Mental Health Awareness week – I should be happy right?

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

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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! 😁💙”

 

 

Safe harbour when you’re swimming for your life

Many of the Seabird blogs focus on the positive impact sea swimming has had on the wellbeing of some of our salty swimming group. Whether it be depression, anxiety, chronic illness or a difficult period in life, there are points in people’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. Again whether it be the sense of community, the respite from day-to-day or the cold water immersion that brings relief something about sea swimming seems to be part of the solution for many.

I have spoken and written about my personal mental health experiences many times. It’s not an easy thing to do. I am a talker. It’s how I deal with ‘stuff’. But admitting you  struggle at times is a challenge. For me, the challenge isn’t only the ability to open up it’s getting people to believe me. When I am at my worst, you won’t see me. I retreat to the confines of my castle and wait for it to pass before venturing out again. You may feel the warning shots being fired over the parapet as my depression marches at an attack force and shows itself as a sharp snapping tongue or an unmasked facial expression. But most will interpret this as me just being a moody bitch. And sometimes that is all it is –  but not always. If hot oil is poured over the castle walls and then a siege ensues you can be sure depression has won that battle. Especially when anxiety joins the fight.

So sea swimming has become my drug of choice. I think about why it works for me a lot. Logically someone with depression who can struggle to leave the house shouldn’t be  found striding across the shingle to meet up with people they have never met to swim in the sea. Again when we add anxiety into the mix, and in my case social anxiety, surely swimming in the sea with a bunch of strangers isn’t conceivable. But it is possible and I do do it. Whilst I love the cold water high and the break from ‘real life’ that’s not what draws me to the beach. It’s experience. My experience overrides my frazzled brain and reminds it that not only will it be okay, but that I will experience joy and happiness, calm and respite.

Never ever have I experienced a bad swim. They are different every day but they are not bad. Never ever have I regretted a swim. The deadline may have been missed and the kids ate pizza again but no regrets. Never ever have I met an unfriendly outdoor swimmer or Salty Seabird. Eccentric or reserved yes, but never unfriendly. Never ever have I ever felt more part of something, more of a sense of belonging, more acceptance and kindness. From borrowing gloves, sharing tea, crying, cuddles and throwing your head back guffawing – I am me and I swim in the sea.

Some of the Salty Seabirds have become friends – not just ones I swim with – but salt of the earth (or the sea) friends. I told one the other day she was my lighthouse – she is always there guiding me back to safety when I am in the midst of a storm. These are the people that see me regularly, because no matter what I will always swim. Their smiles, energy and strength are infectious. The feeling I get after a sea swim is as much to do with connecting with nature, the certain horizon and the lull of the waves as it is being with these people.

I will always come back to the harbour where the water is calm and there is a protective wall surrounding me. I am lucky to have many light houses that guide me back there when they can see I am struggling so I can continue to swim safely. And many anchors that keep me there when it’s rough. The best bit is, I get to swim with some of them and stay salty!

Author: Seabird Kath

For the love of Swimming….

A Valentines Guest Blog by Seabird Didi

In her own words “here is my loved up offering post swim….warning….it’s gushy as I’m still high on endorphins……feeling the love!”

Managed almost 7 minutes in the sea today….although a good amount of that was me squawking and backing out and just splashing my face to try and acclimatise. Because this is the thing….I have always hated cold weather and cold water….but I know how amazing I feel when I have been in………and actually I have always loved the extremes of sauna and cold water……….but it’s also more than that…..there’s something in me that just feels the pull to swim outside and dive through that cold shock and I can’t put it into words but it feels as vital and important as breath. I can happily swim for ages in warm water…..dreamily and no effort…..I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer, very much at home in the sea. But the WINTER cold sea; that’s a fairly new and challenging experience for me.

For for about 10 minutes before I go in I am getting anxious and then feeling stupid for feeling anxious about a self imposed activity that’s meant to be fun……..everyone else is smiling and excited whereas I am gritting my teeth and trying to squash down my fears. Butterfly nerves make me jittery and a little ungrounded. Then I am standing there with my hefty frame, in just my swimsuit, feeling ungorgeous, unglamorous and quite frankly ridiculous. I’m the biggest I have ever been and NOW is the time I take this up?

