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Swimming after a Setback

I’ve accepted that my brain, can at times, be broken. But when my body lets me down, I’m not quite so accepting……

I write a lot about my mental health and how swimming in the sea with a supportive and kind community improves my wellbeing. What is less known about me, and until now not written about, is my physical health. I have gone back and forth about whether to put this into the public domain. Will I sound ‘poor me’? Do I want to reveal another layer of my vulnerability? At a time when happiness is hard to find is it the right time for me to share my frustration and anger? The decision was made for me when my physical health took a downward turn this week and I was unable to leave the house, let a lone swim. But the kindness of my swimming community kept me going. So here it is, my I can’t make do and I certainly won’t mend story.

15 years ago I slipped on some leaves and fractured my skull. I was unconscious for 2 days and in hospital for a week. As a result I am deaf in one ear and I have no sense of smell. Sounds manageable right? Just wear a hearing aid and really who needs smell? Well me. I do. We all do. Smell and more importantly scents are processed via the amygdala and hippocampus meaning scent can immediately trigger an intense emotion and/or memory.  Your amygdala enables you to feel, to process emotions and respond to situations but, in my case, part of its supply chain has been cut off. Which just leaves rage and anger.  And I can’t wear a bloody hearing aid in the sea, when I’m running, anywhere windy i.e. anywhere outdoors in the UK. But that’s ok I have another working ear. Well no actually it’s not. Due to the way sound waves travel, high-frequency sounds don’t make it round my head to my working ear, I am unable to judge distance by sound when crossing a road, and being in a busy pub, shop or room is totally unbearable at times.  And that’s not the worst of it……..

I have tinnitus – sometimes known as a ringing in the ears but actually it’s more like a whine, a constant never ending whine that fingers in the ears cannot block out. Imagine the sound of static searching for radio or TV station in the 1970s by turning a dial or the morning after a night stood by a speaker at a loud gig. It’s that, but it never goes away. And here’s the one head injury legacy that appears rarely but when it does it leaves me totally floored, Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This wonderful condition is caused by the crystals that tell you which way is up in your semi-circular canals (inner ear) escape and go off on a little jolly. So they start sending your brain the wrong information about which way you’re facing or which way up your head is, which is complete contradiction to the messages your eyes are sending your brain. The symptoms are dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and falling over. The only relief to be found is lying totally still with your eyes closed. In my case this can go on for days until those pesky crystals find their way home with the help of head manipulation.

If I sound angry, resentful and embittered it’s because I am. I have slowly, over time, come to accept my mental health and although there is no cure I can manage it via medication, rest and of course swimming in the sea. But for my physical health there is no cure, I will not hear or smell again, the tinnitus will never go away and every now and then, normally at the worst time possible, I am totally incapacitated by BPPV. And just to rub salt in the wound, being at logger heads with my physical health results in poor mental health.

I am often referred to (by my mum) as head strong. But I’m really not. My head is broken. I have shoulders of a Russian shot putter and legs that can run and walk for miles but my bloody head is bust. One of the things advocated for good mental health and wellbeing is self-care including time on the sofa, bed and bath. Read a book, watch a box set. But when that is your retreat when your mental health is bad, the irony is you feel worse. And when this is your only option because of BPPV, the accompanying low mood is inevitable. The way I deal with my physical disability is distraction. If I keep busy I can tune out from the tinnitus. If I swim in the sea everyone with me is hearing impaired due to the wind and the waves. If I play and perform the iconic Seabird handstand in the shallows my world is upside down, quite literally which then matches the messages in my brain. In the sea we are the same.

Upside down – an award winning headstand

The relationship you have with your body and it’s impact on your mental health is well researched  and written about. But it focuses more on the shape and size of our body. Body positivity and body confidence campaigns tend to concentrate on the appearance of the body rather than what the body is capable of. I don’t hate my body because of what it looks like. I hate the bit above the shoulders that is broken and stops me from doing the stuff I love and improves my mental health. Not being able to hear stops me from spending time in large groups and in noisy places like pubs and restaurants. I am constantly having to turn my head to be able to lip read which isn’t great for the dizziness and nausea symptoms associated with BPPV. It is also incredibly tiring lipreading and trying to process and filter out of the balance, hearing, sight activity going on in my brain that is in conflict with each other. When your ears say you are looking left but your eyes tell you you’re looking straight forward it’s exhausting.

The relationship between my physical health and my mental health is intrinsically linked. A symptom of my depression is tiredness and staying in bed and it is also a symptom of my BPPV, and impaired processing abilities. A symptom of my anxiety is not being able to face large groups of people and it is also a symptom of not being able to hear what people are saying. So the stuff my mental health stops me from doing is also the stuff my physical health stops me from doing. It’s hard to swim when you can’t turn your head to breathe without wanting to throw up or walk across the shingles without falling over.

But, my love for sea swimming  has been a life saver. Yes I need to use my head to make decisions and assess risks etc but I’m predominantly reliant on my arms and legs – my strength. I don’t need to do front crawl to swim, I can breast stroke, back stroke, float or sit in the shallows. It makes me feel good about myself. I can mask my disabilities in my swimming community. The details of my disability were, until this week, unknown to even my closest swimming friends. The Kath the see in the sea is not the person I have described in this blog. I’m not broken in the water and this is the Kath they know.  It was only because I could not get out of bed, let alone make it to the beach this week that the salty community became aware of my head injury legacy.

Once aware the kindness of community was incredible. I was inundated with offers to drive me places, help me onto the beach and supportive messages of love. The sea was stormy this week, big waves and wind. My BPPV began to improve throughout the week and by Thursday I was ready to give swimming a go. And on Friday I went again. Both swims were wonderfully warm and full of smiling seabirds. I’m always the first into the sea and this was no different.  I love to stride with purpose when I get in. After being knocked over by waves so many times I kinda don’t care if it happens. In fact it is part of the joy, the thrill the exhilaration. And I like this version of me. The capable me.  They say the view you get from the sea is like no other. For me the view I have of myself in the sea is like no other.

Water is a real leveller. Long term the physical damage to by brain is permanent. And there will be times when I cannot swim. But, the sea will always be there, ready, for when I can. And so will the collective consciousness of kindness that is the salty seabirds. And swimming after a setback is oh so so sweet!

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Stormy Waters

It’s World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘mental health for all’ because we’ve all taken a battering lately. I’m fortunate to have a supportive partner and swimming in the sea, and more recently the lochs and rivers of Scotland to keep me on an even keel. But it’s not been easy. Our mostly water tight marriage has been weathering some significant storms…….

