We are born with only two fears.
I have a fear of water. It seems this fear has been with me for a very long time. My grandmother told me that she would put me in her lap when I was a very young child. She would sit with me in shallow water and hold me and play until I became more comfortable. I don’t remember it.
What I do remember are the multiple instances of playing games in the water with my older brother and sister. One time, I agreed to get on the inner tube and we three bounced up and down. I didn’t anticipate them bouncing themselves completely off. I myself fell backward, legs still clamped over the tube, head and torso under, gazing straight up through the shimmering water. Scary experience. Over the past 10 days I’ve investigated this deep fear and what it really means.
We are not born afraid of water.
This makes sense, considering our bodies develop in a fluid filled environment. Not only that, we are even known to move this same fluid into and out of our lungs prebirth. We’ve all seen pictures of infants in pools swimming effortlessly. Fearlessly.
In fact, we are born with only two fears: The fear of falling and of loud noises. In some publications the fear of falling is said to develop at 9 months but most of these are making false conclusions based on the Visual Cliff study. I’ve experienced my kids being startled by loud noises and crying. I don’t have proof of them being afraid of falling as infants.
Neither of my children are afraid of water and both submerge themselves with ease and joy. Like my grandmother, I would hold my kids while in shallow water and we would play until they were comfortable.
A few supportive friends have commented on how brave I am to get in a boat with such a strong fear. I’d like to come clean on this matter. I am not the least bit afraid of boats or of being in boats. I am just as strangely comfortable in large boats, as big as a cruise ship, as I am in small boats, as little as a rowing shell.
Understanding the phenomenon of fear in water has been a long time coming. As a matter of fact, I would not have admitted it were true before that float test on May 26. I actually never put myself to the test – I’ve been able to avoid being in deep water for most of my life. I never suspected because I can go in and out of shallow water with ease.
I arrived at the pool to take my test and was told the life guard on duty was the head of the life guard program and I felt a little better. When Rose took me to the back room to get fit for a flotation device, my feelings took a nose dive. The only adult size they had was an XS and difficult to put on even before I got in the water. I questioned her about it and she just gave me a big sigh adding ‘Just do the best you can.’ I was not entirely convinced.
With that, Rose turned toward the pool and asked me to walk past her along a narrow platform in the direction of what she laughingly referred to as ‘the tank’. Oddly, moving along that 2 1/2 foot concrete strip made me think of ‘walking the plank’. I couldn’t recall what movie that idea had come from.
The moment I stepped down the ladder into 8 feet of water, I began shuddering. The warm water was only a little comfort. I was relieved to discover the test did not require treading and that any type of floating was acceptable. My sister taught me how to back float and I was confident I could sustain it for 10 minutes. What I realized too late, in the water and feet sinking, pulling me down, is that all my previous back floats included paddling slowly using my feet.
Clearly, I had not prepared properly. In a moment of panic, I added fear of failure to my already big fear of water. And then there was the panic feeling to cope with as my thighs began dropping below the surface. I don’t mind being IN water, but I do mind very much water being IN ME. Just as I thought “I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be doing this.” voices came to me. First came the voice of my husband saying ‘Remember, full lungs float.’ and I took a deep breath. Reaching to overfill my capacity of air, my back arched – driving my hips down. The panic shot up several notches. I wondered if this was it, if this was the end.
I didn’t think of the children I would leave behind. I didn’t think of the business folding. I didn’t think of breathing. All I could think of was that image of gazing straight up through the shimmering water. My legs immobile around that inner tube and the bright sky through the rippling water was actually quite beautiful. I was stunned at the clarity of that memory. The second voice I heard was that of my sister, ‘Stay flat, let the water hold you up, relax.’ My submerged lower half began to rise and I floated, easily. My sister had saved me then and she saved me now.
What did the float test tell me about my big fear that being in shallow water could never have?
TRUST. Trust that you’ll get what you need when you need it. Trust in the wisdom already in your body. Trust that people who love you are helping you.
Experience how much you can still trust your body when you attend the next ‘Don’t Exercise, Move’ workshop, June 18, 3pm. We’d love to develop your trust!