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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. Claudine and Christine are hosting a film viewing of Embrace Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 7:30 PM – 10 PM @ The Walrus, Ship Street, Brighton. Embrace follows body image activist, Taryn Brumfitt’s crusade as she explores the global issue of body loathing, inspiring us to change the way we feel about ourselves and think about our bodies.

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

 

 

 

A Seabird out of her depth

My experience of completing the STA Open Water Swimming Coaching award in the midst of anxiety.

And I was, I really was. Although I was treading water, on a STA Open Water Swimming Coaching Course, I was definitely a Seabird out of her depth.

So how did I end up here? The rhetorical answer is, I was hoping to gain a qualification that would enable me to be the lead coach for our Women Wellbeing and Water sessions and any future Seabird sea swimming courses. The literal answer is by train from Brighton to Welwyn Garden City.

The timing of the course could not have been worse. My husband was working away at the same time. We are trying to sell our house and buy a new one. And my 16 year old was embarking on her first trip abroad, to France to watch the Women’s World Cup with her mate. Plus June is a busy month on the Seabird calendar with lots of events, sessions and get togethers.

The days before were challenging. My anxiety was spiralling out of control and the internal chatter telling me to withdraw was relentless. Flicking through the pre-course material did nothing to quieten the hard time my brain was giving me. Buoy turns! I float at the buoy and take smiling snaps. Drafting! I draft more people into the sea by providing them with encouragement and a safe environment. Pack swimming! We forget to pack our knickers and laugh about it over tea and cake. The manual had very different descriptions of these open water swimming skills. I quickly flicked to page 99 on the skills section entitled ‘ Acclimatisation and Overcoming Panic’ desperate to ease the worry.

Is it possible for one human to produce an infinite amount of cortisol? In constant fight or flight mode for days I was hanging on by my finger nails and exhausted. And the course hadn’t even started yet. I busied myself with helicopter parenting of two very capable teens and left packing and considering train times until the last minute. Classic avoidance. So it was no surprise that I ended up on the wrong bloody train! Cue the first fighting back of tears. I even remained on the wrong train until a minute before it’s departure, frozen in fear with my M&S nuts and wine. Finally I plucked up the courage to retrieve my kit bag and suitcase and made my way to the correct platform to board the correct train.

The rest of the train journey was uneventful but provided a lot of time to think with little to distract. Cue more more tear fighting and a ridiculous amount of texts to my husband who was waiting in a German airport for his flight home. As the train pulled into Welwyn Garden City I was very ready for a walk to my hotel and some fresh air. Living my best life I was curled up in a Premier Inn bed, in a town I suspected was the set of Stepford Wives, watching Netflix on the iPad by 9pm.

You’d think I had never swum in open water, put on a wetsuit or coached/trained groups of people in the water before. But I actually have a ton of experience in all three. But the impostor syndrome persisted into the next morning when I woke up at 4.30am. Thankfully breakfast started at 6.30am so just 2 hours of worry time between me and a full fry up! My depression and anxiety have never come between me and a meal.

By 8am I had received a lifeline call from Will. Will and I know each other from a previous course and he too lives in Brighton. He is an incredible swimmer, but his best quality is his infectious enthusiasm and capacity for kindness. He was travelling back and forth from his parents house rather than experiencing the delights of the Premier Inn on the outskirts of a purpose built town. He had arrived early and was trying to find the course facility. With his clear directions I set off to start the course.

I know, I know. It makes no sense to be nervous about completing a course when there is a familiar friendly face there to greet you. And it was a huge relief to see his smiling face when I arrived. But that is what anxiety does. It robs you of your ability to reason. Gradually the room began to fill up. I scanned their faces, looked at their physiques, considered their kit backs – trying to ascertain their swim ability. We then did a round table introduction starting with me. Stories of swim teaching experience decades long, huge endurance feats completed or about to be completed, our coach was Keri-anne Payne, Olympic silver medallist for goodness sake. Any respite Will’s welcome had provided was very short lived.

The course is 3 days long, mainly classroom based, with coaching practice in a lake. Keri-anne created a wonderfully inclusive learning environment which set the tone for the next few days. Her stories were inspirational but not because of the phenomenal feats, medals and wins she has achieved. They were inspirational because they were relatable. She too has been spooked in the water – by a twig of all things.  But I was still apprehensive about getting in the water. Yep, you heard it right. Me, nervous about getting wet. But wet I did get. And it was fine as everyone except for me knew it would be.

