Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Notes From a Mother With Aqua Phobia... My Story

Today I am sharing this little window into my brain with you all.
I am sharing this because I know there are others like me who may find it helpful to read another story of someone with Aqua Phobia. 
 June, 2013
My mother instincts are screaming at me. They are telling me to insist that we turn this car around. We continue forward.

My tears are pooling in the corners of my eyes, threatening to spill out. I try to hide them; especially from my handful of little ones eagerly sitting behind me. They are all safe in their seat belts. They are all doing well. They can breathe. They are warm. They are healthy and fed.  

We could just go home, where is it safe. We could just go to Grandma’s; where it’s safe. To a park, to a store, to a restaurant? No, we are going to go put our children in danger. 

We were given all of these precious angels as a gift, and we are going to bring them straight into a place where they are not safe. A place where I am helpless.  A place I have nightmares about.

My husband is excited. The kids are giggling and chattering about what’s ahead. I am looking forward to it. Yes, I too am excited.

I am a logical person. I think realistically most of the time. I am practical. I have been blessed with a healthy brain; I can control my thoughts. But I cannot control this. My anxiety is speaking louder and louder. I have Aqua phobia.

We pull into the Marina, and I realize my muscles are tense. I try to relax. I see all the boats; they are a pretty sight.  But that water. That deep dark water under the dock.  If one of my children fell in there, I would be helpless. I couldn’t get them out. If more than one of my children fell in…

We jump from the dock onto the big boat. I am tense again, and it is so hard to relax. There are as many adults as there are children. We are all ok. There are no big waves here in the Marina. Have faith, I tell myself.  

When we go down into the cabin, I feel a little bit safer. And then I imagine being stuck in here with my little ones while the boat is capsized. Rational me reminds me that we are just sitting at a dock, there is no way we are going to flip. I feel silly for my own thoughts.

 I try not to show my children my fear. I want them to be able to enjoy the water. One of them is more fearful, and clings to me. Another carefully explores. Wayward toddler climbs up things, fearlessly hanging her top half over the rail. The baby falls asleep, clearly enjoying the rocking and swaying of the boat.

The life jackets are all secured and the engines are fired up. I feel a knot in my stomach. I wonder if I am going to throw up. We slowly troll out into the river. When we get to the big water, we go faster. It is fun but I find I am waiting for it to be over. The wind feels lovely in my hair. I can feel the spray of the water and hear the pulsing of the bow slapping the water. I love it. But I want it to stop.  When one of my children gets nervous, I am unsure of words to comfort her.  I look to my husband for support. He smiles at her and she is alright.

Back at the marina, I feel a little better. I faced my fears, and we are all ok. Part of me says of course we are all ok! What did I really think would happen!?  We bring the littles to the Marina pool, and they swim in their life jackets. The deep end in this pool is no deeper than my head. My fears are gone while they swim. I can indeed save them in this pool if I need to. I am not helpless.

On the way home I have such mixed feelings I could give myself whiplash. I feel accomplished that I faced my fears. I am so relieved that we are all safe.  I want to go back out on the boat. I am amazed at what an impact that one experience I had as a teenager had on my whole entire life!

July 2004
I am a teenager. I am fearless. I want to have fun. I am a very weak swimmer.

After running in the sand dunes, and playing hopscotch on the beach, my friends and I splash into Lake Huron. The waves are huge and it’s so fun to ride them.  We jump when they come and they give us a ride as they pass by. We are laughing and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We swim out to the first sandbar and continue to jump with the waves.

Someone decides to swim to the second sandbar a little further out, and everyone heads that way. I tag along, slowly doggy-paddling along behind the group. I grow tired. The waves are huge. A few of my friends reach the sidebar, and are jumping waves. I look at them and realize that in between the waves, the water is up to their necks. They are all taller than me.  I realize I will not be able to reach the bottom once I get to that sandbar.

I look back to the shore. It’s so far away. The waves begin to crash over my head. I spit out some water and yell for the closest friend to me. She swims back to me. In my panic, I grab her shoulders, pushing her to the bottom, trying to be higher than the water. To breathe. To rest my limbs from frantic paddling.

She throws me off of her, and comes to the surface of the water. “You are going to drown me!” she exclaims, and keeps her distance from me.  She yells out to the others, “HEEEEEEELP!!” I am fighting these waves that are trying to get in my mouth. I hear a yell back, “Oh, you’re fine!”  I did my best to scream HELP, I was weak they didn’t hear it.

I am done. This is it. I am so young and I am going to die. Right here in this big lake. I’ll be washed away in 
the dark and my family will have no body to mourn over. I am so helpless in this big strong lake. Help me God.  Please help me.

I blacked out after that failed attempt at screaming for help. The next thing I remember was being shook and yelled at, “PUT YOUR FEET DOWN SYLVIE! STAND UP!”  Two of my friends were standing on either side of me, each of them linking their elbow in mine, and my legs were floating behind us. We waded in to shore, where they dropped me in the sand. My face was a little blue.  I coughed a little, and said I was ok. They all went splashing back out into the lake.

