Just when I was ten, I was afraid of swimming. I didn’t like the feeling of water brimming up to my throat when I immersed myself in water. I didn’t like the pressure of water pressing against my eyelids, or the slightest distance between my feet and the bottom of the water my toes could never reach. I hated the weight of my own body bringing myself to the brink of drowning. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control of my own body. The aversion reached to the point to which I felt like I was losing a grasp of myself whenever I sank beneath the waters. I am a month short of nineteen as I write this, and I am perfectly capable of swimming and manoeuvering my limbs underwater. And I also understand my deep aversion for swimming when I was little. I didn’t like it when things got out of my hands, so hopelessly that I can’t even attempt to handle them.
It is rather odd to realize this through the concept of water. Maybe this is why I have always possessed an element of awe towards marine creatures. Even the two goldfish that lived in the bleak corner of my house when I was eight held some kind of wonder to me. They are so free underwater – free of any sort of physical limitation in an environment I have always found so foreign. (Although using the adjective ‘free’ to describe the goldfish in this case would deem quite ironic because they have lived and died in the minute glass bowl in the corner of my small room in my tiny, tiny apartment.) But it still depresses me a little, just a tad bit whenever I see a giant roasted fish on the dinner table, with is once glossy eyes covered by a layer of dried cloudy mucus, its fins dried up and flesh ready for disassembling. It is a morbid, bleak feeling – a kind of dark promise that I will never be free of whatever that is restraining me either.
If you think about it, my awe towards fish and other marine creatures is completely invalid. It is normal to feel a little physically restrained when underwater, because the water is not our natural habitat. If you put a fish on the shore, I am sure it would feel incapable too. (Not implying that this should be tried out of pure curiosity) Any other land that isn’t home would feel foreign and unfamiliar. By the time I realized that I discovered that my fear of water was more psychological than I had thought.
So I have figured as I waddle towards the end of my teenagehood, that it wasn’t the matter of whether I am capable of swimming or not. It wasn’t simply the question of whether I can successfully maintain my floating stance on the water surface, or move my arms against the waves such that I can propel myself forward. Because I am adept at all of those now, to the extent that if I were involved in a plane crash and I had to escape the wreck and swim to the nearest island, I would probably be able to do that. I can proudly say that my swimming isn’t necessarily terrible, per se. The real issue is that I am still deeply terrified of situations in which I cannot do anything about. I still hate the feeling of helplessness. Throughout my life, there had been various occasions where I was subjected to this; when I say this though, I don’t just mean the triviality, like being unable to open the jam bottle no matter how hard I try (because in most of the cases, it is very likely I can’t).
These occasions hold such an integral position in my life – especially in building who I am as a person. Perhaps that is the reason I am so deeply terrified of this feeling, because it constitutes such a big portion of my identity. Or maybe I dislike changes. Or both. Who knows? The important thing is, I am still learning. I have found out that my fear doesn’t actually lie in swimming. I have discovered the specific cause of the ‘phobia’. I’ve narrowed it down to a point where this feeling usually occurs during human-to-human interactions, in cases where people I love are at their lowest point and are slipping through my fingers. I am continuously finding more things about myself – but I also know now that just because something is so integral to the construction of your identity, it doesn’t mean that it has to dominate yourself as a person.
A fish can swim. So can I. I was afraid of swimming, and I bet you a fish will not be the most delighted to venture on land. At least now, I’ve disintegrated the fear further enough that I understand myself more than I did before. Maybe one day I won’t even remember that I’ve had this fear of swimming.