Just keep swimming

Well, I’ve just returned from a family holiday to Florida. It was 90% Disney just like the last time we went. Both my wife and my youngest are big Star Wars fans, so my youngest had a light sabre battle with Darth Vader and my wife got a hug from Chewbacca among the many highlights. If anything, it was just nice to have a fortnight away in 40 degree heat.

The return trip was a bit arduous though as it involved a faulty aircraft and a four hour wait on the tarmac in Philadelphia.

Phew!

Needless to say, sitting in such cramped quarters for such a long time while the captain repeatedly switched the plane off and then on again, is not good for me and my MS. I don’t sleep on flights anyway, I find it impossible, and for the six hours after the 2am take-off I think it’s fair to say I suffered a bit.

Anyway – I now know the following:

  • I like warm / hot weather. I’ve been suspecting this on previous holidays but now it’s official. A few years ago I would’ve said the opposite, but it’s far more pleasant to take it easy and carry around a t-shirt, shorts and sandals than jeans, coat, pullover etc. I feel much better for it.
  • Disabled loos in the places we visited seem to be an add-on to the existing gents as extra wide cubicles. This means that even if you feel justified using them they’ll be used by the general public anyway if the others are engaged. There doesn’t seem to be the same stigma around non-disabled usage as at home.
  • How to swim.

So there you go, all things I . . . hold on a minute – what was the last one again?

Yes, that’s right, I’m so proud of my older teenaged daughter, who succeeded where so many have failed, by patiently and good naturedly curing me of my 45 year deep-seated phobia of water and swimming pools. I’ve faced up to some pretty scary things in life both generally and (especially) as an MS patient, but my fear of swimming is right up there.

“Think back to the dawn of time and of all the millions of people who have ever died. How many of them drowned in a swimming pool?” she smiled as she persuaded me to doggy paddle a handful of metres to the edge of our villa’s pool.

Without batting an eyelid she skillfully turned me from someone who panicked each time I slightly lost my balance into someone swimming the backstroke, breast-stroke and even the crawl (with my head underwater the length of the pool), within an hour.

I ended up tiring myself out making up for lost time. Every day afterwards I gave myself a big grin by double-checking that I hadn’t forgotten how to do it.

The next step, I feel, is working out how to breathe and swim at the same time, so I might be looking at taking extra lessons now that I’m back in Blighty.

The thing that amazes me though, is how easy it was to take that extra step and stop panicking. Once I realised how I naturally float, I was away. I did the starfish float, I tried to get my bum to touch the floor of the pool and failed, I even held my breath and tucked my knees into my chest and let myself roll in the water.

Why on earth didn’t I do all this years ago?

Also when I mention it to others, I find that most people I know haven’t really made it to the next rung of the ladder. I suddenly seem to be in the middle of a sea of people who aren’t that proficient at swimming. When I jokingly mentioned the fact that I like swimming backstroke because I can actually breathe, a workmate agreed and said in the event of a ship going down he’d backstroke to the lifeboat for that very reason.

Is it difficult to progress as a swimmer, then? Is it because most people don’t swim regularly enough to have built up a stamina for it? All these years I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that everyone is as good as Ellie Simmonds or Steph Millward albeit a good deal slower.

Of course, my daughter and all her friends haven’t reached a lifetime of apathy yet, so they’re all fantastic swimmers apparently.

So why have I spent a lifetime as a non swimmer? Well, I mainly blame moving house from Manchester to the rural redneck backwater of East Anglia for a few years as a kid; my crippling shyness at the time, coupled with an inexperience of swimming pools, particularly freezing open air school ones and the fact that goggles didn’t seem to have been invented in the late 70s / early 80s. Also, the lack of encouragement from teachers and parents.

Various family members did attempt to teach me to swim, but they tried to do so while up to their chest in the balmy sub-tropical waters of the North Sea. Claiming, while I steadfastly kept my arms crossed and my feet anchored to a pebbly beach, that their sadistic dads and uncles did the same to them so why wouldn’t it work with me? Or they’ve dangled the ten-year-old me by the ankles off the ends of piers for fun – memories I’ve obviously repressed until now.

