Resilience is a pretty fashionable word at the moment, you see it popping up everywhere. There are books about it, podcasts, documentaries, courses and philosophies. If there is one word which is peppered into every single discussion I’ve seen or had with people about the Channel, resilience is the one which features the most. Time and again I have seen the phrase “swimming the Channel is 80% in your mind”. That puts an extraordinary amount of pressure on something you often don’t know you have until the moment is there. I have literally driven myself mad trying to work out if I am “resilient” enough for this challenge, and lurking in the back of my mind is the idea that if I don’t reach France then people will simply shrug and say…”Well, her mind wasn’t strong enough otherwise she would have done it”. Do I care what other people think? Sadly, yes I do! I cannot bear the idea that people will think I should have tried harder…which is ridiculous as 99% of the world’s population wouldn’t even attempt it!
I have set myself little challenges since I signed up for this madcap plan almost 2 years ago, culminating in a night swim in a lake in June this year. I ended up being so frightened I lost a lot of confidence completely, and the fact I was so scared made me wonder if I had the bravery, the resilience to swim the Channel at night on my own. I can’t help my fear, so what can I do about this?
For me, resilience is closely linked to personal responsibility and patience. Those who know me, know I don’t have any of the latter whatsoever, I have an idea and I want it done immediately, which is how I ended up saying I’d swim the Channel solo, and how I founded Chameleon Buddies. However, I do actually have patience when it comes to big things. For example, on my 6 hour swim last year, which I hadn’t trained for and had no intention of doing, I had to be patient (I was on a Channel swim camp for experience, and ended up completing the 6 hour channel qualifier the others had to do at the end of the week). I had to simply keep on patiently swimming, stroke after stroke, feed to feed, hour after hour, until the 6 hours was over. I couldn’t rush it as time is a master of itself. Throughout the swim I kept thinking “No-one else can do this for me, so if you want to do it, you have to be the one to keep on swimming.” And this is what I mean when I say resilience in my eyes, is linked to personal responsibility.
Throughout the early years of Sam’s life, which as we know were blighted by physical and emotional turmoil, people often said to me that they thought I was very resilient as I kept on going. For starters – I’m his mother, so I didn’t have much choice! I also had to be patient – I had to wait for scans, appointments, consultations, legal processes, surgeries, decisions and physical recovery. I remember a friend saying to me “You are always so cheerful! How do you do it?”. I replied “Well, no-one else is going to come and knock on my door and make me happy, so if I want to be happy I have to do it for myself”. I tried absolutely anything and everything to get mentally better. I had counselling, medication, cognitive therapy, I read articles, asked questions, and patiently kept trying everything suggested to try and get through some impossibly dark days. I absolutely understand that there are times in your life when you feel unable to do anything to help yourself, that things are just too big, too hard and too scary, but no matter how hard it is, there is always a little something you can do to help yourself. There is the saying “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. I happily will fill a tank with water, catch the horse and take it to the tank, but the one thing I can’t do, is make it open its mouth and drink.
I’ve applied the same approach to my Channel training, in particular my strengthening of my rotator cuff after it was badly injured in 2018. I find people will often say they have a problem with say, their bowels, or their sleep, or their fitness, or mental health, but when you present a possible solution, you are immediately met with “oh, I couldn’t do that, I haven’t got the time”, or “I don’t like the sound of that”. Back again to personal responsibility – if you want something to change, then YOU have to do something about it! At the outset, I personally thought acupuncture was a load of rubbish, reiki was hippy nonsense, hypnotherapy was Derren Brown-esque throwing your clothes off hypnotism, and had no real interest in trying any of it. I then realised that if I wanted to help my rotator cuff, and if I wanted to bring extra tools into my Channel swim mind box, I was going to have to shut up and give things a go. There is no point in complaining if you don’t try solutions offered! What did I discover? Accupuncture does relieve pressure. Reiki does help me relax – and if I’m relaxed my muscles are happier, which reduces injuries. Hynoptherapy isn’t anything like Derren Brown, and I happily lie and listen to my recording of the session, which helps me to relax, and brings positive thoughts to my mind. I’ve had to be patient, try all the solutions people have offered, and sit back and see what the result is.
In the same way, when I heard about the ladies and girls in Kenya who didn’t have access to stoma supplies, I immediately wanted to help. Over the months it gathered pace, and I realised that founding a charity was going to be the only way for consistent help in a recognised structure which would have more access to funding. Was anyone else going to do this for me? Nope! I had to patiently research, ask questions, fill in forms, go round in circles, join forums, scratch my head and see how it panned out.
I know when the chips are down I can be patient. I know if I want something then it’s down to me, and only me to do it. By this I mean, yes there are always other people helping on a team, a crew, in a family or a circle of friends, but ultimately, it is ME who has to keep on swimming stroke after stroke – no one else can do that bit for me. I know in myself that I have a strong belief in personal responsibility, and I know that if you take your eye off the main goal then you can sink – in life and in the sea! It’s a bit like when you work really hard and you go on holiday – you get poorly as you no longer HAVE to keep on going. During those difficult early years, I knew I just HAD to keep on going. I couldn’t afford to waver, although of course I did have breakdowns and relapses, but in the main I really did just keep on going day after day after day, through the heartache, the fear, the grief and the pain. The legal process alone made me want to smash windows and scream at the top of my voice with rage, but I knew if I started doing that then I’d lose my focus and I would actually make my life harder. When I did my 6 hour swim, I knew I couldn’t think about being tired or sore, as once that is in your mind, it starts to waver. If you feel a waver then kick it out! I say this, but I frequently waver in training, which of course brings out the little devil on my shoulder, who says “Well, if you waver in training, what will happen on a big swim?”. The difference is on training, is that I know I CAN stop…on the big swim I can’t, and for that my mind kicks into a different game. For my A Levels, I did bugger all work for my Classics, got a U at the mocks in January, and then worked my arse off for 3 months before the exam and ended up with one of the top marks in the country. I know what I’m capable of.
I don’t think I’m much different to most of you. Mums who are going through child birth injury hell – you are the same as me! You are keeping on going, day after day, despite everything that’s happening to you. YOU are resilient! You are also patient, although believe me I know you will be frustrated, but the NHS demands patience of its patients!
This is why resilience – the art of keeping on keeping on – is about being patient and taking personal responsibility. In the time since I signed up for the Channel, I’ve ploughed through interminable months of constant physio, spent many hours on gym strength and hour upon hour tweaking my stroke, reading about swimming, learning from other people. I knew I couldn’t just leap in and start swimming 10 miles. I’ve learnt a lot about myself already. I’ve learnt that I DO know my own mind – I didn’t get swept along with the goal of swimming Windermere solo as the training swim I HAD to do, as my mental health simply wasn’t good enough. I’ve come back much stronger. The endurance work will start in January. For now, I am still being patient. I am preparing my body for the endurance that will be expected of it, I’m taking personal responsibility for making sure I am ready, and other than that, I can’t do much more.
YOU are also resilient if YOU want to be. YOU can do a little bit to help yourself in some way, you really, really can. You will be surprised what it can lead to!