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AnyBODY can swim

The thing about swimming is anybody can do it. No matter how big or small or able bodied, anybody can get in the water

I love open water swimming. I love the cold. I love the friends I have made. I love the sense of community. I love the tea and cake afterwards. I love the stillness of floating. I love the joy of jumping over waves. I love the calm of being submerged. I love the way I feel post swim. But most of all I love the total and utter rejection of the idea that only certain body types can swim.

The thing about swimming is anybody can do it. No matter how big or small or able bodied. Anybody can get in the water and experience the texture, movement, temperature on their skin. You may need a hoist, or a wheelchair. You may need a flotation device or some one to physically support you. You may not be able to propel yourself through the water but you may be able to float. You may not be able to see it, hear it, smell it or taste it, but you will be able to feel it. Feel the weightlessness, feel the cold, feel the energy of it. However you experience it, anybody can swim.

The Salty Seabirds really are all shapes and sizes. One of the many things I love about our flock is the contagious body confidence that has spread as we strip on the beach in full view of passing tourists, dog walkers and other swimmers. You don’t have time to worry about who can see your bits as you race against the tide and swim shakes to dress your numb stinging body. And contrary to what the name Seabirds suggests, we have some, albeit few, male sea swimmers in our numbers. They have seen ours and we have seen theirs.

Along with body confidence there is a huge amount of body positivity which again is infectious. You would assumed the two go hand in hand but they don’t. I have masses of body confidence, brought up with a practically naturist mother, there were naked bodies constantly on display in my youth. However, I had 2 caesarians which left me loathing a body that had failed at the 11th hour and has left me with a permanent physical reminder. I was unable to see it’s strength at carrying two babies. I had the confidence to be naked but I didn’t have a positive relationship with my body as I focused on the aesthetics and the final few minutes of my pregnancies.

This has changed since sharing swims with the Salty Seabirds. The people I share my swims with have had a profound impact on my relationship with my body. No longer do I measure my body’s strength and success by how many marathons I have run, or how fast but by the everyday things I rely on it to do. How it can get me to the beach to meet my friends. How it adapts to cold water and keeps me afloat. How all of my senses process the sights, sounds and smells of my wild swimming experiences. This is it’s strength and success. It didn’t and doesn’t let me down. People often ask me how I do it? How do I get in water that cold? My response is a kind of shrug. Hopefully not an arrogant or nonchalant one, but definitely a shrug. I have come to take my body’s ability to adapt to the cold sea temperature for granted – it is only when I take a step back and consider what an accomplishment that is, that I can see it’s strength and success. But it isn’t just my body that can do it. Anybody’s can!

Without intention we are pigeon-holed by others and ourselves as a ‘type’ of person from a very early age. Seabird Cath refers to herself as ‘not your typical sporty type’ because she didn’t fall into that category at school. However, she has forged a new relationship with her body since cold water swimming. She is able to see past her previous label and see herself as a resilient sea swimmer which her strong body enables her to be.

How we see ourselves and our bodies has a profound affect on our confidence in its abilities. We are quite literally bombarded with the opinions of others on our bodies from a very early age. From people we know – think elderly relative squeezing our cheeks and calling us chubby, to people we don’t know – think glossy magazines telling us what every celebrity weighs and it is less than us. (This is a particularly pet hate. Unless you are stood in said celebrity’s bedroom looking at the number of the scales they are standing on, how on earth do you know how much they f@?king weigh?)

Two Salty Seabirds Christine and Claudine have come together to create a workshop called ‘Think, Eat, Move’. The ‘Think’ part encourages participants to question how we see ourselves and challenge the media messages of what a body should look like. Once you’ve come to terms with the ‘Think’ you then move onto the ‘Eat’ and ‘Move’ parts. The focus being no good or bad foods but rather fuel for our bodies and no arbitrary goal driven forms of exercise but movement being enjoyable and as a way to look after our bodies so it will look after us later in life.

We weren’t born feeling a certain way about our bodies or focusing on how our limbs, skin and hair look to ourselves and the outside world. Tanya Shadrick spent a season as the writer in residence at Pells Pool. She wrote in long hand on scrolls for her project ‘Wild Patience: Laps in Longhand”, a mile of written word. I had the pleasure of listening to Tanya read an extract one summers evening at Swim Talks hosted by Sea Lanes and it has stayed with me every since. Not only did the smooth velvety tones of her spoken word captivate me but so did her written words as she recalled a time when she was 9 years old, free from being labelled a type she loved herself which she only learnt to do again in her 40s. We all need to be that 9 year old girl again.

I, along with many Salty Seabirds have managed to find our 9 year old selves – she hides herself well and can be really hard to find but if you look for long enough she will appear. At every moon gazey swim, jump through a wave, dive off a jetty – she is right there smiling and screeching happy to be found again. She is able, she is confident, she is positive and she is inside every one of us. Come swim with us and you will find her because anybody can swim!

Author: Seabird Kath

P.S. Read the Tania Shadrick extract – it is incredible – click on this link

The Great Salty Stay In; Social Isolation the Seabird Way.

Ways we can stay connected whilst land locked.

