It’s rather unusual for a Dutchie in his/her thirties not being able to swim. Yet, I am one of those people. Because a large part of the country is under sea level and the Netherlands has faced some deadly floods in the past, knowing how to swim is quite essential in this country. In my days, school swimming lessons were compulsory, but having switched schools when I was 10 years old, I had missed out on them. Not that I was too bothered about this as the idea of being submerged in water was too much for me to bear. My mum sometimes tells me the story of how I used to squeal when she tried to wash my long hair as a toddler. I can’t remember any of this, but apparently my brother had to hold me down while I screamed and my mum washed my hair. To my husband’s relief I can now wash my hair on my own in silence (although he might prefer me screaming rather than ‘singing’ in the shower). Whilst my Facebook timeline was flooded with happy holiday pics from friends and their families on the beach over the last weeks, my only thought was: ‘if only I could jump into the water without sinking’.
Growing up not being able to swim was not only embarrassing, but also made me feel left out from certain social activities. It used to be very popular to going out swimming for children’s birthday parties, but obviously I had to make up an excuse and decline every time I would receive such an invitation from school friends.
I remember going out on a school trip as a teenager for the 125th anniversary of my secondary school. One of the activities included a visit to the biggest subtropical swimming paradise in the Netherlands at the time. While I saw my schoolmates having fun in the water and whooshing down the waterslides, I sat at the side feeling excluded (and rather warm being fully clothed in a space with a subtropical climate).
My parents had tried to help me and sent me to swimming lessons when I was around 10 or 12 years old. I absolutely hated it and it was pretty bad for my self-esteem. For people who know me now it might be hard to believe, but I used to be extremely shy, rather nerdish (okay, this hasn’t changed), plump and not particularly popular in primary school. Imagine being 10-12 years old, feeling very self-conscious about your body with its first signs of female curves, being terrified of water, whilst being surrounded by happy, skinny 5-year olds who swim through hoops like trained baby dolphins. I felt so depressed about this that I made myself literally sick before my swimming lessons, it was horrible. My mum saw how distressing it was for me and decided to cancel my lessons after my third one. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.
Over the years, several friends have tried to teach me to stay afloat in the water. I have mastered the skill of sinking more than anything else. For years I cursed my fear of water and regretted I hadn’t persevered as a teenager. I felt too embarrassed to talk to anyone about this, and don’t think even my best friends know about my inability to swim. When I discovered last year that my local gym offers swimming classes for adults, I started to consider taking up lessons. It was quite comforting to realise there are far more adults out there who can’t swim either: the gym offers three beginner classes for adults a week and one of them even has a waiting list! Perhaps not being able to swim wasn’t that much of a taboo as I thought? I felt quite optimistic about it, bought myself a swimsuit and decided to register for swimming lessons. That was exactly one year ago. I constantly made up excuses to not sign up, but the main reason was my fear of water. Yesterday I gathered all my courage and decided to at least give it a try. I was hoping there would be a waiting list, but unfortunately there wasn’t which means I have my first swimming lesson this Thursday afternoon. I had disturbing dreams about it last night already and spent this morning watching YouTube videos in preparation whilst my tummy felt all funny. I still don’t feel secure about my body and am not looking forward to walking around in a swimsuit amongst complete strangers, but fortunately I managed to join the ladies only class. In spring 2017 I’ll be in Florida for six weeks and my goal is to feel confident enough to go out for a swim then. Wish me luck and send me supportive thoughts for this Thursday afternoon as I will need them! Stay tuned for new updates…
I’ll try to bear this happy image in mind for my first class…
… but expect to feel more like this!
Have you also picked up swimming lessons at a later age or has a fear of water prevented you from learning to swim? Please share your experiences with me in a comment below as I would love to hear them!
Photo credit feature image: lifebouy in the water from Shutterstock