Would you rather be able to fly or be able to breathe under water? My seven-year-old daughter has been entertaining our family the past few suppers with “Would you rather” questions. This one, between flying or breathing under water, comes at a time when my choice is clear. However, if she had asked it two days ago, that clarity may not have been there.
Two days ago, I found myself spiraling towards depression. The current economic climate paired with my four-year-old son’s exercises in emotional regulation had been agitating my anxious mind. The stress had begun to cling to my arms, threatening to squeeze me into suffocation. By the time I sat down at the supper table, I was detached from conversation and desperate for solitude, a state of being that is contrary to my extroverted nature. I felt on the verge of a mental breakdown when, suddenly, I was hit with an undeniable desire: I wanted to go lane swimming.
Swimming is my preferred fitness activity, though, admittedly, I don’t often engage in it. My fitness journey has been one of ideas more than one of action. When I am thinking about fitness it is in the context of “When I have some free time, I’ll get to it.” The problem is that I am the mom of two busy kids, a responsible pet owner to an active dog, a socialite who desires to stay connected, and an aspiring entrepreneur about to jump into a new career—free time evades me. These identities of mine are used as my primary excuses for scarcely devoting time to exercise.
However, that evening at the supper table, I chose to listen to my desire, and I declared to my husband that I was going lane swimming. We had already made plans for him to complete the children’s bedtime routine while I got some work done, but I told him that I needed to go swimming instead. Being the knowledgeable and supportive husband that he is, he heard my desperation and encouraged me to go.
Yet, even after mentally committing to going, I found myself putzing about, slowly gathering my aquatic attire, waiting for the excuses or distractions to come. A small voice trickled in bringing guilt over leaving the family and household responsibilities to my husband. Isn’t that often the case, that women feel guilty about taking time to take care of themselves? I am thankful that my husband doesn’t support that mindset. Seeing my hesitation, he told me again to go. No other excuses came.
So I went. I drove the one kilometer to the pool, navigated the newly renovated changeroom, and walked awkwardly towards the lanes. Feeling out of place and slightly embarrassed by my existence, I paused to confirm with the lifeguard that all lanes were open. They were. Then, after more than five years, I snapped on my goggles and dove in.
What a glorious experience! The salty basin welcomed me freely, extending the kindness of washing the tensions and stresses from my body. Giving way to my strokes, the water let me rise and fall with the movements of my limbs. My muscles propelled me forward in a pattern understood by my lungs, which held air for me until my mouth broke the surface. I swam two lengths, rested for a minute, and then repeated, cycling between the front crawl, breaststroke, and backstroke.
For 30 minutes I resisted the urge to push myself in favour of allowing myself to enjoy my time in the water. That proved to be difficult as two swimmers in the lane next to me had performed their butterfly strokes at twice the speed of my breaststroke. To tame my competitiveness, I allowed myself to admire the strength of these women. Though their skills surpassed mine, I knew that it was a result of ambition, perseverance, and conditioning.
These women were working hard, and I knew that they had reached their level of athleticism by choosing to engage in that hard work regularly. I felt inspired by these women by their mere existence in the pool, so I chose to allow myself to think of myself in that light too. I left the pool with a confidence and a knowledge about myself that I had silenced. I learned that in the water I am powerful, graceful, capable. In the water I feel hopeful, patient, and at peace.
Two days later, these feelings linger. The minute tension that remains in my glutes and hamstrings brings me pride. It took more effort to get myself to the pool than the act of swimming did. The only barricade between a lifestyle that heals my anxieties and nourishes my body is me.
My priorities, while focused on good things—like my children, pets, and wanting to contribute to the household in duties and in finances—have needed this awakening to consider the exponential benefits of physical activity.
My fitness journey is alive. When I am not physically moving, I am growing. My life leads me to places that challenge my priorities, my patience, and my fears. Fitness has a place in that growth, and I see it attract me back to it in my most desperate states of being. This time, I am certain that I won’t be waiting five years before visiting the lanes again. In fact, I find myself thinking that next time I’ll ride my bike the one kilometer to the pool.
I couldn’t have imagined that one lane session would be so transformative. So, when I am asked if I would rather be able to fly or breathe under water, my answer is quick and easy: I would rather breathe under water. It takes me to new heights anyway.
Stephanie Morris is a transcriptionist and writer based in Alberta, Canada. She is a wife, a mom of two, and a newcomer to the career-writing world. As a fancier of history and literature, she aspires to blend the two in fiction and nonfiction pieces. To follow Stephanie’s writing adventures, find her at @words.and.smores on Instagram.