By autumn 2011 I was at a very low ebb. Work was grim, I was stressed at home because of the daily battle to get medication and food into my beloved cat and to top it all I wasn’t sleeping. Even writing about it is hard as it brings back just how black those months were.
Through it all the Lido provided a lifeline. However stressful and unpleasant work had been, once a week I could have a couple of hours when I stopped thinking about how miserable I was and felt a bit more like my normal self. One of the great attractions of cold water swimming is that when you’re getting into and swimming in cold water it’s very difficult to actually think about anything else. You are totally focussed on the physical sensations, on the effort of will required to get yourself in and keep yourself in, on the effect that cold water is having on your body. Without even trying you achieve that desirable state, “being in the moment”.
The rest of the brief spaces of time I spent at the Lido also had their own little challenges which kept me from fretting. Arriving and bagging a cubicle. Starting to work out my own little ritual for laying my stuff out. Getting to know and talk to more people. At that time I had no idea whether I would be able to swim through the winter, but I decided the best thing was to just keep swimming each week as the temperature dropped and see how it went. I started doing the Sunday morning race as an encouragement to keeping going and that brought more preoccupations; how did they work? I had to get my handicap, work out, as the temperature dropped, the optimum moment to get changed so as not to risk either hanging around for too long getting chilled or alternatively missing the start. Then, as we lined up, I had to listen for the starter and figure out when to take off jacket and flip-flops, when to get into the water, how to manage both to breathe and swim fast at the same time.
In the friendly, jostly atmosphere of the start I made more friends. I got better at managing my breathing. I got to a point where I thought I could try swimming the race crawl rather than breaststroke. I did. I won! I got presented with a cup!! More because I’d had a very kind handicap than because I’d suddenly turned into a brilliant swimmer, but it was still a cup!! I ate lots of cake. Feeling that I should provide some kind of payback, I started to bake myself, which brought new challenges and new joys. I got into the habit of rising early on Sundays and baking whilst listening to Radio 4. It made a nice change from my usual workday mornings trying to talk myself into a positive frame of mind about the day ahead. I kept swimming as it got colder. Various people were kind enough to congratulate me on how well I was doing. Non cold water swimmers were gratifyingly impressed by my exploits.
All of this was excellent for my depression. Setting myself small, achievable challenges and praising myself for succeeding was great for building my self esteem. And the Lido itself is so beautiful, just being there was soul-healing, even for only a couple of hours a week. Things were better at work, too. I had revealed to my boss, our HR director, various colleagues and my doctor just how bad things were, and they had all rallied round in helpful ways. I wasn’t exactly burning a hole through the world of quality management, but I was doing things rather than sitting frozen in misery, and that was a start.