From spiders to heights to small spaces, as many as ten million people have some kind of phobia in the UK. And it can be truly debilitating, having a huge effect on your day-to-day life.
For Elaine O'Shea, 54, her phobia has always been water. So while we might associate water with happy trips to the beach or a nice hot bath, for Elaine, it's only ever prompted fear.
It all came about when she was a little girl and she had ear infection after ear infection which resulted in her being excluded from school swimming lessons. The infections were always severe and painful and she ended up needing a course of antibiotics each time.
"The thought of water going near my ears was scary because I knew I could end up with another infection. Over the years, it just escalated and the fear became more intense – I suppose it was a sense of the great unknown and it became a phobia" Elaine says.
Elaine's phobia became so severe that she couldn't even have a bath – she always had to shower instead. And when it came to holidays, there was always that upset of having to sit to the side, anxiously watching on as her family played in the water.
It eventually got to the point that Elaine's husband refused to go on holiday with her again unless she tried to face her fears. And with a one year-old granddaughter now around who she wanted to take on holiday, Elaine decided it was time to do something about her phobia.
So when her son told her about the Change One Thing campaign he'd seen on ITV's Lorraine programme, she decided to give it a try.
Once the campaign began, Elaine was introduced to Steven Shaw – often called 'the swim whisperer' – who had lots of experience on teaching people with phobias of the water. "It all started very slowly taking one step at a time.
"To begin with, I was terrified. I’d burst into tears at the mere sight of the pool. But gradually I just got used to the smell of the pool and its surroundings, then eventually built up enough confidence simply to be in the water" Elaine says.
Following a few initial sessions with Steven in London, Elaine then started taking lessons at her local pool with Linda Price, a swimming teacher with over 20 years' experience and co-founder of swimming lesson company, Swimtime. "It was with Linda that I made huge progress. She let me go at my own pace and completely put me at ease. Most importantly, she made me realise that swimming is fun."
And today, Elaine is still enjoying lessons with Linda to build up her confidence but she's come on so far. "It may seem strange to some people but I never really thought I could even get in a swimming pool, let alone actually swim. It’s crazy to think that something as trivial as an ear infection could have such an impact on your future.
"I’ve definitely overcome the worst of my fears thanks to Linda’s help and patience. Learning to swim was literally life-changing for me – not only has it given me an enormous boost to my self-esteem but I’ve also made a friend for life in Linda.
"I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved so far and have massive hopes for the future – my next goal is to pluck up the courage to swim in the sea with the whole family on our summer holiday this year. I’m going to enjoy picking out a swimming costume that will actually do what it says on the tin!"
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