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How Swimming Rescued Me

Written By Sue Bordley

If you’re reading this, you probably already know how great swimming is, but for me, it’s become more than a fun thing to do with the kids. Swimming turned my life around and set me on a new path when I really needed it.

For twenty years, I was a secondary English teacher. I was never interested in climbing the management ladder: when students came to me with poems or stories they‘d written in their own time, asking me what I thought of them, or just said they enjoyed my lessons – those were my promotions.

However, a crippling bout of depression struck me in 2017, leaving me not only unable to do the job I loved, but on many days, unable to even get out of bed or consider doing anything. For months, my days consisted of dropping my children at school, then hiding from the world under the covers, alone, until they returned. I wasn’t the mother they deserved, and, having had to leave my job, I was no longer a teacher; in fact, I felt like I wasn’t anything at all anymore.

My doctor recommended trying to get out of the house, so I eventually summoned the courage to try swimming, something I’d enjoying doing as a child. It wasn’t easy at first, but I persevered, remembering the sense of achievement of gaining distance badges when I was ten years old. I managed fourteen lengths in half an hour, needing to take a break at the end of each one, but the feeling of freedom being in the water gave me made me feel alive for the first time in months.

It wasn’t just the swimming itself, though: there was a real sense of community at the pool that I hadn’t found anywhere else. I’d find myself chatting to other swimmers, and one day, when I’d had to miss what had by now become my daily swim, one of the lifeguards commented that they’d noticed I hadn’t been there. Having spent months feeling invisible, that was powerful medicine.

Those things on their own would have been enough to lift my mood, but something else was about to happen that would change my life in an even greater way. By this time I was still only swimming for half an hour, but the breaks weren’t needed anymore and some of the weight I’d gained when I was stuck at home all day was slowly melting away, reminding me what a vague hint of self-esteem felt like.

One day, I was at the pool when I noticed the lifeguard on duty tapping his feet to the song on the radio, which was ‘Rescue Me’ by Fontella Bass. At first I laughed at the irony, but as I continued to swim, an idea formed in my mind. By the time I’d finished my swim, I had a plot, characters – and of course, the setting of the pool. I started writing as soon as I got home, and my novel ‘Rescue Me’ (What else could I have called it?) was published in 2018.

Swimming even played a huge part in making the book a success. I was lucky enough to be able to hold book signings at swimming pools, talk about how swimming helped me overcome depression on my local BBC radio station, and the staff at my local pool are always asking when my next book will be out so they can take it on holiday – or at least they used to before lockdown! If you fancy giving my book a read you can purchase or download it here.

Swimming hasn’t just improved my physical and mental health, it’s given me a new career. A follow-up to ‘Rescue Me’ is due for release soon and my publisher is currently finalising my first book for children, which is a water safety book written in conjunction with one of the lifeguards who helped me see there was more to life than being depressed. I’m so glad I took the plunge and I would love for you to visit my website.

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