Why so scary when I'm not afraid of water, but long to spend hours swimming in the sea and to be able to go swimming in my local pool?
Body image. That's my problem. It's not vanity, but years of sexual and physical abuse, years of disgust at my own body, years of self harm, years of shame and years of disowning my own physical body to survive.
Thing is though, that I've been to therapy. I've been working for the last seven months at working to bring together the separated parts of my 'self' (which you can read about in my previous blog 'A letter to me'), which included me 'owning' my physical body and all the feelings that brings forward, for the first time in my life.
Now, I'm nowhere near accepting my body. No way near. I still struggle with feelings of repulsion and disgust but, the EMDR work I have done with my health psychologist and the joined up work with my physiotherapist, has meant that its time to start on my next big challenge.
So, I walked into the hydrotherapy room and fear found my belly. To be truthful, that fear found my belly when I woke up that morning and my IBS that has been totally quiet for months decided to rear its ugly head!
I had 'seen' the pool on my previous preparation visit so was prepared in that sense, but I stood there looking at the pool and felt 100 miles away from actually 'getting into it'. Despite my fear though, I also felt strangely calm in the rest of my body, but waves of doubt and weakness washed over me and I felt drowned by them.
As I think about it now, the thoughts and feelings I had were akin to having an EMDR session in my head.
I started by thinking 'Look at it. Its a pool. Water that's warm and you long to get into. You know you want to swim again. You know you've got a terrible back pain that could be relieved by this. You know that so many people would love to be in your position right this minute, and have this opportunity. You know that the previous session was a group of people in the pool and you are wasting everyone's time and resources by being here, just you on your own, when 2 or 3 other people could be in here. You know that this is your one opportunity because if you don't do it today, you know you will never do it and will walk away. You know that if you don't get in you are going to be furious!
As I would though the EMDR process, I went with the feelings and was able to work through them as I stood with my physiotherapist, looking at the pool. He was so patient. I knew he had read reports from my psychologist, understood the work I'd been doing and we had met on a couple of occasions previously, so I put my trust in him there and then. I swore as the feelings ran through me. I felt rushes of courage and then swathes of negativity wrap themselves around me, taking me prisoner. Then determination stripped bear that negativity and in its place frustration at my inability to make myself function as I wanted to, despite my logical brain fighting to push me forwards.
I had the discussion as to whether any part my difficulty getting undressed and into the pool was about my physio being male...
'Male Physio' reasoning in my brain right then - 'Hell, my body is disgusting but he is a professional and you've had children and know that 'medical people' don't see 'bodies' as sexual (even though your physio is 'lush!'). He's seen so many people of all shapes and sizes he wont bat an eyelid'.
'Female Physio' reasoning in my brain right then - ' Its hard enough doing this without the added complication of feeling inadequate as a woman, weak, pathetic and childish!'
As I worked through the feelings and 'voiced' them, anger swept through me. Strangely for me though, not anger at my disgusting body for being attached to me, but anger that I might fail to get into the pool. I am not sure I've ever experienced my own anger as a 'positive' feeling. It was a force that pushed its way through into my logical brain and said 'Now's your chance girl. Don't blow this. You are the strongest woman I know. You can do this. You will be really pissed off if you don't do it. Don't let yourself down or I will be furious!'
'Get over it!', I told myself. I hate that phrase because it negates the severity of a situation so often, but nevertheless, this is what I needed to hear from myself.
I asked the physio to go into his office (he could hear me if I slipped, needed him or got into trouble) and I marched my body to the changing cubicle, made myself get undressed (swimming costume already on and wearing my t-shirt) and I walked to the pool.
I got in and sank into the warm water. It was wonderful! I felt a little detached for a moment or two, having to catch up with myself that I'd actually just spent the last few seconds of my life walking into that pool! My astonishment at my achievement dawning on me, I giggled and couldn't stop smiling. My physio came to the door of the office and sat on a chair. What a wonderful insightful person. He knew that if he came to the side of the pool or stood even back a bit against the office door, I would still have struggled as he could have seen the whole of me in the pool.
As it was he let me 'wallow' in my pride in myself. I moved about and felt the warmth in every part of my body. Still a little conscious when I lay back and my big fat legs rose to the surface, I continued moving around. I concentrated my mind and let myself 'attach' a moment of stillness, enveloping warmth, relaxation and contentment to what I was doing. Then I let the joy back in, feeling the comfort of moving my body so freely and (dare I say) gracefully, without pain. I 'walked' along the pool with ease. I can't really describe how utterly happy and thrilled I felt!
I did it. Another victory and a step towards making my back and other muscles stronger, in the hope that I will be able to walk better and 'upright', grow stamina and fulfil my dream to be able to travel without the pain and discomfort I've experienced in the last ten years.
Thank you Kate, my health psychologist and Chris, my physio. Thank you to the mental health wellbeing/pain management team at NDDH for providing a joined up service that for me, is working so well. Thank you. I have a future now.