pools, I started to experiment with the anxiety. I tried a few laps with a flutter board, feeling the anxiety without trying to make it go away or telling myself it was silly to feel when there was obviously nothing around to attack me. Then I did a few laps doing breast stroke and taking my time looking underneath the surface before coming up for a deep gulp of air. I discovered I could do front crawl and easily breathe on my right side but when I tried to move my head to the left, a sense of panic would rise and I’d quickly have to switch back to breast stroke.

I played with the anxiety further and started alternating laps with ten minutes or more in the sauna. The heat made my muscles more pliable and moving through the water felt even easier. No matter what I was trying, I pushed myself a little and then gave myself permission to rest. I didn’t follow anyone else’s formula except for my own. Over time, I developed a commitment to the process without needing it to look a certain way or force myself to reach certain goals. I swam because I loved the feel of the water around me and the feel of the heat. I did more laps because it felt great, not because I wanted to fit into a new dress.

Change happened slowly but the fact that I followed my internal guidance rather than forcing a specific structure on myself made the difference. I still face that moment of anxiety on the left side so I still do less on that side than the right. But I keep going back in a gentle way, opening myself up gradually to what my body needs to both feel safe and to grow.

The symbolism of water is also something I connect with and is intertwined in my relationship with water. Creation myths start with water. I’m continually re-creating my life as new cycles open up. Water symbolizes the subconscious. There are fathoms I have yet to explore. But as I gain more tools, continuing to work with my breath and learning to move in new ways, both in water and in life, I’m able to navigate the depth creatively