So we’ve waited a week for you all to be accustomed to staying in. But now it’s time to start The Great Salty Stay In. We will be sharing tea, films, ideas and so much more with you while we stay at home.  Don’t worry – we are not asking you to learn a new language or musical instrument and you can pick and choose which ones you want to join in with. We will be releasing details of them on the Seabirds Page so please make sure you like the page for notifications in addition to being a member of the Salty Seabird Group. But here is what you can expect;

  1. Salty Social – Every Friday we will have zoom tea and chats. You can do this in your swimming cossie, swim hat and googles – feel free to be in the bath if you want! We will set up a virtual swim bath on a Sunday evening too but am concerned this breaks Seabirds Rule #1 No washing. Look in the group for events and zoom details.
  2. Seabird Story Time – Started by Anne, every Saturday night at 6pm in the Salty Seabird group someone starts a story with the standard “Once Upon and Time”; then it is up to the rest of us to use our imagination to keep the story going. References to nudity, handstands and mythical sea creatures encouraged.
  3. Short Salty Films – make sure you like the Seabird Page as these will be posted there rather than in the group. 5 minute uplifting watches that we have collected over the years….. We started with Walter yesterday, go watch, you’ll love him.
  4. Seabird Swimming Lessons – again on the Page we will share some land based stretches and exercises you can do to start getting ready for a summer full of long lush swims. They will NOT feature Joe Wicks but have been recommended by resident Salty Swim Teacher Emma
  5. Do Good Deeds in Dark Times – a phrase coined by our Cath. We are looking at ways we can continue to support those most in need during lock down. We had started collecting for food banks but that is tricky now we are staying at home. But we have a plan – that will be revealed later in the week.
  6. Linked to the above we want to out the fun back into fundraising when all of this is over. Thank you to Judith’s suggestion that we have a mass swim, dress up and raise money for those that are on the front-line. Details will follow when lock down is lifted. I am sure the minute lock down is lifted you will all head for the sea anyway, but this will be a chance for us all to be back together and celebrate key workers.
  7. Pen a Poem, a Seabird sonnet if you will. We have been asked to contribute to ‘Beneath the Surface’. The idea is to create a collaborative poem highlighting wellbeing and the sea. Contributing to the poem basically involves authors writing a four line stanza/paragraph about how the sea affects their mental health and wellbeing. There are no rules as to how or what to write, though preferably the first and last lines should rhyme.
  8. Books, Books and more books. Blog to follow with my top 10 reads. Rowena has started a Book Club, the first meet up is virtual and the first book is included in my Top Ten.
  9. Seabirds Sea Shanty. To the tune of “Roll the Old Chariot” we’d like to compose a sea shanty to sing which we hope to perform when we are released, in a pub with some professional guidance. Fake tattoos (and real ones), thick knitted jumpers, pipes and beards encouraged.
  10. Staying Salty – share videos of what you are doing to replace your Seabird swims. There have been people in wheelie bins, (not sure I’d fit) , outdoor baths (lucky bastards) and paddling pools. We’ve got Lorraine’s muffs and Laura’s cold bath so far………. It would be amazing to see selfies of you with your seabird products that we can share too.

Whatever you chose to do, or not to do, stay salty and stay safe Seabirds

One Flew Over the Seabirds Nest

Navigating a new world without the salty seabirds is a new learning. Simply being, eating and sleeping is enough right now. No pressure.

The sun is shining. The sea is inviting. I have the luxury of time on my hands. My family are all around me. All that’s missing are animated bluebirds chirping around my head. But we’re day one of lock down. I can’t enjoy the sun and the sea. I have time on my hands because I have no paid work to do. And there is definitely chirping around and in my head, and it’s not the seabird post swim chatter or the beautiful bluebird.  

I don’t naturally do slow pace, unless I am drop dead worn out or asleep. But I have learnt to do slow pace. After many years of approaching everything I do with plans, speed and efficiency I have learnt, the hard way, that I need rest to manage my mental health. Rest appears on the list and in the plan to ensure it is a task completed before we get to the drop dead worn out stage which is normally accompanied by a period of being unwell. Still not always able to spot the signs of when it’s needed, so being in the schedule, like a dog walk or a sea swim ensures it happens.

As well as the slower pace, there are a lot of silver linings to lock down. There’s the book you never got round to reading. The cupboard that is due a big clear out. The garden that needs weeding as spring sunshine encourages growth. But are we putting too much pressure on ourselves to learn the piano or to crochet when we are already trying to navigate a new world? My new reality worry is that I will have too much rest. Yes this is how my ever firing amygdalas work. They can create an anxious thought in the calmest of situations. As the world slows down my adrenaline production does not.

So my new reality is sharing my, what I thought was, spacious house with another 3 humans. I have created a space to hide myself away from them when I need to. And I need to. And as a result I am finding myself partaking in certain self-care activities a lot more than I am used to. Reading in an armchair. Staying in bed longer in the mornings. Afternoon naps. The problem is, this self-care is so similar to my depression symptoms that they can actually become the problem! Yes I need rest, but I also need a good dose of heart rate raising exercise, cold water stimulation and the company of the salted wellbeing community.  Hibernation and social isolation mimic my response to feeling down, and then we get ourselves in a wonderful cycle of what came first, the chicken or the egg.

