Tess has been a good friend but I think I’ve pushed our friendship to the limit this time.
Normally I’d dismiss her fears as absurd but we live in Australia.
Noosa Main Beach occasionally gets closed because of shark sightings, the surf can get gnarly and, despite the vigilance and bravery of our lifesavers, swimmers regularly drown on the Sunshine Coast.
None of that scares me though. What I’m worried about is getting cold.
So I’m cursing myself for leaving our ocean swim so late in the year. It’s the end of April and there’s a slight chill in the air so we decide to swim at midday when the air and water temperature will be at their warmest.
This is our third attempt at an ocean swim but the first time we’ve actually made it to the beach so it’s unfortunate that the surf’s up with a swell that Coastal Watch clocks at 1.5-3 meters (5-7.5 feet) high.
It doesn’t look too bad to me but Tess is worried so we go to the lifeguard tower to check with our friendly local lifeguard who can only give us the official line: swim between the flags.
But playing it safe isn’t in my plan; we’re challenging ourselves to swim from Noosa Main beach to Little Cove which is well beyond the flags.
Tess looks worried but after a bit of dilly dallying we take the plunge.
My fear’s immediately banished because the water isn’t even cold. It feels good and when I check later it’s 23°C or 73°F. Positively balmy.
Noosa Main Beach to Little Cove is only a 500 meter swim, so it’s more of a psychological test than a physical challenge, but it involves getting past the surf, beyond the surfers at First Point and onto the beach safely. It also involves at least one poor swimmer – me.
Tess is worried I’ll race off without here but I’ve promised her I’m a hopeless swimmer and it’s no lie.
I’ll be going slowly, keeping my head above water and doing breast stroke. It’s a style I’ve perfected in the local pool and call granny laps. Noosa is home to the super fit so when I swim in the public pool almost everyone overtakes me including swarms of school children, a man with one leg and of course amazing grannies who would not be seen dead doing granny laps.
Thankfully Tess and I are the only swimmers today so we can avoid being competitive and focus our energies on not drowning – or rather not having to be rescued and ending up as another rescue statistic in the local paper.
We start off strong, powering slowly out past the breakers until we’re level with the surfers at First Point. They eye us off with suspicion.
Tess is lagging behind so I encourage her on.
“We’re half way there!” I say.
“So this is a bad time to get cramp?” she asks.
“No,” I say “It’s a great time. There’s a gorgeous surfer right behind you who I‘ll save you.”
Heartened we swim on, although I am slightly worried the surfer really is going to paddle over and ask if we need rescuing.
We swim on, and on, and on, as fast as we can, but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. There seems to be a strong rip pulling us away from Little Cove where we want to go and the granny laps swim style doesn’t seem to be doing much.
I fear we’ll have to give up on the challenge. I fear Tess will need to be rescued. I fear we’ll make it to Little Cove but end up getting flung on to the rocks by a big wave.
I think about the therapist’s claims that mindfulness will fix all my problems. As you can see I’m a tad skeptical (let’s blame that on the depression) but also desperate enough to try anything. I’m at the stage where my endless stream of negative thoughts are so disturbing I’d go for a lobotomy if they hadn’t proved to be even worse than mental illness.
But I haven’t got time for negative thoughts now. All I can think about is swimming.
And slowly we make progress. It takes us 30 minutes to swim the final 250 meters but eventually we can touch the bottom. Finally we step on to the beach and sigh. I resist kissing the sand and pretend I was never scared.
But I need to make sure the next exercise I take Tess on is a bit less demanding for both of us. It’s good to push your limits but I want to aim for activities that make me mindful, not fearful.
Depression is a bit like an ocean rip sweeping you out to sea. When you’re caught in a rip you have to try to remember the safety tips: don’t swim against the current, swim across it parallel to the beach and raise one hand to show you need help. Above all don’t panic, keep breathing and keep treading water.
Like ocean rips depression takes you surprise and pulls you out deep. Caught out you can’t think straight and feel confused. But it should all be okay as long as you stay calm, keep breathing and wait until you get washed up back on the beach.
Life isn’t just a case of sink or swim; it’s not just about failing or succeeding. Anyone can get caught out by depression and sometimes you just need to focus on staying afloat.
Do you like swimming? With or without rips and sharks?
Ocean Swim Exercise Review
Cost: $0. Though you’ll probably need some swimwear!
Time Exercising: 40 minutes plus 40 minutes psyching ourselves up and taking photos to prove we did it.
Average Heart Rate: No idea.
Fun Factor: 7/10.
Fear Factor: 7/10.
Post-exercise Glow: 7/10.
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