I wrapped a sweatshirt around myself, dropped down onto a towel, and curled up in a ball face down. I trembled. All I wanted was to sit in my Mother’s lap. I wanted to curl up so small and melt into my Mum, where it feels so safe and warm. I was a teenager at that time, bucking against my parents, and wanting to be away from them always. But in that moment, nothing sounded better than being with my parents.

June 2007
I am married to a man who loves to swim. We are on Maui, Hawaii. He crashes into the ocean waves head first. I lay in the sun on my towel, content to keep out of the beautiful ocean. Once in a while, I go in up to my waist, bending over to get my head wet and cool off. Then it is back to the beach I go; to lay safely in the sand.

My hubby wants to snorkel. I want to snorkel. But I am so afraid. If we snorkel, we’ll end up in water where I cannot reach bottom. 

The whole time we are on vacation, realistic me fights with aquaphobic me.  On our last day there I decide if I don’t snorkel now, it is likely I’ll regret it. I opt for a floaty instead of flippers, and we go. We go right into the deep water.

I clutch onto my board, and peek down into the water. For a moment I forget my fears. What an amazing world is just right here, under the surface!  My dear hubby swims circles around me, eagerly checking out all the amazing coral and sea life around us. I cling to my board and watch whatever fish happens to swim into my line of vision. I try to get used to breathing through the snorkel but still have to come up for air now and then.

As I begin to feel comfortable floating on my board another fear begins to grow. If a shark comes along, he could pull me down into that deep water. Then I could drown. I would be so helpless in this endless water.

Logical me tries to shut out the fearful voice. I remind myself that it is so rare that humans are attacked by sharks that it is silly for me to worry. But the fear still dances in the back of my head.
The fear of a shark is more of being pulled into the water than of losing a limb or being injured.  I know it is unrealistic, yet I struggle to control these feelings.

June 2011
My hubby is still a fish.  He wants to build a big pool in our yard… one that he can dive into without bonking his head. He is very tall. This means he wants a very deep pool in our yard.

I think about it. I worry. I think about it some more. I decide I do not want to live in fear. I need to learn to swim. My children would be so much better off if they grew up near water. Then they can learn to swim young, and won’t have to be as fearful as I am. Ok, let’s do this. Build a pool right here.

The yard is a disaster. My husband is hospitalized a couple times along the way, making the pool build process take a long time. We have a huge muddy hole in our yard for a while. It doesn’t bother me much.
The following summer, the pool is full of water and everyone loves it. And I am having nightmares.

I often dream that a child falls into that deep pool and I cannot get them out. It is too deep. I cannot keep them and me up. I wake up afraid, and go check on my littles to see that they are all still safe and sound. 
I am excited to have this pool. But I am also so afraid.

I am sometimes ashamed of my fear. In other situations, I have so much more mind control. So many others cannot understand it. I know it is unrealistic to be so afraid. I want to enjoy life. I don’t want to pass my fear on to my children.

I am not afraid of death. But I do have a strong will to live. I have never felt so helpless and overpowered in my life as I did that day I almost drowned. That lack of control, that panic, that helpless feeling, has never left me to this day. This is why I am afraid of deep water. My inability to swim, combined with those fearful feelings are what make me sure I could not help my little ones out of deep water.

That experience on the boat has given me a new determination though. I will learn to swim. I will enjoy the water. I will keep my fears from my children.

One small step at a time I will do it. And I’ll need help along the way.

Sylvie Liv


  1. Extremely interesting, intimate and emotional to read this. I can't say I suffer from aquaphobia, but it seems like I understand your fear through this post.

    While I do believe caution by/in water is crucial when it comes to children, and to know your limits in bigger water, I wonder if you could benefit from therapy? This sounds like it was triggered by the very traumatic experience you had. I am not at all telling you what to do, and feel free to email me privately, but your fear sounds crippling, and perhaps you need to win over that fear.

  2. WOW!!!
    That was a HUGE first step Sylvie!
    Good for you...good to get it out!
    The Great Lakes can be very scary...
    Our cottage is on Lake Erie, and we have seen many a storm come out of nowhere, and catch boaters by surprise...
    There was a drowning about 5 years ago...very sad...
    Your husband will help the children with their swimming...you just sit at the side, and look gorgeous!!

    Linda :o)

  3. Thank you for the encouragement Linda! I do need to keep reminding myself that with my husband around, they are all fine! Or WE are all fine rather, I'm sure he also could help me if I needed.
    I hope that soon logical Sylv can over ride anxious Sylv, and allow me to relax near deep water!
    One step at a time...

  4. Very open post. I enjoyed the read, thanks for your vulnerability :)

  5. I am glad you enjoyed reading it Anna. I have to say it was good for me to write it! :) Thanks for stopping by!

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