The next day was more of the same but better. By now we were all getting to know each other and I was able to appreciate what a wonderfully warm group of people I was with. Our backgrounds, swimming experiences and goals couldn’t have been more different but our passion for swimming, in all it’s different guises, had bought us together. I swim for community and connection (and cake) and it was still here, in a lake in Hertfordshire with a bunch of strangers that were fast becoming my support network.

Then it happened. The tears. On day 2. Holding it together for prolonged periods of time can only end one way . Day to day functioning is, for me, the hardest part of my mental illness. I can do it, but I need to factor in rest, relaxation and respite. The days leading up to this course, the lack of sleep and unfamiliar faces and surroundings were fast eroding my game face. It happened when we were split into groups of 3 to practice coaching an OWS skill with each other. Rob, 34 years in the armed forces, was tasked with coaching myself and Christine on pack swimming. My biggest barrier is swimming in confined spaces. In indoor pools, in close proximity with other people I have experienced my one, and thankfully only, panic attack. To say I was going outside of my comfort zone was an under statement. But I did it. Part of the coaching methodology is for it to be swimmer led, asking questions to consider their needs. Poor Rob asked me how I found it. The response was initially a whimper and then a full on sob. I quickly reassured him that his coaching had been all the things it needed to be to get me to do something I didn’t want to do and the tears were because I was beyond chuffed that I had done it. I think everyone saw, I am not a quiet crier.  The compassion with which my tears were met made me cry harder. I was caught in a crying loop.

That night I felt well enough to have dinner with some of the others at the local Beefeater – living the dream. May be the release of crying was just what the doctor ordered. I certainly felt less uptight and restless. And now that the others had seen the real me, the vulnerable me, the over-thinking me, the crying me, the worst had happened. The mask hadn’t slipped, it had totally fallen off and I was OK. My crying had been met with kindness. Sleep was still evading me and we still had to be assessed the next day, so I wasn’t out of the woods yet. But pretending to be confident in my abilities was one less thing I had to worry about. That floodgate was well and truly open and there was absolutely no point in trying to close it again.

The next morning, Will picked me up and we arrived early as we had to complete our written assessment too. This is where depression makes his appearance after being pushed to the back of my mind by anxiety. Where anxiety tells me I can’t do something, depression physically stops me from doing it. The thought of doing something, anything, is met with lethargy and avoidance. On the outside it looks like you can’t be bothered, but in reality you don’t know where to start and feel totally overwhelmed. We’d had plenty of time to complete it in  the evenings, mornings, breaks but I just hadn’t done it. Sometimes the only way round this is a deadline. I needed to complete it, I needed to pass the course, the Seabirds Women, Wellbeing and Water project was relying on it. So I started.

What was reassuring was that everyone was nervous that last day. Everyone had questions about the written assessment. Everyone had worries about the practical assessment. We were connected in our concern and we were community in the comfort we provided to each another. I wasn’t alone. I was with a group of Seabirds.

So day 3, the last day,  started. We had a round table discussion on what we had learnt and what we would take away from the course. A really positive way to start the day as we shared our stories. Then it was time to be assessed in the water. We were split into 2 groups and had been given a skill to coach the night before. There would be pack swimming in a group of 9 at the end. My mind started searching for the fear, but it just wasn’t there. The whole group had witnessed me at my worst, they knew I hated it and Will who was coaching the pack swimming session was able to adapt it. I was at ease. So we did it, with me right on the furthest edge obviously. Christine, a very gentle woman positioned herself right beside me to ensure I was OK. And never left my side reassuring me with her calm presence. But then Will asked the question. Did anyone want to change position? And I did. I wanted to know what it felt like to be in the middle, amongst melee. He shouted go from he other end and I swam. It wasn’t long before I was kicked hard in the leg (still bruised now), swallowed a gob full of water and was left behind by the faster swimmers. This time there was a smile, not sobbing. I’d done it.

