Beating depression by returning to swimming
Regina Brittingham writes: "I remember the day quite clearly. I had read the newspaper the previous night regarding a swim demonstration to be given by newly qualified Olympian Roque Santos. What made this day so unusual is that although I have my masters degree in physical education and was a former collegiate swimmer I had not exercised in approximately two years. Most of my days were spent in bed. It was just by coincidence, or an act of God, that I even bothered to read the paper or leave my home that I share with my husband.
As a result, I went to our local private health club the next day to observe Roque swim. From that day forth my life changed. Emotions of past swimming experiences began to surface. I was overwhelmed internally. I could not remember the last time that I had felt anything at all, let alone feelings of joy and the sensation of cool water hitting me. I felt that I was observing a beautiful portrait being painted before my eyes. It was both a magical and spiritual experience.
The reason that this experience had so much meaning for me is that I have been diagnosed with bipolar depression. Although it is only a small part of my life today, it totally consumed my entire world at that time. Bipolar depression is a mood disorder that alters the emotions between extreme highs and extreme lows—there seldom is any middle ground. For myself, these moods changed on a minute to minute basis. This made it extremely difficult to deal with myself and the world around me. My self-esteem and all of my former successes in life I felt had been destroyed. I no longer felt any control over my life. I had almost given up all hope. At times I felt that it would be better for all if I did not remain alive.
However, that day I decided to see what it would be like to get back into the water. Due to the fact that I was so weak, I began walking on a treadmill at the lowest speed for five minutes. Although I was exhausted, my desire to feel the water was so strong that I continued to walk for three more weeks until I felt that I could get into the water and swim a few laps (I mean 10-15 max). I cannot describe the thrill and fear (of another failure) that I felt upon going to my first Masters practice. I had no desire to stay up with anyone. I just wanted to feel good and be a part of "something." I had decided to commit to being alive and "feeling the world again."
From that day I have never looked back. Although I may become tired from workouts I see myself swimming into a ripe old age. The friends that I have made through Masters swimming around the world are very special. They are real, they are honest and they are supportive. One of my goals when I attend Masters meets is to meet new people and to support them both in their swimming and in their personal lives when needed. I thank those individuals who let me be a part of their lives, their teams and their families. You have made a difference in my life."
Regina Brittingham lives in Chico, Calif., and coaches and competes for the USA Water Bandits.