There are lots of things I do to manage my mental heath. Medication. Rest. Swimming in the sea. I also never give up on searching for the feeling of happiness. But I can’t do this on my own. Whilst depression steals my happiness anxiety robs me of the ability to do new things, meet new people and visit new places. Despite my anxiety, I love finding new swim spots and experiencing new adventures. They bring me so much joy. Fortunately, for the last 33 years I’ve had Ferg, my husband, who makes all of this possible.

When lockdown happened everybody was affected. Not being able to move freely, explore and travel impacted the whole world. My husband, who normally travels for work, was now in the house 24/7. Initially this was a blessing. Unable to leave the house due to the sheer number of people walking in my once out-of-the-way footpaths and swimming on my once quiet secluded beaches, he walked the dog, went to the supermarket and ran the errands. Sounds great right? And it was initially. But here’s the thing about anxiety and depression, to function you have to face them. Not without help and never alone but you have to push through the anxiety and go outside to remind your battered brain that you will come to no harm. Once outside, you will experience the happiness and joy that only the natural world can bring. The problem was, we were now in a pattern. And not a healthy one. One that caused resentment, frustration and a lot of anger. We were navigating stormy waters.

Like any couple, we’ve weathered a lot of storms over the past 3 decades. Life’s monumental moments, marriage, having kids and buying a home, bring a lot of joy, but also a lot of stress. I don’t deal with stress very well and Ferg takes the brunt of my mental health moods. We’ve had times in the past when we have co-existed and tolerated each other rather than supported one another and said sorry. But in more recent years he has tried to understand my mind more, created a safe space for me to just be and been the entire support crew for every decision, idea, and plan I come up with. He is unable to sit and be still, he needs to be doing and so is happy to go where my plans take him. He enables me to find happiness and that makes him happy. That was until my decisions, ideas and plans were all put in jeopardy by a bloody pandemic. Lock down was challenging my marriage.

During the last 6 months the even keel that he and I have worked so hard to achieve was listing. There are too many to mention reasons for this, some are circumstantial, some are my fault, some are his. But suffice to say my mental health was taking a battering and therefore so was he. Our usual time away trips provide an opportunity for us to really check in with each other but these were cancelled. The only trip on the horizon was the Swim Wild UK Highland Gathering weekend in Scotland. He was only coming to keep me company and provide me with the confidence to join in with a swimming weekend. At home he doesn’t swim with me, but when we are away he indulges me. But this was altogether the next level. A whole weekend with cold water swimmers. He was coming to make me happy. And then, that too, was cancelled.

As my mental health deteriorated and my mood continued to spiral downward I didn’t go to the Doctors. Far be it for a trained professional to tell me that I probably needed to up my medication. I was self-medicating with wine instead because of course that’s a real mood lifter! My marriage and me were in the doldrums.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the tide turned. A sequence of events, a conscious effort, small adaptations. I think it was all of these. We stopped drinking and began to go outside again together. To the beach and the sea. On Saturdays we’d go for long walks with picnic lunches. As lock down lessened we moved further afield. There isn’t a beach in Sussex we haven’t visited over the summer months. We, like most couples, are at our best when we leave our responsibilities behind and really spend time together. So, we still went to Scotland. The event was cancelled but we still had our accommodation booked.

We spent three blissful days out of range and undisturbed in a Shepherd’s Hut in the Cairngorms. The River Spey’s fast flow could be heard from our cosy raised bed and we spent time easily together in a breathtaking part of the world. We have been north of the border many times but this trip was more than much needed. It was the piece of the puzzle we didn’t know was missing.

It’s an easier task for him to find my happy when we are away from the world and I am near water. He spends a lot of time watching me in the sea or searching beaches for treasure. In Scotland, we walked around deep dark lochs, found lochans of lily pads and clambered over rocks on the edge of fast flowing gorges and waterfalls. We spent our evenings in the river. I’ve never known cold like it and this was summer! Although this is my natural habitat, being submerged in cold water, it is not his. But he does it to find my happy. (We found his happy on a big beach break in the North Sea. As long as there is a warm wave, there is a smile on his face.)

We left Scotland with heavy hearts but a lightened load. Spending time together is something we’d stopped doing whilst we were forced under one roof. Unable to escape each others sighs. Unable to hear what the other was saying. Unable to see past our our situations. But being at our worst as a couple makes you appreciate each other when you are at your best. We are at our best when it’s just the two of us, wide open space and of course water. And Ferg makes this possible.

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Early Bird

Swimming in the sea at the start of the day is cemented in my self-care. It doesn’t need to be every day and it will always be worth it.

I am an early bird. Silly and ridiculously early. Nothing really affects it. A late night, alcohol or jet lag do nothing to change the hour I wake. This is both a curse and a blessing. Alongside medication, I manage my mental health with a self-care package that includes enough sleep and swimming in the sea. Getting enough sleep when you always wake before first light is a challenge. However, it means I get some solitude in the still cool morning air to enjoy my first cuppa alone to collect my thoughts. And a swim, as the sun is rising, is the best way to start the day.

When I wake up, whatever time that is, there is just no going back to sleep. My busy brain engages and an incredibly messy amount of thoughts rush in to replace my dreams. I don’t fight it anymore. I’ve learned to go with it. I get up and allow the crazy chatter some room while the kettle boils and I unload the dishwasher. Like the waves in the sea, fierce and full of energy, left to their own devices they form into sets and swells. If left to organize themselves I gain quiet clarity.

Being alone with my thoughts is something I actively avoid throughout the day. But there is something about the stillness of the morning, particularly on the beach or in the sea, that makes them more manageable. I’m rested and ready to face the maelstrom of my mind. I know I’ll be done by midday, exhausted and ready to retreat so it’s now or never. It is the calm before the storm.

Before the sun takes control of the wind there is often a gentle off shore breeze on the beach in the mornings. Only the tops of the trees know that the wind is there. It is enough to muffle and mute the sounds of the land. And it allows the sea some space to sing to the shingle. Everything appears gentler, even  the way I enter the sea and swim in the mornings is ethereal.

I leave home before the kids get up and the house stirs and I am never more alone in the mornings on the beach or in the sea. Conversely, this time of much treasured solitude, is when I feel most connected. Being alone, in the damp air, on a deserted beach, at dawn I am connected to myself. I am connected to the natural rhythm of the sea. My world is still spinning but my axis is still.

There is something fresh about the mornings, and not just the bite of the wind and the water before the sun has had the chance to warm them. Every day is a fresh start. Yesterday is in the past. Your possibilities for the day are endless. There is hope. “So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.” Virginia Woolf.