It was with heavy hearts that we all said good bye to each other and swapped details at the end of the course. But we were all really excited to get home and put our new coaching skills into practice. It’s an incredible course and one which  would thoroughly recommend. And I will, in another blog………

My mental health is the biggest challenge I face on a daily basis. It tells me I can’t do things, when I can. It tells me I don’t need to do things when I do. But the sense of achievement of when I can and when I do in the context of my anxiety and depression is my Olympic medal. And as my mum always said, a smooth sea never made a good sailor. Or in this case a skilled Open Water Swimming Coach.

Author: Seabird Kath

Note: The featured image is a coaching session on pack swimming before we lined up at the start line. As Denise says – “we’re all friends here, until someone says go!” And my goodness did she go – I quite literally ate her bubbles. I managed to keep up with them for at least 2 strokes and I survived the washing machine it created. I put myself right in the middle and I survived.

Big thanks to Will, Rob, Christine, Amanda, Julie, Ellen, Lisa, Denise and of course Keri-anne for spending an amazing three days with me. 

 

Swimming for cakes and connection OR competition?

Back to trying to balance swimming in events and swimming for fun. Or can they be the same thing?

Last summer, after completing 12 months of skin swimming I decided I needed a new goal. I do this a lot. Set myself goals and then begin to loose the love of the thing I was doing just for fun because I think I need a goal to do something. It’s a complicated place inside my noggin.

Last summer I had some beautiful swims. My two favourites were, a swim in the Lake District with my daughter to celebrate the end of her GCSEs and a swim in Glen Nevis with my son in literally, the most beautiful place in the world. I’d also completed a year of skin swimming and set up Seabirds Ltd with some swimming friends. On a post swimming summer heaven high, I entered a ton of events for the following year. Because obviously I needed an arbitrary goal to enhance the joys of swimming. Didn’t I?

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with goals. There is nothing wrong with entering and competing in events. There is nothing wrong with striving to be the best that you can be at something – in fact it’s blooming admirable and a lot of my friends have achieved massive milestones in the disciplines of their choice and the joy it yields is wonderful.  But I need to be in the right head space for it and right now I am not. My world is a bit busy with family stuff and I need to be it’s heartbeat. There is not a lot of time, energy or inclination left for training swims, only time out swims.

I can swim for miles and for ages, not the fastest fish in the sea but I have stamina. I could still do the events I have entered, which are in beautiful parts of the country with my head up taking in the view and breathing in my surroundings. It’s the type of swimming I advocate and encourage. And I can practice what I preach, most of the time, unless it it an event. Then I seem to turn into competitive Kath. Not competing with other competitors but with myself which is a competition I have absolutely no chance of winning. I am never going to have trained enough, fuelled enough, rested enough, stretched enough. I struggle with being enough, with balance.

I did start to train for the events I have entered. It’s hard to get longer swims in over the winter unless you go to the pool. I had my one and only ever panic attack in a pool and it took me over a year to get back in. If I do it has to be crowd free, a lane to myself and preferably outdoors, which is a challenge in itself.  My plan was, as the sea got warmer to don my wetsuit and do some distance swims at dawn but frankly life got in the way as it sometimes does. I even went so far as to have technique lessons in the tank at SeaLanes. They were amazing and I would recommend Andy to anyone that wants to  really focus on their individual areas for improvement. But I didn’t practice the drills between sessions so the old habits kept creeping back in. And before I knew it my first event was only a couple of weeks away and my old mate anxiety decided to to come for an extended stay!

Making a decision about whether to do the first event gave me sleepless nights. Not just because I was making the decision for myself but the impact it would have on others. The first swim was The Big Bala Swim in Snowdonia. A part of the country I was really looking forward to exploring and you got to the start line in a steam train. I was doing the 4.5km swim across a lake with my daughter and my mate. My shoulder has something going on with it that I am in total denial about but I am in pain even after resting and when it’s not in use. Decision made! I told Libby I was dropping out which made her promptly decide she didn’t want to do it either without me. So I opted back in and decided to do a slow breaststroke swim – there are no deferrals or refunds anyway. Finally at peace with my decision. So we set off from Cornwall the day before the swim. We hadn’t even got to Somerset after 6 hours in the car. By the M4, two teens and a dog squashed in the back, had lost the will to live and we headed south for home instead. The post half term holiday traffic had actually made my decision. An easier pill to swallow.

