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

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Swims

My first swim of the day was in the morning at Lifeguard Post Romeo 8 on Brighton Beach. This is just in front of the beautifully restored bandstand. It’s the spot the Seabirds swim from when we do early morning swims as it’s sort of midway between us all and you can avoid the extortionate parking fees at that time in the morning. There were due to be 3 of us on this particular day. It was a 10.30am meet, the tide was going out and it was like a mill pond, as it has been for much of the summer. Perfect conditions for going round the buoys.

The swim area buoys are the signal that it is summer in Brighton. They appear in-front of the 11 Lifeguard posts from Saltdean to Hove Lagoon in May and stay there until September. Unless there is a particularly strong storm where they can end up all over the place. They are placed 100m apart, going out and across 200m. With the growth in outdoor swimming and triathlon popularity they are used by locals to roughly measure the distance of their swims. A couple of the swim areas can resemble the M25 when clubs and groups meet there to clock up some kilometres.

On this particular day we had the swim area almost to ourselves as myself and Seabird Ruth headed out to the first buoy. Between the first and second buoy I was into the usual hypnotic rhythm when I began to hear something from under the water. It was different from the usual close to shore shingle song or the sound of the wake you create. It was a low level hum that just got louder and louder to the point of distraction. At that point I stopped swimming and looked up. I was a couple of metres from the furthest buoy and immediately saw the source of the noise. A speedboat going at a ridiculous speed practically in the swim area, no more than 5 metres from my swim capped head. As you can imagine the driver received the type of verbal assault that would make a salty sea dog blush. He proceeded further into Hove and dropped his anchor right in the middle of the quiet family beaches.

By this time seabird Ruth had caught up and was also using swear words we save for serious safety situations. And then another female swimmer. We proceeded to stop at the buoy to discuss, the proximity of losing my head, machismo, jet skis, idiots but most importantly swim safety. The swim community never ceases to amaze me. 3 women who have just met, sharing stories 200 metres out to sea. We concluded that even though we were within the swim area it would be sensible to wear a swim tow floatas well as our brightly coloured hats. Particularly as some seabird swims are parallel to the beach and leave the swim area although remain in close proximity to the shore.

It spooked me enough to head back in. I’d lost my swim mojo. We joined our third Seabird in the shallows for a frolic instead. We were met on the shoreline by a lovely lifeguard who advised us that she was keeping a careful eye on us and was also outraged at the idiot (insert other word here) driving the boat. She had reported it to the Seafront office and it was registered at the Marina. Unfortunately the Seafront boat hadn’t launched yet to intercept but they would be having a conversation later with the offender to hammer home that inappropriate speed, metres from the swim area was not only stupid and unnecessary but dangerous.

The good news was it was a double dip day and I was due to meet Ian, one of the beach lifeguards for a swim at Romeo 10 in front of the King Alfred swimming pool during his lunch break. Boy was it busy with swimmers. As we entered the water Ian proceeded to tell me that one of the Seafront Coordinators had seen a shark the day before. I laughed it off as a dog fish. We bumped into one of the Swim Trek directors finishing his lunchtime swim in the shallows as we were warming up. It was slack tide so we could swim either way around the buoys and chose to go west to east. At the first buoy Ian decided I needed to do swim drills. So we headed to the furthest buoy with me tapping my head with my hand, next buoy finger drags, next buoy arm pit tapping and so on until we’d completed a circuit.

From a fright to frollicking to swim drills all in one day.

I made the school girl error of enquiring more about the shark spotting. Turns out it was more than a bottom feeding dogfish. 5-6ft and definitely not a cetacean………

The cure for anything is salt water

Guest blog from Salty Seabird Rowena about her sea swimming experience with us.

Guest blog by Seabird Rowena

I’ve started throwing myself into the sea… in the UK… in spring… and it’s wonderful!

Bear with me…!

 

There is something about it, when the water is around 10 degrees, that brings you uncompromisingly into the here and now – both physically and mentally.

For the first few minutes, there is little you can do but be in the moment, focus on your breathing, finding it again from where it’s been whisked away from you; experience your flesh and nerves being first bombarded with cold and then numbed by it; feel the adrenalin flowing.

For some (me included) the first minute seems to be accompanied by surprisingly guttural sounds from deep within them. It’s a different way to use your voice, a different way to express yourself, one that has no filter to it.

You know you’re completely safe, that you’re going to become comfortable, but you feel on the edge of it, outside of your comfort zone physically and maybe mentally. It’s a good place to put yourself on a regular basis.

And as you acclimatise, a smile spreads across your face. Your system settles, but the exhilaration of it remains. You’re proud of yourself for jumping in. Your body is making decisions that you feel more acutely aware of than when you’re sedentary. Your capillaries have opened up and the blood is flowing. Your limbs are abandoned in favour of preserving your core, your essentials. The non-essentials are stripped away.

