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I want to swim

I have this idea, probably because it still feels vaguely like winter, that this summer I want to go swimming. I’ve barely gone swimming since I was a teenager, except maybe wading in once or twice at the beach. I got as far as buying a swimsuit, two times, but I couldn’t convince myself to wear them in public. Maybe if I’d lived in the era of bathing costumes for women, with ruffles and fabric covering the whole body, maybe then I could have gone swimming more often. But, still, maybe not.

bathing costumes

This is not my picture, but I wish it were

 

There’s something odd about a whole society expecting women, of all ages, to feel comfortable in skin tight Lycra, barely covering a third of the body. When did this happen? And why? There are certain adaptations available, like blouson tops, and skirts or swim shorts, but they mark you as overly modest and strange, if you wear them.

I had to swim every summer as a kid, at sleep away camp. And I couldn’t wear my t-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit when I went into the water, though I kept them on until the last possible second.

My fear of swimming is about more than how I look in a bathing suit, though. There’s also how I feel in a bathing suit – slimy, and trapped, and sick to my stomach. And then you get sandy, or covered in chlorine, or salt water, or sea weed. And really, who knows what’s in the water with you. And then there’s the breathing problem. I’ve always struggled to breathe correctly when I swim. I almost drowned a couple of times: once, when my father shoved me into the backyard pool fully dressed; and again when my father capsized our rented sailboat and I was caught under the hull.

I was also sexually abused in a swimming pool, as a little girl, by my friend’s older brother. So there’s that.

Given all of this, the mystery is why I would ever want to swim. But when summer comes and I’m choking from the heat and sweating to death, a pool starts to look good to me, and I feel left out and isolated. And I have this underlying belief that everything needs to be overcome, eventually, or else I’ve been wasting decades in therapy. Even though that’s really silly.

I’d rather swim in a pool than at the beach. A pool can be temperature controlled, and indoors, with clear water. And the ground can be level under your feet, depending on the pool. And you’re not trapped, because there are ladders out. But also, I don’t want to sit on the beach and get a tan. I don’t tan. I burn, or get sun poisoning. And I feel like a sheet of cookies left in the oven too long, after three minutes.

Ideally I would have my own pool, in my own backyard, and I could swim in whatever I wanted to wear at whatever time of day. I could have one of those enclosed pools with a glass ceiling in a building of its own. Like the old guys in the movie Cocoon.

            I wonder what Cricket would think of an indoor pool. It’s possible that she’d see it as an enormous bathtub and run screaming back under her couch. But that’s more pool for me.

IMG_0136

“You can’t make me swim, Mommy.”

IMG_0137

“No, really. You can’t make me.”

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

92 responses »

  1. You poor thing. Maybe this wanting to swim is a passing phase. I see no joy in it for you. Or maybe you could go on vacation (even there in your own city) for a night somewhere that has an indoor pool and get it out of your system.

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  2. So Rachel I want you to know that I clicked the like button on this because I thought it was well written and not because I wasn’t moved by the experiences that you related. I hope you find some healing for the things you’ve shared here. I did want to say though, given your physical and emotional associations with swimming, maybe you don’t want to swim…maybe you want to fly. Have you ever had that dream where you are flying but the air is thick and you have to move your arms like you’re swimming to propel yourself forward? Maybe that’s what you need- a dream of flying.

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  3. Interesting. Back in the day, I belonged to the YMCA in Boston. In those days, the Y was men and boys only. So, swimming in the pool was sans swim suits. Swimming naked is much more fun than the alternative. Indeed, I do believe that my oldest son was conceived when my wife and I were swimming without suits. :<)

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  4. Find a quiet safe place, somewhere you can see how swimming feels to you now. If it still feels creepy – let it go. If it starts to feel light and freeing – go with it!

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  5. Hi there Rachel. I can very well understand your reservations about swimming. Though I used to love swimming, I now feel too old after swimming a lap in an Olympic sized pool, and feeling my heart just about to tear apart with the exertion. I wasn’t to modest to put on a bathing suit, but I did feel uncomfortable with the sand at the beach, and have encountered oily water, or tar on the beach, and other forms of pollution that put me off. Still it can be a great pleasure. I don’t know if the water in a pool is really safer than that in the ocean. The water in the ocean has salt which is a cleanser, and I’ve read that sometimes the water in pools are polluted despite the filters and chemicals. If you you really feel like doing it, you should try to give it a try. Some cities have pools that are segregated according to sex, and you might be able to find a seamstress who could sew you a swim suit according to your own design. Wishing you a very beautiful and liberating summer.

