Sine Metu

I’m in Dublin this morning getting ready to fly to Vancouver, BC in a few hours. Arrived here two days ago after spending the two and a half hour train ride mentally formulating this last Irish posting, while listening to Mumford and Sons (Tiernan and I will be going to their Portland concert when we get home) on my headphones.

My aunt implied, when I arrived in County Sligo, that she didn’t like my North Channel posting because it was “void of emotion.” I wrote the post like a speech therapy report, so I was aware of this. Also, the whole swim seemed surreal, like I was out of my body watching and analyzing from above. In any case, she wasn’t sure how my spirits would be, when I got to her house, and must have been a bit worried I was disappointed. In fact I was proud of my experience. My mind and muscles remained strong, and could have continued to the end, if not for unpredictable organ weaknesses.

While on the train, I planned to write about my current mental state: being fearful. As usual in county Sligo, while staying with my aunt, I read scary books into the early morning hours. I love a good thrilling scare! Then I would “sleep” in until almost noon, as 1. my body required recovering from the swim, and 2. from the lack of sleep educators get the last month of the school year. Falling asleep didn’t come easily, however, even at 3:00am. Not because of fear from the books I was reading, but because of chest pain that prevented me from lying down on my left side (this still continues intermittently) and that I couldn’t physically breathe while lying on my back at night. As I dozed off, I would startle awake thinking I might quit breathing during sleep, which led me to prop myself up to a near seated position, before trying again to fall asleep. This is slowly improving, but I’ve had a few setbacks (aka believing I’m fully recovered, then pushing myself too hard on a short swim in Lough Arrow, which quickly triggered a sharp chest pain mid-swim). Besides fear of dying in my sleep, I’m afraid of not being able to do really long open water swims again in the future, as so little is known about treating SIPE, and that swimming will no longer feel as freeing because I now have a known limitation.

I swam at sunset in Lough Arrow most nights during my two weeks there, starting the night I arrived there, less than a week after my North Channel attempt. I felt weak the first day in the warm (60 degree-ish according to my body thermometer), silky water, but by the next night, I could maintain my steady, regular pace. I never swam alone and felt very dependent. I always swam with David Gray of Arrow Boats (he builds beautiful wooden boats that are sold all over Ireland) and his dog Cody. They both vigilantly watched me from their boat. I am very grateful for this support and kindness since I’ve lost my confidence to swim alone (a must at some point for long distance swimmers in training).

On the train to Dublin, I passed a large lake with several small islands. A month ago, I would have eagerly and independently swam from the shore, and then island-to-island without a second thought, or concern for my safety. I hope that as I heal more, and maybe figure out how to prevent SIPE from re-occurring, these worries will decrease in time.

I remember being fearless on my bike shortly after learning to ride it. Six or seven-year-old me decided at Maureen Dunn’s house that we should ride down Alabama Hill (the biggest hill in Bellingham). We were at her house, across town from my home, near the top of the hill. I was borrowing her older brother’s bike. It was big for me, but I managed. As we biked toward the hill, we descended a seemingly very small hill, and I couldn’t slow the bike. I went up over a curb, through someone’s yard, and into the side of their house. Thankfully without any injuries and still on the bike, that was undamaged. His bike had handle breaks, which I hadn’t experienced as my bike had foot breaks. We did not keep going, and speed down Alabama Hill that day, but I have ridden down that hill since on a bike, with handle breaks.

After taking a 13-year absence from swimming when Tiernan was born, I know that for me swimming is like riding a bike, and I’m already thinking about what I would like to try next, so stay tuned.

Yesterday (as I continued to reflect on my fear and hesitations), I toured the Jameson Whiskey distillery in Dublin. Tina the fantastic guide began the tour with the Jameson motto “Sine Metu.” This translates to “Without Fear.” This motto was central to the history of Jameson’s, as was the phrase “sink or swim,” which she also said several times. Of course, this added a new element to consider. I’m sure I will be considering it on my 13 hour flight in a few hours. For now, I think I better start visualizing swimming without fear when I resume my meditation practice at home, or maybe even on the airplane (another place I experience fear, but of course the rewards of experiencing new places and meeting new people outweigh all hesitations there).

David Gray and Cody in boat preparing for a sunset swim.

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