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Thursday 8 December 2016

The unbearable panic of feeling alive

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

A swimmer at sunrise at the Forty Foot in Sandycove, Dublin
A swimmer at sunrise at the Forty Foot in Sandycove, Dublin

As it got darker, we stood side by side contemplating the sea. In places it was like a cauldron, elsewhere less wild. We had carefully walked into a shallow enough area and romped in the waves, brief snatches of swims, a bit of bouncing, but always able to stand up if necessary. It had been exhilarating, to be close enough to feel that power, but safe. We don't take chances.

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I especially don't take chances. I've got the fear slightly recently. One or two times when I was perfectly safe and doing a route I had done many times before, when the sea was perfectly calm, I have stopped and tread water, and had a quiet panic attack, wondering how I can possibly make it back. I've had to call him back just to be near me. I always feel foolish after, but he generously says it happens to everybody. The fear has got in my head now. And your head is your biggest enemy in these situations, not the sea. Don't get me wrong, I never take the sea for granted and I never mess with it. But the head is just as fierce an enemy. Anxiety, when you stop and start paddling furiously to stay still, wearing yourself out, is a killer. So you have to stop, and compose yourself, and slowly swim back, one stroke at a time, getting closer.

Once that anxiety comes in once, it feels like it is there ready to pounce. So I am trying to manage my way out of it now . And that can only be done with lots of swims. Getting back into the habit. Creating new habits, breaking bad ones that have crept in. And habit creation requires regular repetition.

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