If there’s anything I’ve learnt this year is that TRAUMA is a silent killer and probably explains a lot of societal ills. Unresolved trauma has a way of subconsciously altering or significantly impacting human behaviour and in extreme cases directing people’s lives.

l almost drowned in a river as a 9-year old kid after being swept for what I would say was about a kilometre, and felt like an eternity, under water. 

For the longest time I’ve always tried to lift my head above water when swimming (almost looking up to avoid water on my face) until my wife recently asked why I did that and if my neck didn’t hurt. She had obviously been observing this for some time and thought to eventually ask. She then challenged me to go under water and see how long I could hold my breath for. She even asked me to try blowing bubbles under water. After spending a few seconds under water I came up for air and the first statement I made was “it must be extremely painful to drown to death”.

I have always been a swimmer and didn’t really consider myself to be afraid of water until that question made me stop in the middle of the pool and wonder why I swam like that. It is at that point that the penny dropped and I actually realised that I have a fear of being submerged under water due to my past near-drowning experience. All those years, my neck “never really hurt”, but I literally started feeling neck pains swimming “my old way” after that question. I jokingly told her she must have bewitched me because my neck was sore “all of a sudden”.

This tells me my body had been overcompensating for me for all these years and almost masking the pain so I don’t deal with my trauma/fear. So, with this anecdotal evidence, I guess it is safe to say that “you can’t treat and thus heal from something you are not consciously aware of”. Furthermore, it may be possible to be unaware of the impact of an experience you went through and how it affects relationships with yourself and the world. 

It was through consciously putting my head under water and submerging myself (by choice) that I realised the real fear in me – I had not dealt with the anxiety of being submerged in a body of water. It triggered the idea of drowning. It was better that I remained above water, that way I managed the risk of drowning. This “managing risk” was probably contributing to my many chiropractor appointments and unrealised discomfort. 

By simply knowing what was silently killing me, I’ve been empowered to not only improve my swimming, but also learn a lot more about my deep-rooted fears and (potential) triggers. 

This personal revelation has further entrenched the idea that access to quality professional mental and emotional help is not a luxury, but a necessity, especially for men. I’m going to commit to get myself as much professional help as I can get next year and beyond, and will also spend time over the holidays to investigate how I can personally contribute to helping my fellow South African men get access to this very essential service. Furthermore, I think a lot more work needs to go into researching the role of past traumas on the behaviour of (especially) South African men and developing lasting solutions for men to heal.