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Tales of Aquaphobia

The characters names & locations have changed but their stories are real and commonplace

Jules Simpson, Accountant

Origin of phobia:

On holiday, at the age of 5 yrs, Mum picked him up and threw him into the deep end of a pool and walked away. Jules had not been out of his depth before. He went under and panicked managed to come to the surface and was pulled to the side by a passing adult. Jules does not recall how long he was under the water for. He swallowed some water and was helped to cough it up once on the poolside by the adult. “I felt like I was at the bottom of the pool, I remember thinking, even at 5 yrs, I was going to drown. The weight of the water felt so heavy and the surface seemed so far away.”

General effects of phobia:

Jules has avoided all contact with water activities/sports his whole life since being thrown in. This includes trips to the pool, rivers and sea, be it swimming or being in a boat. He does not mind being near water from the safety of the land.  He has two children and they have never been on water-based holidays. Jules would love to be able to go into the water but has always been too nervous to trust a friend/teacher or go on his own.

He regrets never being able to take his kids for baby lessons and feels he missed out on a lot of milestone experiences due to his phobia. He did have school swimming lessons but recalls being shouted at and spending most of his time standing around in the shallow end doing everything he could to avoid taking his feet off the ground. He did not have very caring swimming teachers.

Specific effects of phobia:

Jules never learnt to swim properly and has poor aquatic skills. Jules does not like water in his face at all.  Even from a shower. Would not take both feet off the pool floor and would not like to stand away from the poolside in the open water. To Jules, large quantities of water represent, danger and evoke fear. Jules does not have an understanding of how to relax in the water or how to be buoyant.

Teri Hunt, Horticulturist

Origin of phobia:

Teri was 12 at a school swimming lesson when the teacher from the poolside pushed her under with a reach pole for a few seconds.  A horrendous technique this teacher used to ensure pupils submerged fully. Teri swallowed some water whilst under.  This caused her to choke, pass out and had to be resuscitated on poolside.  She remembers her friends were really concerned but she was sick on poolside and was very embarrassed and felt humiliated.

General effects of phobia:

Teri, at the time of this incident, was swimming to an intermediate standard. Afterward, whenever attending schools swimming lessons she would always stay in the shallow end and avoided putting her face in the water at all cost. Away from school she never went back to the pool with her sister or friends. As an adult looking back Teri feels she missed out on a lot of social and learning activities, she feels this even more so looking at her own children swimming in lessons. Teri feels anger towards swimming teachers and holds them in disregard with little trust.

Specific effects of phobia:

When held under Teri felt like it was “forever”. Whenever her face is near water it makes her feel a sense of panic that she will go under and swallow water and drown. This causes her to become very still and static and tends to become very withdrawn. This often makes her feel dizzy and sick. Teri can swim front crawl and backstroke feels OK with her face in out of the water. Her fear of putting her face in the water results in a poor swimming stroke with poor technique.

John Manobo , Singer and professional performer

Origin of phobia:

John grew up in South Africa. In his town there was one very overcrowded open-air pool where everybody went, due to hot weather, it was “chaos”. There were no formal lessons everybody just got in and just messed around. As a young boy 6/7 yrs John use to get into the shallow end of the pool to cool off but would stay right next to side holding on.  On one occasion another kid thought it would be funny to grab John’s ankle and pull him under. This came as a complete shock to John who banged his head on the pool floor which dazed him.

General effects of phobia:

John recalls, even at that young age, he was convinced he was going to die as he was pulled under the water. Over his formative years, he told himself that swimming was just not for him as it terrified him so much.  Since then he has had reoccurring nightmares about being pulled under the water and suffocating.  Even drowning in the bath.

With his kids, John has been able to paddle in shallow water up to his knees but would not go in any deeper than that. Even this causes him to have a raised heart rate and a lot of tension but he manages to control outright panic. “I have to get in the water for my kids but I hate it and feel so inept and stupid”.

Specific effects of phobia:

Due to John’s traumatic water experience, he has not had the opportunity to learn how to swim. Just being in the shallow end of the pool he fixates & focuses on the fact he is surrounded by such a large amount of water putting himself in a place of potential panic or fear overload. His mental stress also causes a physical stress reaction e.g. muscular tension. John does not like to let go of the poolside as he remains scared that he will end up going under and will not be able to get back up.  Accordingly, he does not have any empathy with the water, such as, understanding how to move with the water not against it.

John does not have breathing nor floatation skills.

Anne Marie, photographer

Origin of phobia:

Anne Marie was on a family holiday age 11 years. She was paddling waist deep in the sea with her older cousins. One of them came up from behind, ducked her and held her under the water at arm’s length.