So I have two more events to go. The River Arun still hangs in the balance. Again a scenic swim, this time a river and you are helped by an out going tide. A couple of the Salty Seabirds are doing this one as well and chips in Littlehampton afterwards  is very appealing. Also the salt water and finishing in the sea is familiar to me so less daunting.  But I have decided not to do the Castle Tri Series swim in Hever in September. Again a beautifully scenic swim (bit of a theme with me) in a moat around a castle. Not because I don’t want to but because I want to do something else instead. I have swapped the Castle Swim for The Great Tit Weekend. A weekend of wild swims and walks with the famous Blue Tits and some Salty Seabirds. How’s that for balance!

I am going to do more organised events but there has to be a balance between mass wetsuit clad swims and solace swims. And I need to accept that some things don’t go to plan like training and traffic and then we change our plans. I was able to help with the first session at Hove Surf Life Saving Club, a newly formed club in the city, as I wasn’t in Snowdonia. So I still got wet, just with a bunch of excited kids rather than fellow competitors and that was just as much of an achievement as swimming 3 miles in a cold lake. Just a different sort of achievement.

So what are my goals now? Well I am in the process of putting together 5 swims before I am 50. A set of swims I can do over the next 3 years that are in locations and with wild swim groups I really want to visit. They include the Lake District which I want to do again before my daughter leaves home but this time with the expert guide that is Suzanna Swims. And I am set on getting to Snowdonia and getting in the water with Vivenne Rickman Poole. But I am also cognisant that if time and tide do not allow then I am OK with that. There will be plenty of swims before I am 50 and some of the swims that are not in my goals turnout to be the best swims.

Goals need to be adjusted in order to be achieved sometimes. Readjusting the swim goals I set myself means goal achievement of a different kind. The goal of be kinder to myself, finding a balance and knowing that what I have is enough. Although a swim with fins in the River Adur looks very tempting………………………

Author: Seabird (competitive) Kath

Seabird flies the nest – to the South West

Every May Half Term we head for Kernow and it’s never ending coastline.

Every May half term as far back as forever we have over packed a car and sat on Bodmin Moor with no data signal for what feels like a lifetime. Only to be rewarded with a cosy cottage in some corner of Cornwall. It’s my favourite holiday of the year.

We have spent a fortune on holidays over the years. It is our biggest outgoing. Pre-kids we would just book plane tickets to somewhere new and wing it when we got there. Or find a deal on Ceefax! Post-kids we’ve had, New Years in northern France, skiing in Europe, Easters in Wales, Octobers in Devon, city breaks, camping breaks and not forgetting the two week headliner in the summer holidays which have earned me the nickname of Judith Chalmers. Every opportunity and definitely every school holiday we pack our bags . But the Cornish half term holiday is my favourite.

There is no inland area more than 20 miles from the sea in this coastal county. It has a coastline of over 400 miles with 158 miles designated as Heritage Coast. I think it is clear to anyone who knows me why the proximity of the sea is so important to me. It’s main income is tourism which can cause overcrowding on the single track lanes and small ports and villages designed for a much quieter existence. But if you avoid peek season i.e. the summer holidays and tourist hotspots you can always find a quiet cove all to yourself.

We stay at different locations every year. Sometimes north, sometimes south and occasionally west – the further west you go can add considerable travel time! The coastline varies dramatically and so therefore do our holidays. We always take surf boards. stand up paddle board, camping stove and lots of neoprene. The sea, coastline, tides and weather will dictate what we do. But every day we will get wet. Words cannot describe the colour of the sea in places here. Aqua Marine? Turquoise? Cyan? It must be something to do with the unique quality of the light. Swimming in these crystal clear waters is like no where else on earth.

The WiFi and data coverage is crap and Truro has only recently got a Primark, so on paper, it’s a teenagers idea of Hell. But actually if you take them away from the bright lights of the big city and the glare of gadgets you will actually find your child again under that surly stare. And although they would be loathed to admit it publicly, they long for low key as much as we do.

Early Summer is my favourite time of year. In in the countryside it is even more pronounced. Cow parsley towers over your head, grass is still lush and green before a summer of scorching and the air is beginning to warm. Barefoot living becomes a real possibility and beaches to nap on lulled by a sea breeze is a prized pastime. My favourite flowers bloom in early summer, bluebells, sea pink and red campions line coastal paths filling these desolate spots with hope. For someone (me), with a lifelong relationship with depression, the cushioned warm cliff grass trodden on, barefoot, can bring me joy. Actual joy. However fleeting, a real happiness, that I wish would stay longer.