On wild windy mornings you feel alive. And it’s good to be alive! You feel every part of your body. The cold and the waves of the vast winter seas is mother nature as her best. Your worries float away on a calm sea, but in a choppy chill waters in January, he sea renders them insignificant.

Routine is a key component to managing my mental health. Throughout the day the decisions we make increase, causing fatigue, so having a morning routine that requires no decision making keeps the tiredness at bay. The brains resources and my resilience is limited, but my morning swims, cemented in my every day, keep it topped up. This healthy routine helps me maintain physical, emotional, and mental health during stressful times.

Morning swims are different to those later in the day. You are waking your mind and your body. Swimming is a great form of exercise that is low impact and really gives your body a great stretch and work out. Even if the sea is too rough to swim in I will head to the beach to walk on the shore or run on the promenade. Just being by the sea.

My solo morning swims differ from those I share with my swimming community. They are full of chatter, laughter and cake. Whereas my morning swims are meditative and mindful. I find a calm flow of repetitive strokes. Again this is a time when my thoughts come and go and requires little effort to practice. As the winter draws in the and the sea temperature drops and dawn distance swims are no longer possible, quick cold dips replace them. Instead the cold water resets by brain and shocks my body into morning mode.

Once I’ve had a swim, combed the beach or I have sat and watched the waves come and go and I have quite literally collected my thoughts, the tone is set for the day. Without this morning ritual, the day can take quite a dark turn. Up with the larks I am grateful that it provides me with a natural coping mechanism for my anxiety and depression. Left alone with my thoughts I am able to plan rather than procrastinate.

I couldn’t not live by the sea. I couldn’t live without my mornings in the sea.

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A Permission of Seabirds

Finding a flock where you belong, where you are accepted, where you are at ease is a thing to be treasured. It gives you permission to be you. And that was evident in abundance during a weekend away with the Seabirds in Suffolk.

Last weekend, a flock of Seabirds and I headed to Suffolk for a weekend of swimming. It is a beautiful part of the country and we became enamoured by her quiet beaches, meandering rivers and tidal creeks. We’d done something similar the year before when we spent a few days in a bunkhouse in Pembrokeshire. As soon as we had unpacked from that weekend in Wales we had booked this years Seabird tour to Suffolk. It’s hard to imagine that a group, like ours, where many of us suffer with mental illnesses, wellbeing issues and physical difficulties would want to spend a weekend away with a big noisy group doing physical activities. But it is what bought us together, these flaws of ours. We accept that everyone in this group has a back story. More importantly we accept ourselves. So whilst the scenic swims and adventures in new places is a big draw, giving ourselves permission and being granted permission, to just be, was an even bigger draw.

Right up until the day of departure our flock was dwindling. Covid has not been kind to anyone and many circumstances have changed that meant a few of the flock had to stay at home. But with an itinerary of swims, a YHA Hostel booked, a silent disco at the ready and enough food to feed an army we were Suffolk bound. Cath and I left early to spend the day ‘working’ offsite which included a visit to Dunwich beach. The rest of the flock were travelling after work so we were the first to arrive at the hostel. Gradually the birds began to arrive in dribs and drabs. Every car load a wondrous surprise of which birds had travelled with which. The success of this community evident in friendships that had formed in the sea, only a few months ago, but now away from the beach, arriving together.

Once we’d all arrived, dumped our belongings, had nana naps, been to the loo, we headed out to find a tidal creek to swim in. 18 women walking along a narrow footpath with tow floats and swim robes trying to find a suitable spot to get in was more than a local bird watcher could believe. With eyes like saucers she asked if she could stay and watch. After investigating a jetty and a floating pontoon it was deemed too muddy to get in and out without getting stuck. So we headed to the sea and the familiar feel of shingle under foot in Aldeburgh. A convoy of cars in the dark soon lost each other but we all made it to the beach and were content to swim in car loads scattered along the shore. Tow floats illuminated with bike lights or being buff on the beach. Swims in different stretches but all experiencing the magic of being in the sea after the sun had set and the light had left for the day. Almost brackish to the taste, silky to the touch and quiet apart from our cackling. It was a wonderful way to start the weekend

Saturday, and the plan was to swim 1.5 miles along the River Stour from Dedham Mill to Flatford Mill. This wonderful part of the world was captured in Constable’s The Hay Wain and it did not disappoint. Two of the flock needed rest rather than a swim and set off for a beach stroll and lunch instead so down to 16 we set off to walk between the two mills before swimming back. It was an incredible swim through chocolate box countryside. The water was clear and void of litter, wonderful underwater woodlands of aquatic plants grew in abundance, shallow gravel bends meant sighting fish was easy and there were Constable painting worthy lily pads in the shade. A few walked the first section and got in later. A few got out early. Some hopped in and out as the mood took them. We ended up back at the starting meadow in different groups to the ones we had set off in, at various different times. Once the swan and her cygnets at the exit bridge were negotiated, we picnicked on the grass by the river. Cake is the most suitable way to celebrate a swim safari. Then it was back to the hostel to dry our kit while we read books, snoozed or sunbathed on the beach.

The next swim was an early evening dip at Thorpeness. Again the birds opted in or out depending on their mood. Some stayed behind to cook. Others were already on the beach. I opted for the beach but went for a wander along the shoreline to look for treasure before jumping in the big blue. There is a lot of tidal erosion in this part of the world but also a wealth of wildlife and nature reserves. It is a beach combers paradise. As I returned to the fold some were getting out of the sea, some were getting dressed, some where still in the water. As I slipped into the cooling waters, doing my own thing, I realised so was everyone else.

That evening we were treated by the culinary skills of the group and had a feast of curries, followed by meringues and lemon curd. A firepit was built in the back garden and we danced to a Silent Disco. (Silent it wasn’t with lots of singing). Again the group came and went – some danced all night (well til 11pm), some opted for an early turn in, others went straight to bed after dinner. We didn’t care, we didn’t mind. If they were happy, we were happy.

The next morning and more food. Also, aching bodies and ailments taking their toll. So instead of the planned long river swim in Cambridge we opted for salt and the sea once more. Over breakfast some of the group made an early start home with work and family commitments to attend to. Simple shouts of goodbye and waves whilst the rest of us remained at the breakfast table were enough. With beds stripped and the kitchen empty the remainder birds headed for Covehithe beach with the contents of the fridge in a cool box. Covehithe is a beach at the end of a lane and was a stunning place to spend a sunny morning. Sat Navs took us various ways and when we arrived there were birds already bobbing and bathing. Clear blue skies and warm winds meant a morning of sunbathing, swimming and strolling. More left after a quick dip as they needed the rest and respite of home and again farewell shouts from the shore to the sea were sufficient. Lunch was eaten, sea glass was searched for and final wees were had in the sea before it was time to go home.

