Ramin’s Dad, Riaz, lives in Monte Pego, Spain with his second wife. We’ve visited them a few times before and went again this year at the end of September. They live in a villa on the mountain, overlooking other hills dotted with white-walled and terracotta roofed villas with swimming pools, palm trees and swooping terraces. The sea is clear and blue in the distance, there are amazing mountains that look like painted perfection during sun-sets or misty mornings and the temperature was warm (27-30 degrees celsius) with blue, blue skies and a gentle breeze. They have a large swimming pool in the garden which I was itching to jump into as soon as we arrived! Ramin and I stood on the veranda and took in the sun, sea and mountains and smiled upon the blue rippled water of the pool in the garden below. Ramin reminded me he wasn’t going to try swimming in the sea again, like last year, because he couldn’t trust the waves and was worried about losing his balance, but he would swim in the pool.
So on our first free afternoon, I enthusiastically suggested that we jump in the pool and……
Oh no…Ramin really didn’t want to. ‘Are you serious?’ he asked me. I was serious, but I also wanted to have fun!
His physiotherapist stressed the need for Ramin to regularly exercise and let’s be honest, any physical exercise beyond walking is not enjoyed by my dear one, so I kept going on about it (encouraging, persuading, stating logical arguments while continuing to smile (not easy)) until he finally verbally agreed. I was a bit pushy, this is true. The alternative is that I could be pushing Ramin around in wheelchair in a few years time if he doesn’t exercise!
After a painful transition from sun heat to water cold – it was actually hilarious as our various physical bits and bobs adjusted to the different temperature- on the first day we both swam four lengths and I even got him to smile a bit and dance with me in the water.
Photos: Adjusting slowly to the temperature of the water – yes I know we should have jumped in! / My trying to gently persuade Ramin that swimming is good for us to do together
Yet every day (every day!) the pattern would go something like this; Ramin would firstly refuse to go swimming then would agree to swim after I reminded him of his physiotherapist’s advice, how if he wants to travel with me to China next year – or the year after – he will need to be physically fitter and other such reminders and then would take about 20 minutes to get undressed and meet me by the pool. Once outside, however hot the sun beamed down, he would feel the wind and refuse to get in the water. I’d get in, laughing at how cold the water did feel at first and showing him how once I was in it didn’t feel that cold and I could swim about just fine. Ramin would tentatively reach a toe into the water and then shrink back (hermit crab anyone?) again steadfastly refusing to allow any other part of his body to be exposed to the freezing cold water – yet staying where he was (he could have flounced off!) and fixing me sternly with a glare. When Ramin was finally in the water (a silent scream upon his face for a whole length) he would swim – confidently – for his agreed amount of lengths before immediately getting out and going into the house to have a warm shower. I would then swim until I felt tired and try to recover from the tension I had felt, yet not expressed, while working with my dear hubby.
On the third day I realised Ramin was not finding the process of getting into the water any easier and so remembering discussions about NLP (Neurolinguistic programming) with my good friends Tracey and Martin I had a go at working with a simplified version of a NLP technique called ‘anchoring’. It wasn’t to manipulate Ramin, it was just to try out a way of assisting him to feel good about our experience of swimming rather than leaving him in a state of dread. An explanation of anchoring is as follows;
‘Anchors are naturally occurring. Things we see, hear, feel, taste and touch in our everyday lives spontaneously evoke memories, and often feelings as well. While some anchors are neutral – you see a blue car and it reminds you of one you used to own – many trigger some kind of emotional reaction… Many anchors originate in childhood. Often the original experience that created them has long since been forgotten, but the emotional response continues….
Anchors, though, don’t have to be left to chance. You can set them – intentionally, systematically – in support of your desired outcome. If you want to be in a particular state or feel a specific emotion in a future context, you can create an anchor that achieves that..’ (p. 93, reference below)
I have a host of positive memories about swimming (anchors) from my childhood with all the years I’ve swam in the sea and in numerous indoor and outdoor pools, learning to swim with my Dad, pretending to be a sea creature or a mermaid with my sister and whooshing down slides with my nieces and nephews. Ramin doesn’t have this though as since he’s had MS, positive memories of swimming have mainly been replaced by negative memories of a lack of balance, slipping and cold water!
So half way through Ramin’s agreed lengths, I gave him a cuddle, told him how proud of him I was, took his hand and danced the tango (my version!) with him in the water. Flicking my fingers up out of the water, I demonstrated how many more lengths he had to go, which made us both laugh as the water spurted in all directions. I asked Ramin to remember this feeling of happy silliness in the water, creating an anchor to create an ‘effective and enduring association‘ (P. 95 ref below) with swimming, so that the experience could be far more enjoyable for him. The next few days did take just the same amount of persuasion but Ramin managed to swim an extra length each day, we had a lot of fun dancing in the water and he reached seven lengths on the final day even though that day was windy and rather grey with just a touch of sun reaching through.
Once my task with Ramin was complete, it was important for me to forget about him for a little bit and just enjoy swimming outside, appreciating the beauty of the surroundings and floating in the sun dappled water, away from everyone and everything.
Afterwards Ramin told me that even though the water was apparently between 26-28 degrees celsius, it always felt like he was stepping into an ice-rink and it made his toes cramp. He had to swim through the cramp, trying to stretch out his feet while pushing through the breast stroke. He knew it was good for him to swim though, and because he wants to get fitter, decided to push through. He did admit that it was a bit fun too and I’m hoping the anchor we focused on will help him for the future. It’s a relief for me that Ramin was doing his own pushing too, as he’s rather a large man for me to push all by myself!
So, we did swim together and even though swimming in a public pool in our locality will not be as stimulating for me (and I really don’t like chlorine), it will be more comfortable for Ramin and we can build up a habit of going regularly, enabling both of us to get stronger. Now the hard task is moving from our warm home into the cold, wet Autumn air before we even get to the pool!
Funny that sometimes you need to swim with an anchor, eh?! Boom, Boom!
Photo: Ramin and his Dad, Riaz (taken September 2012) in Denia, Spain.
Reference: Teach yourself NLP, Steven Bavister and Amanda Vickers.