But like all good things, these holidays come to an end. And so we look to the next year and decide on the next location. Only this year we won’t. This year is our last. After over a decade of Cornish retreats our time as a foursome is coming to an end. The eldest is off to foreign climes to play football (soccer) and study next year and I cannot see the youngest agreeing to come without her. She will be missing from all of our future holidays but it will be this one where she will be missed the most. She is my water-baby, my first born fish, my mermaid.

Author: Seabird Kath

Note from Author: I am writing this in a sun room on the banks of a creek on the Roseland Peninsula. There have been at least two squalls blow in from the river Fal whilst I have been sat here. Sunny it aint.

Essential packing for UK holiday list includes:

Towelling Robes & Hammams; both of these are absolutely essential. The UK is not that warm and when you’ve been in the sea as long as my kids have they need the towelling robes afterwards. They are the envy of other beach users as they curl up for post swim snoozes in them. Both have said it’s their best thing to take on holiday. This year I forgot our hammams – lightweight to pack as emergency towels for impromptu swims whilst walking the wild coast line. But they double up as picnic blankets or actual blankets and a scarf on chilly evenings.

 

 

Camping stove, mugs and steel pints; We take these to the beach in the evening and while the kids swim, skim pebbles, surf or build sandcastles we boil the kettle for hot chocolate, fry sausages for supper and drink chilled beer or wine. A sunset spent like this is like no other!

Games; our favourites vary as the kids grow older. Uno is and always will be a hit but we have also loved Monopoly Deal, Dobble and Travel Yhatzee. All small enough to fit in your handbag and take with you to cafes and pubs.

Sharpies; a bag of pens can be taken anywhere to draw on anything ( vandalism not encouraged). Pebbles and shells can all be decorated and hidden for others to find. We have a secret swim spot we visit every year where we have pebbles hidden that we redecorate every year.

Underwater water camera; we’ve had gopros and cheap versions of, and a Nikon Coolpix camera. The kids have spent hours taking video footage of each other in the sea and we have visual memories of our holidays now.

Well fitting wet-suits; – buying wet-suits that your kids will ‘grow into’ is a false economy. Unless the wet-suit is tight fitting, it will not work. There needs to be minimal gap between skin and neoprene for trapped water to be warmed up by their body heat. If it is loose it just won’t work. Ocean Sports do an amazing selection of kids wet-suits – mention you are a Salty Seabird and you may get a discount! Those not in Brighton – Surfdome are online, have a great ethos (paper packaging, donate to sea conservation), great customer service and a great selection.

Wild Guide books; Never leave home without one. They are basically our holiday guide book for anywhere in the UK. You will find that secluded swim spot with this as your bedside bible

Happy Holidays!

Reasons to swim in the sea

The head-space of sea swimming

Reset. Release. Recalibrate. Relax. Respite. Resilience. All reasons to swim in the sea.

When you are reading this, I will  be waking up on the Roseland peninsula ready to explore new swim spots. I have a week in Cornwall before heading up to Snowdonia to swim in a lake. I will be spending a week wet, walking and writing, but not much else, with the three people (and dog),  I love most in the world. And it is much needed. The life of a Seabird gets busy during the summer months and I need this before a couple of months of sea time but less me time. It is at times like this when I have more reason than ever to swim! It resets and relaxes me. It releases my mood and allows me to recalibrate. It provides me with respite and increases my resilience.

Reset – a bit like switching a computer off and on – you enter the sea full of stress, anger, frustration and leave it more serene. The bad mood may return later that day, week or month but for an amount of time you are reset. I think of my mental illness as faulty wiring in the brain, sparking with no where to go. It just needs the right synapse to connect to so the spark can continue on its journey rather than clogging up my brain with unhelpful thoughts. The sea jump starts the synapse – with the help of some happy hormones – and balance is restored in the brain.

Release – you can cry in the sea and no-one knows. Getting into the cold water screaming and shouting is in itself a release. All of the above is socially acceptable behaviour when you are in the water. On dry land you may invite some strange looks when you let out a guttural cry, squeal with delight or sink into shuddering sobs. But in the sea, with a group of like minded swimmers, it is encouraged. There is literally nothing better than letting out all of that pent up anger, frustration and anxiety in the safe environment the wild swimming community provides. Physical activity also releases happy hormones endorphins and the cold water can create an adrenaline rush.