The pressure people are putting on themselves to use this new found ‘time’ wisely during lock down is counterproductive in some cases. Definitely in my case. As we keep being told, these are unprecedented times. This isn’t just a turn of phrase – humans, literally do not have a standard response to a global pandemic. We are all trying to adjust to new home life dynamics and routines whilst trying to home school and earn a living. Why the fuck is now the best time to start a new hobby or learn a new language? I feel we should all receive gold stars for making it through the day. (If you have children at home, 2 gold stars if they have been fed and watered.)

Keeping the Seabirds business and swimming community going is enough pressure right now. I will learn Italian another time. Without our regular sea and tea time together we are suffering. And alongside many others we have witnesses our income disappear overnight.  Our wonderful Wild Swim Shop is our financial Tow Float earns us revenue which funds our work on our water and wellbeing projects. Again when we consider how to spend this time wisely promoting our wares to keep our heads above water has taken a bit of a bashing. Trying to keep the normally self-regulating flock afloat is now at the forefront. We specifically chose not to be a club with a committee and a constitution for a reason. But we have found ourselves in uncharted waters making Chief Seabird announcements and updates to deal with our changing world.

Just as the virus hit, Seabirds were on the cusp of growing. Our hard work was beginning to pay dividends. We’d been in Coast Magazine, and were due to be in Top Santé and will be in Outdoor Swimmer magazine. The numbers in our swimming community were soaring. Sales in the Wild Swim shop were encouraging and new products and stock were being added on a regular basis. We had swimposiums, pop ups and ‘Women, Wellbeing and Water’ courses planned for the summer months. And the cherry on the cake was our beloved 12 Moon Swim project exhibition curated by top bird Coral, being unveiled at the Fringe Festival. But all of this is now on hold. AND, confession time, I am a bit relieved the pressure is off!

Exciting times were imminent and they are still ahead, just a bit further away on the horizon. The time not being spent dispatching orders just means we have more time to plan. We have so many ideas about where Seabirds will take us next sometimes we don’t have time to sit back and appreciate all it has become and all it can be. When we started Seabirds we had an idea of what it would look like but it grew in some directions we hadn’t planned and halted in the places we thought would be more successful. We have been reflecting since January on the changes we would like to make in tandem with growing and nurturing what we already have. And we were concerned about how we would fit it all in whilst maintaining strict work/life balance boundaries. Now, as the world slows down, we can catch up. We can still do all the things we wanted to do, it’s just the finish line is further away.

It is very much a time to batten down the hatches and learn to adapt to a new world for the foreseeable future. This is the ONLY learning I will be doing. And this is what I have learnt so far;

  • My husband is paying the mortgage and bills solo for the next few months and now he is a permanent member of the crew I just need to suck it up
  • Ditto Bosun daughter and Cabin Boy son – who I will not be attempting to home school
  • I’ve got it good – and I am grateful (Although I don’t always sound it)
  • When your access to the outdoors is threatened the entire population of the South East of England makes their way to Brighton beach
  • Britain’s favourite food is anything tinned or dried
  • Britain is also partial to a clean bottom
  • That using a delivery service for groceries (Ocado), loo rolls (Who gives a Crap) and milk (Milk and More) for years was the best decision I ever made for the environment and now my stress levels
  • You can watch the Harry Potter films an infinite amount of times and it never gets old or boring.
  • I love Matt Haig more than I ever thought I could.
  • Mother Nature has a dark sense of humour by sending us a deadly virus and then sending us constant uninterrupted sunshine.

In some aspects the world is becoming a better place. Big industry impact on the environment is paused. We are getting to know our neighbours and considering the impact of our actions on others. I hope we all organically learn from our new world and continue the good habits the nation is now adopting. Kindness in the community, a love for the outdoors, looking after ourselves physically and emotionally. There will always be room for shit telly in my life but hopefully in the future balanced with a gratitude of my freedom, access to the sea and shared tea and cake with the Salty Seabirds. Lesson over!

Author: Seabird Kath

 

Seabird Sanctuary

looking for solace during strange times

Now, more than ever I need the sea to save me.  Certainty helps me survive, but those sands have shifted under my feet. The sanctuary of the Seabirds has also been stolen as the flock scatters across different shores. But what’s really making me anxious?

 

My Social Media stream is full of advice on how to weather this storm. Get outside-check. Swim – check.  Run – check. And there are so many silver linings to this cloud. The world slowing down has already had such a positive impact on the environment. People are picking up the phone to check on family, friends and neighbours. Communities are pulling together to provide practical solutions to problems we never foresaw. But my anxiety is still brewing behind closed doors.

And it’s the closed doors that are the problem. I’m not worried about a crippled economy, friends and family falling ill and the end of the world as we know it. Well I am. But I worry about that shit ALL OF THE TIME and I take to the beach and the sea to get back balance and continue operating as a ‘normal’ human being. The anxiety that is brewing is all about changes to my small insignificant ( but not to me) world.

I control my small world to the enth degree. I am Captain of my ship. My First Mate is normally exploring uncharted seas across the European continent  returning late into the evenings or at weekends. The Bosun is either at college or playing football. And the Cabin Boy is usually at school, playing football, out on his skateboard or locked below deck on his Xbox. I know where they need to be and when. I also know with a degree of certainty that I will have the Mother Ship to myself from 8.30am to 4pm every day. But now I don’t!

