For the first time in years I find myself in the ocean for non-triathlon related reasons. In fact, for no reason at all. Just to be in the water. To enjoy.
I can’t stop noticing how it seems like everyone here is either a child or with a child; maybe days at the beach are nostalgic for all young adults who grew up here then. Nostalgic and not realistic. Rare reminders of summers filled with beach days without a worry in the world. Realizations that those days are gone. I guess that’s true for others, too.
Coming home hasn’t gotten any easier. I power through it when I’m here. I don’t let anxiety stop me from going where I want to go, but I’m on edge every moment. I refuse to stop because of it. I’m here, and this is my time.
The thing I notice more than anything is I’m not afraid of the ocean. I have a long history of this terror. As an adolescent I had an irrational fear of tsunamis, but that didn’t stop me from a teenagehood of beach memories. I didn’t let it stop me from attempting to learn to surf in Hawaii as an adult, but that panic attack I had kept me out of the water for a long time. So it got worse. I got more afraid and more controlled by the fear.
I knew open water swimming helped me face it, gave me a reason to. Maybe it’s all just exposure therapy. But I thought I’d be afraid today. I thought those waves would look so tall and make me feel so weak. But here they are, and here I am, and I feel fine.
What’s the worst that will happen? They’ll knock me down? I’ll swallow some water? I’ll eat some sand? Step on an unknown creature that causes me to bleed? Or worse, I’ll get pulled out in the riptide and the lifeguards don’t notice? Fine. I’m not stronger than the ocean and I will never be, but I’m stronger than I’ve been before and I can swim, god damn it.
So I’m no longer a child who can scream in joy without worrying about who worries when they hear a kid scream, I’m no longer innocent, and I have responsibilities I need to get back to soon enough. But I’m no longer a child at the mercy of others’ approval, money, cars, or choices. I’m no longer a child, so I’m taller and I’m wiser and my confidence is not ill advised.
A wave comes. Another comes again before I’ve taken a breath of air, but I’m quick enough to dive under it to not be knocked over by it. No waves come for a while and I don’t know when the next one will or how big or powerful it will be, but I can count on it coming eventually. It’s unpredictable though reliably so. It will never be calm for long. It won’t always be safe. It won’t always be fun. It sometimes will! Sometimes it will be great! Sometimes it will feel easy in ways that remind me of childhood. I know it could cause a disaster unexpectedly. I know it could get worse. I know what the ocean is capable of throwing my way but here I am treading water and here I am not afraid.