fitness · Guest Post

Summer Forever (Guest Post by Elena Napolitano)

Ever since I can remember I have always felt most “myself” in water.  As a kid growing up on the North Shore of Long Island, it was literally the shaping force of my summers, the pattern of the day set by the tide schedule stuck to the fridge door.  Swimming in the Sound or exploring sandbars and rocky beaches, I learned to test my physical boundaries and independence. The prospects of where I could go and what I could do, like the summers themselves, were expansive and exciting. 

Kid Elena in the best bathing suit

This year is the first since those childhood summers that I find myself with long and unstructured time off. Beginning in May, I took a medical leave from my job to address symptoms I attributed to pandemic related anxiety and general burnout. Then one night in early June I had a “panic attack” that lasted nearly three hours. When my partner took me to the emergency room I clocked in with a heart rate of 225.

A few shots of adenosine, some diagnostics, and the care of numerous excellent health care providers (pay nurses more!) later, I was diagnosed with AVNRT, a form of tachycardia in which there are extra electrical signals that sustain an elevated heart rate. I opted for a catheter ablation, a procedure in which parts of heart tissue are burned to create scarring that dampens the rogue signals.

The weeks between my hospital discharge and my surgery were the most sedentary of my life. Even trips to the supermarket required rests between aisles while holding onto the cart for stability. I joked with my friends that I felt like a convalescing Victorian lady, vapours and all. However, I was terrified that my capacity to do anything physically taxing was irrevocably compromised. As an adult, I’ve never felt completely at home with my body but I have learned to respect its capabilities, strength and sturdiness and I have been fortunate not to have experienced any major illness or injuries. Up until this point I thought my body and I had a mutual understanding, but now it felt unreliable, weak, a stranger to me.

It wasn’t until my surgery that I began to recognize that, in order to heal that relationship, I had to be my own guide to finding and honouring my new normal. This realisation came in part from processing the trauma of the procedure itself (not to get into gory details but sedation is contraindicated so I was wide awake for the whole painful affair) but also from the example of support and care given to me by my community of friends and family, for which I am profoundly grateful.

I’m now three weeks post-op and it will take up to three months for my heart to fully heal. Recovery has not always been a linear path. On the days where my heart rate is wonky or the fatigue sets in early, I still resist the urge to feel betrayed and furious that my body won’t comply with my demands. On days like this, the knowledge that the false dichotomy between the body and mind is a construct of capitalism and a tool of the patriarchy somehow just doesn’t cut it. I crave comfort, fun and a place of safety.

8 year old Elena


I think I’ve found that place back in the water. My “free” summer has opened up time to swim to my heart’s content (pun intended). Somewhere along the way I tapped into some serious childhood nostalgia as part of my healing journey and am now fully embracing what I call “kid summer.” What this looks like can vary – sometimes it is rising late on a Wednesday morning and heading straight to my condo’s pool in Toronto. Other times it is days spent on the couch with books and snacks, nights spent staying up late to watch movies.

I recently impulse bought a nightshirt with a sparkly watermelon and the phrase “Summer Forever” that would have thrilled eight-year old me. Underlying all of these activities is a gentle nurturing of curiousity and potential, and remembering that feeling “myself” is not a static state but a practice of self compassion.

My excellent nightshirt

Today I’m at my grown-up version of the beach: my in-laws’ cottage off Georgian Bay. I grab my towel and head down to the water to visit the little group of painted turtles that have taken up residence in the channel. They are watchful and cautious at first, hiding underwater among the weeds at the first signs of my approach. After a few minutes they reappear one by one, poking their red striped heads out of the water or crawling up to a floating plank to bask in the sun. I lay my towel out on the stones at the water’s edge and join them in the basking. In time they will be ready to dive back in, and so will I.


Elena Napolitano is a white, queer femme who lives in Toronto with her partner and her intrepid little elder dog, Maddy. Part time Art Historian, full time nerd, she also loves swimming, hiking and painting cheeky little birds.

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