Recalibrate – being in the sea, whatever the weather, whatever the conditions, gives you the chance to think.  And not just think what am I going to cook for dinner, or how far am I going to swim today, but really think. It is an opportunity to change the way you do or think about something. The idea of Seabirds was borne of the sea. Away from the life’s chatter we had the chance to think, and we thought more people need to get in the sea and experience this head space. The clarity that can flow with the tidal stream is like no other for me. I made the decision to leave a well paid corporate career after an all day meeting in a hotel at the Marina over looking the sea. I spent most of the day staring out of the window wishing I was somewhere else instead, in the sea. Even being near the sea helped me to gain perspective and clarify my thoughts. That night I called my boss and the rest as they say, is wet wellbeing history.

Relax – sounds easy.  Not for me and not for many. My shoulders are permanently around my ears somewhere and my gut is in constant turmoil. All symptoms of anxiety and poor stress management. I am a masseuse’s worst nightmare as I literally cannot relax and the more they ask me to, the more my body contorts into acute stiffness. Don’t get me started on meditation – any excuse for my mind’s mental monkeys to reek havoc when given even the merest opening in my Mind Fortress (Think Mind Palace with infinitely more walls, boiling oil, archers and portcullis.) But I have found my own way to relax. Busying my mind with tasks that need my sole attention but not a lot of thought  like reading, crocheting or exercise classes are ways I chose to relax. Swimming does the same. When I swim alone and get into a rhythm it can be quite hypnotic.  To be candid I have to be in the right frame of mind for this. But I always like to float!

Respite – getting away from the day to day. No more so was this more necessary than in the modern day world. We are slaves to our phones, the instant, the immediate. An expectation that messages will be answered the moment it has been read. Images of perfect lives, in perfect homes with perfect families holidaying in perfect locations bombard our brains in every form of media. But there is a revolution starting in the sea that rejects the notion of always being available and living a more simple existence that is in tune with the tides. This revolution is gaining momentum and Seabird numbers are soaring with respite being our raison d’etre. We will only bombard you with the imperfect smiley swimming pictures we take in the sea!

Resilience – if you swim year round, particularly in the sea and particularly in skins you build a ton of resilience. When the ice cold water burns your skin but you continue to enter the water. When the winter waves look fierce and foreboding but you continue to enter the water. When the colour of the sea is a pissed off pewter giving off hostile vibes but you continue to enter the water. When you struggle to regulate your breathing as you submerge but you continue to enter the water. You become a water warrior. You are resilient.

For all these reasons I swim in the sea!

Author: Seabird Kath

Note: no seabird was hurt during research into reasons to swim. As ever, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these anecdotal ramblings.

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A Seabird trying to be greener…..

On the day of the latest global school climate strike what can we do to try to be greener……..

The recent UK Government ban on plastic earbuds and straws is welcome, but it is nowhere near enough.

While I know personal changes are not enough without systemic changes I am trying to reduce my own impact so that at least I am less part of the problem and working towards a solution. The Sea Squids are quite rightly putting on the pressure, inspired and informed by their participation in the Climate Strike.

Here are 4 changes I have made (and most importantly managed to sustain!) to help reduce my own plastic footprint:

  1. Refill – if you only refill your laundry liquid and softener think how many plastic bottles you will save each year! Brighton has the fabulous WASTENOT in the open market off London Road and Harriets of Hove for those further West. (disclosure: We have extra love for WasteNot cos they stock our beautiful stainless steel pints)
  2. Donate empty food containers (big enough for storing a takeaway – like ice-cream and large yoghurt ones, those that have come into your life when you know they shouldn’t …).  Bring them to the Jollof Cafe on a Tuesday. They need them and can share them with another great community group MEP who also need them to avoid food waste. While you are there, stay for a tasty vegan lunch! (donations for the mutual aid foodbank also very welcome).
  3. Be prepared – don’t get caught short without a sustainable alternative to plastic bagssingle use coffee cups and water bottles etc in your bag. All available from us at Seabirds where your purchase will directly support our work to improve mental and environmental wellbeing. This takes a bit of forward thinking and I still kick myself when I forget but I am getting there…bag by the door helps…
  4. Glitter! For those of us who have found that surprisingly, glitter enters their life when you live in Brighton and with Pride, March of the Mermaids and festival season approaching: biodegradable glitters that are plant-based, planet friendly and packaged sustainably! Spotted on Plastic Free Brighton

We welcome your suggestions and shout outs for local plastic reduction tips/groups/shops below

Author: Seabird Cath

A Seabird Singing The Blues

The ramblings thoughts and wonders of why being in, on or by the sea chases the blues away.