I don’t like change. I like routine, plans and lists. This year, at Christmas time,  the First Mate decided to take 2 weeks annual leave so the whole crew could all be together at home. This was all good while there were presents flowing but then it was crap. No structure to our days, shitty weather confining us to our quarters, we got cabin fever. Well I did. I longed for them to return to work, school and college and for the reappearance of my routine. A routine that is filled with numerous but solitary activities.

When I am home alone I can be the real me not the Oscar winning performance me. Acting ‘normal’ can be knackering but I have self care solutions. My version of self care can be staying in pyjamas til lunchtime and pottering. And it can be an early morning run on the seafront followed by a swim with the Salty Seabirds. It all depends on my mood and workload. But I only have think about me – not 3 other people. My small insignificant world is expanding when everyone else’s is shrinking.

These self-care strategies have been honed to perfection over years of suffering from depression and more recently anxiety. I have the luxury of part time flexible working from home to put them into practice. But these interlopers, formally known as my family, are now invading my physical space and my head space.

I fully appreciate how this sounds. My biggest fear is something akin to not being able to have a bath whilst watching shit telly in the middle of the day in peace and quiet. While the world is waking up to a pandemic the size and scale of which has never been heard of, I sound like a self-indulgent you know what. But activities like daytime baths, alongside the more well regarded ones like quietly reading, walking the dog alone are how I silence the mental monkeys. Without adequate alone time I don’t get to recharge my batteries and I will not make it to the evening – the time when the whole crew are on board and they need a fully functioning Captain.

My swims with the Salty Seabirds have taken a battering too. My swimming schedule looks something like this; On Monday I attend the biggest swim of the week as it is the start of the week and it’s after a yoga and gym class so my head is able to handle a crowd. Tuesday I’ll opt for an intimate one. Thursday I go with the crowd post run – again after some fresh air, exercise and calming chat with my fellow seabird runners, lots of people don’t faze me. And I may again dip on Fridays with one or two others. If I go to any of the larger swims I tend to get there early and chill on the beach a few groynes over before everyone arrives. This is my schedule. This is my sanctuary. But sensible social distancing is changing the schedule.

When I can handle the big swims they are the best. There’s always laughter and love. But now we are having to sort out smaller swims at different times and places. The community we worked so hard to build is suffering at the hands of unwashed hands. The cold water high is still possible, the respite from day to day worries is still very much achievable but the community that is at it’s core is dispersing. My worry is that people will form smaller exclusive groups and not come back together when the time comes. My worry is our strong bond will be broken. My worry is that some of the seabirds will stop swimming.  I worry.

So what’s the solution? I love my self-enforced self-isolation but I also love my Salty community. I am a bird of paradox.

For my crew we need a family meeting and a timetable of when mum needs to be left the f@?k alone. Especially when I am writing, another form of self-care for me. I need complete silence and solitude when I write as it is one of the few times I allow my brain the freedom to think and it responds at a speed it is hard to keep up with. I have vacated the office to allow the First Mate to work there so I need to build a nook in our bedroom with views over the sea and place a big no entry sign on the door.

For my community I need to look to the community for solutions, which they are already providing in abundance. The challenge  is moving away from social media to maintain your sanity versus remaining connected to your community. So we’re going to look at staring some on-line groups and virtual swims so we can continue to share the swim love.

Whatever my worries are, small or big, self-indulgent or survival, the sea will remain a constant in my life, as will the sanctuary of the seabirds. As for my crew, well, time will tell!

Author: Seabird Kath

Sending you all a shit ton of love  – stay well and stay salty! If you have any suggestion on how to stay connected please get in touch.

Community ideas!

Seabirds Rowena has set up a Women and Nature Book Club that will start on-line until we are able to stop social distancing. There is a small fee to join that will be donated to the Seabirds Women Wellbeing and Water projects.

There will be writing workshops online too hosted by Seabird Sam – we are just going to need to practice with zoom first!

I’m really keen to get the ‘Meet the Flockers’ series of blogs ready to publish. Please get in touch if you would be happy for us to share your story so other Seabirds can get to know each other a bit better. Spaces for 3 more! Can be done over the phone or face to face at a safe distance!

There are lots of opportunities to get involved in the blogs too. We have another three series in  the concept stage.  1. Brighton Beach Community will be a series of interviews with people that live or earn a living by our beaches here in the city. 2. Britain’s Beach Review will be exactly that – when you swim on different beaches in the UK we want to hear all about it from the cafes, to the cliffs and everything in between. 3. Seabirds on Tour – if you have visited or swim in another part of the country or world in lakes, rivers or waterfalls we want to hear about it. I did have trips planned in Ireland and Jersey this year, fingers crossed they will still happen. Where will your swimming take you?

Record sound bites and videos of your smaller swims and share them in the group.  Snippets of your post swim chitter chatter. Descriptions of the sea. Time lapse videos of swims

Positive Pebble Project – get out your sharpies and start writing on pebbles and then leave them in places you know others swim. Positive affirmations, meaningful messages, drawings, whatever you want. If you find one take a picture of it, post it in the group and put it back for the next person to find it.

 

Hormonal Birds

The link between happy hormones and swimming in the sea.

Hormones get a bit of a bad rap. Puberty isn’t pleasant, pregnancy can be problematic and don’t even get me started on the perimenopause. But there are happiness hormones which can positively impact our wellbeing.