You feel whole. You feel solid. You are surrounded by water, as in your most formative state.

You clamber out: connected, grounded, a little bit brave.

sea-swim-1

Wild swimming is having something of a renaissance in the UK, and around the world. The positive impacts on our mental and physical health are moving from anecdotal to researched and evidenced.

As well as being bloody fun, and perhaps a little terrifying, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone; trying new things; stripping away the non-essentials; being brought into the present moment; the euphoria and achievement afterwards; (and getting to feel a little bit smug that you did it).

Joining a group is a great way to get yourself out there! I’ve joined one here in Brighton called The Salty Seabirds . As well as being lovely, welcoming people, their conversations about ‘arctic flaps’ (I’ll leave you to figure that one out for yourself) drew me to them! 🙂

We’re not all fortunate enough to live by the sea (I count myself very lucky), but lakes and rivers are just as exciting. There is any number of websites to inform and inspire, including www.wildswimming.co.uk

If you’re not able to swim in, or get to, an outdoors space, swimming or floating in any capacity is great for your body and your mind. Local authority swimming pools are one of the many things we can be grateful we have in this country.

sea-swim-2

 

I invite you to bare with me!

You can read more of Rowena’s blogs on her site

A pictures tells a thousand words

Thing you don’t know about this picture. One of the women only met the other three, 10 minutes earlier!

Things that can be said of this picture; This picture is clever. This picture invokes a reaction. This picture has a beautiful backdrop of Brighton beach. This picture is of 4 women. This picture was shared on Social Media.

Thing you don’t know about this picture. One of the women only met the other three, 10 minutes earlier!

This picture was liked on the Outdoor Swimming Society page 1.8K times. I think we can safely say these women are comfortable in their own skin. It was shared on Valentines Day – the day of love. We did it because we love swimming in the sea. But I think you will like it more when you know the story behind the shot.

The ‘L‘ is Catherine. Catherine is one of the Salty Seabird Founders. Once her husband was the only sea swimmer in the family. He is a member of Brighton Swimming Club, the oldest Swimming Club in the UK and has a graceful and hypnotic technique. Over the last few years Catherine’s confidence in the sea has grown to a level that matches her husband’s. She can be fast and fierce in the water and now they can swim together. No longer is she sidelined on the shore weighed down by the label of “non-sporty”. She now doesn’t give pictures of her in a swim suit, shared on social media, a second thought, Such has her relationship with her body changed since swimming in the sea, she takes pride in her strong body. She has a smile that makes any Salty Seabird swimmer, old or new, feel very welcome. She is definitely the L in Love.

Sam is the ‘V‘. Appropriate because she gives a good two finger salute to the pressures placed on women by society. She has a quiet strength and is up for pretty much anything. Or is that actually anything? I am not sure I have heard her turn down a challenge yet.  We met Sam at the end of August in the sea after a Swim Talk hosted Sea Lanes. She had no cossie so striped down to her bare skin and ran in. We’ve been swimming together ever since and she has become an integral part of the Salty Seabirds. Like Catherine, she is naturally inclusive, welcoming and warm. This shot was her idea.

Suzi is the letter ‘O’. None of us had ever met Suzi before this photo was taken. She turned up on the beach dragging a hard shell suitcase on wheels across the shingle in a neoprene wetsuit, hat, gloves and boots and enquired whether we were the Salty Seabirds. There were other birds there that day that had been swimming with us for months but Suzi readily volunteered to contort her body into the O without question.

The last letter ‘E’ is me. The one with the big pebble digging into my bum. It took a lot of direction to get that shape right. Not one for listening to direction from others naturally………………

What you don’t know about this photo is that the women in it are different but the same. What brings them to the beach differs, their reasons for swimming in the sea are the same. The strength of bond and camaraderie amongst the outdoor swimming society can only be described as love. The non judgemental acceptance of others is love. The quiet admiration of strength over adversity is love. The sharing of space in silence is love. The untamed guttural laughter is love. The protective togetherness is love. We are all looking for this love and here, amongst our fellow sea swimmers, we have found it.

We may have only met that day, that month, that year but we will always share the swim love. These are the words behind the picture.

Author: Seabird Kath

NB: We later went went on to create another picture spelling out a word in direct response to the Guardian article entitled ” Me and my vulva: 100 women reveal all”. A man named Paul Bullen replied to the news article on Twitter telling them “The correct word is vagina”. This caused a huge response from mainly women explaining that the vagina and vulva are two very different things, but instead of apologising or retracting his comment he began mansplaining to women about their own genitalia. You couldn’t make it up!

love2

How do you get in?

With the rise in popularity of Cold Water Swimming, how do you get in?

