Jump On In, The Water's Fine


Everyone needs a pool. By pool I don’t mean so much a literal one in the back yard, rather a metaphorical one in which to escape, to contemplate, to let your mind wander aimlessly or focus with sharp precision. My pool happens to be both.

A recent diagnosis of MS prompted my aquatic journey. When first diagnosed it was overwhelming.  There is no cure or tried and true medication for my version of the disease; there is no way to stop the progress and no way to tell how quickly it will progress.  At what point will I need a cane? Will I no longer longer be able to climb the stairs? Will I end up in a wheelchair? The thick feeling in my fingers scares me as I type; the fact that it often affects vision terrifies me.  Doctors can help me manage the symptoms but there is really nothing but living my life as best I can and trying not to think about the “what ifs” or the “whens.”

Swimming takes me away. I am an aquatic Walter Mitty as I’m transformed from tired, slow moving and unsteady to swimming with the turtles, soaring over coral while cutting through the water like a dolphin. Swimming is the one physical thing I can do where you can’t tell I have a debilitating disease.  I feel strong. I can conquer the world. I’ve taken to saying the Rosary while swimming. It’s not an official Rosary because I can’t keep track of how many Hail Marys I’ve said so it’s a modified aquatic version. A lap of Hail Mary’s, throw in an Our Father and back to Mary. Swimming allows my mind to wander in a good way.  I give thanks, I work out problems, I write stories for my book, I think of my mom, especially when saying the Rosary.

Water has always been my “thing”, starting as a swim team kid through my choice of career. I was an Aquatic Director for the YMCA, Lifeguard, Swim Instructor and have always found my peace in the water, be it ocean, lake, river or pool.  Childhood summer vacations were spent on the Mississippi where you learned quickly not to get too far out into the river, and if you did, how to swim with the current back to shore. Better to walk an extra 100 yards or so back up river than drown trying to swim against the mighty brown ribbon of water carrying you away.

I started to fall in love with my wife the day she taught me to boogie board. Once we started a family, the beach was a favorite place to take the kids. Our best family vacations have revolved around the water, be it the ocean or family lake cabin. Swimming is one of the few physical activities I can still do with the boys. I want them to have memories of me being active, rather than watching from the sidelines as I tend to do more and more.

Everyone should have their pool.  I see people running and think I could never do that, though full disclosure I thought that well before the MS diagnosis. At least now I have a legitimate excuse when asked if I’d like to train for that half marathon. “No thanks, I’m training for my next trip to Safeway.” I’m sure there are more than a few runners who feel they could never get in an outdoor pool in January. To each their own, but be it biking, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, jogging, yoga or meditation, find your pool.  

Find the place where you can lose yourself, where your mind can have the luxury to wander with no real purpose.  In this day and age we are hyper focused and always busy, moving, task driven with few slow down moments. Information travels in the blink of an eye and response is expected with the same speed.  In the pool I do not have a phone or tablet or computer. I cannot even listen to music or a podcast. Yes, I know there is technology that would allow me to do both, but instead I’ve chosen to maintain radio silence. It is so very last century or the century before that.  The pool provides the rare opportunity to let my mind be at peace, to let the physical exertion and repetition of the swim take me away.

Finding the pool is more difficult some days than others. Cold, overcast days make it much easier to find an excuse not to make the effort. On those days though, the effort made brings even more rewards once the challenge is conquered. At the end of my swim there is a  warrior sense of victory. Once again I have done it, I have gotten myself to the pool, shuddered at the initial plunge and lapsed into the rhythm of the journey . Even when I climb the ladder out of the water and do my drunk grandma shuffle on unsteady legs to the locker room I can still feel a sense of triumph.  That triumph carries me through the day, the evening until the next time I am in the pool, in my head, soaring once again.

Breath, pull, kick, repeat. Find your pool.

Regina Stoops is a comedian, writer and Autism Mom living with her wife and three kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. Click here to subscribe to her Normal Notes blog.