Last weekend I did the 2Swim4Life event – well I say “did” it and the truth is I didn’t.
It’s a 24 hour / 24 mile swim where you swim a mile on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours. In theory it’s a simple concept. In practice it’s a brutal swim. And I only managed 13 miles.
From quite early on I knew I wasn’t going to complete it all – my shoulders didn’t feel right, but perhaps more importantly neither did my head. I just wasn’t enjoying it enough to go through the tough hours at 2 or 3am. I probably could have done a few more miles, but to be honest once I’d done 13 miles I realised that I could stop and go for a curry. So I did.
I wasn’t too disappointed to not finish it. I have done it before and I knew it would be a struggle, so in the end it was probably a wise decision.
I was less pleased with my previous DNF the week before – in fact my first ever swim DNF.
I was on a training camp by The King’s Swimmers in Menorca. And it was a great camp, well run, great location, we were blessed with great weather and a wonderful group of swimmers. We’d swum on the first two days – a two hour swim and then another two hour on the first day; a three hour, followed by another two hour on the second day – and the third day was to be a six hour coastal swim.
A six hour swim is important as it is a requirement for channel solo swim (and many other long swims) and although I don’t have a channel solo to qualify for I wanted to it as part of my training for 2-way Windermere.
The short story is though that I didn’t do it.
I swam for 1 hour and 24 minutes and realised that I just wasn’t enjoying it. I spent the next 36 minutes trying to find something in my head that would allow me to continue – singing, thinking of loved ones, counting strokes, imagining completing the Windermere swim, remembering previous 1-way Windermere swims – I tried it all and nothing worked. So after two hours I got out. I just couldn’t find a reason to continue. I did get ‘persuaded’ to get back in again a bit later and I did the last two hours of the swim, but still – very much a DNF.
Both of these have changed the way that I think about myself as a swimmer.
Firstly, they have meant that I will no longer be swimming 2-way Windermere this year. Even if I wanted to, at this rate I’ll never be ready. So that’s now out. But they also made me think about whether I ever want to go long again, or am I just not feeling it right now.
While I’ve been thinking all of this through, this weekend I caught up with the Mind Over Marathon programme about people with mental health problems training to run this year’s London marathon. It was a great programme and definitely worth a watch. While watching it I thought about my own mental health.
My back was injured last summer. I didn’t swim at all and at times during last summer I could barely stand. At first I put my recent DNFs down to that – down to the fact that I’m still not strong enough after that physical injury. However, the realisation that I’ve come to is that the physical injury also brought about a mental injury and that while I’m physically better (although maybe not completely) I’m not yet mentally better.
Like most people, I don’t talk about mental health issues hardly at all. But watching the programme made me realise that I was probably suffering from depression as well as a bad back last summer. I certainly had suicidal thoughts on a number of occasions. I was numb and couldn’t see the point of it all. I wasn’t enjoying life and wasn’t sure that it was worth continuing with. In many senses I was lucky as I knew that my son still needed me, but I remember rationalising (of a sorts) with myself and telling myself that if things hadn’t improved by the time he was 18…
Watching the programme made me realise that the mental health issue was an injury that I’ve still not recovered from. Just like a physical injury it needs not only to heal, but to be given time to be built back up to full strength – and I’m not there yet, which is why I couldn’t complete my recent swims. However, also like a phyisical injury it may relapse and I need to watch for the signs of that.
So, the rest of this year will be about continuing to build up my physical strength, but also my mental strength. I’ll swim, but maybe not [too] long and not [too] hard.
3 responses to “DNF DNF”
Very courageous story
I’m pleased you have shared that Patrick and I think it’s a really special thing to do. We are all dogged by issues of the mind in so many ways. But our inability to come to terms with it are reflected in the fact that we have one generic term of “mental illness” which covers a multitude of conditions and therefore reinforces the stigmatisation of any conditions that aren’t physical. No one says they have a “physical illness” ; we refer to a headache, or a broken arm or whatever our ailment – why aren’t we brought up to understand the nomenclature of states of the mind so we can express ourselves and diffuse the issues around our minds in a similar way?
Two years ago, two men I knew well, committed suicide, both leaving a wife and three children respectively. From what I now know, they lacked a vocabulary and an outlet for their feelings. This is stuff is fucking serious and it’s time society stopped being so coy and pathetically British about it…
Really interesting post Patrick, thank you. I’ve worked in mental health for over 30 years and I have come to the conclusion that the seperation between physical and mental health is illusory. I believe they are co constructed. Nowhere is that more apparent than in looking at the correlation between back injury and ‘depression’. Take good care of yourself.