 

So what are hormones? From what I remember from school, a hormone is a message sent in chemical form around the body via our blood stream telling its intended recipient organ to do something.  And there are lots of different types with different messages to send to different parts of our body. Hormones affect many physiological activities including growth, metabolism, appetite, puberty and fertility. And they may affect our mood.

I take medication because I suffer from depression. My hormones are fundamentally imbalanced meaning I do not experience life as many other do. Many of my feelings and emotions are not simply attributed to difficult situations or interactions but because of the messages sent via neurochemicals that are a bit off kilter. My medication works by increasing specific neurotransmitter chemicals in my brain that affect my mood and emotions.

The medication does not cure my constant low mood but rather enhances my happy hormones which allows me to then suppress the depression. Getting a quick fix of happy allows me to function, get out of the house and do things that naturally contribute to a more positive mood.

The modern world can be a daunting and over whelming place and humans were not designed to live as we do. Stress, lack of sleep, busy schedules all disrupt the fine-tuned balance of chemicals in the brain. So my thinking is I have a predisposition for depression, with the addition of modern day living means that just medication won’t keep the mental monkeys quiet. I need to do something more. So I use sea swimming and being outdoors to hone in on all of the happy hormones, not just the ones enhanced by my happy pills.

Hormones of Happiness

Serotonin is one of the most common ingredients in antidepressant medication. It can be used to treat all many of mental health disorders and so is widely used. It can impact emotions as well as physical functions including sleeping, eating and digestion – which all have strong links to emotional wellbeing. One of the lesser known links of serotonin is with confidence and a sense of belonging. Humans are able to increase their levels of serotonin by partaking in activities that challenge them on a regular basis. What could be more challenging than entering the cold winter sea in just a swimming costume? And if you do is regularly with a warm inclusive community of like minded swimmers it reinforces the sense of belonging creating a positive chain reaction.

Endorphin is a happy hormone commonly associated with exercise. The name means ‘self-produced morphine’, and is produced by our bodies when partaking in physical activity. What is outdoor swimming if it is not physical activity. (Drinking wine also release endorphins – just saying)

Oxytocin is sometimes known as the “the bonding molecule” or the “cuddle hormone” because it is released when people hug or bond socially. In a world where human contact is being replaced by facetime and whats app levels of oxytocin are decreasing. This hormone increases levels of trust, loyalty and confidence and creates a longing to be with the people you’ve bonded with. Swimming with a bunch of Salty Seabirds creates an environment of kinship where oxytocin can thrive. We provide each other with support, guidance and love, in the sea and in life.

Dopamine is all about pleasure and planning and is known as the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Taking part in rewarding activities results in increased levels of dopamine in the brain. Outdoor swimming can be rewarding is so many different ways. There are the arbitrary goals that some set themselves around times and temperature. And the wellbeing rewards of overcoming your fears, completing a winter of cold water or simply eating post swim cake. Dopamine is also associated with unique human abilities of thinking and planning. Again, outdoor swimming cannot be done without considerations. Kit, tide times, travel, safe entry etc – all these thoughts aid dopamine production.

Endocannabinoids is also known as the ‘bliss molecule’ and can be found in the cannabis plant as well as the human body. It is a lesser known and studied neurochemical but alongside endorphins is associated with feelings of being ‘high’ post exercise. The post swim high is often referred to by the Salty Seabird community after a particularly memorable swim. Almost as much as we refer to the post swim cake…….

Adrenaline increases blood pressure and heart rate known as the  ‘adrenaline rush’. This rush is associated with staying alive and the fight or flight reaction. The adrenaline rush can be triggered when you are swimming outdoors and in cold water. Your body naturally reacts to this perceived threat of death with quick breathing and rapid swim strokes making you feel very much alive in the water! Once you are aware of the rush, and know how to prevent cold water shock the feeling of euphoria that is all part of the chemical reaction is very much welcome.

Gaba – this molecule is known for creating calmness in humans. It actually slows down the messages passed from neuron to neuron and can be increased naturally by practising mindfulness and meditation. Anti-anxiety medication such as Valium or Xanax are sedatives that increase Gaba levels. Swimming in  the sea is one of the few forms of mindfulness that is able to silence my mental monkeys. The rhythm of my stroke, regulating my breathing, shingle sounds and wide open space is a Seabirds meditation.

Hormones of Sea Witches

There are a couple of hormones that are associated with women, and particularly women of a certain age. It is interesting that the vast majority of outdoor swimmers are female and middle aged. 

Oestrogen has close links with Serotonin and it’s attributes include keeping your mood steady and reduces irritability and anxiety. Oestrogen decreases with the menopause (damn it)  and the oestrogen/progesterone imbalance in perimenopause can also negatively affect mood (don’t I know it). It’s really important during this phase in a females life to manage your stress levels as the hormone released due to stress, cortisol also plays havoc with the functionality of both oestrogen and progesterone. I relieve stress in my life by being outdoors, on the beach or in the sea. A brisk walk, breathing in sea air, laughter with friends, bobbing in the water all help me forget the cares of the day.

Progesterone has a similar impact on your happiness to oestrogen with the addition of helping you to sleep. I am currently writing this at 5.30am so I think my levels may be a bit low! Levels drop during the perimenopause and again excess stress can accelerate this. The best nights sleep always follow a swim in the sea……..