So the weekend was a success. Not because we managed to squeeze it in before ever changing Covid regulations. Not because the beaches and rivers were idyllic and far from the madding crowd, unlike our home town. Not because the food was lush and the company was salty. But because we are a group that accept each other. A group that doesn’t judge how many eggs you’ve laid or even if you’ve ever laid any. It is a group that enables you to give yourself permission to be imperfect, permission to chose, permission to try new things, permission to take chances. Permission to come and go as you chose. Words cannot express how freeing that is.

We speak the common language of permission to be happy. That is to say, we’ve all (to varying degrees) stopped looking for approval or seeking consent. We’ve realised it is pointless and we don’t need permission from others, we give ourselves permission, we chose to do things that make us happy. We’ve accepted our flaws and given ourselves permission to be imperfect. Perfection isn’t real and only serves to steal happiness. We permit ourselves time to step out of the day to day and try new things, visit new places, find new adventures. If we fail, we fail together but you’ll have a bunch of Seabirds cheering you on from the sidelines regardless. And in this safe environment we have permission to take a chance, take a risk, a leap of faith where the rewards make us happy. This is why the weekend was a success. We accept and are accepted.

When home at last, I was soaking in the bath reflecting on my gratitude for the flocks’ time, cooking,  enthusiasm, sense of adventure, sense of humour, quiet conversations, sea glass hunting and not forgetting swimming. My greatest love is seeking out new places by the sea,  but my biggest fear is the  loud and busy bustle of being around groups for extended periods of time. That weekend I was able to walk alone on the shoreline yet dance with friends. I was able to read on my own, yet join in the chatter in the kitchen. I was able to float in solitude yet be part of the flock as we headed downstream in idyllic settings. I was able to say loud rude sweary words where I wanted and whenever I needed. A place of permission and acceptance is a thing to be treasured.

Water Warriors

The scariest thing about Halloween is how much plastic there is in the sea! But everyday my swimming community pull on their Water Warrior costumes clean beaches, collect water samples, donate to environmental charities. In the words of King David “The Natural World is changing. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”

All over my social media feed is the following call to arms; The scariest thing about Halloween is how much plastic there is in the sea. And after a battering by storms over recent weeks there is evidence of it in abundance on our beaches. I live, swim and work on Brighton and Hove’s shingle beaches. You either love them or hate them. It’s hard to park even in winter. The shingle is not kind under foot.  You have the busy bars and pier of central beach with its “kiss me quick hats” and penny falls or the more gently sloping shingle of Hove, where the middles classes flock in fair weather to drink frothy coffee. I pick and chose my beach depending on my mood, the time of day and the time of year and love them all for their diversity. But what they all have in common is a litter problem. It isn’t just discarded plastic straws, ice-cream spoons and pint cups left by tourists in Brighton, it is also the dog poo bags, waxed coffee cups and sauce sachets left by the locals in Hove. Don’t get me started on microplastics in the sea……….

Every day, all year round, members of the Salty Seabird community swim in the sea. Swimming in the sea is free, but we pay the fee. We clean beaches, we collect water samples and donate and support environmental campaigns and charities. We want to protect what we love, and we love swimming in the sea. At Seabird’s HQ we are continually questioning ourselves and asking what more can we do. We have moved away from recycled plastic packaging and labels to paper packaging and stamps. We continue to use social media and our community voice to promote environmental campaigns and groups. We are members of the Surfers Against Sewage 250 Club business membership scheme. We fundraise for and donate unrestricted funds to local campaigns that focus on cleaning up or beaches and re-educate visitors to our beaches.  And we continue to worship at the throne of King David.

David Attenborough’s latest film, A Life on Our Planet, is his witness statement. A statement that captures all he has witnessed over the 94 years he has been on this planet. The huge impact humans have had and still have on the natural world that he has witnessed first-hand. It is hard hitting and heart-breaking. But he advocates hope. He talks about solutions like restoring biodiversity, tackling poverty, reusable energy sources and reducing consumption. He also talks protecting our oceans, or as we call it, our playground.

Extinction Rebellion swim

It is easy to despair, do nothing, and continue on the well-trodden path of indifference. But where there is life there is hope. And all the while we are swimming in the sea we can be the water warriors for our local swim spot. And we do this on both a local and national level. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

On a National level we have joined forces with We Swim Wild. This is the brain child of Laura, who is a passionate welsh wild swimmer and has created a network of  wild swimming communities and water users to take action against micro plastic pollution. The Salty Seabirds are part of the UK network of water loggers, who look after their local stretch of water completing beach, river and lake clean ups. Twice a year we take scientific samples of sea water so it can be tested for levels of microplastics at Bangor University under the direction of Dr Christian Dunn. This research informs We Swim Wild’s annual ‘ U.K Plastic Waters Report’. This report enables them to lobby the government to start testing U.K waters for levels and quantities of micro plastics. This is just one of the strings to her bow – please visit the We Swim Wild website to learn more about he work that is being undertaken by this incredible Community Interest Company and the formidable force that is Laura.

On a Local level, one of our favourite Salty Seabirds, local photographer, visual creative and community collaborator Coral Evans is calling for change. She has channelled a huge amount of energy working with local businesses, politicians and community groups on solutions and has kicked off the local ‘Leave No Trace’ campaign. Every aspect of this campaign, from design to implementation has been created voluntarily by members of the community, born from a real worry about the impact both visitor and resident rubbish is having on our immediate environment. Using social media and images to promote the message to visitors and residents of Brighton and Hove to be more responsible and dispose of rubbish of our beaches. Whilst positive talks with the city council are in their infancy the clicktivism campaign has commenced, bringing people  together to focus on the campaign cause. Most recently Leave No Trace has adopted the #take3forthesea campaign. The message is simple. Take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway or ……anywhere and you have made a difference. Again go check it out and begin your #take3forthesea journey

Being a water warrior amongst this community of strong and capable leading ladies provides hope. It provides a positive shared focus for the Salty Seabird swimming community. It provides a plan, a way forward, an activity, all of which is wonderful for our wellbeing. We may sometimes feel against we are constantly swimming against the current but the tide does change. There is hope.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
― Dr. Seuss

Cold Water Sea Swimming Kit, Tips and Advice

There has been a lot of chatter in the Salty Seabird Community group as swimmers are gearing up for for cold water swimming. Many more swimmers are keen to join the flock as year round swimmers but need some pointers regarding kit, safety advice and tips on getting warm afterwards. So here goes;

What should you wear in the water?