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  6. I love swimming, and swim virtually every day – except during winter, when I don’t swim at all. I swim in a netted baths in a salt-water river. I understand your reservations, because i used to have them, but keeping one’s mind on the goal should overcome them. Locally, lots of people swim wearing a rash shirt over their costume.I think swimming is a great way to get fit. Maybe you should give it a try. Best of luck!

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  7. Rachel, thank you for your always thoughtful and insightful blog posts. I admire your ability to use words where some of can’t find the words. For today’s post about swimming, I wanted to encourage you to see if you can find a safe place to swim. In my city, we have a (summer) outdoor pool that has a very gradual slope. So you can wander in at your own pace. The indoor (winter) pool just has traditional ladders to get in and out, but it’s a community pool and not uncommon to see even guys in shorts & tshirts, and men and women of all ages in almost every kind of suit style. Both pools are community pools with diverse ages and races, which really helps me to feel like I am less different than everyone else. You can check out modest style outfits like this (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01BAJ3Q14) even on amazon. What I’m trying to say, it took a while to find these pools where I feel safe, but how glad I am that I did. Feeling my body move through the water, even if I’m walking in the shallow end, is a joy. I also love how much better and less achy I am after being in the pool! Have courage and good luck!

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    • What a great resource! I’ve never seen bathing suits like that before!

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      • I’m so glad if it’s helpful. A friend has a pre-teen daughter who wears a suit like that–she feels more comfortable in a modest suit like that. At the community pools we go to, no one looks at her twice. That’s what you want. Take the time to explore your regional community pools, even online, and see what people say. Hope you will find the right one where you will feel safe.

  8. Jennifer Barraclough

    Good luck – I can recommend it. Having looked into all the health benefits of cold water swimming (see https://jenniferbarraclough.com/?s=cold+water+swimming) I have been into our unheated pool almost every day for the past nine months. I definitely feel better for it, though I don’t expect I’ll manage to keep it up through the New Zealand winter which is starting soon.

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  9. I’m afraid of swimming yet have desired to do so for many years. I finally went to an indoor pool where I can’t wear an aqua belt so I can stay afloat, swim laps and feel safe. I had a labradoodle afraid of water and after taking him twice to an indoor doggie pool where they taught them to jump off the side wearing floaties, he grew to love the water!🐶😅

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  10. Rachel, maybe a water aerobics class which is held at the part of the pool which is not deep would be worth trying. A friend of mine who almost drowned when she was young didn’t swim for many, many years. After attending the water aerobics she little by little also began to swim again. She now is a good swimmer. We swim in the lake in the summer. For many years she went to the water aerobics every winter because she made many good friends there. Best of luck !

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  11. How do I say this? Nicely. I’m good at being blunt, I’m not always good at being nice. I’m trying, okay? So, if you want to wear a bathing costume. Wear it. One of my favorite stories is of a slightly older lady, late 30s/early 40s getting off a bus, while three or four teenage girls were waiting to get on…She felt older, and less in shape and as if she wasn’t measuring up. Then she caught one of them in eye contact, and realized they had similar fears…perhaps too thin, too angular, too young..etc. Both thought the other person was judging them, and the only person they were judging, was themselves. So, forget what others think–I’ve never met a judgemental person I’ve liked. (And the idea that only skinny people should go to to nudist colonies is total b.s., elitist and wrong). Take a breath, wear the clothing you are comfortable with, and remember, they’re thinking more of pulling a bathing suit out of their own butt crack then they are at whether your bathing suit is too “anything.”

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  12. don’t know how to swim so I don’t miss it but I love going to the beach….
    nature tripping.

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  13. I haven’t been swimming since 2010 when I visited Bro in NZ and we all went. I gave my costume away in the great sort out and never got round to buying another.
    Living by the beach, I could go swimming a lot in the summer. I would have to buy some plastic shoes though as the beach here has thousands of sharp razor shells on the way to the water which can cut your feet to ribbons. There is no pool here, though as you say, a pool can be temperature controlled. Maggie loves to swim though, so when she shakes herself we’ll all get wet anyway.

