Breast Up, Back Down

In a previous iteration I was pretty active for a non sporty type. Like, I started swimming regularly because there was a laundry at my local pool at St George’s. A large load bought me a 40 minute swim. I don’t hate laundrettes, in fact, when I was a kid my mum was friends with the lady who worked at the laundrette and I got to see backstage, which I found entrancing. I pretty much love the back stage of any kind of an operation, and perhaps my love of it started there, in the dusty and oily back end of banks of driers.

Anyway, despite my lack of hatred, if there is a swimming pool actually attached to a laundry it would seem churlish to ignore it. So I swam there regularly. It’s a 33.3 meter pool, and I know I started off at 8 lengths. So that was 266.6 meters. The amount of lengths shot up over what turned out to be quite a short time before I bought my first washing machine and turned to my next fad, weight training.

Now I’m back in the pool. Not that pool, and neither the pool of life, but the pool of Ironmonger Row. Knowing I’d benefit from monitoring my progress I looked up the pool length and have been keeping a note of my progress. It’s a 25 meter pool, but I’ve had three nominal total body replacements since then, all those cells ageing and mainly on the wane. I’ve gone up two dress sizes and now have a much less active life. My aerobic fitness has plummeted over the past two years and I’m leery of getting fat clothes, but look awful in the stuff I’ve already got, and that’s if I can get any of it on. In reality I can theoretically wear about a fifth of my wardrobe, and that’s mostly socks.

swimsuit

 

I actually moved house deliberately to be spitting distance to a pool, but it has taken me a few weeks to get around to actually swimming. First off, I had to get a swimming costume that was realistically big, and then I had to do all the paperwork that is involved in getting a concession sorted out. And then I had to get over myself for having done it a bit wrong and being angry with the man who gave me the hard sell for the membership option.

A smart smack to the head with a misdirected ball thrown in the park gave me the perfect excuse. Ok, it smarted, but it wasn’t that, it was the way the fibro tickled the shock into a nice entrenched neck pain, followed by a fire storm down my shoulders and upper back, and then a few hours later my lower back and a kind of sciatica thing all the way down to my left foot. Pain killers be damned, this was going to have to be worked off physically, and swimming was just the badger for the job.

I have a fear of new buildings. Not ‘new’ new buildings, just any building I’ve not been in before. So there was an element of loin girding, but however they are laid out at least swimming pools generally have an internal logic which can be tentatively predictable. I wore the swimmie under my clothes and packed all the things I needed, managed to get into the changing room without having a nervous breakdown and stripped off and had an acclimatising shower. The interior of Ironmonger Row has been recently refurbished and is reassuringly posh. There were steps to get in to the pool so I didn’t have to out myself as a less able bodied type of a person, and the water was acceptably warm, so none of the embarrassment of spasming and drowning, then. Good.

All I had to do now was swim. I have to be really careful about triggering migraines and other fibro related aches and pains which can go on, like the ball thing, to tell epic tales in my body, so I reckoned on 15-20 minutes. I counted my lengths. First go round I did 50 meters, rested for five minutes, did another 50, rested, did another 50 then called it a day. I did that two days in a row, rested a day and then did 100/100/100 LIKE A DAMN BOSS!

Even when I was nominally well I had a problem with headaches, so I had a physiological strategy – breast up, back down, thus saving my neck from undue strain. This strategy is good when everyone is lane swimming PROPERLY but not everyone does, and going backwards into gaggles of chatting people is a drag, but everyone was civilised and the pool wasn’t overpopulated. I could relax. I could relax and trust life.

Over the course of my previous swimming patch I’d noticed a tendency to think while swimming, and a sense of not having refreshed my brain the way I’d refreshed my body, so, it being the days of the Louise Hay and other ‘gurus’ I decided to do affirmations. “I relax and trust life, money comes easily to me” scanned for the breast stroke, and I can’t remember what I did for back. Now I just count. Not all the time, but 10 years or so of meditation means I really don’t have to sweat ‘just swimming’ but after the first go round I noticed that it was third bunting, hoist, steps, end of pool, which was just over 8 strokes of backstroke the speed I was swimming at, so bunting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 flip, stop.

As long as the alternative is drowning, swimming lends itself well to an approximation of a meditative state. Swimming is neither eternalistic by nature nor nihilistic. It is radically embodied and totally existential.

When I was at school you always had to really hurry to get dressed after swimming. I really hated it. Claggy clothes and hair clinging coldly to skin, all to rush to a lesson I doubtless had no interest in anyway, and under the apparently watchful eye of our resident pervy gym teacher.

Now I am an adult and no one is the boss of me. I take my time washing and drying, resting and mindfully taking the next thing I need out of the locker and ultimately packing everything away in a sane methodical style. The building mirrors my own carefulness back to me – here is even a bank of five hair driers awaiting use in the most civilised manner just before the exit.

A couple of days later and I dial it back to 200 meters in total.

I’m back in the swim.

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6 responses to “Breast Up, Back Down

  1. It is important that we all find a physical activity that is relaxing, comfortable and we are able to do without it actually killing ourselves. (seriously people that insist constant pain after a workout baffle me. a little soreness that comes from pushing yourself is one thing… but)

    Glad to hear you got back into again so easily once you found your stride..erhm stroke. As it were.

  2. I always hated that “no pain no gain” maxim, because my body taught me that pain meant I was doing something *wrong*. Especially since getting MECFS, when pain is usually a setback, not a gain. It’s good when you can get back into exercise you enjoy though, so yay you!

    I like launderettes, too.

    • Yeah, you have to be so careful, and not just with yourself in the moment, but also about the inevitable advice you attract. Someone I know just went back to swimming after, I think a broken ankle? She was pleased with what she’d done, but on Facebook someone said if she’d done so many more lengths she’d have done a mile!
      Just. Not. Helpful.
      Also, I’m bearing in mind that there will be ebbs and flows with this, it’s better to do just under what you want to do, but it’s tricky. My energy and muscles and migraines have been just fine with what I’ve done, but I’ve had a big flare up of IBS and cystitis, and it may be aggravated by the extra movement, so I’ve that to address. It just bloody goes on and on, doesn’t it? But it’s better than the alternative!

      • I try to just ignore the well-meaning types who try to egg me on to do more, because they’re not experiencing my condition, I am, and I know my limits better than they do, but maintaining balance is hard! The problem is when you get adrenaline/endorphin rushes from the exercise and it fools you into thinking you have even more energy than you really do, so you go further and end up unable to function the next day. I’ve learned I can’t trust the endorphin kick, but still sometimes overdo it because I forget. Stupid brain.

        • I prefer to be able to function. Apart from anything else, my dog needs walking, and I kind of at least need to eat. If I can’t do that baseline stuff then I’ve gone over the top.

          My plan is to work within margins while noticing how things are as I’m going along, but not to get too whooped up on the crazy endorphin achievement high.

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