It’s Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. The Salty Seabirds have had a great week of activities and sessions all aimed at improving wellbeing and all centred around the beach and sea. This is how we manage our blues. By Blue Health, Blue Science, Blue Space, Blue Gym, Blue Mind.

Evidence from around the world continues to grow that being in, on or around the sea and ocean has a positive impact on our mental and physical health. In a world of instant and virtual the constant and real is respite.

There is a lot of science and studies centred around how this works and why. I am no scientist and  haven’t studied for over 25 years but the beach is my happy place and I have spent time wondering why. Here are my thoughts on how and why the big blue can stave off my blues.

One of my thoughts turns to human biology – we are made up of 70% water, and salt water at that, like the sea.  The sea covers 70% of the earth’s surface. So going into the sea is like coming home. Think of it like osmosis – when we return to the sea we gain balance.

I think that things that are certain in the world around us, ground us, make us feel safe. I know that the tide will come in and go out every day. So although the state of the water is not constant the moon’s pull on it everyday means the sand will appear and disappear, much like worries. As the tide ebbs and flows so do my cares and concerns.

I find the sound of the sea soothing. I remember arriving in morocco, some years ago, in the dead of night and being shown into a cool white room with windows wide open to a pitch black vista. I had no bearings, no idea where I was, what was outside the window, in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. But I had the best night sleep, soothed to sleep by the sound of the sea, the waves steadily meeting the sand. Better than any lullaby.

In fact, it is all I can do to stay awake when I am on a beach. When I left full time work due to ill health we spent a week in Cornwall for me to begin my recovery – I slept on the beach every day. Another trip west, I had a badly infected leg which prevented me from getting in the sea. I would regularly be found slumped and snoozing when the family returned from surfing or rock-pooling. On top of the cliffs by Godrevy Lighthouse there is a particularly soft spot of sea pink and grass by a sheltered stone wall for anyone looking for a secluded snooze.

Just seeing the sea lifts my mood. As a child, crammed between siblings, my mum would try to distract us with ‘first one to spot the sea’ wherever we were going. And I still play along now – even if I am the only one in the car. The excitement of discovering a new beach and possibility of new surfing, swimming, snorkelling, walking, rock-pooling, coasteering, kayaking and possibly sleeping adventures. Being physically tired from a wet activity, and mentally tired from focusing on a new environment is the best kind of tired. It is a clean childlike exhaustion caused by good clean fun and happiness, not day to day stress. I realise that new beaches cannot be a daily occurrence but the changes of the local seascape can be enough escapism to create a similar satisfactory tiredness and happiness.

I never tire of the sight of the sea. The blue goes on forever. The constant horizon, never changing allows the brain to recover from constant screen scrolling. The blue light from our gadgets suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone which is responsible for inducing sleep. The natural light at the beach has the absolute opposite affect on me – it quietens my brain and invites rest (and sleep!). So just being by the sea, looking out to sea can be enough. Drifting while you water gaze. Mindless mindfulness.

My relationship with the sea can be described as a ‘healthy respect’. I am a safety first kinda girl, know my limitations  and only go in when I know I can get out. I have many of the same fears as others about deep water and what lies beneath yet I am still drawn to it’s vastness. It is bigger than us yet it does not overwhelm me. I think, it is because it is so big and so vast that I become part of it when I am in it. I am diluted along with my anxiety and low mood.  I am cognisant that this sounds very new age and evangelical but I am not trying to covert the world via baptism. I just feel that the significance of the sea,  washes my worries into insignificance.