That is entirely up to you. If you wear a wetsuit you will be able to go in the water for longer and be able to bear colder temperatures without the need for boots and gloves further into winter. You will also be able to swim with your head in the water longer into the season. Bear in mind that swimming wetsuits are designed for front crawl and can make your neck and shoulders ache if you are a head up breast stroke swimmer.  You may wish to consider a standard watersports wetsuit instead which is more hard wearing and easier to get on without damaging. Oceans sports offer a discount for Seabirds. If you wish to skin swim (no wetsuit) all year round it is a good idea to wear neoprene accessories. Boots not only keep your feet warm but help you exit the cold water safely as the shingles move around with waves and hurt like hell as you try to walk back up to the beach to your warm clothes. Neoprene gloves keep your hands warm and able to function when it comes to fastening zips and negotiating getting dressed. A swim hat keeps the wind chill off your head and your hair dryish which also helps with staying warm. Thermal rash vests, neoprene rash vests and cossie are all options too.

For your safety we would recommend that you wear at least a bright coloured hat (RLSS and RNLI recommend orange or pink) and a tow float so you can be seen.

What should I wear whilst getting changed and after swimming?

Lots of loose layers – there is absolutely no need for underwear as you are likely to forget it anyway. We use Haramaki belly bands to warm up our cores and use as bras too. You can also pop a hot water bottle in there to warm up your kidneys. A woolly hat. We use bobble hats as a way to identify ourselves as Salty Seabirds. As soon as you whip off your neoprene or silicone swim hat – get a woolly one on. A Sports robe to get changed under whilst keeping the elements at bay. We particularly like the Charlie McLeod ones which now have version made out of PET but there are lots on the market to choose from.  We like the Charlie because it is amply big to get changed in but not so big you can’t cycle in it etc. There short sleeved versions are the most popular. Woolly socks and  cozy slip on boots are also recommended along with wrist warmers.

How can I warm up after swimming?

Have a hot drink of your choice. It you use an isothermal bottle to keep it in then poor into a mug to warm your hands. Sip it slowly and obviously accompany it with cake. Hot water bottles are great just be careful not to burn yourself as some have done in the past. You can wrap up your changing towel or clothes in it while you swim so they are warm when you get out. A mat  to put down on the cold pebbles to stand on and keep the chill off your feet. Move around, whatever you do don’t sit still, or have a hot bath, or wrap in a blanket in front of a laptop. You need to warm up slowly using exercise. Walk the dog, do squats, run up and down the beach, do the hoovering. You need to warm up from the inside out, not the other way round. Your core and essential organs need to be warmed up slowly to prevent the after drop and hypothermia.


“After drop” is common after swimming in cold water; you get out and feel fine, and then you start to get colder, sometimes growing faint, shivering violently and feeling unwell.” (Outdoor Swimming Society) 

Learning to head off the after drop is a key part of continuing to swim in cold water all year round. While in the cold water you can be lured into a false sense of security (numbness!) and stay in for what turns out to be too long. With practice you learn your limitations and just how cold you are going to be about 10 minutes after getting out. You then moderate your swim times and get out before you feel you have to. Then the key is warming up – slowly. If you have a hot shower, for example, the blood can run from your core (where it is working hard to maintain your core temperature and keep you alive!) to your skin and actually make your temperature drop along with your blood pressure – potentially making you feel faint and ‘stinging’ your skin.

How do I know if it is safe to swim?

Only you can answer this question. And if you are asking the question “is it safe to swim?” you are demonstrating uncertainty in your ability so the answer is probably no. It is unfair to ask your fellow swimmers to make this decision for you as only you really know you. Here is a checklist to go through but it is not exhaustive.

  • Check the weather and sea forecast using Magic Seaweed, Wind Guru and Windy – this will give you a good indication but nothing beats taking a look yourself. Be prepared to change your mind/plans accordingly when you get to the beach. And during your swim.
  • Consider your SEA swimming ability (not pool swimming ability). Are you an able and experienced year round sea swimmer that knows this beach well?
  • Have you acclimatised throughout the season and do you know how to acclimatise and prevent cold water shock before each swim?
  • How far, how long are you intending to swim for?
  • Do you know how to get in and out of the sea safely and are there safe exit points?
  • Are you physically well. No injuries, or infections or viruses that may impact your ability to swim and stay warm. Did you sleep well or are you tired.
  • Are you mentally well or is your judgement impaired by tiredness, your state of mind of substances

How long should I stay in for?

No idea! That all depends on so many factors like what you wearing, how far you are swimming, what is the water temperature, your physical abilities, your seasonal acclimatisation. Again only you can make this decision. Experience will allow you to understand the messages your body is sending you so try to go regularly and build up slowly.  Some get out when they start to feel comfortable and like they could stay in there forever. This is the stage your body enters prior to hyperthermia so it’s good to get out before you become pre-hyperthermic which can make you disorientated and shake uncontrollably. You’ll only do this once (we hope!).

What is the temperature of the water?

The answer to this will depend on who you ask, which forecast you use, what thermometer you use etc. A better question would be how cold will the water feel. So if the wind is northerly it will feel colder because the air temperature is colder. If it is the morning the pebbles won’t have had time to warm up making it much colder under foot. If it’s wavy with a south westerly wind it seems warmer somehow. If you are tired or if you haven’t eaten it will feel colder as you don’t have the resources to stay as warm. If you are just bobbing and chatting rather than swimming consistent strokes you will cool down quicker. So rather than how cold is the water you should be thinking how cold am I?

What else do I need to know?

Most of all have fun! Don’t take it too seriously. Wear a woolly hat and paddle if you need to earn the post swim cake. Find some other salty sea swimmers to share swims, laughter, loud swearing with. The Outdoor Swimming Society also has lots of useful blogs and articles to get you started.

Happy (cold) Swimming!

10 Best Bits of Cold Water Swimming Kit

  1. Woolly Hat and gloves, arm warmers. – it’s all about the layers
  2. Sports Robe – to keep the wind chill and rain off you while you change and protects your dignity on a public beach
  3. Haramaki core warmer – this is a game changer and warms up your vital organs fast and keeps the drafts out
  4. Changing Mat – keeps your feet warm and clean and you can wrap wet stuff in it.
  5. Neoprene gloves – keeps your hands warm to get dressed quickly
  6. Swim hat, cap or headband – you lose lose a significant an=mount of heat from your head
  7. Footwear – so you can get out of the cold sea quickly and safely
  8. Neoprene cossie or vest – keeps your core warm so you can stay in for a wee bit longer
  9. Flask of hot tea, coffee, chocolate or ribena
  10. CAKE – an lots of it – you have earned it!