At this point some beach walkers usually clock us and stop to have a look. Sometimes they take photos. My private humiliation not quite complete….I then venture down to the sea’s edge and take quite a while dithering and flapping and shrieking…….watching my friends leap and dive in with confidence and joy.

My breath catches sharply, alarmingly and I feel like I have forgotten how to breathe out. FOMO wins every time though and VERY reluctantly and in a sort of disbelief I submerge myself….I practice my long out breath…..I steady my nerves…..I find my focus and then suddenly my arms and legs are paddling like crazy and I’m properly swimming…….in the winter sea with no wet-suit…..I feel like I’m crazy wild woman and I love it…..after 2 minutes of biting, painful sensations on my skin I can feel my physiology waking up from its domestic slumber and finally I feel THAT joy. I feel like a kid again.

My body remembers ancient and primal skills and starts activating clever responses to cold stress and physical challenge that I didn’t know it had. I feel euphoric and clever and strong and free and happy. I gurn like a loon to my swimming companions and blabber a lot at them about all sorts of nonsense. I marvel in the wild untamed beauty of the sea…….I coo at my clever swim socks, that delay that numbness just enough. I look back at the shore my perspective changed and my eyes feel soothed by the vast space and innocent beauty of it all. It feels like we are protected from the busyness, out of the spinning hamster wheel for a wonderful and precious little moment.

I feel so so so grateful to live here, to have this on our doorstep and even more grateful that I have a shared love of this with friends and now a growing community of Salty Seabirds, Sea Sploshers, Kemptown Kippers and of course the amazing iSWIM crew and most of all my lovely mate Laura without whom I would not have dived in at all.

Love (and friends) and the sea is all you need

💖💖💖Happy Valentines Day Salty ones 💖💖💖

Finding my inner Mermaid

Guest Blog by Amy. Beautiful honesty, a true Seabird

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Amy

I first started sea swimming in 2013 when I dipped my toe into the world of triathlon. I’d run a few marathons and had my eye on completing an Ironman for my 30th birthday (because that’s what you do for your 30th right?!). I got into the water, and HATED it! Running was always my strength, I was OK on a bike but swimming, swimming was my absolute nemesis. I had never learnt properly as a child and despite hours and hours in a pool I just didn’t seem to get any faster or better. Despite loving being in the water I never found the love of chasing a time or covering distance. I just never felt good enough despite my desperate attempts to become the mermaid I knew I was inside.

After Ironman I carried on swimming despite my complaining, not wanting to lose the hard work I’d put in to my swimming fitness. I even entered some long distance events including the Dart 10k and swam round Comino Island in Malta. I wanted to be the streamlined graceful dolphins that seemed to be part of every group I swam with, but I still just never felt like I found my inner mermaid.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and all thoughts of sporting events disappeared as I started to suffer with my mental health. Throughout 2018 I fell into a black hole where I didn’t want to live anymore and was hospitalised twice consumed by the hideous monster that is depression. Running had in the past been my salvation, but even the enjoyment of my favourite trails wasn’t improving my mental health and so I looked to the water.

It was during this time that I started just going in the sea for fun. I have some amazing, caring friends who would literally drag me out of bed and off onto the Downs for a run or into the sea to watch the sunset. Being in the water I realised was the place I began to feel at peace. Long gone were any worries about chasing a fast time or covering a certain distance, just the peace of floating around, feeling the water on my skin was the only thing that stopped the incessant chattering of the racing thoughts in my head that I suffered with the rest of the time. I ditched the wetsuit and fell in love with cold water.