She said “They held me under and held me under and held me under for what to me was a lifetime. When they let me up I was choking and coughing a lot. The sun blinded me and everyone was laughing. I ran on to the beach to my mum and cried for the rest of the afternoon. No one took me seriously that I nearly drowned”.

General effects of phobia:

From that incident, Anne Marie did not go swimming again and always found a reason to avoid doing so.  She said that she feels that she has missed out on a lot of activities as a child but also as an adult with family and friends.

She is an aunt and regrets not going on holiday to the seaside with her nephews and nieces. Anne Marie finds her water phobia causes her depression as she feels she has let her family down. She feels that she has carried this fear for a very long time. Recently she told her cousin about what he did that day, he replied that he had no memory of that event and had no idea of the effect it had on his sister. Summer is not a time she looks forward to because of her phobia.

Specific effects of phobia:

Anne Marie feels that every time she puts her face into the water she is going to drown. In doing so it immediately takes her into “flashback mode” and visualises that she is being “held under by her cousins”.

She feels that the back of her throat constricts and she finds it hard to control her breathing (for example, if she is washing her face in a sink full of water at home.) When she lifts her head out of the water she is gasping for air. So as a rule, Anne Marie only washes her face with a flannel. She also hates having the shower in her face for the same reason.

Anne Marie can float well and has reasonable backstroke skills. However, she does not know how to breathe into the water without choking and has considerable stress going on her front.

Abdul Mazir, IT specialist

Origin of phobia:

Adbul grew up in Northern Bangladesh until 9 years old. Had very little in the way of exposure to swimming and the little he did have was in unsanitary conditions. The world of swimming and pools were alien to Adbul as he was growing up. When arriving in the UK he was told by his teacher he was lazy for not trying to swim at his first school lesson. He had 7 swimming lessons at junior school in which he just walked across the shallow end and back.  At 13 he was at a leisure park with a water slide, which he went on, when he got to the bottom he slipped, stood up again and slipped over again. “This must have looked very comical as everybody was laughing at me.” Said Adbul. “Even the lifeguards were laughing at me, I was so embarrassed I never went back”.

General effects of phobia:

Adbul did not, as a child, feel he was missing out on much by not going swimming. However, now as a young adult he can see that he missed out on a lot of social events, pool parties and holiday activities. He did not realise that he has had a water phobia, Adbul just felt swimming was something beyond his ability. Coming from a large family he has a lot of younger cousins and wants to take them to the pool and join in.

If Adbul does go to the pool or beach he sits on the side and does not go in the water or sea. When he hears his friends talking about what they did in the water he feels that he is really being excluded from fun activities and social interaction. “Most of all I lose out on the memories”. He said.

Specific effects of phobia:

Adbul does not have any relationship with or understanding of the water. He does not know any of the 12 AALP stages. Including safe entry breathing and floatation, for example.  If asked to blow bubbles he would not know how to inhale or exhale into the water. Adbul does not float or have the ability to lie down or stand up again. He also cannot propel in a horizontal position without floatation aids and AC support. Adbul is very reluctant to take both feet off the pool floor at any one time.

Angie Ray, Occupation: Songwriter, musician.

Origin of phobia:

Angie, first became scared of water when during her first school swimming lesson, age 7 years, she was told to line up on the side (deep end 2 metres) with her class and to jump in. The class were also told that if they did not jump in they would be pushed in. Angie recalls thinking that “why would I want to jump in because I don’t know how to swim”. She did not jump and was pushed in by the teacher. “I went down to the bottom and swallowed loads of water and passed out”. She was resuscitated on poolside and sent to the hospital but was OK.

General effects of phobia:

Although Angie continued with school lessons the fear she experienced that day has remained her whole life.  Angie feels that the school lessons gave her a fear of water for no reason. It has affected her confidence.  For years she had a reoccurring dream of being stuck under the water and shouting for help but not being heard. Angie feels a great resentment for “all the lost years” where she did not enjoy or partake in water based activity.  Angie has had various adult swimming lessons that have slightly improved her “low level of trust” in aquatic professionals.

Specific effects of phobia:

She cannot go into deep water and hates putting her face into the water. Angie can swim front crawl but with her head up. Feels dizzy and sick when on her back but has a reasonable backstroke action.  She can float but has trouble standing up from both a prone and supine position. This action tends to send her into a bit of a panic, (rushes the process, arms waving all around her trying not to lose her balance.)

Jean Marsh, retired office manager

Origin of phobia:

Jean was on a canal boating holiday at 10 years old with her family. She slipped from the barge and fell into the canal and drifted under a bridge.  She was not wearing a lifebelt and got dragged under the murky water. “It was a sunny day, I can remember the taste of the dirty canal water. Everything went black when I went under. When I surfaced the sun blinded me, this happened several times, up and down, each time I was swallowing water. All the time I can remember my Mum shouting at me in the background”.