Return of the Flockers

As I watched the light fade, the West Pier marker buoy begin to flash, the seagulls settle and the wind farm light up I was happy. Surrounded by a small flock of seabirds I was looking forward to the days to come. Reconnection was around the corner.

Every year to mark the end of summer I swim around the West Pier. She is my absolute favourite thing to swim around. By now I would have normally circumnavigated her and her slightly less demure sister The Palace a few times. However, this is not the summer of normal. But in keeping with tradition, on the first weekend of September, I swam around her. And joining me were a flock of salty seabirds.

And not swimming around the pier isn’t the only thing that is different this summer. We’re not meeting as a flock. Our monthly moon swims put on hold. Weekly regular swims a mere memory. It’s true, the birds naturally migrate in the summer. Our beaches are busy, the kids are off school and there are holidays to be had searching for new swim spots. But much of this was a strange enforced migration, not a spreading of the Salties by choice.

We’ve managed to weather this storm with on-line chat, distanced beach cleans, competitive beach combing, and Covid adjusted swimming courses and introductory sessions. But it is not the same. I for one need a regular routine. I like to know what I am doing and when. With a busy at home household and even busier beaches I’ve had to adapt – something I am not very good at doing. I loved my Monday mornings. Well rested from a weekend, able to face big numbers of swimmers. Monday Mass was a swim so fixed in my routine I never missed it. Every week there was a different seascape and different faces but the time and place never changed. Having that certainty in a, now more than ever, uncertain world, has been much needed but missing.

So the latest government guidelines, that you could gather in groups of up to 30 was welcomed. There is obviously still a need to physically distance and we have a number of vulnerable swimmers still shielding or not quite ready for crowds. We’ve assessed the risks and will monitor it closely but as we swim off some of the most crowded beaches in the UK, even if we swim solo we are still in groups bigger that the recommended 6! We’ve had so many new swimmers join the group and lots of the birds becoming part of the flock via 121s, courses and lessons. So we decided to put the regular swims back in the group.

We were blown away by the response! It wasn’t a decision we took lightly. As a fluid informal swimming community we have no governing body providing us with advice and guidance. Just two middle aged women who want to help others experience post swim highs and improvements to mental health and wellbeing. We were overwhelmed with the magnitude of support and scale of positive affirmations. The need for human connection is a force to be reckoned with. And although Covid has produced challenges for all, it has also reinforced what is really important to us. We need to be part of a group. We need an antidote to the pressures of the new world we are navigating. We need to come together. We need to be being, not doing. And all of this is possible in a sociable swimming community by the sea.

SEABIRDS ASSEMBLE

A sense of belonging has a significant impact on our emotional wellbeing. As we slowly leave lock down our need to reconnect is at the forefront. Increasingly,  over the last few weeks I’ve been seeing more and more Salties as we emerge into this new world. We are arriving from all directions, holiday’s, isolation, relocation. We are gradually  coalescing into larger and larger flocks. As the air temperature begins to drop the mumurations return. Our formations becoming synchronized, becoming more tightly (not literally) packed, becoming what we once were. A protective, cohesive, reassuring flock.

So the end of summer, West Pier swim saw a few of our flock come together. Seven to be precise. One I hadn’t seen since June, bumping into her at a beach clean. Another I hadn’t seen since July as she spent time away with family. We set off through the waves in smaller groupings and arrived back on the shingle at different times. We sat eating Tunnocks tea cakes and drinking tea (read sloe gin) long after it had got dark. We talked of adventures we’d had and planned to have in the future. We talked of sea glass stealing and swim inspired artwork. We talked of school returns and mental health episodes. We talked until our toes were cold and it was time to go home. Separating but most definitely connected.

Author: Seabird Kath

Reef safe sun care for you and the family

Our friends at Tropic skincare have produced a sun care product that protects your skin AND protects the planet.

Did you know? Around 14,000 tons of sunscreen washes off swimmers into the ocean worldwide each year.*

Many off the shelf sunscreens often contain toxic chemical ingredients that pollute and threaten the ocean’s ecosytem. Oxybenzone is one such ingredient commonly found in sun care products which has been linked to bleaching of coral, at least 10% of coral reefs across the globe are at risk of exposure to this!**

It’s always worth checking the ingredients list on your sunscreen, look out for; Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, Octocrylene. You can also check out your sun care, plus 1000’s of other products for free on the THINK DIRTY® app. This independent app allows you to learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products.

Did you know you can get 100% reef safe sun care?

Unlike a lot of mainstream sun care products, Tropics revolutionary range of broad-spectrum (UVA & UVB), reef-safe, free from toxic ingredients, sun care is made without known pollutants to land, sea and wildlife.

Everyone deserves sun care that protects your skin while also protecting the planet.

Tropic are proud to be the first beauty brand in the UK and Europe to be awarded the Protect Land + Sea seal of approval for our entire sun protection range https://haereticus-lab.org/protect-land-sea-certification-3/

The new Great Barrier range

Great Barrier includes a combination of both mineral and safe synthetic sun filters for a revolutionary new product formulation that can be enjoyed by everyone!

The original Skin Shade range, mineral protection was the only option at the time that was felt safe to use due the ingredients on offer. Skin Shade is still a great option for those with ultra-sensitive skin, perhaps you suffer from eczema or psoriasis? It is also more water –resistant that the Great barrier range.

If you are very active and outdoorsy, as well as those with a darker skin tone, or lots of hair, you will love Great Barrier. It’s silky, hydrating formula is so light and easy to apply. Its smells divine too. Available in factors 15, 30 and 50. Plus you can get a factor 50 specifically for your face called Sun Day.

Prefer 100% mineral sun protection?

Skin Shade is a broad-spectrum, water-resistant 100% mineral sun cream that’s suitable for even the most sensitive skin. Freshly made with an exotic blend of nourishing oils and antioxidant-rich extracts, this rich, long-lasting cream delivers all-round protection . This comes in factor 15, 30 and 50. Plus you can get a tinted version for your face with factor 50 protection (Tinted Skin Shade in light/medium and medium/dark)

The whole sun care range is also part of the return scheme

You can return ANY five empties from the sun care range for FREE to tropic HQ (you need a returns form I can provide) and you’ll receive a FREE 15ml Sun Day UV Facial Defence

It’s Tropics way of saying thank you for helping to create a healthier, greener, more empowered world.