The featured image shows me on the right – this is what someone who has mental health issues all of their life looks like! This is what a perimenopausal woman looks like. Happiness is possible. There are natural ways to boost your happy hormones. And Swimming in the sea is mine.

Author: Seabird Kath

Swim Wild and Free

Swimming in the outdoors is free, BUT not everyone has equal access, availability or awareness.

If your social media accounts are anything like mine, you will be bombarded on a daily basis with beautiful images of the outdoors encouraging you to spend time in nature. Many are accompanied by the hashtag #free. The outdoors is free but is it accessible?

Spending time in nature, appears on the surface, (or below the waves), to be free. But having the luxury of free time to spend anywhere is a exorbitance many cannot afford. I recently read Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article in the Guardian about the masses of white middle class women claiming the new craze of Wild Swimming as their own when people have been doing it since time began. At first, my heckles went up. How dare she assume that I am part of the urban elite romanticising swimming in the outdoors! But the fact that I had bought and read the article in the Guardian in itself showed me to be the privileged white middle class woman that I am. And swimming in the sea on a regular basis to manage my mental health is free and accessible for me, but not everyone has equal access. Gallingly, Rhiannon has a point.

Brighton and Hove is a very bohemian place to live. It’s a very popular place for artists, writers musicians and the like to reside. We differ from the political landscape that surrounds us but like any city there are still pockets of significant social deprivation. There are a substantial number of Brightonians that have never been to the beach let alone swim in the sea. Quite a different story to the front page of the tabloids of packed beaches in the summer and historical Victorian seaside spa town built for the middle classes.

I made ‘wild’ swimming my job. I work with the other Seabird Cath, and we choose when and where we work (to a degree). My kids are teenagers and pretty self sufficient. I am financially stable thanks to a long suffering and hard working husband. I am confident in the water after a lifetime of swimming in the sea. I can swim pretty much when I want to, or at least when the sea is suitable for swimming. So it is free, to me.

But…….my circumstances are not the norm. I am privileged. That’s not to say I don’t have mental health issues, but I have access to and time to partake in activities that benefit my wellbeing. My choice is to swim in the sea. And there it is. That word. Choice. I know it is an option and I choose to do it.

wild and free

Sea swimming is free and available to all, in theory. But there are many obstacles that people face getting in the water or even considering it an option. There are many residents of Brighton and Hove who never visit the beach and swimming in the sea is not in their line of sight. This is because, whilst being on the beach and in the sea (river or lake) doesn’t cost money, not everyone has equal access, availability or awareness.

Many groups and communities face a lot of barriers to outdoor activities which include wild swimming. Outdoor fun is a privilege some cannot afford. It is easy to overlook inequality when you are part of a community that has access and benefits. It is undeniable that there is a lack of diversity and inclusion in the outdoor swimming community. Not intentionally but still undeniably.

As part of the Salty Seabird community, I know how much the cold water, connecting with others and being in nature improves my mental health. As Seabirds CIC we want others to realise this too. Last year we received National Lottery funding to run our ‘Women, Water and Wellbeing’ (WWW) programme with local mental health charity Threshold Womens’ Services, who referred participants to us.

It was a huge success, with the majority of the participants still regularly swimming with us. It was an unexpected outcome to be part of a thriving flock of fellow sea swimmers. Without intention we created an inclusive community where all are welcome. However, we remain mainly middle class white women! And we can only assume why this is the case. Is it due to our name and the female association with the word bird? Is a group of semi naked women screeching on the beach intimidating to other potential swimmers, particularly men? Is it because the times we swim are when those with more traditional occupations are working? Is it because many residents of the city do not have childhoods or backgrounds that encouraged outdoor activities?

What is clear is that Society’s hierarchies of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, body size, and economic class do not miraculously disappear in the sea.  And what is needed is an understanding of what is preventing certain communities in our city from accessing the sea and potentially improving their wellbeing. Particularly communities that are socially and economically deprived.

Although in principle all you need to swim is a swimming costume, there are certain pieces of equipment that make wild swimming more manageable. On our famous shingle beaches only the hardy go without footwear. And if you wish to swim year round, neoprene accessories such as gloves and hats make the experience a bit more enjoyable – which is the aim after all. Not everyone can afford these.

As said, in principle all you need is a swimming costume, which most people own, but some do not have the confidence to put on, let alone in public. A negative body image can prevent people, particularly women, from taking part in activities that requires them to wear forms of sportswear. And there is no where to hide in a wet-suit. Some people simply can’t swim. They have either never learnt or have a bad relationship with swimming based on previous experience. Our group is very keen to promote the notion that paddling, dipping, sitting in the shallows and just getting wet, is in fact outdoor swimming!

Wild swimming requires a certain level of knowledge. Knowing it is an option and recognising that there are ways to improve your wellbeing. Pockets of the population have limited time to have fun and are unaware of communities residing in their local area partaking in outdoor activities. In times of austerity people are working more than one job and longer hours just to make ends meet and when they are not working have responsibilities for young children or is more common now, caring for ageing parents. Or both. These potential swimmers may be completely unaware of outdoor swimming.

