Just Keep Swimming

Two years ago I had the worst summer of my life.

I was suffering from the most intense wave of anxiety I’d ever experienced and it was making it difficult to leave the house for long periods of time. One of the things that helped a lot was swimming.

Swimming didn’t cure my anxiety, that’s an ongoing process which has evolved as I’ve gotten older, but it helped me to gain a sense of control over a body that I felt disconnected from. Like a moving meditation, I used to repeat mantras to myself with each stroke to block out the thoughts and feelings which threatened to overwhelm me.

I heard the voice of my childhood swimming teacher:
Pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide, pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide

I replaced it with the words I needed to hear:
I am alive, I am alive, I-am-alive, I-am-alive

I am ok, I am ok, I-am-ok, I-am-ok

This will end, this will end, this-will-end, this-will-end

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I spent the last two summers in Berlin where I was working for my year abroad. I lived in a suburb in the south west, an easy train ride away from large lakes perfect for swimming. I took every opportunity to go, alone or with friends, to feel the cold water and the rhythm of a good swim.

When I moved last summer, I needed that calming feeling again. I needed to feel a sense of control after it felt like someone had pulled the rug out from under my entire life. People talk about how a year abroad is fun and life changing, but they forget it’s also terrifying and settling can take a long time. Swimming gave me the feeling, if only temporarily, that everything was normal again. For a few minutes I could be back at the pool with my mum, thinking about the coffees we were going to have when we got out. Or I could be nowhere at all, zoned out and trying desperately not to think about anything at all.

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This summer I’ve been back to the lakes more times than I can count. I waited all spring for the water to melt and for the temperature to rise enough to make swimming bearable. I am able to swim now just because I love it, rather than to escape my reality.

The lakes surrounding Berlin are deep, formed by glaciers, and as I swim out to the middle I like to think about the massive expanse which has opened up below me. I am floating above a chasm which I will never see the bottom of, made by something so huge and ancient. I sometimes find it hard to see what people find so interesting about pots and vases in museums, but when I am in the middle of the lake, I feel a deep sense of connection to the past. I imagine it is the same feeling they get when they look at objects made by humans long ago. I know that I am just a tiny slice of this lake’s history. I am a passer-by.

I am not a particularly good swimmer, but I love to swim, especially outside. There is something deeply satisfying about the feeling of pushing off into water. It feels like breathing out. There is nothing like the weightless glide and cold shiver of the first dive. I’ve been swimming so long that my movements are automatic and I can let my body take over. For the most part, all that runs through my head is the steady rhythm, pull-and-breathe, kick-and-glide. It is time to myself and to look after my body.

Looking towards the coming year, I want to keep prioritising looking after myself. This year away from Cambridge has been great for my mental health as I’ve taken more time for self-care and self-reflection. I want to keep my focus on my well-being and remember that personal success is more important than academic success. And of course, I’m planning to keep swimming when I can. Because at my worst I still need reminding: I am alive, I am ok, and this will end.

 

Image credit: pics_by_nics

Refreshed in the Heat

By Leila Sackur 

We didn’t expect it to be this hot. It’s 35 degrees in Chicago, despite being mid- September. It’s the middle of the day and we are on the boardwalk of Lake Michigan. The pale concrete reflects the light of the too- bright sun and we are squinting as we walk. My hair is clinging to the back of my neck.

My twin brother and I are here for 6 days before we move on to Detroit, and then Ann Arbor, and then Grand Rapids, and then back again. And then we will go back to university- second year, and restart everything all over.

It feels weirdly poignant to be in the US now. We were born here, in Washington D.C., but we haven’t returned in years. The only thing I have left to show of my American identity is that I’m still able to recite the pledge of allegiance; an old patriotism learned in kindergarten turned sour by a teenhood political awakening. But still, it feels odd to be back in the country where I formed my childhood memories in the summer before I turn 20. Because I judge the age of 20 as “Official Adulthood”, so this feels strangely circular, a rite of passage.

Continue reading Refreshed in the Heat

#summerstories: Stress And The City

By Cecily Bain

This summer I made the fatal mistake (yet one I make every year) of thinking the next twelve weeks were going to be some kind of mind-and-body boot camp, thanks to the rose-gold glow of Instagram and its hoard of inflatable flamingo-straddling models, all of whom I forget are paid to bleach their teeth and drink shitty tea. Like every summer to date, I started this one with ambitions of returning for my third year well-read, well-dressed, and with 1% body fat. I would be living in London for two internships, and couldn’t imagine a more glamorous and grown-up setting in which I could finally emerge from my self-constructed cocoon of cake and anti-depressants.

Joking aside, I had also convinced myself that being busy at work, finally taking up some form of exercise, and catching up with old friends would surely subdue the depression which has been largely controlling my life for the past year or two, and which few of my friends know about. My second year at Cambridge was a definite and prolonged rock-bottom; I spent the morning of my 21st birthday crying in bed over last night’s cold noodles, because I hadn’t expected to make it that far. Moving to London was meant to be a fresh start, but even outside of Cambridge I was completely overwhelmed with self-expectation, and having returned to the murmur of Bristolian accents I am much happier away from it all.

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(City Light Employee, City Light Photographic Negatives (Record Series 1204-01), Seattle Municipal Archives)

Continue reading #summerstories: Stress And The City

#summerstories: Wish [you] were here, 2017

Words and artwork by Grace Whorrall-Campbell

Holiday glimpses of summer nudity. But the naughty postcard collector has been misled; although the viewer is the voyeur, is there anything of the erotic here? Hopefully the clawed hands, creased stomach, and hair (where hair is so rarely found) are sufficient denials, but the woman out to enjoy her body on her own terms can never be so sure she will not be surprised; not that that really is so surprising.

Wish you were here, 2017, pen on paper, 148×105 mm

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Continue reading #summerstories: Wish [you] were here, 2017

#summerstories: Summer Loving

By Xanthe Fuller 

The season: Summer

The location: The beach

The cast: Boy (cute as can be) & me (crazy for aforementioned boy)

Points of contention: He said I ‘nearly drowned’, but really, he just jumped into the sea and started splashing around. Plus, his evasiveness about whether or not he had a car.

Oh wait! As is often the case, I have confused my own summer with the iconic summer described by Sandy in Summer Nights from Grease.  I didn’t go to a single beach nor did I meet any heavily coiffed boys who love to dress in monochrome, but I wore a lot of pastel colours and enjoyed seeing in the summer evenings with the occasional apérol spritz – plus my entire summer was spent in Paris (aka City of Love) – so cut me some slack. But I’ll take this opportunity to parallel my summer with Sandra-dee’s in anticipation of the start of the new year and of the questions that I may be asked. (Hoping that by September 2018 I will have miraculously become the kind of cool girl who can integrate the phrase ‘tell me about it… stud.’ into daily conversation.) So here, ladies and perhaps gentlemen, is the story of my atypical summer of love.

Continue reading #summerstories: Summer Loving

#summerstories: Between Cambridge and a hard place

By Abigail Smith

As the summer rolls on, I’ve started to think about my place in life. Maybe this is a symptom of being a recent graduate, and seeing how young all the freshers are (is it cool to be 21?)

More likely, it’s because I’m entering a strange limbo — to quote Blazin’ Squad, at the crossroads. I have just graduated, but will be returning in October as a post-grad student to the same college — a fresh start in an old setting.

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