Shop for your suncare, and full Tropic range here www.tropicskincare.com/pages/emmalane

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*National Geographic, 2018

**Downs et al, 2015

Swim and Tonic

I thought I was doing OK, and I am, but there is definitely a storm brewing in the distance. Low pressure is here and it relentlessly keeps coming. So one morning this week, I released the pressure with the flock on the beach and in the sea.
As I sit, days later, thinking about that morning I cannot help but smile. Better yet, the exhilaration, excitement and elated mood I experienced was shared. It was just the tonic!

We’re at the tail end of Storm Francis and the weather is changeable. Strong winds are keeping us on our toes and permanently glued to weather and sea forecast apps to identify swimming windows. We had a Seabird birthday to celebrate this week so opportunity was key. The birthday girl settled on an 8am swim at King Alfred Beach, the dog friendly side. I was also meeting a friend that morning, having a swimming lesson and generally galivanting about the beach between lessons and courses. So I agreed to the birthday swim but said I wouldn’t get in just come for the cake and the craic (the birthday girl is Irish).

Another Seabird spotted me as soon as I got out of the car. I don’t have particular, favourite or regular swim buddies. They all fill my cup in different ways. This bird is bloody funny and her quick wit and clumsiness have your sides splitting. So I knew I was in for a fun gathering of the flock. We wandered down to the beach watching birds come from different directions, drifting until they spotted the ever growing brood. There was lots of talk of the weather and the waves. The beauty of a westerly is you can see the squalls and the fronts coming over the sea and the sky has been putting on quite a show of late.

There was lots of pre-swim chatter. It’s the summer and we all naturally migrate in the warmer months, coming back together in September when school starts. And although this has been a strange summer of staycations, we have still not met in big groups or seen much of each other. So the chatter was excited, urgent, loud and bloody lovely. Two of the birds I’d seen the day before but there was still so much to say. One I hadn’t seen for months and was keen to hear about her freshwater swimming adventures. There have been house moves, holidays, exam results, illnesses that all needed airing. Most of the birds are parents and a child free hour means cramming conversation in.

Finally, they got in the sea. A couple of years ago, particularly on a wavy day, they would wait for me to lead the charge. That is not an arrogant statement, it is merely a fact. I am not the Queen of the Sea (I am) but I do have confidence when getting in the water. Looking to my left and right there would be lines of birds waiting for when I would make my move. Now they all nonchalantly stroll in and if a wave takes them out they laugh. From my strange, dry vantage point I feel like a proud mother hen. This is why we did this. These women were strangers to each other not so long ago. Now they are firmly established in each other’s lives. We may not venture far from the beach but we venture into each other’s experiences, worries and doubts and are welcomed like old friends. There’s screeching, laughing and wonderful rendition of Happy Birthday in a mermaid ring. A couple swim off to get some mileage in, others bob and chat, a few practice their strokes. Doing their own thing but doing it together. Then it was time for cake. The only reason for swimming in the sea year round other than connection is cake. And lots of it.

Before the birds even had their clothes back on the cake came out. Various varieties. You cannot have a swim and then be offered just one type of cake. The distance swimmers were back and needed warming up so cake was eaten in a stood upright shaky position. Others wrapped in robes hunkered down to get out of the growing wind. Positions swapped as conversations changed. Then finally, someone said “Right I must go now”. The reason for an 8am swim was so it didn’t eat into peoples day and we could prepare for the return of routine mornings. Inevitably, the first “Right I must go now” was responded to with “Yes, me too.” But no one left the beach. The chatter changed but continued. You just ended up talking to someone else further up the beach. I walked the neap high water line with another bird looking for sea glass and putting the world to rights, others picked up litter, some had another slice of cake. But no one actually left. When I go back from my slow dawdle, they were all still there, just in a different flight formation. Finally the first one left and gradually people began to leave. It was so gradual it was hardly noticeable and the “Right I must go now” was replaced with “I thought you were going” or “Are you still here?”.

I had no where to be other than the beach that morning. Something I had been fretting about as the TO DO list at home beckoned. But by now I’d been at the beach for well over an hour, almost two. Time had run away and relaxation had rushed into replace it. With a handful of us left, a sizeable piece of sea glass was found and that was it. We were going nowhere. Tales of legendary size finds were shared, shingle was over-turned in the search for fortune and shells offered in exchange for the gem. But the finder wasn’t to be parted with her treasure. Then she found another piece, even bigger, practically in the same spot. We swarmed around her plotting ways to relieve her of her burden of gems. Creating a sea glass colour and size hierarchy and beach currency to offer her as a trade deal. We were Sea Witches at their best.

No one mentioned leaving for quite a while again. Instead, we joked and teased each other relentlessly. They were the kind of jokes that made you feel like you belonged but weren’t exclusive. Yes you could be the brunt of them but not in a mean girl way. The jokes were based on joyful, jubilant times together. Childlike (some would say immature) innocent pure fun. Which continued long into the day via messages and concluded with another Seabird classic evaluation of our time together. “ I didn’t know how much I needed that”. Finally, It was just two of us left and we went our separate ways eventually because I was meeting a friend.

I stayed on the beach for another three hours after they had all gone. I met a close friend on a bench on the prom. We watched as Seabird swim coaches worked their magic with nervous new sea swimmers. Christine was running an introduction to sea swimming session and Emma was teaching a Breast Stroke to Front Crawl lesson. A lesson which Co-Flounder Cath was in. We were meant to go for a walk, my friend and I. Instead we sat and chatted about our kids, our lives and our goings on. All the while watching the sea and the ever expanding flock. Cath came to say hello after her lesson. Her sense of achievement radiated from her happiness more infectious than normal. Then it was my time to get in.

I’ve been swimming a lot in the summer but not swimming. I usually reduce my sea time in high season as I hate the crowds and despair at the litter but this year has been different. Having to meet in smaller groups has meant more salt on my skin. Outdoor swimmers are growing in numbers and so the Seabird, lessons, sessions and courses are thriving. My hair constantly has seaweed in it and there is always a cossie drying somewhere. But I haven’t been swimming swimming. My usual early morning buoy loops just haven’t happened. No point to points with the tide. No circumnavigations of either of the piers. I’ve been getting in and bobbing but I have replaced longer swims with cake, runs with crisps and gym classes with chocolate. I’m in the midst of a body moving funk and not the kind that gets your body moving. So I signed up to have technique lessons with Emma. Having a set times and place and someone telling me what to do in the hope that it would reboot my body.