As the year wore on and the temperature started to drop there were less people willing to get in the water with me and my friend Claire suggested I look up the Salty Seabirds. This amazing group has allowed me to continue with my winter swimming and has become a valuable part of my journey towards recovery.

amy 5

There is always a friendly face or 17 to chat to in the water and everyone is so supportive of each other with no competitiveness. Last week I even found myself setting my alarm for 04:30 am to swim under the Blood moon at 5am with 17 other brave seabirds. The thermostat on my car showing -4 degrees as I drove down to the seafront wondering what the hell I was doing! It was one of the most magical experiences, organised by seabird Sam, made even more special to share it with such a lovely group of people.

Although the waves of depression still get me, they are getting smaller and I am getting better at staying afloat. Maybe I have become that mermaid after all, or seabird. The future feels brighter, and definitely salty!

The Rock – Swimming with my Spouse

My rock in stormy seas. Introducing Mr Seabird

The final part in the family swim stories trilogy.

Part I – Libby in the Lakes – swimming with my Daughter

Part II – Monarch of the Glen – swimming with a Laird

My husband and my depression, have been constants in my life since I was teenager. We met when I was 12 and he was 13 and we got together when I was 15 and he was 16. Right about the time when my teenage brain was experiencing it’s first incidence of poor mental health, and seeking out new risky experiences, resulting in lots of poor choices. He watched the poor choices from the wings, without partaking himself, often clearing up the debris.

Over the years, like any couple we’ve had our ups and downs, as my mental health has had it’s up and downs. Sometimes the two things are intertwined. My choices have improved with age and so has his support. He doesn’t always agree with my choices, decisions and ideas but his support is unwavering. When I let him get a word in edge-ways, he has been known to give bloomin’ good advice. He is the rock I cling to in stormy seas.

My choice to skin swim in the sea year round is also watched from the wings. He loves that I do it, but he neither has the time or inclination to join me. He enjoys being at the beach or in the sea but he prefers gentle beach breaks or small hidden coves and warmer sea temperatures. Our holiday choices are easy. It has to be by the sea and the car is filled with neoprene, SUPs and surf boards. He will get up early for solo surfs and be the first one to suggest a sunset swim before bed. Finding a beautiful secluded beach in Cornwall a couple of years ago and forgetting our swimsuits meant a skinny dip was inevitable. The teens are yet to forgive us.

Our holiday choices match but the type of swims we like can differ. I have been bought up on steep shingle shelves and long shore drift. Brighton beach is my favourite place to swim. It’s familiar, although ever changing. It’s my safe space although sometimes precarious. He only likes it local when it’s warmer and when it’s slack tide. He hates the, sometimes unstoppable, strong tidal current that can be like swimming on travelator going the wrong way. A couple of hard swims home when I’ve encouraged him to swim with me didn’t help lessen his hatred for fast moving water.

On special occasions I can convince him to swim with me on home territory. The featured image above show the pre-swim smiles of my 45th birthday. Early on a Sunday morning in July he accompanied me for a swim out to the buoys in front of the King Alfred. There is no post swim photo. There was no post swim chat. There was only post swim sulks, from both of us. The cross shore pull that had made reaching the buoy relatively easy was making the swim back tough. As I swam beside him giving advice on where to aim for to exit the sea safely and where we had left our bags I infuriated him more as I was able to talk and swim and wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned about getting back to dry land. We ended up having a row in the sea that resulted in me swimming off in the direction I had suggested and him the other. In hindsight I realise I had taken him out of his comfort zone, then emasculated him with my nonchalance in the water only to abandon him when he was feeling vulnerable. The salt in the wound being the walk over sharp shingles at the end of his ordeal. He is so confident in every other aspect of his life it didn’t enter my mind that this was something he was doing for me and not necessarily something he wanted to do.

It really is the pull of a current that he hates. In a warm non-tidal Mediterranean sea he would regularly take the children out to depths and distances that left me watching from a sunbed in horror. Fortunately, a couple of bad experiences haven’t put him off swimming with me…..just not in Brighton. This year’s birthday was spent swimming the Somerset Levels together. Pull of the water panic was replaced by pike panic. There was our trip to Scotland. The glens and waterfalls are hands down, the most beautiful place we have both ever had the pleasure of swimming. The peaty dark brown lochs provided a very different swimming experience as he confidently entered the water I splashed and stayed in the shallows put off by the murky water and what could lie beneath. He also joined my sister and I when we swam in Bude Tide Pool in April in armed only with his swim shorts. But he is at his happiest in a Cornish cove in the summer.

