Naked and OK?

After years of open water swimming I'm still scared of the water. Will I ever be OK in there with all the wee beasties, or should I move on to a new fear to overcome? Nudity. Sure, why not.

Naked and OK?

Being OK … while naked?

Every time I go to the lake to swim my mind races with thoughts of what could be in the water. I often bump into objects while swimming there. Seaweed, ropes, bottles and the dreaded harmless jellyfish. My swim friends have pulled all sorts out of there including metal fences, shopping trollies, sunken boats and bikes. There is actual cause for concern, but then the same could be said for crossing the road and I manage to do that OK.

Overthinking is an autistic superpower, and so very hard to control. As I swim I have to stop myself from worrying about what I may touch when my hand enters the water. Every single stroke brings another chance to bump into something and I am constantly working to ignore those thoughts. It isn’t just a case of “What if I bump into something?” but really “What if I bump into something in the middle of the lake and I have no escape?” This is what happened last year and I seriously struggled to swim with the harmless jellyfish. Even writing this is making me feel anxious and tense. That irrational fear, no matter how much I understand it, is debilitating. My mind and my body are in complete agreement. “Fuck no.”

There is no childhood trauma to explain this. Not even any adult trauma. For whatever reason my brain does not want to bump into something while swimming in the middle of the lake, with no escape. Exposure therapy may help with it but the only way to do that is to trigger the terror and learn to deal with it. I… I just can’t. Whatever this is, is so strange. I would happily walk naked into a cold lake in Wales, but I would struggle to get into a lake with jellyfish even if I was in a wetsuit.

I pondered this the other week. Is this autistic sensory overload preventing me from swimming with jellyfish? Can I happily do skinny dipping because my dopamine level is rising and my ADHD really wants to do something? Is it possible to weaponise that ADHD power to do things? I’m not sure it could overcome the feelings of terror I experience with jellyfish, but could it be used to do things?

One of those things I’ve thought about is life modelling. I enjoy sketching life models, or do I? Maybe it’s just an ADHD dopamine thing and when that fades so will my interest? shrug There’s something about seeing a person completely naked that I find so fascinating. Perhaps because we rarely do it in the “normal” world? While I was sketching the other day I was getting lost in the lines, curves, light and shadow of a completely naked woman, noticing the way the body looked in the afternoon light. To just sit there and look. Fascinating. It’s not like you can go to a gallery and do this because most paintings or sculptures of naked people are, historically, through the male gaze. I don’t want to view the world through those eyes. I want to view it through mine, which is hopefully a queer gaze.

Those thoughts led me to wonder, what would it be like to be the model? Would it be as terrifying as swimming with jellyfish or would it be more like my first cold water dip experiments? Back in January 2020 I first dipped into cold water and was surprised to enjoy it. A curious moment that put me in touch with my body in ways I had not experienced before. Would being a life model be something my brain would want to escape from in the moment, or would it find it curious? It’s hard to know because there aren’t any opportunities to test it out like there are cold water dipping. You can’t casually ask a friend to draw you naked.

Given how wellness is the wanky word of the 2020s, and how popular cold water swimming or forest bathing is it is surprising that body positivity isn’t a bigger thing. Naked Yoga was a fleeting idea a few years ago. There’s a class in New York that sounds wonderful.

We aim to hold safer spaces where people can take a collective journey through fear towards self-discovery, compassion, and empowerment.

That could easily describe cold water dipping. When I looked for classes in my area I found none, only a couple in London. How come people are happy to get into ice-cold buckets but not do naked yoga, for the same reasons of empowerment? shrug A few years ago I jokingly had similar thoughts about skinny dipping. Maybe there is something to it all?

As I write this I’m prepping to go on holiday to Wales for a few days. It just so happens I’ll be down the road from a naturist beach and the thought occurred to me, could I? Could I test my brain by going to that beach and seeing how my brain handles walking around naked? A wild idea that, realistically, I’ll probably never be brave enough to try, but I feel less anxious thinking about that than I do swimming with jellyfish.

Is it time for me to admit that I can’t handle open water swimming after 4 years of trying? It’s a fear I’ve been facing and not overcoming. Time to face a new fear and maybe overcome that? One that involves being naked in front of strangers? Um…

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