The sea is a force amongst the Salty Seabirds that brings us together. We share a love of cold water swimming and as such our shared experiences of joy, respite and faffing is what notably makes us the same. But we all get in the sea differently.

We noticed this when we swam to the east of the Palace Pier to have a morning of celebration in the Beach Box Sauna and cold sea as we introduced some new Seabirds to our swimming pod.

Patrick McLennan, is the the co-director  of a new documentary called The Ponds, about Hampstead Heath Ponds. In a recent article written for the Guardian by Tim Lewis McLennan explains “Outdoor swimmers tend to divide into “divers” and “creepers”, with the latter group easing themselves into the water more gradually. There are also “tea-baggers”: people who jump in and get straight out.”

When the Salty Seabirds visited the Ladies Pond last year we were definitely divers as the jetty and steps only allowed for that form of entry. How we get in the sea on Brighton’s beaches, all depends on the conditions and state of the tide. If the tide is high you have no choice but to submerge yourself at speed as after three steps and you are out of your depth on our steep shingle. However, the length of time you faff,  get changed or observe your swim area can vary considerably. At low tide, particularly a spring tide, you maybe walking for what feels like miles across sand to get anywhere near swimming depth taking gradual acclimatisation to the extreme!

Outdoor Swimming Coach, Rowan Clarke has the funniest video parody on her Instagram account that charts the 10 ways people get in. When I watched it I associated each type of entering the water with  Salty Seabirds. The types are;

  1. Just Get On With Itthis is definitely me
  2. Faffthis is a favourite amongst the Salty Seabird flock – our super power is forgetfulness and changing bags are emptied and repacked quite a few times on the beach before we realise the swimming hat we are looking for is on our head
  3. Inch by Inchmany a fledgling Seabird starts off this way, but after a few dips and possibly an encounter with Brighton’s infamous shore dump, they soon join the rest of the formation and get in as quickly as they can.
  4. Swearyep lots of it. In fact the swearing normally starts with the faffing and just continues into the water. Swearing helps you to regulate your breathing – FACT
  5. Huff and PuffI love chatting to the Seabirds that huff and puff as they get in as they are completely unable to talk back and I get the opportunity to waffle on uninterrupted. 
  6. ScreamYep again and lots of it. It is a Seabirds primal call to nature
  7. Splash and SlapI am yet to spot a Seabird doing this but the more serious swimmers that migrate for the winter and return in the summer have been known to partake in this activity. On a serious note, it is a good way to acclimatise before a distance swim.
  8. Heads Up – So last year! Once we’d listened to Dr Mark Harper’s informative talk on the Health Benefits of Cold water Swimming hosted by iSWIM we have all been obsessed with stimulating our vagus nerve and stick our heads in as much as the ice cream brain will allow.
  9. Recklessly – definitely a ‘don’t do this at home kids’. Unfortunately as a tourist city by the sea the Seabirds often witness people making poor choices. We don’t and move to safe swim spots when it’s stormy or just wave bathe on the shingle shoreline known locally as “pilcharding”.
  10. Just Don’tthis applies to lots of our family members so we have created a new swimming family that ‘Just Do’

Whatever the time of year, outdoor water temperatures in the UK are cold. Even if you are wearing a wet-suit you will be susceptible to ‘Cold Water Shock’. Your breathing speeds up along with your heart rate and blood pressure – which in itself can lead to panic and gasping. The secret to over coming the cold water shock is to swim often and resist the urge to panic. The Outdoor Swimming Society has tips for cold water immersion written by the late great Lynne Roper of Wild Woman Swimming fame. She writes ‘ Much of the acclimatisation process is mental – knowing the moment of immersion will feel cold, and embracing it anyway.’ The RNLI ‘Float to Live’ campaign is aimed at people falling into the sea in British and Irish waters where the average temperature is 12-15 degrees. Low enough to cause cold water shock. The campaign promotes the lifesaving technique of fighting your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes.

I have a unique style of entering the water. I am what Patrick McLennon would refer to as a ‘diver’ and Rowan Clarke a ‘just get on with it’.  But the first thing I do, after getting in quickly, is to roll onto my back and just float. It’s not a conscious considered decision based on my lifesaving training or an attempt to be in the moment with nature. It’s just something I do without thinking. What it does do is allow me to relax and my breathing has time to regulate without plunging my head through waves or respond to the physical activity of purposeful swim strokes. The urge to start swimming soon arrives as I realise I need to move to keep warm.

However you get in – do it safely and JUST KEEP SWIMMING…….and eat cake afterwards. Copious amounts of cake.

Scribe: Seabird Kath

Footnote: An Our Screen Viewing of The Ponds is scheduled in Brighton on Thursday 28th February at 20:30 but has SOLD OUT!

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!