Since moving to South Africa from the UK when I was four years old I have lived by the sea, first in Durban and now in Cape Town. Despite this, and notwithstanding the fact that spending time on the beach has always been a favourite activity of people around me, I have never really been much of a beach-goer. I’ve always been far more likely to spend what precious leisure time I have with my head buried in a book. Despite that, it would probably surprise you to hear that my first time swimming in the ocean was during my recent trip to Mauritius.
I mentioned this to friends while we were visiting them in Mauritius. When they asked why, I told them that I was scared of the waves. And they laughed at me, saying they didn’t see me as being afraid of anything!
I tried to explain my feelings in greater depth. And, in case you’re curious, here is my reasoning.
I’m the first to admit that I consider myself something of a control freak. Not that I feel the need to constantly order people around, but rather that I strongly prefer to know I am in control of myself in my environment. I am usually on high alert for everything that is going on around me – it is part of the way I orientate myself in the world. But it does mean that I become anxious when there is lots going on. Noisy places like train stations and airports can put me on edge as I try… and frequently fail… to pay attention to all the sound and movement that is happening. Because I feel disorientated, I become stressed.
Being in the sea is a little like that. I feel disorientated because I cannot control the forces around me. With sight it would be so easy – I’d be able to tell at a glance whether I was swimming towards or away from the beach. I’d be able to know what was in my immediate environment. And I’d be able to anticipate the movement of the waves around me, at least to an extent.
It’s much harder to do that without sight. I find the constant movement of the waves disorientating as they seemingly buffer me from every direction.
I don’t know whether I’m facing out into the ocean or towards the beach. I don’t have my guide dog, my white cane, my technology to help orientate me, and the sense of touch is of absolutely no help to me. Sound travels oddly across water, so I can’t even use the ambient sounds to locate myself. And, on top of that, I have a constant sneaking suspicion that I’m going to be eaten by a shark!
I’m sure that I would learn different ways to overcome these challenges and orientate myself more comfortably if I were to swim in the ocean more often.
I’d probably quickly feel more accustomed to the ebb and flow of the water. I’d learn to be less anxious about not being able to reach out and touch something to orientate myself. And I have no doubt I would find techniques to work out which way I was swimming through using the ambient sounds.
For now I don’t consider it very likely that I’ll make it a priority – the sea is just so cold and the waves so rough in Cape Town. Maybe if I happen to be in a place with water similar to that in Mauritius I might give it another try. And then I’d be just that little bit more willing to get into the water.
Except that I’m not sure that anything could help me get over my sneaking suspicion that I was about to be eaten by a shark!