I Swam Away from Depression

by Heidi McAllister

This past year I went through an extremely bad patch of depression. It was really dark, I just wanted to hide away from everyone, stay inside my house and get swallowed up into nothingness and self-pity. I eventually had to move into my friend’s house for a month, so that he could keep an eye on me (I am extremely grateful for that support).

During this whole experience I reconnected with a swimming buddy of mine, who encouraged me to climb back into the pool. I was very reluctant at first and found it extremely hard waking up at the crack of dawn to do endless laps in the chlorinated water. The first month went by and I started feeling a bit better about myself and life in general (at least I had some small reason to climb out of bed in the morning – having a training buddy is a great motivator).

The following month he persuaded me to join the Cape Town Cold Water Swimmers who met every Sunday at the beach for a morning swim (by cold I mean 10-12 degrees – Atlantic Ocean – think Titanic waters). I climbed into that water; my breath was taken away – pure shock! Everything aches, you head, your bones, your fingers and your toes. I started swimming and eventually eased into my pace. When I climbed out all the blood rushed back to my skin and I turned bright red. I have never felt more alive and awake after swimming in the cold sea that day. That day I decided that I wanted to swim the famous Robben Island Crossing. This was a massive challenge – swimming 7.5 km in frigid water in nothing but a bathing costume, cap and goggles – I would be basically naked… BUT I was set on completing this challenge.
I used the RIVAS process I learnt on the More To Life completion evening. I visualised myself swimming all that way, I wrote about what my underlying motivations were and why I wanted to undertake this adventure. I kept reading my RIVAS every week to remind myself about why I was doing this crazy swim.

So on the 10th of December I was ferried across Table Bay to start my swim from Robben Island. The water was perfect, calm and a warm 14 degrees. I swam with a friend of mine; and we stuck together the whole way. When I started getting tired at about 4 km I reminded myself as to why I was doing this – which was to be brave, to prove that I am capable of setting my mind to a task and completing it. I visualised myself stepping onto the shore at the end of this adventure and feeling amazing. We kept at it and the land was getting closer and closer. Eventually we arrived at the rocks just off Big Bay, with just 400 meters to go. The excitement grew within me … I knew I had made it when I saw the sand at the bottom of the water. When I stood up on the shore I felt like a champion!!! I had just swum 7.5km from Robben Island to Big Bay and I felt beyond amazing.

This swim was symbolic for me; I swam away from my own prison, that depressive place I found myself in. I left all that “Mindtalk” behind on that island, and even though the swim was tough, I knew that when I touched land I would have achieved something truly amazing!!! I would have proved to myself that I am brave, I am worthwhile, and my life is worth living. The More To Life RIVAS process really helped me to achieve this goal.

Swimming has now become my special time to reflect on what is happening in life. There is something about the rhythmic breathing, feeling your body glide through the water. It’s almost spiritual being surrounded by nature; I have seen seals, dolphins, penguins and even swam in kelp forests. I love feeling alive; I am on the road to a better place, which is actually exciting. I join these crazy cold water swimmers every Sunday for our weekly dip and I have made so many new friends – which I thought I could never do, as I am an introverted type of person.

I hope this little happy moment inspires someone out there to also take a dip into the unknown and trust the process of life. And lastly I want to say thank you to my friend who encouraged me that day to climb back into the water where I found myself once more.

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