With each passing day, my post-swim high soon evaporated. My body felt devastatingly empty. Compared with other swims, I recovered very quickly after my English Channel swim. 33 hours post-swim, I could move my arms. (Yes, I counted). And I was relatively pain free. Devoid of even the tiniest battle scar to prove to myself that I swam the Channel, I felt overwhelmingly detached from my achievement. My mood and energy levels paled in comparison to those boundless amounts of excitement in the days directly following my swim. Those precious few days of pure joy and jubilation were channeled into my victory lap and pilgrimage to locate the beach in France where I concluded my swim. I was blissfully euphoric, floating on cloud nine and supremely proud of my accomplishment. "I just swam the Channel!" I would share gleefully with anyone whom I could wrangle into a conversation. I couldn't help it. I was just so damn proud.
As the plane began its descent into San Francisco, a mere 6 days after swimming to France, I began my nosedive into reality.
All that delightful excitement and beaming joy was all but gone. I felt overwhelmingly deflated. Even the tan mark on my forehead from my swim cap was fading. Fast. My heart that had days earlier, felt so full and alive, was left with a vacuous crater of nothingness. And yet, in many ways this emptiness made sense.
It had been a whirlwind 5 months: in May together with Joe I swam from Spain to Africa. In July I swam from Catalina Island to the US mainland. And now I just swam from England to France. I had been amped up on adrenalin for so long and with so much focus, that relaxing nothingness was ironically uncomfortable. I had poured every ounce of my being into the time, effort, and energy required to pursue my aquatic dreams. And I wouldn't have had it any other way. For each challenge I diligently plowed my way into the next challenge with little more than a single breath. It was tremendously energizing. The power of knowing I had a purpose, that enabled me to grow a little bit more with each swim, is indescribable. I loved it.
This is a fringe sport where we literally put our lives on the line to achieve personal goals. It’s not a race. There is no cash prize, no trophy presentation, no medal ceremony, no fanfare, and certainly no ticker tape parade. It’s devastatingly anticlimactic.
Transported back into real life, I discovered work, and my daily routine - everything - exceptionally difficult and jarring. This new and intense emptiness and detachment was very difficult to manage.
Without an immediate swim goal on the horizon, I had no other choice but to surrender to the discomfort of my disconnectedness. Despite countless friends and strangers congratulating me and inviting me out to commemorate, I felt terribly detached from my accomplishment. With each warm acknowledgement, I politely feigned excitement because my reality was quite different. I felt as though these kind words were meant for someone else. That disbelieving voice inside would amplify, drowning their praise. "They're talking about someone else. Someone who actually swam the English Channel – not me." I simply could not fathom the actuality that I really did just swim the English Channel. Respectfully, I declined their heartfelt offers to celebrate.
Instead of celebrating, I found myself in solitude turning off my phone and crawling into comfort of my bed. Except for each morning when I returned to the briny cool waters of the San Francisco Bay for a dip, and work, I withdrew any chance I got. The majority of my free time back in San Francisco was spent alone, retreating to my apartment. Pulling the covers over my head, I would disappear. For hours. The struggle to emerge and be moderately social was intense. And this strain seemed to last weeks.
Instinctively I didn’t question this uncharacteristic lack of socializing. I knew intrinsically that this was, somehow, part of the process. Yet what I didn’t realize at the time was that under these covers, as my body took well-earned rest, a quiet inner sculpting of my soul was taking place.