Hello Old Friend

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Guess what I did last night? For the first time in 18-months?

I went swimming.

And I still can’t quite believe it myself.

I don’t know why or when I decided to I just knew I wanted to go swimming and so I did. I dug out my old costume, hat, goggles, grabbed a towel and off I went. It was mentally challenging though. I’ve genuinely had this fear of going swimming since I retired a year and a half ago.

There’s so many negative memories associated with being in a tiny little bitty swimming costume at the pool with eyes everywhere. Eyes that feel as though they’re focusing on every inch of my body that I’m uncomfortable with. When I retired from elite sport a lot of people did ask would I ever swim again and I would forcefully say no. I thought I couldn’t. The pain there, the hurt associated with so many memories was too much for me to contemplate ever entering the pool again.

It was hard though. I pulled out my swimming costume and shuddered at the thought of putting it on. I was scared about how it would fit, how I would feel, would people look at me? But I did it anyway. I put that fear to one side, I fought back the painful memories that were digging their claws in and I put it on. I walked out to poolside and I jumped in the deep end (pardon the pun).

I. Felt. Amazing.

I was back in that water, the water I fell in love with when I was less than a year old. And I’ll tell you something…I still got it! I still got that feel for the water and the technique that makes gliding through the pool feel like the easiest thing in the world and I damn well loved it.

I am so unbelievably proud of myself. Not being able to go swimming, something that I love, has been such a hurdle in my recovery and the fact I simply woke up one day and decided I wanted to go for a swim says huge things about where I am right now. To be able to put those feelings of dread to one side, all those things I fear to the back of my mind and go for a simple swim. I felt so free in that water, I felt like nothing could weigh me down and that smile I had on my face once I left the pool? That smile was there all night long. (Evidenced by a quick snapchat to all those who know just how major this is, of course).

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The Decision I Never Wanted to Make

I think its time to break away from the sport that’s been part of my life for almost 21 years. I was 2 when I was first introduced to the swimming pool and I simply never left. Swimming isn’t something I do, it’s actually a part of me, a part of my life, my life is swimming. I don’t know any different. Until January of this year I didn’t know what it was like to not have that routine which was simply autopilot. I was introduced to a whole new life that others consider ‘normal’ but it was nothing like what I consdered ‘normal’.

As crazy as it sounds I struggled to cope without swimming in my life, I found the concept of free time difficult and struggled as the smallest change threw me. Something many would consider trivial, such as my sleep cycle changing dramatically, seemed to mess up my entire day to day life. Waking up so much later left me with less time to train and then I was naturally going to bed later because the four hours of evening training that would naturally ensure I would sleep early, no longer existed.

I turned to my studies to fill up the free time. Over January and February I pretty much locked myself in the library and focused so much on uni that, in all honesty, I was more drained than I had been in full training. I was pushing myself in studies because I couldn’t push myself in training. Leaving the house and returning at similar times to my swimming schedule and I wasn’t eating properly either. I was almost scared of the extra hours I would have had at home otherwise. I felt that all the free time spent at home would result in mindless eating and purging so I decided to stay away from home instead.

It didn’t really work, less purging but more starving and yes my weight dropped but once I started to swim again I needed to eat. 600 calories was fine with no exercise but not with even an hour of training. But then I judged myself for eating because of training. I hadn’t swam much I shouldn’t feel so hungry. I thought I was weak for feeling hungry. And the comments came too, the comments of how much weight I had gained, of how it was fine for now but I would need to shift it for any chance of Rio.

I couldn’t train for Rio….so the only thing I could possibly do at this very moment in this time in the hope of going to Rio was to was control my weight. But I couldnt. It kept increasing and I wasn’t used to not having stuff to do. I tried to exercise to shift it but my shoulder was so sore and I could barely even run without it hurting. I refused to go home as much as possible trying to starve the fat away and naturally the purging followed days of starvation. I felt so weak for being hungry and then even weaker for giving into hunger and letting myself have some food. Then I panicked and purged and felt more disgusting for having doing that.

All I could think of was how much weight I had lost over the years and how it had all been ruined since my surgery. I ignored the fact I lost weight unhealthily, focusing on pictures and memories of how slim I had been. As I lost weight I’d gotten so much praise and even the attention I was starting to receive from boys helped me want to keep losing more. Sport emphasised I had to keep loosing to get faster and get to Rio and the compliments I got from friends, family, and boys made me want to stay that weight.

And all I can think of now is how much I want to be that weight again, but I’m battling with the voices telling me to go for the unhealthy options. I hate being the weight I am but I can’t get rid of the association of a lower weight means more happiness. I’m trying to get rid of that but there’s too many mental scars…especially in swimming.

I think I need to leave. I think I’m ready to leave the swimming world behind and its a scary thought. I’ve always thought that without swimming I am nothing. I have no success or anything like that. But it’s been part of my life for 21 years and I never considered how difficult this would be. How much it would hurt and break me inside to leave the sport of swimming. I suppose it’s not how I imagined it. I was going to go to Rio and then transition into cycling but the swimming has not been good for me.

Even before I became international comments were always made about my weight, that I was the wrong shape for the sport. I need to become healthy again and I don’t feel like being in the sport of swimming is conducive to that. I think the memories cut deeper than I realsie and there are so many dark demons with swimming that I need to escape from. I need to put myself first but I feel like I’m a failure for giving up on something that I loved. I read so many articles about athletes with eating disorders who had to give up their sports and I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want my eating disorder to beat me but I feel like it has. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel like a let down.

All I wanted was to go to a games, and in 2012, they said I was too fat so couldn’t go…now they’ve changed my categories and refused to consider the medical evidence that they asked me to find…and I’ve had surgery…surgery I needed because my coach pushed me too hard, didn’t listen when I said I was injured so I got too scared to tell him, and then he would yell, saying I should have told him, that it was all my fault.

Everything’s always my fault. It’s my fault I was too fat for London, it was my fault I got injured and won’t make Rio, it’s my fault I’m so fat right now.

Maybe a break will be good. Instead of staying in the comfort zone of swimming, the life I’ve always known, I need to adventure into something different. As soon as I’m back from Italy I’m going to tell my coach and swimmers that I’m having an official break…although i doubt I’ll return. But I’m so scared to do it, I’m scared of admitting how weak I am, of how much help I’m in desperate need of. But I need the help and staying in swimming is holding me back. Too many upsetting memories, too much pressure to prove a point to every bastard who put me down…need to stop focusing on those things and focus on myself because without my health I have nothing. I’ve passed out one too many times and cutting my wrists should have sent alarm bells ringing about how bad things were getting for me.

I need everyone more than ever right now. I need them to hold me together and tell me everything is going to be alright. I need them more than ever before.

I’m scared of being a failure. I’m scared of never being good enough. About being the athlete who almost was, rather than the one who got there in the end.

I didn’t want my eating disorder to beat me and force me out of the sport I love…but if I had never been subject to such cruel comments and pressure maybe it would never had ended up like this. Maybe I’m not the only person to blame in my decision to quit swimming.