Always a water baby

For a while now I’ve wanted to do a blog post about swimming and alopecia but I was never exactly sure what I would want it to say.

First things first, I LOVE the water. I always have. I am a total water baby. I am drawn to it which makes it a real shame that I live bang in the middle of the country, many miles from any coastline.

My most blissful and happiest moments are when I am swimming, floating or snorkelling in a warm body of water, such as the Mediterranean Sea. For me, there is nothing better.

Most of the time I must settle for my local swimming pool and, given the long periods of pool closures over the past 15 months of lockdowns, I will never take my local swimming pool for granted again. In the past year, I have swum in chilly rivers and lakes and in the frrrrrreeezing North Sea, and longed for the reopening of the pools.

Why do I love swimming so much?

Well, when I really come to think about it, water is my happy place. As soon as I step into the water, I feel so much more relaxed. Swimming is one of the few forms of exercise that I really enjoy. Repeatedly, I’ve tried to get into running or the gym but I dislike both thoroughly. Swimming is a genuine joy. I just love it and think I always will.

Like many other people in the past year, I have struggled with my mental health. Unfortunately, I have also had more than my fair share of physical health problems too. It has not been an easy time. But once I am in the pool, my mind clears, my body calms and I am only interested in counting the lengths ahead, often aiming for a target of 64 lengths (which, if I have done my maths correctly, is a mile). Swimming back and forth, back and forth - that is all I am focused on doing and any worries of the day fade away. When I emerge from the water, I feel great.

What has swimming got to do with my alopecia? Well, for me, nothing really. I consider myself extremely lucky that my alopecia is not a consideration when I go swimming. I am very fortunate that my hair loss has not stopped me from getting in the water. Losing my hair may have knocked my confidence at times but not to the extent where it has prevented me from taking part in the activities I enjoy.

However, I know that many people with alopecia can find the prospect of swimming a daunting one. I understand, from many conversations I have had over the years, that some of us who lose our hair feel extremely self-conscious and this makes the idea of getting into the swimming pool feel like a huge leap too far. I have spoken to people who have previously had a love of swimming, but their alopecia means they avoid the pool. I suppose I wanted to write a few observations to provide encouragement to those who wish to get back in the water but feel nervous to do so..

Some things to consider if you have alopecia and are wanting to swim..

  1. Firstly, a reminder that even though we think everybody else is focused on our hair loss and how we look, that is not actually the case. Alopecia puts these unhelpful thoughts in our head, and we convince ourselves that everyone will be looking at us. The truth is that most people are focused on their own day and pay little attention to strangers around them. Never is that truer than in a swimming pool, especially a lane swim when swimmers are just keen to get their lengths in and are just concentrating on the edge of the pool ahead
  2. If you are concerned about others seeing your alopecia, bear in mind that lots of swimmers with hair wear swimming caps. In a quick glance, I would not notice the difference between someone who wore a swimming cap over a full head of head of hair to someone who wore one over a partial head of hair, or no hair at all.
  3. Everyone is equal in a swimming pool. Having lots and lots of swimming sessions over the past year, and thinking about this blog post, it has dawned on me that swimming is a great leveller. By that I mean that it does not matter how old you are, how physically fit you are or what you look like; none of this really determines your performance in the pool. This might just be me but compared to running in a public place or exercising in a gym, I feel that there is little to no pressure to perform to a particular standard. In the pool, anything goes in terms of speed, style and swimwear – well, actually my local pool is not on board with me wanting to wear a mermaid tail… 😉
  4. There are lots of options for headwear in the pool. As I have already mentioned, there are traditional silicone swimming caps. Personally, I used to hate having to wear these for school swimming lessons (they were so tight!) although, to be fair, I have not tried one since losing my hair – perhaps they are easier to put on and wear without hair? I am still not keen to find out! Not only are there the silicone caps but there are also great swimming caps in different materials such as Spandex, Lycra and Nylon. These are stretchier and could even be worn over a wig. In addition, Headscarves by Ciara (a company listed on Alopecia UK’s Service Directory), sell a product called a ‘gym & swim wig’ which can be tied up and styled whilst remaining secure when swimming or exercising (Please note, other companies may also sell similar products – this is just one such company that I know specialises in them)
  5. Take a friend or family member with you. If getting back in the pool feels daunting, take someone with you for moral support.

I am not sure if anyone will find this blog post helpful – if just one person does then it will have been worthwhile. I regularly say that the place that I would like everyone with alopecia to get to, is a place where having alopecia does not stop them from doing the things they want to do in life. The idea of someone loving swimming but not feeling like they have the confidence to get in the pool makes me sad. I would feel lost without my swimming and count myself as very fortunate that I still feel able to participate. The recent lockdowns meant that I missed out on so much swim-time last year and I am sure this has contributed to my mental health struggles. I do not want anyone to miss out on the things they enjoy. Life is too short for that. We all need to try to embrace the things in life than bring us joy.

If you can, take the splash!