Swimming through Pain: A New Normal by Megan Binns
I am excited to inaugurate Wilder Swimmer Stories with this moving contribution from Megan Binns, a youth charity worker originally from North Wales but currently located near Edinburgh, Scotland. Megan also runs the Instagram account called The Sea Story (@theseastory) where water lovers share their inspiring stories and photos. Thank you, Megan, for taking us on your powerful journey through pain to the sea, a place you have loved all of your life and now found solace in difficult times. Sometimes pain and life overwhelm us and we don't know why. Some of us go to the sea to find answers and relief. - Dawn Swimmer
Swimming through Pain: A New Normal
by Megan Binns
Writing a blog piece is a first for me. I never thought writing was one of my strongest skills but it's good to try new things, isn't it? Thinking about this blog post I realised the sea and all water-based activities have always been central in my life. I was lucky to start swimming lessons pretty much in sync with learning to walk. I took to swimming well and from a young age I was hooked – I was a water-baby!
At the age of 5 I was encouraged to start swimming training sessions, both morning and night. One of my clear early memories is reaching training holding my Mum's hand, with a pink bag attached to me, sucking my thumb for comfort. I was crying out of utter fear of swimming lengths and lengths, believing I couldn't do it. Impostor syndrome had already kicked in at the age of 5 years old. My parents weren't the type to put pressure on my siblings and me: we were in charge of our interests and they listened to our voices. Consequently, from that day forward I never returned to swimming training. To this day I remind my Mum that I was told I could have been in the Commonwealth Games or even the Olympics.
However, I know that training at such a young age would have stripped me of my love for the water. In exchange I am grateful I have always enjoyed swimming with no pressures, no whistles and no medals. Swimming revolves around my connection with the water, not about winning.
I grew up with water activities all around me – beach holidays, sailing most weekends, surfing, rock jumping, kayaking, rowing and more recently stand up paddle boarding. The sea has always been a place I know and love dearly. It's somewhere I always return to. It's a place I've shared with others but also to have moments of solitude. Whatever the situation, my love and respect for the sea never shifts.
I would like to share a recent sea story. I have always wanted to live near the sea as it's been calling me for a long time. Last November 2019 my partner Luke and I moved a few miles out of Edinburgh, leaving the hustle and bustle of our favourite bars, cafes and city life that was at our finger tips to be slightly closer to beautiful beaches and to have our own little garden. What came with the move was a strong sense of happiness but also worry – had we moved out of the city 'too soon'? Was this really what we wanted? Despite being only a 10 minute train ride from the city centre and our social lives not changing at all, we carried this worry with us for a time.
On 24 March 2020 Scotland went into official lockdown. Lockdown measures were implemented and all of our lives rapidly changed. Our worry shifted, like so many others, to the uncertainty and incomprehensible life changes overwhelming us. Zoom quizzes were our dose of socialising. What was happening? The daily bout of exercise was a saviour. We live a 10 minute walk to the sea front, so I made the decision I would see the sea every day. I did this from day one and each day I would look out over the Firth of Forth and think to myself 'I am the luckiest person right now'. My worry about the move dissolved away and Luke and I both realised we'd made the right decision to move here.
As time went by my body started to play tricks on me. I would get stiff and experience huge amounts of pain. I felt tired to the point that some nights I was going to bed at 6 or 7pm. I felt like I was carrying around a pile of bricks. The tiredness increased and the pain was regular and intense. I began to drag myself out for my daily walks to see the sea, to breathe in the salty air and listen to the waves lapping against the rocks. Without a doubt these efforts and moments of stillness are some of the most peaceful and precious moments I think I'll ever have. Time kept passing. The pain and discomfort became a daily battle. I didn't tell many people because I wasn't ready to accept my body's inexplicable struggle. My body hurt all over – my toes, ankles, knees, hips, back, fingers, wrists and elbows all screamed in unison.
One evening I took myself out for a walk to watch the sunset; it was honestly one of the most beautiful skies I've ever seen. On my way home I slowed down as my left leg dragged behind me. I walked on but I knew my body wasn't happy so I stopped, leant against a rock and cried. Slumped against this rock I realised something was happening to my body that was beyond my control. Despite this realisation I continued to self criticize and silently scream at myself - 'Come on you silly thing, get moving!' I gave in to the pain and called Luke. He was by my side within minutes. My tears poured and poured into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around me to comfort me and gently said 'Let's get you home safely, lass'.
From this point I realised I had entered a new and difficult 'normal'. I needed help but wasn't yet willing to accept help. A few weeks went by, pain, aches, sleep, boxes of painkillers, tears and frustration filled my days. Where had I gone? I was no longer able to take my daily walks to the sea, except the odd day when I felt up to it but these were diminishing. But I continued to have my daily dose of silliness - giggling, singing and being my bouncy self.
Time went by and the bouncing and singing drew less regular. More pain seeped through and into my body and spirit. More time went by and the bouncing and singing stopped. Sleep, hot water bottles, painkillers, Epsom salt baths were my daily dosage of self care. One thing remained clear in my head – I needed to see the sea. I hadn't been for my walks in weeks. Some days the pain kept me in bed all day. My sister suggested I call these days my 'horizontal days'. Other days I crawled up the stairs and other days I was able to move freely with just a twinge of pain in my joints. I began to grieve my former body and long for its movement free of aches and pains. Where did that body go? One evening I turned to Luke and said 'I need to be by the sea'. So we drove 20 minutes to one of our favourite beaches. I was moving quite freely that evening so I went for a swim. My goodness! The feeling of the cool water lapping against me, the gentle breeze running through my salty hair and the sea's smell swooping deep into my stomach all made me realise that I had found myself again. I also knew I needed to ask for help.
Since then I am in touch with my GP, I am on medication, and I'm signed off work. Despite not knowing what is happening with my body, I know I have started the process of getting better. I continue to have bad days but try to see the light, even if it feels like I'm climbing mountain after mountain to reach the light. I know it's there between the pain, frustration and upset. I relish my good days and have never felt so happy to be able to move freely.
I turned to the sea for help. It gently wraps itself around me, washing my worries away. I go to the beach a few times a week now, usually in the evenings as I love the light at that magical hour. I gently bob in the sea and take these moments of pure joy to myself. I haven't quite got Luke into the sea with me (yet!) but he is always there to wrap me up in my towel when I eventually emerge from the sea.
The sea has been my hope, companion and joy through some of my darker painful days. I will always be thankful and amazed by the wonders of the sea.