Recently, an article went live on The Guardian looking at people who have faced anxiety head on, so they can enjoy open water swimming. I was one of those people featured in the article. The other stories are incredible, and I can’t recommend the article enough. So how did this all happen?
hops into timey wimey machine
A few years ago I wrote an article for the Maritime Museum in Liverpool, but before that, I was writing this very newsletter. The people at the museum had seen my work and commissioned me to write a piece we called ‘Waves of anxiety’, which was about anxiety and swimming. In it, I was very honest about how the activity never cured me, but it helped me better understand my anxiety.
Open water swimming showed me that there were things I could do that others couldn’t. I could outlast manly men in cold seawater. The kind of people who were probably good sporty types at school, the kind who maybe picked on geeky kids like me, couldn’t handle the cold water like I could. It was fascinating. I used swimming as a way of pushing myself and tried to come to terms with anxiety. While I couldn’t, and as yet haven’t, overcome it when in the water, I found my confidence grew outside of it. I got to know people and I became comfortable with people seeing me in speedos rather than hiding under layers of clothes as I did in my 20s. After a long time, I realised that I was dealing with anxiety in ways I never expected, and I had progressed.
The writer for the Guardian saw this article and wanted to interview me for the paper. They also sent a photographer to spend a couple of hours with me on the beach getting photos. Now, the Guardian has a complex history of not being the best ally to trans and non-binary people. I was apprehensive. After discussing the risks with friends, I decided I would rather not turn down an opportunity to help others dealing with anxiety because I let fear get the best of me. I believed and hoped the article would do more good than bad. Having seen the full article, I’m so proud of it, and I’m sure it will do good.
I had a 30-minute interview which touched on various subjects around social anxiety, school, swimming, and community. A few weeks later, we had the photo session, and it was surreal being on the other side of the lens for a few hours. I saw myself in the photographers, which put my photographer brain at ease that I wasn’t failing at my job (hello anxiety), and it helped us bond over shared interests. Time flew by, and the whole thing was a lot of fun. The beach was littered with jellyfish, the bad kind, so we didn’t do too much in the water. They literally washed up as we were working.
The experience has been fascinating. It challenged me to question my prejudice against the media and whether I want to be someone who is outraged by their mere existence or not. Cancel everyone! RAAA! While there are people out there writing badly researched articles about trans people to push a narrative of fear, not everyone is that way. If I carried that outrage in my heart, it would be passed on to others. I’m trying my best to be aware of that and prevent it. Curiosity not fear, that’s how I feel I beat anxiety and learn to enjoy life and spread joy… and find time for sarcasm. Woo. Yay.
2 years after starting this newsletter, I was commissioned to write about anxiety. 2 years after that, I was interviewed and photographed about anxiety. Both these articles are from real respectable companies that I feel legitimise the work. They allowed me the space to be myself and hopefully others see that. It also teaches me that you really do have to keep swimming. When I started this newsletter it was to help, and by not doing it I can’t help people. Every so often, it’s tough and anxiety gets the better of me. After a while, you look back and see that you’ve actually done good work, put the effort in and gone to places you never expected to go.
I’m not going to suggest everyone takes up trendy breathing techniques and dives into an ice bath. I’d like to believe that if you chip away at your anxiety, it can only be good for you in ways you can’t imagine. Be OK with it taking years, and years, and years.
Keep pushing. I’d say you got this, but I barely got this, so maybe one day you got this, OK?