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  14. I do hope you manage to overcome this very understandable discomfort. The desire coming from you will be much more helpful than any outside pressure.

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  15. I never learned to swim, but have felt the lure on occasion. On holiday in Kenya, I was the only person on the boat who didn’t go in snorkelling. I missed out on the treasures of the reef that day, but still couldn’t overcome my fear of water.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  16. I love to swim but haven’t worn a bathing suit in years. I wear bicycle shorts and a sports bra with a t-shirt over. I’ve worn a t-shirt over my bathing suit since I was a young girl, in hopes of burning less (like you, I have no desire to lay out in the sun, because I have two colors: white and red). And like you, I prefer a pool to the beach. Swimming is great exercise, as I’m sure you know. But if, as it gets closer to swimming weather, you find you don’t want to face it after all, that’s OK too, although I would advise against joining Cricket under the bed. Lots of people don’t swim.

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  17. There is something about immersing in safe water that is very alluring…Whatever you decide, I hope that the actions of that creepy older brother shift to haunt HIM, and not you…

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  18. Go skinny dipping and you won’t have to worry about what you look like in a suit.

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  19. If your heart is telling you that you would like to swim, you should go for it! But, only do it if it’s something that you will enjoy.

    Maybe Cricket would agree to be your swimming buddy if the water was the right temperature and there were chicken treats she could swim to and enjoy in the pool. 🙂

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  20. Hello Rachel.

    I haven’t gone swimming in around 15 or 20 years. And that time was the first in 20 or more years.

    I do like to wade in the ocean now and then, though. That’s refreshing!

    Real good essay.
    See ya’ —

    Neil S.

    Reply
  21. I used to swim in the sea every summers day ( well, I grew up like 5 minutes from the shores). The last time was in 1995 in the West of Ireland. I completely get you, and as a guy, funny enough, I am also very self aware and uncomfortable in public. I am sorry you’ve had it tough.

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  22. No wonder you are reluctant to swim! I agree with the other comments, if you feel you want to try it again, try to find a safe and quiet place to swim. But if it doesn’t feel right, just give yourself permission not to do it. Even people who haven’t suffered near-drowning experiences or sexual abuse in a pool don’t always like swimming, and there’s no reason to make yourself do something you’d rather not do. Life is too short….

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  23. You make mention of your abuse, as if it were an aside. I’m truly distressed you were subjected to that painful experience. I wholeheartedly agree that women should be judged by more than their appearance in a bathing suit. ❤

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  24. Thanks for the ‘like’- I have a pool. I hate cleaning it. It runs our electric bill up. The pool was all for the kids. The kids are grown and gone but the pool remains along with all the chemical costs and maintenance. I don’t like the cold, so never swim in the pool unless it heats up to about 90 degrees in the summer. When I was a kid, it was no problem swimming in a fifty degree pool. Anyway, we are going to move somewhere. We don’t know where, yet. Georgia, Arizona, somewhere like that. But, the next place will have something lacking. You guessed it. No pool. Maybe, a Jacuzzi. I used to drink. Good reason for a whirlpool. I don’t drink anymore. Maybe, I don’t like being submerged in water anymore. I don’t know, you have to clean a Jacuzzi, too. So, next house, most likely no whirlpool, either. I don’t like extra busywork, I have enough mowing my own lawn and trimming the trees and fixing the plumbing. If we move to Arizona, I will have gravel, cactus and Yucca trees where grass would have been. If we move to Georgia I will have to buy a John Deere tractor to sit on with my mint julep and mow an acre or two of lawn. Thank god we have time to write.

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  25. Forgot to say one thing. Love your dog. What a wonderful friend.

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  26. The symptoms you describe around your aversion to pools and swimming could be social phobia and/or anxiety. I suffer from those and despite “swimming” being the only exercise I can safely do due to all my bone problems; I have the dangedist time doing the activity. It’s as bad indoors as outdoors and there are no oceans or seas, lakes or rivers nearby in which to frolic. Apparently therapy and/or meds help. I guess I’ll find out. I hope you can have a nice relaxing swim now and then this summer. They do cool one off at least.