The sensation of the sea is a funny one to wonder while we are in the midst of may bloom. The sea is like a thick pea soup while the algae ferments. It feels slimey and smells awful. So to times of clearer waters….. The waters off the UK coast are always cold and although you can acclimatise and it warms up during the summer months you can still feel the cold sensation on your skin whatever the time of year. In the winter months it bites and burns making you aware of every part of your body. Making you feel alive. In the summer months it cools and soothes, no movement is required to to cope with the cold water, but instead you can float. Oh how I love to float – as soon as I can, I flip onto my back, sight to the skies and immerse my ears in the water. Many a seabird has researched Cold Water therapy, Total Immersion and the Wim Hof method. For me a good head dunk re-sets and re-calibrates – I have no idea why – it just does. And doing handstands in the sea is fun!

So today it is a Blue Moon and and I will be swimming under it’s shine tonight with lots of other salty seabirds. The perfect end to a week of chasing the blues away in, on or around the big blue. However it works, I just know that it does, for me it’s the sea.

Author: Seabird Kath

I can confirm that absolutely no controlled research was conducted to support the ramblings, thoughts and wonderment contained in this article. It is all anecdotal. A Seabird singing the blues

I can also confirm there are many other places you can swim outdoors other than the sea that may or may not chase the blues away – but I am a seabird and I am salty and cannot comment on regular swimming in lidos, lakes or rivers. But I do like a good waterfall!

 

 

Mental Health Awareness week – I should be happy right?

Being aware of your mental illness is the first step to managing it.

A week of awareness in the UK hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. The idea is to bring people together to start conversations around mental health that can change and even save lives. With a diagnosed mental illness and as advocate for managing my own wellbeing I should be happy when this week comes around, shouldn’t I?

The answer – to put it bluntly –  is no. This week, albeit worthwhile and necessary, supporting a cause I will continue to champion is a double edged sword for me. On the one hand, getting more people to talk, get the help they need and just make society more aware of individual needs is nothing short of brilliant. On the other hand with all the media interest, interviews, talks and campaigns it just reminds me that I am ill, and I will always be ill – kind of like rubbing salt in the wound.

I realise how that sounds. I realise how hard that is to read. I realise it is a big departure from  the normal salty swimming smiles. But sometimes I do not want to be aware. I want to forget. My illness doesn’t just disappear for a week every year, when MHA week comes around. It’s here for the long haul, a lifetime, my lifetime.

I also don’t practice what I preach during MHA week. I become so focused on helping others I forget to help myself. Rest is critical for me in terms of managing my wellbeing. Any time I am over worked or over whelmed the familiar feelings start to invade my boundaries – because I haven’t stuck to my boundaries.

Over the years I have learnt to manage my mental health. Sounds great, but in reality it has been decades in the making. Could have been oh so much quicker if I had learnt how to say no! So the normal pattern is lots of nay saying, then a yes or two creeps in until there are too many tabs open and system overload occurs. And it is not pretty. There are two phases to it. The first is scream and shout a lot – mainly at my long suffering husband but sometimes at the kids. The second is complete shut down – wracked with guilt for my previous behaviour I hibernate and I locked myself away watching shit TV unable to leave the house without a huge amount of coaxing and persuasion.

The first phase surprises people. Anger and rage are not symptoms traditionally associated with depression. Also, not a lot of people get the pleasure of meeting moody me – like most people with the invisible disease we can become award winning actors when we need to be…only to melt down exhausted after the performance and certainly do not attend the after show party!

I am a get shit done girl so the first phase continues to be a common occurrence but fortunately it can be nipped in the bud early on as it is so obvious when it occurs. I am one of the worlds organisers. I herd my extended family, I organise my friends, I sit on committees, I volunteer for charities, I run my own business. So do lots of people, I know. Being overloaded and overwhelmed isn’t good for anybody’s wellbeing and may be they are struggling to stay afloat too. The human need to help others before we help ourselves. Self care isn’t selfish it’s self preservation.

So maybe I do need reminding. Maybe I should be more aware. But self aware.

Yesterday I began to feel overwhelmed. Lot’s of place to be and people to see and the inbox was full to overflowing. I mentioned it to Seabird Cath who sent me a link to the Grange Hill cast singing “Just say no”. That was all I needed. I just needed recovering heroine addict Zammo to tell me what to do.

Author: Seabird Kath

Here is the link to see Zammo

And Finally: a note from Catherine Kelly who suggested we put on a week of activities for Mental Health Awareness week which has been wonderful so far……………..”I’m using this week to do the procrastinated selfcare ..dentist..osteopath..eye test.. all those little things that if they were for my kids I would not put off. Challenge everyone else to do the same! 😁💙”