Ambiguity with Swimming & Sleeping

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Summer rejuvenation

The risk of swimming for me is not the risk of being carried out to sea by an undertow. This is not a matter of my swimming ability because I tackle open water knowing my swimming limitations – I’m a novice at best.

The risk of swimming is a matter of getting in over my head. Well now, that sounds like I just contradicted myself. Let me explain.

Swimming puts me at risk of Sensory Overload

Most summer days going swimming means going down to Victoria Beach and attempting to get into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario. Attempting this puts me at risk of experiencing sensory overload. Adjusting to a major temperature change, air temperature 15 Fahrenheit degrees warmer than the water temperature, is the significant factor. Add to that the intimate nature of water against one’s skin and the effect is compounded. With ABI regulating temperature differences is a real challenge. If my sensory loading for the day is low my risk of getting in over my head is unlikely. If my sensory loading is higher than I realize then I definitely run the risk of experiencing sensory overload.

Swimming is a great way to Minimize Sensory Overload

In my experience since living with ABI I find swimming an effective way to minimize the likelihood of experiencing sensory overload. Swimming seems to provide a combination of benefits. Moving around in the water is soothing and relaxing in a way the off loads my sensory build up. At the same time swimming provides the opportunity for a vigorous workout. The vigorous workout allows me to relax and get a much better night’s sleep. Being a novice swimmer entering the water invariably becomes a vigorous workout.

My Conundrum

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Invitation of sand, sun & surf

Unfortunately swimming will have one of two opposite effects on me, depending on which day it is. There are days were I very much would like to go for a swim, anticipating the relaxing benefits. When I am unsuccessful in getting into the water, I am doubly disappointed. Being unsuccessful in my attempt to enter the water means I have reached sensory overload and will need to take other measures to reduce the effects. If I succeed in getting into the water it is a double blessing. I know my sensory loading is under control and the activity will further reduce my sensory load for the day.

Fooled again

Recently I went swimming with the anticipation of enjoying the benefits of a successful swim. I arrived at Victoria Beach, and following a familiar routine of acclimatizing my body to the water temperature I did experience a wonderful swim.

To my disappointment I did not sleep well that night. At one point I experienced a troubling nightmare. By morning I woke up fatigued and having only managed seven hours of restless sleep. This was far below my optimum of nine hours a night.

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Sand formations below the rippling surface – Georgian Bay

The difficult night after having had a successful swim left me quite puzzled. What went wrong. If my sensory loading had been too high I never would have made it into the water. I tried to replay the previous day to try and understand what happened after my mid-afternoon swim that wreaked havoc on my night.

The only thing that came to mind was some news that a friend of ours had shared with Jane and I. Gradually I recalled my response to taking in the hurtful news. As the story unfolded I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. After listening and responding with questions for about ten minutes I quietly walked away. I did not excuse myself because I didn’t want to interrupt the sharing.

A half hour later as Jane and I were driving home we briefly commented about the loss and hurt that our friend had shared. We reflected on it for the ten minute ride home. For the rest of the day I didn’t give it anymore thought.

Since my ABI, I have been experiencing nightmares occasionally, something that was totally foreign to me pre-ABI. Each time I have experienced a nightmare I can trace it to an event from the previous day.The trigger events are either one of suddenly feeling vulnerable or as in this case an event of significant loss. I was unaware of the depth of the loss and how it had touched me till I went to sleep. It was in struggling to shake a nightmare in the early morning hours that I awoke to the depth of the hurt that I had vicariously experienced.

I count it a blessing, though it is a strange experience, to have intensity of my empathy for another person’s loss affirmed in my sleep.

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Author: Jasper Hoogendam

After 36 years as an educator my career ended due to a TBI. Renewable energy as part of 'walking lightly on this earth' has been and continues to be my interest since my teen years. Since early 2015 I have been learning to live with ABI (Acquire Brain Injury). I don't want to let my ABI limit the goals I set for myself. I'm living with a different brain, not a lesser brain. In sharing my day to day successes and struggles, I am better able to understand how my life had changed and begin to accept the change. In sharing my experiences I'm hearing from caregivers and fellow ABI's. I'm encouraged when my experiences are helping others understand some of the complexity of living with ABI.

4 thoughts on “Ambiguity with Swimming & Sleeping”

  1. I love those calming times when I can float on my back in the pool in the backyard. Looking up at the stars through the dark helps me forget about the world around me. It’s like helping to tuck my nerves into bed to sleep through the night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Since writing about this recent experience I have had a few more situations where my troublesome sleep or nightmare helps me reflect and recognize the import of an event or situation that happened the previous day. Often Jane’s touch pulls me back into consciousness. At times I would say her touch serves as a rescue.

      Liked by 1 person

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