Today my wife and I went to the beach for a swim. The sea was calm and cool. Sun overhead with the beach was pebble dashed with people. A lovey summer’s day if you ignore the fact that the high temperatures are produced by climate change and you should not ignore that fact!
I walked there in a t-shirt dress and loved the freedom of it. I felt air in places where boring male gendered clothes prevent air flow. It’s a small thing but not having a pair of shorts gripping your waist so air can flow around your body under a dress is a wonderful feeling on a hot day. Man up men. Wear a dress rather than going shirtless to off your patriarchy. Much nicer. I felt great in it. Cool and confident.
We arrived at the beach, took off the dress and got setup to go for a swim. By setup I mean I started Strava on my phone, an Apple Watch workout on my er Apple Watch, mounted the GoPro on my head, put my swim shoes on, put my phone away in the protective case inside my toe float and noticed my wife was already swimming. What? No, wait!
For some reason I felt abandoned? She always goes first because I swim 1.5x faster than her and will happily catch her up. It would be illogical for her to wait next to me while I slow slow gadget up. But for some reason my brain felt abandoned. “Ok brain. Whatevs. I need to get swimming.” I thought. I wandered down the beach to the waters edge and waded in.
This beach often has a lot of seaweed and sea debris in the mix of the breakwater. It’s unpleasant to look at but harmless and gone once you swim a little out. I got in and remembered I needed to start the Fitbit off too. I have a Fitbit, Strava and Apple Watch because I’m trying to accurately log my swims and none of them seem to do it the way I want. I went to start the activity on the Fitbit but touch interfaces and water don’t mix. I couldn’t get it to start and felt irritated by it. “Ugh. Fine. Don’t work how I want you to you stupid thing.”
I gave up trying and decided to not let it ruin my swim. I’m actively trying to let the little things go rather than have them consume my day. “So the Fitbit isn’t working? So? There’s swimming to do. Let’s swim!” I swam and caught up with my wife. By now my goggles had steamed up. No biggie. A quick dunk in the sea and they’ll be grand. My wife and I chat. My goggles steam up again. But I just did the thing that usually fixes them. Why isn’t it working now? I did it again and they eventually steamed up. My wife had once again “abandoned” me because I could easily catch up. I tried to be ok with the goggles steaming up a little and swam on to catch my wife.
“By the nipples of Neptune what’s that in the corner of my eye?!” I saw “something” in the water. Obviously a shark or worse the undead zombie corpse of a zombie shark looking to eat my brains. Whatever the hell it was I was out. “Calm swim? No not for me. I’m done.” I swam back to shore and bobbed around for a bit to try and de-stress. I was here to swim and enjoy the water. I can’t let these little things get to me. It was becoming a small duck army of little things though and they were in a strong attack formation.
I’ve written about swimming many times. I enjoy it but I’ve never been one who can confidently say “Open water swimming has saved me” or “I need my vitamin sea!” It hasn’t fixed me but it is something that I enjoy on most occasions. I’m a good swimmer. I wasn’t as a kid and the school gave up trying to teach me because I was awkward and wasn’t applying myself. None of us knew I was actually autistic and needed a different approach. The approach I took was to wait 30 years and then teach myself how I swim. It worked so yay school? I became good enough at swimming for the life guards at the pool to suggest I try their triathlon sessions. I can swim and I enjoy the water. I go nearly every week all year round. Yet, for some reason my brain collapsed in on itself and I desperately needed to get out the water. My brain was done. “Get out. Out! OUT! I WANT OUT!”
I gave it what it wanted and tried mindfulness breathing exercises. They weren’t an instant fix and I can’t say that they massively helped. After a while I felt calm enough to try again swam out a bit. The undead zombie shark was waiting in a different spot this time. I saw it and instantly panicked. I had to get out. It wasn’t safe for me in the water.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. It reminded me of driving at night in Iceland. Possibly the most terrified I’ve ever been. There’s no light and you’re acutely aware that there were rocky cliffs on these roads in the day time. They’re out there somewhere. You’re possibly better off driving the car via the GPS system than looking at the road. It’s the most stressful 2D driving game I’ve ever played and I almost threw up due to stress. Today’s calming swim felt like that. Uncontrollable fear.
Was this sensory overload? Too hot + bright midday sun + stuff in the water + fiddly watch + illogical feeling of being abandoned + zombie shark sightings = autistic meltdown of a sort? From what I’ve read meltdown’s are the outward explosion of being overloaded by your senses that looks like a child having a tantrum. Shutdown is retreating inward like you’re being a grumpy grump. Meltdowns and shutdowns are far more complicated than that. In this moment it didn’t feel like a shutdown and I didn’t feel like I was having a meltdown either. It was panic. But panic attacks include elevated heart rate, which mine didn’t seem to be, and other symptoms. My only real symptom was fear. Massively illogical fear.
About an hour later I felt able to swim again and enjoyed a little paddle for 30 minutes. Naked of course because I like to get out of my comfort zone and face my fears?! That is how absolutely absurd this all is. I could stealth skinny dip knowing that at any moment a fleet of nuns on paddle boards could saunter by screaming but just 10 minutes before that I couldn’t casually swim because everything was wrong and I needed to get the fluff out the water. What is that? What?! There’s no logic to any of it. I need there to be logic to it so I can work around it when it happens.
I’m happy the day was not ruined by this random small duck army attacking me. But what was it? I don’t know. I’m not an expert on autism, fear, anxiety, mental health or any of that. I’m just a human struggling to understand their own brain so they can be creative and useful to the world. There are people who know more than me. They are doctors and I need to speak to mine.