Practicing As I Preach

People often wonder how I can help them if I’ve never suffered with driving anxiety.  This is a common misconception that people tend to have if I’ve not been through what they are going through.


The fact is I do have my own fears and phobias. One is arachnophobia 🕷️😱. (Not discussing that just yet). Another is heights. But the fear I’ve been working on the most more recently is to manage my fear of open water swimming.


It’s deep and dark and I’d rather not know what us below me.  There’s even a name for it.


Thalassophobia is a fear of the ocean or large bodies of water. I can become totally overwhelmed when swimming in even a modest lake if I don’t have others near me. Submophobia is a fear of objects under the water. For me it’s looking down at weeds and rocks lurking up at me. Also, some man-made submerged objects like the rope that goes down from a bouy to the bed of sea, lake or river.

(Incidentally I love watching fish under the water).


I am a seasoned open water swimmer and have been working on this for a while.  At one point I couldn’t even open my eyes (with my goggles on of course), in calm and clear sea water over sand, and seeing any small cluster of weeds or dark rocks sent my anxiety levels soring! This included kayaking or being on my Stand-Up Paddleboard looking down over these objects too.


But as time has gone on by and with gentle exposure and coping strategies my levels have reduced to a much more manageable level. though it can still take me by surprise every now and then.


🤿 I snorkelled in the Med earlier this summer and I forced myself to swim over rocks that harboured the beautiful fish. I would spike occasionally to 6 (out of 10) before calming myself down.


I’m considerably calmer than I used to be and can now cope with small clusters of rocks and weeds much better than two or three years ago.


However, I recently visited a friend in Dorset and agreed to swim out to and along the string of bouys parallel to the beach about 100 meters from the shore-line. It started fine as I was looking down at sand and as we went out and got deeper. Then a huge shallow bank covered in dark seaweed appeared under me and I started to freak! Had I been able to clear it in a few seconds it would have been manageable, but it went on for a while and the seabed seemed dark all around. I did try to reframe my fear by appreciating the beauty of the different coloured foliage but by now I was panicking. My anxiety level was a good 8.


I had to revert to heads up breaststroke for a while to bring my anxiety levels back down and the weedy bank reverted to sand again. I did the rest of the swim without much too much bother and even made myself look at the ropes connected to the bouys anchored to the sandy bed.


However, it was constantly in the back of my mind through the rest of that swim that I had to go back over it again to return to the beach. It couldn’t be avoided, aside from closing my eyes again or heads up, but I did my best to embrace the challenge and turn my fear into curiosity instead.  I made it back to the beach having enjoyed a lovely swim.


I’m pushing myself gradually and when I look back, I have come on leaps and bounds. My next challenge was to swim the whole way round my local lake with my eyes open looking down at the shallow shelf without freaking out.  As with all of us facing our fears, it’s eighty percent mindset and twenty percent opportunity.  That opportunity came about in the September heatwave.  I couldn’t face the local Parkrun, so I decided to go to my local lake.  Knowing there would be plenty of people there being drawn by the good weather, but not swimming with anyone in particular (otherwise I would have chatted all the way round doing breaststroke), the opportunity was perfect.  I had already visualised myself doing this with my eyes open, so I just had to get on with it.  Well, I did it!! I’m not saying it was easy, and one or two things under the water did make me jump, but I used my coping strategies and I carried on.  I ended up going around three times as the opportunity was too great to miss.  I then started to habituate and desensitise to the things that made me jump first time round.



So, when it comes to helping people with their driving phobia I have plenty of experience in understanding how they feel and how to approach and move through the fear to enable it to become far more manageable. Then to be able to look back and smile at what you have achieved.

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