General effects of phobia:

Jean felt for years that she nearly died in the canal and the memory of being under the dirty water has stayed strongly in her psyche. She talks openly about the effect this has had on her life but normally ends up crying and getting upset. Jean also feels that the fear of water has held her back in other areas of life, mainly her confidence.  Naturally, she has avoided all river, sea and pool trips as much as possible as an adult. When married Jean’s husband wanted to go on a beach holiday for years but they never did as Jean did not want to. Jean has had adult swimming lessons which have helped up to a point but she keeps getting stuck on the same issues as below.

Specific effects of phobia:

Jean was rescued safely. Before this incident, Jean could swim 20 metres on her back and front, having had school and private lessons.

Jean will not allow herself to go into water deeper than her waist. She becomes distressed having to put her face anywhere near the water. Exhaling in to the water or the thought of submerging sends Jean into a state of physical and psychological tension and stress. She becomes short of breath and displays symptoms of panic.  Jean can tolerate a bath but hates the shower in her face. Jean is only comfortable when using floats, noodles and AC support. Jean has considerable trouble “letting go”.

Debbie Edwards, Events management

Origin of phobia:

Debbie had two negative occurrences with water that changed her life as a child. 1. At 8 years she was on holiday at the local pool with her friends and was a non-swimmer. She saw her friends running and jumping in, so Debbie joined in, ran up – jumped in and went into a panic in the 1.5 meters of water. The other children thought she was messing around thrashing about in the water and joined in. Debbie was desperately trying to stand up and breathe when an older boy dived under grabbed Debbie’s legs and pulled her under. An observant lifeguard undertook a rescue/entry and towed her out of the pool. Debbie was choking but conscious.

At a school swimming lesson, Debbie was in the water with her class holding on to the side of the pool, the teacher told the children to duck as he brushed their heads with a woggle when walking along the poolside. Any child who did not duck got hit in the face.  Debbie ducked under swallowed water and came straight up to which the teacher pushed her head under again with the noodle for short time.

General effects of phobia:

“Although it was only for a few seconds to me it was my worst nightmare coming true again but this time from a teacher, I was so upset. I never went back to school swim lessons, always making up excuses, like being ill, sick note stuff mainly.” However, there has been a greater effect on Debbie’s life. Any open expanse of water sends her into a panic and “head spin” that has resulted in her “passing out” several times.   This can be on a bridge, near the sea, rivers or pool. She feels strongly that there is a “part of life” missing that she has accomplished so much yet cannot go near a body of water without crying. “I so desperately want to go on a beach holiday with my kids. I can jump out of a plane, bungee jump but I cannot swim, how crazy is that”. “When I had normal lessons, they understood swimming they did not understand being phobic of water, these are clearly two completely different things. They made my phobia much worse” Debbie said.

Specific effects of phobia:

When entering the water Debbie stands holding the side & goes rigid, stiff as a board and smiles through nerves. She has never blown bubbles or submerged since her phobia started. When doing the P.A.R Q&A’s Debbie realised that she could hardly do any of the actions being asked. Debbie recalls doing a doggie paddle with 3 noodles but refused to put her face in and the swimming teachers left it there. Her “Skills Audit” shows that she needs to progress carefully through the 12 stages of the AALP. Without missing any stages. Specifically, lifting feet from the floor, bubble blowing and floating.

Andrew Pinner, Property developer

Origin of phobia:

Andrew grew up in the Far East, he could swim and was playing in the water with his best friend both 12 years old.  They were in a small deep lake in the Malaysian countryside. For an unknown reason his friend got into trouble in the middle of the lake, Andrew swam across and grabbed his hand. Very sadly the friend could not hold on and slipped under the water and drowned. The water was too dark to see where his friend went. He jumped out and ran for two miles to get help. Andrew understandably never went near open water or a pool again as a child.

General effects of phobia:

When Andrew phoned in for lessons, he was adamant he was not scared of water but could just not swim. He made a point of saying he did open water swimming as a child. When he undertook the P.A.R he stated he could swim and made mention to a drowning he once saw but did not go into detail. He was unsure about some of the answer he should give. He said that through his work he does not have the time to swim and his family prefer city breaks to beach holidays.

Specific effects of phobia:

Andrew is capable of undertaking most of the 12 stages of the AALP activity pathway. However, he does so with extreme tension and physical stress in his muscles and in his mind. Accordingly, he gets tired very quickly and performs the actions in a rush.

On his first lesson, he broke down in tears and went into the detail of his friend drowning. He said he had carried the guilt of his friend slipping from his hand his whole adult life.  Now being in the water it all came flooding out. He agreed that he found the water a terrifying experience. Andrew feels he is ready to try and relax in the water. His breathing skills are good when he concentrates on it.

Techniques to help him relax work well but will need considerable practice and patience.