I call him a fair-weather swimmer but he is really not. He just doesn’t enjoy some of the same swims as me and there is nothing fair-weather about being married to me. All the while I wish to skin swim, year round I have the company of the Salty Seabirds. Absence makes the heart grow fonder after all!

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: I am reading and editing this in bed pre-publication and he is snoring to the point of punching his face in! It ain’t all hearts and roses.

Monarch of the Glen – Swimming with a Laird

When one kid leaves another one comes along. As my daughter Libby boarded the plane home from our swims in the lake District, my son Archie, arrived with his dad for our Scottish adventure.

Archie wasn’t enamoured with the idea of a holiday in the middle of no-where with no network and no WiFi. The salt in the wound, was that his big sister was escaping this fate to go hang out with her friends back home. Something he was intent on not letting us forget.

Archie has a difficult friendship group. He doesn’t always help himself as he reacts spectacularly to anything he sees as unjust or unfair. So he is an easy target for some of the group members and can be purposefully excluded from activities which plays itself out in the very public domain of social media group chats. We limit his xbox time and do not allow him to have 18 rated games which in the world of liberal parenting makes him a social pariah. His social struggles add to his anxiety which he hides with bravado to the outside world only to melt down in the safe confines of the home. We are more than aware that as he navigates Year 9, and testosterone kicks in varying rates amongst his mates, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Our solution to Archie’s social struggles is family down time, which in the summer was a holiday in Scotland with no electronics. We chose Scotland as we have been promising to visit an old university friend who settled there over 20 years ago and because Archie is a Laird and owns some land there. He was gifted the land for his thirteenth birthday as a tongue in cheek gesture. Archie has a few self entitlement tendencies so a Title seemed a fitting birthday present.

When we arrived in Alba, we stayed in Balquidder at our friend Gary’s house which has a river running through the back garden. After arriving at night, in the dark, we woke to the most beautiful view and were soon inflating our stand up paddle board (SUP) and pulling on our swimmers. The water level was low because the endless hot summer even reached north of the border. But it was still deep enough to jump into which the dog did before we had even shut the back door. We were not far behind using wooden steps in the bank to jump onto a chain ferry which you could then dive off. Archie paddled but wasn’t keen to get in the icy trout filled water. Instead he set sail on the paddle board, accompanied by the dog to see if he could make it to the next village. In the afternoon Gary got out his angling gear and taught Archie how to fish. A whole day of no gadgets and no melt downs.

That evening we travelled to a house on the banks of Loch Venachar to stay for a few days. Before I had even unpacked the car, Archie and his dad had found some bikes and headed off to explore the local area scouting for swim spots. They found Loch Achray and Loch Drunkie before it got dark. Every evening before dinner and after a days exploring we would swim and SUP in the loch across the road with Ben Finglas as our back drop. Very different to the salty sea I am used to, the water was dark and foreboding but really fresh. It was almost a metallic orange in colour giving you a swimmers tan in the water. Archie still opted for the SUP over a swim but the water was still working it’s magic and he was relaxed and happy. A few more days of no gadgets and no melt downs.

My favourite day was when we travelled to Glencoe and onto Glen Nevis. Archie’s land is part of a conservation project. The idea is you buy a plot of land and the money raised from the sale is used to return the land to it’s original natural state. The big pines trees you see on the side of mountains have been purposefully planted and are killing the soil and changing the ecosystem. So we spent some time in Glencoe Woods with a GPS device trying to locate the Laird’s land…..which we did.

We travelled onto Glen Nevis in search of a Steal Falls to swim in. We walked for miles on the hottest day of the year (it was even hot in Scotland) through the Nevis Gorge with large rucksacks full of food, drink and most importantly swim suits. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was. I honestly think it is the most beautiful place I have ever been. Definitely the most beautiful spot I have ever swum in. The water was crystal clear and cold. The kind of cold you only get when the water has come from the highest peak in the British Isles. Waterfalls, gullies, plunge pools, stepping stones, it was the stuff of fairy tales. And we practically had it all to ourselves as we chose the path less trodden on the opposite side of the glen.