There is also a certain level of skill and confidence needed to swim outdoors. Although I am the co-founder of our Salty Seabird community group I personally wouldn’t rock up on my own to meet a group of people I don’t know to swim in the sea. I, like many others who suffer from anxiety, would need a more structured first session where others were in the same boat. I do not like meeting new people and although I have the physical skills to swim outdoors I do not have the confidence to swim with strangers. Knowing where to go and how to get there is knowledge born of experience. Not everyone lives by a large body of water and if they do is it safe to swim.

The list of why swimming in the outdoors is not accessible and available to all is lengthy. And not all of the obstacles can be overcome. But some can. In 2020 the WWW programme intends to work with an increased number of vulnerable people. Additional access to structured sea swimming sessions will transition non-swimming women into wild swimmers that will have a new way of improving their mental and physical health safely and confidently. Our approach will be to work with community development groups in the city that already have trusted relationships with women for whom, wild swimming is not even on their radar.

As a Community Interest Company, Seabird’s aim to provide a way for local people to manage their wellbeing by using sea swimming and friendship. The community courses we facilitate specifically focus on people that would not otherwise be able to access the sea/beach without guidance. We can provide the equipment, transport, childcare, flexible times and a nurturing community to encourage and teach the skills to provide the confidence to women. The sessions provide support to members with a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem, loneliness and long term health conditions. Our aim is to give participants the skills, confidence and self-belief they need to enjoy sea swimming, no matter what additional challenges they face. We recognise that everyone person is different and each responds to challenges differently. But we believe that with the right assistance and support they can do it!

Author: Seabird Kath

N.B We recognise that there are men in the local community who would also benefit from swimming in the sea but we do not feel we are the right organisation to facilitate courses for male groups. The same can be said for communities that have come together based on shared experiences of race, gender identity and sexual orientation. We are also aware that the middle classes can be mentally ill too, just because they have greater access to free and paid for self-care doesn’t mean it is not needed. However, our 2020 aim is to encourage women, in areas of socio-economic deprivation, who would not normally easily access sea swimming as a tool to maintain wellbeing and yet are in great need of it, to give it a go.

 

Love Birds

It isn’t just the love of swimming. We love each other. Birds of a feather flock together.

I love my Swimming Family. My Seabird Flock. My Salty Sisterhood. Swimming with the Salty Seabirds is a true love story.

 

Richard Curtis reminded us all that, ‘Love Actually’ is all around us. Love comes in many guises and sizes. On a regular basis, I #sharetheswimlove with an eclectic bunch of (mainly) women, in the sea, off Brighton and Hove’s beaches. It ain’t all hearts and roses all of the time and not everyone in the group is my post swim cup of tea. But there is a lot of love.

We are bonded together by our love of the sea. At times, it can be a romantic love, a passionate love, a familial love. It’s not the romantic love you share with a partner or the unconditional love that you have for your family but it is still the type of love that can feel like butterflies in your stomach. There is no physical attraction, instead a strong connection, but it can make your heart sing all the same.

I have experienced and witnessed the love of friendship as kindness, trust and companionship within our salty community. You may not know the name of the swimmer that held your hand and helped you into the sea. Or the name of the swimmer who gave you a pair of gloves when they could see your hands were turning blue. Or the name of the swimmer that shared their hot drink with you when you forgot yours. But in that moment they showed you the love of friendship. When someone wants the best for you, when you are comfortable and happy around them, they are your friends.

I sometimes refer to the Seabirds as my swimming family or the salty sisterhood. Like conventional families we have a strong bond and a mutual love for one another and swimming in the sea. As is the case with your closest loved ones, you wish to spend time with them and share a special connection. It is not the blood in our veins that bonds us, but the salt on our skin. Your family are people that are always there for you and have a positive influence on your life. This is acutely apparent in our group.

We recently swam under the starling mumurations during our Snow Moon swim. It was incredible. Watching nature’s mass ariel stunt show from the best seat in the house, in the sea, floating on your back, was quite possibly the best swim of my life. They move in unison creating patterns and shapes that change in an instant. No-one is really sure why they do it but there are theories.  One is that they come together as there is safety in numbers and their mumurations confuse potential predators. Another theory is that they gather together as dusk for warmth and to exchange information before roosting. A bunch of birds that don’t know each other coming together for the good of the group. Now where have I come across that before? Over the last 18 months I have watched in wonder at our group’s capacity to love. A fierce protective love of the group and a kind and supportive love of individuals. We are swimming starlings.

It isn’t just that we share a love for the sea, we share a love for each other. I see so often a seabird scooped up by the group when they have needed to be held and helped. Our group is only 18 months young so the friendships that have been forged are still in their infancy yet, cemented in the sea, they are strong. Single salties spending Christmas day together. Seabirds looking after each others dogs and children so they can work or have a restorative swim. Sharing experiences of bereavement and finding comfort in each others stories. Providing shoulders to cry on or a welcome distraction. Answering calls to arms to raise money or awareness for causes close to swimmers hearts. We accommodate, we adapt, we go the extra mile for swimmers we hardly know. Birds of a feather, flock together. What is that, if that is not love?

Author: Seabird Kath

Starling Photo Credit: Michael Knight

 

Self Love this Valentines Day

Guest Blog by Salty Seabird Claudine and embracing Self Love this Valentaines

Guest Blog by Seabird Claudine.

