I was thinking this week of the last time I did something daring. I mean, really daring and challenging…something that made me uncomfortable.
When I lost my sight in 2012 one of my initial reactions was a bloody-minded outburst of, ‘if this is taking something away from me, it is giving me something back!’ It was on that tidal wave of defiance that in 2013 I booked myself onto an adult swimming course. I have always swum, but after a minor sailing incident in my teens I was left panic-stricken at the prospect of even dipping a toe into open water. I became adept at getting out of any water-based activities, even splashing in shallow coves was diverted with pleas of ‘contact lenses’, or ‘it’s too cold’. I never said it out loud, but the truth was I was terrified. It was only when my young son pleaded with me to play with him in the pool one summer, that I thought it was time to sort this out.
My first swimming lesson saw me sobbing uncontrollably into the water, horrified at the emotional outpouring I was inflicting upon my teacher. Calmly explaining that I was clearly phobic, she started by just splashing water onto my face (which was only just bearable). Week two saw me dipping one side of my face into the water. Then, by week three I managed to dip my whole face in the pool without screaming blue murder. It doesn’t sound much, but was a monumental moment. Once I could hold my face down in the water and override the panic swarming inside my mind, I knew the rest would come. And, it did. After eight weeks I was focused on technique, and trying out different breathing practises. I could already swim, so all I had done was learn how to do front crawl, but in truth I had learnt to overcome a fear that had trailed behind me for most of my adult life.
Four years on, I find myself looking inwards again, and asking myself what other small, but penetrating fears are holding me back? It’s easy to become institutionalised by your own life – your own routines. Even the choices we have made for our children seem terrifyingly safe and – well – small. That is the word I fear the most. I fear I will let the invisible disability that I quietly live with reduce my world. I’m constantly on the lookout for signs it might be reframing my expectations, and somehow shrink-wrapping my mind. I need to identify if I’ve made decisions based upon what I can or cannot see, rather than what I can or cannot do. I don’t want to forget how to be brave.
I don’t need to learn how to do front crawl anymore – I can hold my own in the swimming pool now. But, I do need to allow my other less dominant senses to come to the fore and be heard. I often explain to others that I use the vision I have in the most optimal way, but perhaps I need to do exactly the opposite. It’s all too easy to rely upon and indeed, focus too much on vision. We absorb so much of the world through different channels, and I know this perhaps better than most. I realise now, my fear isn’t so much about what I am doing, it’s what I might be missing…Perhaps it’s time to come to my senses in the truest meaning – and allow myself to see the world in different ways.