I woke up last Sunday, a mild dose of anxiety making me feel slightly sick – the struggle of lockdown, the crisis in the world and not knowing when it will end. A dip in the sea, that would do the trick.
The high tide was going out. The water was murky and turbulent; swimmable but with a definite edge and a lot less peaceful than the flat water we enjoyed at the beginning of the month.
Normally, I get changed quickly once I’m on the beach, get in, get out, get home; but that day I was slow. The anxiety I’d carried down with me hadn’t disappeared, in fact it had got worse.
Winter swimming in the sea is potentially dangerous. It is critical to be aware, take in the conditions, and let sense prevail. Even if you’ve checked the forecast, it can look nastier than you expect. Then it’s a good idea to turn back.
I waited on the pebbles a few moments longer, sizing up the situation. There were some strong breakers crashing onto the beach, a couple in perhaps eight; avoidable, with the right timing. There were other people on the beach, some of them swimming. The conditions were challenging but probably not dangerous.
I had to take a closer look at my fear. I sat on the beach and tried to work it out. Was my fear a genuine and proportionate response to a physical threat; was it telling me to go home; or was it saying, this is outside your comfort zone, but prove to yourself you have the guts? I had no idea which was the right answer.
I took my coat and jumper off. Still not quite committed either way. The universe wasn’t going to tell me. I had to make a decision and let the road not taken fade away.
I stripped to my swimsuit and went in. It was a bit scary in places but beyond the breakers, playful, undulating and exhilarating. Coming back out (the hardest part) was a bit dicey but nothing, once I’d committed to the situation, I couldn’t handle.
It caused me to think; going in that day wasn’t the right choice or the wrong choice, it was just a choice. Conscious choice is rarely right or wrong; not making a choice, so long as it’s a conscious decision, isn’t right or wrong either; letting people make choices for you, that’s neither right or wrong so long as it’s conscious. Sometimes we can get hung up on making the right choice – and the point is, we’ll never know.