Boxed fear: how do you keep yours?

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust” TS Eliot: The Waste Land

“I will show you fear in a tupperware box” Cae Tolman: The Open Water

I am now in the last few days before we fly to Hawaii. Lots of memorable and meaningful “lasts”: my last squad session, my last physio session, my last Saturday ocean swim.

I am embracing my fears, I am looking forward to the swim. I am not sure what worries me most, but one of them has to be a shark encounter.

In December, 90 minutes into a 6 hour swim with Marty, I swam over a 2.5(ish) metre shark, probably a couple of metres below me. I’d always wondered how I would react to seeing a shark this close and my immediate response (pleasantly) surprised me somewhat. While feeling immediate alarm, I did not panic, and after a brief chat with Marty, was pretty content to swim on, feeling it had not paid us much attention and had probably gone on its merry way.

This was a big thing to me. Beth French ( completed the Moloka’i Channel in December and wrote of her shark encounter in the middle of the night, which she addressed calmly and completed her swim. Talking with her after my encounter has fortified me. I know I will drop nuts if I encounter a shark, but I feel a little more prepared now.

That’s not the only aspect that worries me. At times I feel I can do it, at times I feel I never will. It’s not just the sharky nature of the channel; it’s not just the distance; it’s not just the current and swell, nor just the winds. It’s all of them! But, why else am I doing it if not to savour the challenge, to accept the meeting and possible beating the limits of my mental and physical endurance.

In my last sports psychology session this week, Paul referred to keeping fear in a box, allowing only a little to escape. A little can be useful, it sharpens the senses, drives motivation, squeezes the adrenals.

During yesterday’s swim, going through that first, tough hour, when I feel like dough (before the tolerable second hour and the third hour of awesome), I experienced a burst of fear and negative self talk, so I started visualising the box I was advised to keep my fear in. It needs to be watertight, naturally, because I’ll use it in the water. It needs to be secure, so when I close it, it stays closed. So, it seemed natural it would be a plastic box, in fact it became the “Sistema” box I keep my protein powder in. About 15cm square with blue clips on opposing sides to close it tight.

Through the rest of my swim, every time I felt doubt or fear escaping in little bubbles rising to the surface, I visualised the box, and clipped it tightly shut with my mind’s hands. The little bubbles of fear that had escaped? I could cope with those. I will cross the Moloka’i Channel with this box tucked in my swimmers. I may need it.
The power of visualisation. It’s amazing. I feel good. Just. Keep. Swimming.