“Wow, she really loves herself.” It was a serious insult to others when I was growing up.  Conceited, cocky, arrogant.  Probably an offensive slur I had thrown at me at times, when the brash exterior self I showed to the world belied the insecure reality underneath.  “Self-love” was certainly not something I was striving to achieve.  I thought it was a bad thing.  It seemed better to be self-loathing, self-deprecating, self-conscious – all whilst being bubbly and confident, but not too confident, or else you loved yourself.  See the conundrum here?

That was back then.  Over the years, with all the personal development I’ve done, it slowly dawned on me that loving myself wasn’t an act of arrogance and it didn’t mean I thought I was better than everyone else. I realised that self-love was not only acceptable, but maybe even preferable for my mental and emotional wellbeing.
In 2017 I discovered the body image movement, when a friend suggested going to a screening of Embrace, that’s when it really struck me as more than “OK” to have self-acceptance. After a lifetime of dieting, striving for a smaller body, putting things on hold until I’d just reached that next size down, lost those last few pounds, hoping then I would feel more comfortable in my skin, I discovered it didn’t have to be that way.
The content of the documentary about positive body image hit me like a ton of bricks; a ton of bricks I didn’t have to diet-away.  I heard messages I’d never considered, and had a number of genuine light-bulb moments whilst watching the film, as well as some tears at the sadness of the time wasted on diet culture and self-criticism.  We can take for granted that we need to be slender to be attractive, have curves in the right places and not the wrong ones, and that the only way to be healthy is to be slim.  That our skin can’t show the signs of ageing, wrinkles or cellulite, and god forbid we have hair anywhere but on our heads!  We are told from a young age we must strive for the ideal of beauty that we see everywhere, but these days, that ideal is fake.  Big lips, bums and boobs, small waist, ankles and arms.  Photo-shopped, botoxed, filtered, surgeried, dieted, obsessively exercised, waxed, shaved, sat with a make-up artist and hair stylist for hours.  We can’t look like that and it’s not just young women thinking they can and should.

The beauty industry has told us we have flaws so they can sell us creams, exercise plans, diets, pills and even lollipops to fix them; and we fall for it, making them billions of pounds.  Restrictive eating is a slippery slope to eating disorders.  Living our lives striving to be smaller, fitter, smoother, creates a perfect breeding ground for anxiety and depression.  And putting our life on hold and waiting to feel happy when we’ve made that final change that definitely will be the last one, is a recipe for living an unfulfilled life.

I listened recently with sadness to a radio story about a mum whose daughter had stolen her credit card to get botox, fillers and even surgery to improve her looks at 16 years old, and her parents found out the night before she was booked in for a nose job.  The daughter begged her parents to let her go ahead with it, and they eventually agreed, as she was absolutely convinced that the surgery would sort her out, solve her problems, and make her feel good.  And it did: for a few days.  Her problems weren’t physical, they weren’t about the bump on her nose but she had been brainwashed to believe they were, and they’d be fixed by the surgeon’s knife.
What if we started to really believe beauty comes in all forms?  Because it truly does.
What if we saw getting old as something to be celebrated as not everyone gets to do so?  We should welcome each wrinkle as it shows another laugh we shared with loved ones.
What if we learned to value people for more than their looks?  We should realise that we are so much more than the shell that carries us around.
What if we stopped assuming we can tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them?  We should know that thin people get ill, so do fat people, and fat people get ill, and can be healthy.  Also, that people aren’t worth less even if they are unhealthy.
What if we weren’t glorifying obesity by being body positive, but recognising that the mental health crisis we have in society could be somewhat eased if we took this beauty burden off our shoulders.  We would still take care of ourselves, we would move our bodies for fun and to make them stronger.  What if we worked with girls from a young age to believe this, to value and take care of themselves and see beauty inside themselves and others regardless of the outer casing?


I have totally changed my attitude towards exercise.  I do the kind I like as there isn’t only one way of being fit and strong.  I don’t have to force myself to run when I hate it.  I don’t have a marathon in me, or a half, or even any more 10k’s, but I can swim 4km and can yoga like a yogi.  I don’t always do as much exercise as I’d like, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t, then turn to the biscuit tin because, “well, what’s the point now?”
Since seeing the film, I have felt so much more comfortable in my skin.  The road to self-love, of which a positive body image is just one part, is a journey, and body neutrality is on the way.  For some, that’s where they will get off the train and where they’ll stay, and that’s good enough.  Feeling neutrally towards one’s body is far better than loathing it, and it will give you so much more freedom.
Since seeing the film I discovered outdoor swimming, now in my second winter, and this helped on my body image journey.  It’s pointless worrying about how I look when I’m trying to get dressed and it’s blowing a gale.  I’ve come to respect my body for what it can do, that not everyone’s can, such as walking into 4 degree water and having a swim.  I truly believe this body is worthy, I value my health and wellness, and at times even love it.  There, I’ve said it, some days I love myself, and whilst my 14 year old self still cringes a little inside, my 43 year old self knows that’s OK.  So this Valentine’s day, if you haven’t already tried saying it to yourself, go on, have a go.  You might even believe it.

I hope you can join us for our next screening of Embrace: 13th Feb, 7.30 at the Walrus pub in Brighton.  Tickets on Eventbrite, here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/embrace-the-documentary-hove-tickets-90587253915

claudine8