But it wasn’t the beauty that made it my favourite day, it was Archie. He didn’t moan once on the long, sometimes difficult climb along the gorge. He ran ahead constantly looking for safe spots to get in the the rapidly running glen. He only stopped when the dog got stuck in a peat bog!

And Archie finally got in. Allowing his dad and I to go first we jumped off a rock into a deep pool. With lots of encouragement he did a tandem jump with the dog. As his head appeared back above the water, a huge smile took over his whole face. He struggled to breath not because of the cold water shock, but because he was giggling so much. The giggles continue when he realised he couldn’t clamber back up the rock to get out and the current took him down stream. Another day of no gadgets and no melt downs.

We cannot cocoon our kids from the outside world. But we can give them a chance to relax and re-calibrate away from scrolling screens. Swimming is my sanctuary and in Scotland it was my son’s.

Author: Seabird Kath

We don’t want your money honey – Votes For Women!

Please vote for our Women in Waves project to receive funding from Aviva Community Fund

Here at Seabirds HQ we need help from the Seabirds community and supporters. We are not looking for donations but rather your votes.

We have applied for funds from the Aviva Community Fund for our Women in Waves Project. 

What do we want?

To introduce open water swimming to local women  to improve their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. There are lots of courses locally run to help people transition from the pool to the sea but many people are intimidated by these courses. Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives.

What will the money be spent on?

The money would be spent on equipment like swim hats and dry robes – to keep participants warm and safe, changing and pool facility hire – to provide a safe environment for participants to get used to open water swimming, administration costs and dedicated coaches and instructors to facilitate the courses to ensure the participants get the best out of the courses.

Who will benefit?

We have canvassed feedback from local women, who have experienced hormonal and menopausal related wellbeing issues, aged 40-60. We asked them;

  1. If they visit the beach and swim in the sea?
  2. What factors can contribute to low confidence and motivation, preventing them from swimming in the pool or the sea?

We then asked them to help us develop ideas for activities that would “make them feel happier and more confident” as part of a pilot session. In this way we have gained a real insight into the issues faced by women of a certain age.
We understand that there are points in women’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. We believe that outdoor swimming can improve outcomes for women experiencing mental health challenges from firsthand experience. Modern day living is a challenge, particularly in times of austerity. Services are being cut and many vulnerable women are falling through the net.

Why we want your votes

Female-centric courses with participants falling into a similar age bracket in a safe and structured environment may be the only way some women would even consider swimming the sea. We are passionate about encouraging more women into the waves to improve their wellbeing and voting for this project would make this happen

How do I vote?

How you vote in 3 easy steps;

  1. Click on this link Women in Waves and register with Aviva (you must be 13+ to vote)
  2. Enter your email address, create a password and enter your name to register. You will be sent an activation email to this account. Click on that link
  3. Once signed in to your Aviva account you can opt out of their mailing list and search for ‘Seabirds’ which will take you to our project and allow you to vote.

The Small Print

  • To stand a chance of receiving the funds we are aiming for 2000 votes. We are currently at 834
  • Voting is open until 20th November.
  • You can vote using all email alias’s available to you
  • You can share this project with your family and friends and ask them for their votes too.

Still undecided?

Various social factors put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However, women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would act as a foundation for women to join the already established swimming community group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

Here are some quotes to encourage you to vote!

These are the comments from the women that participated in our focus group pilot session.

” For the time we were in the sea I really didn’t think about anything else but the waves.”

” It was wonderful to connect with new people”

” The sentiment ‘you go in strangers, come out friends” really rings true”

” Lovely idea, good solidarity, much needed”

” Really supportive group – loved it”

” Invigorating, confidence building”

As ever – Thank you for your support and  hopefully your vote.

Seabirds xx