It was wonderful. Moving my body with purpose. Recalling it’s hidden strength. Not thinking about anything else other than what Emma was telling me to do. Meeting the other swimmers, some of whom were just at the start of their sea swimming adventures. And Emma does everything with humour, putting the participants at ease. I lost my goggles on the first wave and did the rest of the lesson in a kids snorkel mask. Towards the end of the lesson one of the swimmers knocked against something in the shore dump. Poking out from the shingle, only visible every 5th wave or so, was a metal ladder. Only the first two rungs were not buried. With a lot of pulling, falling over and face planting I manage, with the help of two other swimmers to dig/pull it out. I proudly marched the 10ft ladder up the beach to the lifeguard post. Best beach clean find ever! And in that Amazonian moment my body and I made friends again.

tonic4

I remained on the beach for while longer to catch Christine after she completed her last Introduction Session of the season. She asked me how things were going. And I moaned and moaned a bit more and then for good measure a grumble. We’ve not been able to run the Women Wellbeing and Water free community courses for people that identify as having mental health issues. We’ve been running these for two years and this would have been our third summer. Cath and I are both huge advocates of the benefits year round swimming can have on wellbeing. This is our raison d’etre. In her calm, quiet way Christine helped me to see we’d achieved so much this summer. We’d run numerous tasters, lessons and courses to give others the confidence to get in the sea. This small part of Hove seafront had been full to overflowing with Seabirds seeking solace by the sea all morning. Reinforcing her wise words I turned to see a bobble hat and another bird I’d not seen for a while. She’d popped down for a solo dip. We chatted about how cold it was that morning and I realised I was cold because I’d been in the sea and on the beach for five hours now. I realised I was really looking forward to cold, skin biting swims again. I realised that this wasn’t the summer I had planned but it had been a brilliant one nonetheless.

My buoyant happy mood continued for the rest of the day. I finally walked back through my front door at 2pm. My hair resembled the seaweed it had been dragged through. I was starving and cold but I was warm and full. This best bird morning was topped off by an indulgent day time bubbly bath. As I finally slipped my cossie off at 3pm, the sound of shingle leaving my gusset and landing on the tiled floor and the sight of wine red seaweed stuck to my body, I smiled. Being salty all day, on the beach teeming with swimming Seabirds was just the tonic I didn’t know I needed.

Empty Nest

My fledgling has flown the nest and at the same time I have fallen out with the sea. She is the mistress of the masses, unable to soothe my soul and provide solace for my sadness. As the summer ends she will return to me, we will reacquaint and reconnect and the tide of tears will come.

So my eldest has left home. From an early age, she demonstrated a quiet inner strength and the confidence to join any club, group or activity. We always knew she’d stretch her wings as soon as she could. So it was no surprise when she announced her plan to leave home before her 18th birthday to study abroad. We knew it was coming, we’ve been preparing for it for years and organising the final touches to her flying the nest for the last few weeks. The only surprise, to me, is how unemotional and outwardly unaffected I am by her leaving home.

We were just at the beginning of our journey as grownup mother and daughter. At the same time she was at the beginning of her own journey as an adult. She was hardly in the house, out at work or with friends. I was sharing her with so many people, just when I wanted her all to myself. In amongst work, 18th birthday celebrations, getting to know her new team mates in the USA I was constantly hanging on to her coat tails snatching snippets of time with her. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and worn out, dreading the day she would leave. But when it actually happened, there were no tears. The closest I came to crying was at the airport watching her say a Richard Curtis worthy  goodbye to her girlfriend. When it was my turn to give her a final hug. I was numb and my eyes were dry. Why am I not an emotional wreck?

I am exhausted. I have been endlessly organising and coping with a Covid world for months. I need to retreat into my shell for a while. I don’t need never ending lists of appointments, things to pack etc. The Endless Summer but not one of soporific surfing sunsets. A summer of scorching heat, commitments and a global pandemic. I have a an incredible support network of family, friends and Salty Seabirds. They have all been quick to offer comfort. I am blessed, but I have been telling the same story now over and over again, with no emotion. I’m just too tired to feel sad. Which brings associated guilt. The tidal wave is coming, I’m not naive enough to think this will be my permanent response, but it’s not here yet.

I am cross and I am frustrated, but I am not sad. I feel guilt and bitterness because I don’t feel sad. What a wonderful cycle of self loathing and self judgement I’m in. Sadness is not my ‘go to’ unmananged mental health state. Instead, it is, and has always been all of the above. Anger, self pity, impatience and  frustration. I don’t feel sad because I am tired. The last few months have taken their toll and now I am too tired to feel sad. There is no room in my angry, rage filled brain to feel sad. But I know I need to feel sad, to accept

We were going to go for a last family swim the night before her flight. But the beach isn’t how I want to remember our last family frolic. And it’s been my daughter’s  workplace for weeks. What I wanted was robbed from me. A holiday in Cornwall, just the four of us and the extended family in Dorset, both cancelled. . My planned escapes did not go to plan. I understand that everyone has felt the loss Covid has bestowed on us and as a response have headed outdoors , into nature and to my much loved local beach in Hove. The garden less flat and terraced house dwelling city residents have nowhere else to go to BBQ in their bubbles. But I’ve needed, my beach, my sea, my solace now more than ever and she hasn’t delivered. She’s let me down, she’s been unfaithful to me, sharing herself with the litter dropping, space taking, fair-weather swimming hoards. She will come back to me, as she always does, in the Autumn. Gallingly, I need her now. This is not the restful summer of gentle limitless days and hedonistic warm evenings that keep my tank topped up. This is Covid 20 summer, when my eldest flew the nest.

Recently, in amongst the guilt of not grieving, I was reminded of the book “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The author could have written this book yesterday. She was before her time as she talks of finding head space in a world full of multi-tasking. The stillness and clarity she seeks, and finds on the beach as an antidote to her busy life could not be more modern day.  Yet it was in fact published in the 1950s. I know I need to rest and regain some head space as Anne advocates,  but the beaches are busy. I need some time on the shingle to myself. I need to reacquaint myself with the beach and reconnect with the sea. I need the romantic, windswept deserted beaches of the poets, writers and dreamers.

Sea Fever, John Masefield. – “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking, I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.”

The sea teaches us patience. She dictates whether she is swimmable and you must waiti for these opportunities. And so I must return to this learning. Wait for the crowds to disperse. Wait for her to be the lonely sea for me. Wait for my addled brain to regain clarity. Wait for the tears to come.