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  27. I agree with an earlier comment about water aerobics. Our parks department runs an even slower one called Water Walking in the high school pool. I was(at 70 and very plump)one of the younger and thinner women(and it was all women.) We just walked back and forth across the pool. Then we kind of did the grapevine step back and forth. Then hopped. Etc. The water felt great and takes all the pressure off your joints. Very safe. I hear you about being triggered in situations. Still, I think your desire to be in water deserves a real consideration.

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  28. So sorry to read your terrible experience related to swimming. If you do give it a go again, hope it is a more positive experience this time 🙂

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  29. She is such a cutie. I miss our furry family member. 😃

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  30. Rachel, i love your posts. I wish i could write about my dog but i spend so much time on everything else. Maybe i will one day.

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  31. Rachel, I really enjoyed your story and can also relate. Thanks for sharing and for writing it. You’re a really good writer. I just passed it on to a few people who I know will truly enjoy it. Jules “Just Jules in the Kitchen” http://www.justjulesinthekitchen.com.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  32. From this video, I understand they still have suits somewhat like that now-a-days and they are perfectly fine to wear. As this video mentions it might make OTHER people feel uncomfortable. Mayim Bialik bathing suit video:

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  33. So sorry to hear of some very painful personal experiences surrounding swimming and it makes perfect sense why you don’t like it. I’m not a fan mainly because I can’t stand to not have full control over my breathing!

    On the other hand, I have had an inground pool for the last 6 years….talking about not liking to swim, and then, you get a pool that you have to clean, operate, maintain, test the water, vacuum the bottom, brush the sides, put in the chemicals, balance the Ph….psft! That would make a vampire want to eat garlic bread on a sunny day in the mirror room surrounded by wooden stakes and silver bullets on the walls!!

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  34. If you are worried about how you look to others, don’t. It’s none of your business. Rest assured you look better than you think.
    Michael

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  35. You must come to visit us – we have the perfect swimming pool for you!
    You can get in when it suits you and get out when it suits you, and you don’t even have to worry about suits!
    I wish I could say bring Cricket, too, but Charly is the most impolite dog I’ve ever had so that wouldn’t work. But again, Cricket wouldn’t be interested in the pool anyway!! 🙂

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  36. I get sunstroke too! Thanks for sharing. It’s really important.

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  37. enjoy the water!
    i’ve had water
    doggies &
    non water doggies 🙂

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  38. I have always been wary of swimming. I did not learn properly until I was in my twenties. At that point I learned because I did not want my children to pick up my fear.

    I did not truly enjoy the water until I went snorkeling. When I snorkel, I am floating, rather like flying, and I see all the fish and interesting creatures in the water. That was a revelation.

    I am sorry about all the bad associations that have attached themselves to swimming for you. I hope you find whatever your heart longs for.

    Oh. There are companies that make swim suits for people who are very modest or very frum (religious.) I’ve always been tempted to try one of those suits. They always look much more comfortable to me.

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  39. Kemo Sabe is a very keen swimmer and pounds the pool several times a week! The sea up here is freezing and in a pool one can get one’s head down and go for it. Don’t worry about the swimwear: enjoy yourself! Pip and the boys

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  40. I like the way you write. There’s a certain flow to the wording, A simple story about relatively mundane things, and you made them interesting.

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  41. You could try swimming at your local YMCA.

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  42. God bless you. I hope you get to go swimming this year. I’ve always loved swimming…but not swimsuits, so I understand.

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  43. I hope you get up the courage to swim this Summer, as nobody cares what you look like (that’s not shallow and overly-critical themselves), and as it is my version of heaven. Having come to the point where I cannot swim without a life saving belt (I can get exhausted at a moment’s notice and drop like a stone in the deep end), I’m resigned to looking ridiculous, and I don’t care. Let ’em look !

    As for the connections between your abuse and a swimming pool, I get it. I’m very sorry that something so beautiful was ruined for you.

    If you can’t manage to swim, how about sitting on the side and dipping your feet in? Maybe that will be enough of a goal for this year?

    Hugs to you. The demons you’re fighting are the hardest, as they are within you.

    Reply

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