How a Swimming Challenge Helped Me Fall Back in Love with my Body

 

This week we are luck enough to have another blog by Evelyn. You can read her first blog here!

Hello again! If you read my last post, you may well be worried that I’m about to moan some more about the horrid realities of chronic back pain. Don’t fear, this is a positive post! You’re about to feel uplifted and inspired. Or, at the very least, not depressed?

This story begins with finding myself suddenly with three whole weeks of nothing to do while I rejoiced in leaving my old, stressful job, and waited for my shiny new job to begin. I found that the long hours and high pressure of my previous position had left me feeling quite drained, unfit, and frankly, helplessly not in control of my own life. I know it seems weird to say that a job can make you feel like you no longer have any say in what happens to you, but let me tell you, when you’re frazzled to the point where you feel you physically can’t do anything after work except eat a take away and watch Netflix while screening calls from your loved ones because you physically and emotionally cannot deal with expending any more energy whatsoever, it’s pretty damn debilitating.

Cue my brain (which fondly remembers when I was at university and had limitless time to swim and be fit) challenging my rather unloved body to swim every single day until I started my new job. I wanted to stop hating myself for never doing anything I enjoyed. I wanted to stop hating my body for only ever being in pain, and I wanted to stop feeling so helplessly unable to catalyse any positive change in my life. I also wanted an excuse to buy a cute AF swimming costume, which I did:

EV 1.jpg

Aformentioned cute swimming costume

So, I made up a fittingly lame hashtag (#Evelyns21DaySwimathon), and resolved to swim about 1000m per day for three weeks. And off I went, diligently marching off to my local pool, swimsuit in hand and waterproof Fitbit on wrist, ready to go straight back to my former glory days of smashing out a serious 45-minute pool workout like I was born to swim. *Record screeching against turntable noise* –Yeah.

It turns out that when you don’t exercise, you get really bad at it, even if you used to be awesome at it. I did 1000m in about 40 minutes, and I had to stop every ten lengths. I was exhausted, and to be honest, a little disappointed. I felt like my back was to blame for my shoddy performance, and I immediately assumed I would never improve..

EV 2

My first attempt at swimming 1000m

Nevertheless, I had posted about my challenge on social media, and the self-conscious part of me felt that all 342 of my followers would come after me with torches and pitchforks if I didn’t at least complete my challenge. So, persevere I did.

My first hurdle came when I missed a day. I thought “Oh crap, I’ve FAILED! I have missed a day, thus RUINING my 21 Day Challenge, and I have no option but to give up.” Shockingly, I did not give up. In a moment of uncharacteristic clarity, thought: “Maybe the reason I’ve rarely succeeded when faced with challenges in the past is that I’ve given up at the first wobble, or at the first sign the end result won’t be perfection”. So I didn’t give up. I posted honestly about missing days – I didn’t always need a reason, sometimes life just gets in the way- and I learned not to beat myself up about it. I just swam for longer the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. In a very Dory-like fashion, I just kept swimming. I told others to do the same when they asked me how I swim for so long, so often. “Just keep swimming!” came my merry reply, “It’ll get easier!”. And it did.

EV 3

I  made this selfie black and white because I felt like a real baller for swimming 2km in one go

By the time I finished my challenge after 23 days, (sorry not sorry), I had swum over 21 kilometers. That is the equivalent of swimming the length of Big Ben 218 times, or the length of the Eiffel Tower 70 times, or two thirds of the English Channel (which I admit wouldn’t be very useful, but you get the jist). I had gone from not being able to swim more than ten consecutive lengths on my first day, to on my final day swimming thirty in a row with ease. I lost six pounds and gained back some muscle tone. I cut ten minutes off my 1000m time. I went on a seven mile walk through the countryside and didn’t end up in a painful heap, crying and lamenting my frail back.

EV 4

My happy face after my final swim!

I didn’t become a fitness model. I didn’t magically cure my pain. But what I did do was give myself a chance to be proud of what my body can achieve. For the first time in over two years, I was telling people about what my body CAN do, rather than what it can’t. I didn’t hate my body anymore; I didn’t see fat thighs or chubby arms, I saw beautiful strong limbs that obeyed me and carried me towards my goals. I didn’t hate myself anymore; I felt in charge of myself and my life again. I told myself to do something, and I bloody well did it.

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