By Teresa Swartz Roberts
4. Copyright 2016
Ever try to pull on a wet bathing suit? A couple of weeks ago, I went to the pool and forgot to pack my bra. My shirt was too flimsy to wear with nothing underneath. Nobody wants to see braless me, especially me. I decided to put my bathing suit top back on to go home. I was wearing a two-piece that day, a black ruffled plus-size suit with a built-in bandeau bra. In other words, my bathing suit top had a couple of padded cups seated in elastic that went all the way around my chest. At least that’s what it’s supposed to do–reach around my chest. That day, not so much.
I started pulling the top over my head while standing in the shower stall. I had my arms crossed over my chest and was pulling both sides down when I realized that friction between wet fabric and damp skin had trapped the suit against my armpits with my hands under the elastic. I was in a black ruffled strait jacket.
Alone in the locker room, I wondered how I was going to get out of this situation. Women do sometimes lend a hand to help each other dress. I personally have adjusted bathing suits in the back where women can’t reach when the suits have rolled up or a roll of back skin has been pushed up by the Spandex. I didn’t like the idea of asking someone to help me when my breasts were still exposed, but the point was moot, anyway. There was nobody there. Was I going to have to peek out the door and try to get someone’s attention?
I shifted this way and that, grunted and strained, and got the suit down over my now-sweaty torso. So much for the shower I just took. When I headed home, I decided I would have to be a little more careful about what kind of bathing suits I buy. And I remembered that the very first journal I wrote about Parkinson’s was about bathing suits.
Last year on this date, May 27, I hand-wrote a journal entry to work on my micrographia. Did you know that small handwriting is a symptom of Parkinson’s? Neither did I. My handwriting had become small, neat printing, which my diagnosing doctor pointed out to me. So the journal entry I wrote as therapy was in full-non-college-ruled cursive swirls in a notebook. (An aside here–cursive is becoming useless, except as a secret code. My son can read it, but most Millennials and younger cannot.)
I wrote about how gravity had been winning its conquest of my body and that gravity doesn’t matter so much in a pool. In the weightlessness of water, impossible tasks are possible. Yet there is resistance there, strength, healing. I talked about how I had switched to Aqua Zumba from land Zumba as I began to have trouble with muscle control, about how much I loved to dance, how I could fall over in the water without getting hurt.
The only problem was that I had to wear a bathing suit. One of the realities of life is that even a sick woman is still a woman. She wants to feel that she looks good or some version of good. When my best friend was pretty sure her cancer had returned, she started washing her pretty hats in preparation for chemo. If she was going to be sick, she was going to look good, dammit.
Before moving to Georgia, I lived in a small town where my colleagues and students and my son’s friends could all appear in the locker room attached to the gym and pool. It’s the kind of locker room that has no privacy but is intimate enough to accidentally bump butts with other women. It was there that I realized I needed a little extra time to get out of my suit. Going home wet in wintertime Maine is not an option. I eventually bought a two-piece suit with crossed straps and longish shorts–easy to put on at home and keep on in the water and able to mask enough that I don’t feel self-conscious. I started leaving Aqua Zumba 15 minutes before class was over so I could have the accessible stall to myself while I changed into a slip and pull-over dress.
There are some things you just won’t think of until you have to. With Parkinson’s and other mobility issues, you need to be able to get in and out of your clothes with minimal fuss. When I was diagnosed and got treatment, I went back to wearing a one-piece bathing suit some of the time because I could. I bought the black ruffled concoction because I thought it was cute and would be easy enough. It wasn’t, but I’m still wearing it some of the time because I am too cheap to get rid of it before getting my money’s worth.
I started keeping watch. When a bathing suit of the type I liked went on clearance, I bought it. That was tricky because I had to do it online, and I’ve lost weight since buying the last one. Weight loss can be a symptom of Parkinson’s, but in this case, the weight loss was on purpose. Believe me, I tried eating whatever I want after I found out weight loss is considered a symptom, and I gained weight. Now I am a comfortable weight for me and keeping myself there most of the time. I am even close to the weight listed on my driver’s license.
After cobbling together a couple of clearances and coupons, I’ve bought three two-piece suits with the easy-access skirt or shorts bottom and crossed-strap top that stays put in the water. I am keeping them in reserve for when I need them. I plan to keep on exercising at the pool until I wear out those suits and as many more as I can buy. I will keep stepping into and out of my bathing suits and appreciating my less-than-perfect body as long as possible. And I might even look good doing it.