Even as a teenager, I pulled an outstretched hand (and the fully track-suited swimming teacher attached to it) into the deep end of the school pool after thrashing around in a panic when a float torpedoed from my slippery grasp.

If I can keep on swimming in an environment I’m comfortable with, it could be just the exercise I need. The local MS Society branch have a pool meet-up one evening a week in a special school within walking distance. Here they obviously have hoists and the like for those with mobility issues but also a nice warm pool. So I might explore that option if it’s suitable. Also, the local authority where I live have nice friendly looking teachers who do group and one-on-one sessions for adults.

Until then I’m looking forward to my next holiday – camping in Cornwall – and yes, I’ve made sure there’s a pool.

Advertisements

The best drug

I’ve just had a weekend home alone while my wife and kids went to visit friends in the North East.

As usual I had a list of jobs to do and as usual I missed their company.

On the Saturday I made a concerted effort to finish everything. I tidied out our garage making a couple of trips to the tip. I chopped up some wood for kindling, I also changed all the beds and did all the washing, sorting out and putting away all the dry things from earlier in the week.

Jobs done, I treated myself to a curry and had an early night.

I didn’t sleep well, I never do when I have the bed to myself, and I eventually got up at about 7am with a blistering headache.

I had promised myself that I’d go for a run in the early hours as part of my gradual easing-myself-into-getting-fit campaign, but the headache was going to scupper that one. I’d probably slept funny, judging my the pain in my neck muscles, but it felt like one of those dehydration headaches that you get when you’re hung over. One that feels like your brain has shrivelled up like a prune.

I downed two ibuprofen, put the kettle on and ate a banana, thinking…

I was up early for a Sunday and I had time on my hands. If I couldn’t go for a run, why not go for a brisk walk instead?

I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of town and there’s countryside only a ten minute walk away.

So after I’d finished my cuppa, I put on my waterproof and I was out of the door.

Fab! Typically for a Sunday morning there was no traffic and no-one about, just a bloke jogging to start with.

It wasn’t long before I found an old farm bridleway that I used to frequent when I was doing my masters degree and needed to escape, some eleven years before.

At one time I had walked every footpath in that area, but it was so long ago, I’d forgotten half of them existed. I had to remind myself that the vicious looking dog that used to live in one of the farms was most likely dead by now. Some of the eccentric architecture of some of the buildings came back to me like a nice surprise as well, like the un-nervingly tall but thin house standing on its own on a muddy lane or the old rickety house with the stone tile roof.

It was lovely, the sky was still starting to brighten and with my headache now gone. A fine rain dampened my hair. The smell of mud and leaves filled my nostrils. The birds were singing, and a cow stuck its head out of a barn and watched me as I went past.

I said “good morning” to a handful of dog owners. I even shared a laugh with the owner of a large black Labrador that had run, leaping and body-checking me – something that would have frightened me silly at one time.

After about an hour of walking in what had become a steady drizzle, it occurred to me that a strange, yet familiar feeling was engulfing me. Something I seriously haven’t felt for perhaps years.

I was deliriously happy.

Half an hour later I returned home with a box of mushrooms from the local shop. I reckon I walked for about six miles. After cooking up brunch, I sat down, plate on lap, and opened up my Woody Allen box set. I watched Manhattan.

A while ago, I wrote on this blog about a sixteen mile walk I had once done in the snow, a few years before any big relapse and way before I was diagnosed. I wondered whether I’d ever repeat that, whether I’d ever just pull on my walking boots to hit the hills, pocketing an ordnance survey map on my way out of the door.

I’m not altogether sure I will, in terms of distance, but I have resolved, particularly as the days get longer, that if I can’t get back to sleep post-4am, I may just have to cut my losses and make the most of the early hours.

I’m not saying that I’m unhappy, but there are stresses and strains in everyday life that can build up and drag you down, particularly when you have a chronic illness and perhaps can’t manage everyday life in the same way that you used to.

I guess I’ve just resolved to take advantage of that me time while everyone else is buried beneath their duvets. Endorphins are the best drug and I fully intend to become addicted.