A lesson in conquering fear


A trip to the pool yesterday inspired me to share this story today.

Rewind five months…

“Forgive me for asking, but are you scared to put your head under the water, or something?” I looked over at the tattoo-covered bloke at the end of the lane next to mine in the pool.


“Only you’ve been going up and down with your head out of the water and it’s going to destroy your neck,” said Mr Tattoo.

I thought about it. No real way to argue myself out of it.

“Yes, I suppose I am. Or rather, I was as a kid, and I guess I’ve never addressed it.”

“You ought to,” said Mr Tattoo, repeating, “it’s going to destroy your neck. Why don’t you try with my goggles?”

Why didn’t I try with his goggles? Because the problem wasn’t just the underwater vision, it was the more significant issue of breathing without drowning in unintentionally-ingested water. Trying swimming with Mr Tattoo’s goggles would be unpleasant and humiliating, that was why not.

“No thank you” I said, mitigating it with “I should get some, though. Maybe I will next time I’m in town.”

“No, go on, try” said Mr Tattoo. And it became apparent at that moment that I didn’t have a choice.

So on went the goggles and off I set on a spluttery voyage of flailing arms and gasping breaths. The worst of it was I then had to make the return journey.

“Thanks,” I said, handing back the goggles after my two lengths were over.

“Do you want to keep swimming with them?” asked Tattoos. Had he not witnessed what had just happened?

“No thanks, but I will get some goggles. Thank you so much for the advice, and for lending me your goggles,” I said. I set off for a couple more lengths of backstroke, but fairly swiftly made my exit, feeling like a bit of a loser.

My interaction with Tattoos did get me thinking, though. I was doing a lot of swimming and was going to damage my neck. Perhaps things ought to change. You see, as a kid I’d absolutely hated wearing goggles; they never seemed to fit and they always seemed to leak. (Basically, I didn’t understand the principle of a vacuum). I carried my aversion to goggles into adulthood and, taking up swimming in my early twenties, contented myself with doing lengths and lengths of what I’ll call ‘heads-up frontcrawl.’

But Tattoos had a point. I decided it was time to woman up. So I went to the sports shop and got a pair. Next day, into the pool I got, on went the goggles, and off I set. It was a disaster. The breathing was just not happening. Where was my head supposed to go? When was I supposed to use my lungs? Not good. Then, horror of horror, Tattoos turned up in the neighbouring lane. What could I do? I pointed at my goggles, smiled and, so as to avoid having to engage in humiliating conversation, set off again.

As I set off, though, I realised that the goggles weren’t leaking and it was actually pretty nice being able to keep my eyes open!

I kept at it and, after a few visits to the pool, I had mastered breathing on my left side. A couple of months later, I’d mastered breathing on the right too. Now, five months on, I bomb up and down, eyes open, looking through my goggles, and breathe without even thinking. All thanks to Mr Tattoos.

The point I want to make is this: I’d held the fear of putting my head under water for so long that it was just the way things were for me; it was habit and, in fact, it had long ceased to be an actual fear.

What about you? Is there’s something you do a certain way simply because that’s just the way you’ve done it for a long time? What about things you think you can’t do because as a child you couldn’t and you were fearful? Like for example drawing, learning a foreign language, rollerblading, playing a musical instrument or running? Your childhood was a longtime ago. Why don’t you try probing at that thing? Maybe the fear has actually gone, and it’s now time to have another go!

Thanks to Brian Cantoni for his flickr picture!