Guest Blog by Seabird Anne as we transition from summer to autumn
Today I am 47! Today I have been around the sun 47 times. Today the moon has been around me 611 times. And I have spun around on this planet 17,155 times. So how to celebrate?
Monday – The weekly Salty Seabird Swim that we affectionately call Monday Mass, was massive. I am not sure how many of us there were swimming, but it was a lot. We shared tea and cake in time honoured tradition and were joined by honorary Salty Seabird Lindsey Cole, which was a real highlight for us wild swimmers. It takes place on my favourite Brighton Beach, which is in Hove actually, that we affectionately call D5 after the old Lifeguard post call sign.
Tuesday – My actual birthday and I am heading home. Contrary to popular belief, I was not raised by the sea, just spent every school holiday in West Sussex. So, along with a few Salties we are heading inland to Surrey to swim in a pond and a river with a pub lunch thrown in for good measure. These are my childhood swim spots – I hope they live up to my memories. Rumour has it lots of NO SWIMMING signs have been installed since the 1980s……………….
Wednesday – a very low key lunchtime beach picnic and dip is planned with friends I met on the school run many moons ago as my youngest is now 14. Our lives, jobs, families have changed considerably over the years but we still get together regularly for a good natter and once a year they join me for a swim in the sea.
Thursday – is a work day. Meeting in the morning with business partner Cath – which will inevitably start with a quick dip. Then in the evening it is the 3rd session in the Women Wellbeing and Water courses we are running that aim to improve confidence and reduce anxiety via sea swimming. It is Seabirds raison d’etre , it’s what we were set up to do. Sharing the joy and calm sea swimming can bring with others never gets old.
Friday – I am off to Bailiffscourt Spa with bestie Ros. We will be walking on the beach at Climping before making full use of the Spa facilities including a gorgeous outdoor pool and afternoon tea! She is not a Seabird by nature but she is by heart and our happy compromise is an outdoor pool.
Saturday – Saturday mornings are now spent in the sea with a considerable number of kids at Hove Surf Life Saving Club. Not necessarily the restorative weekend swim of choice for some, but worth it for their smiles. The Club is very much in it’s infancy and the kids that take part are all new to the sea and Surf Life Saving, Their enthusiasm lifts your heart and they even smile when swimming underwater! And the people I do it with are the salt of the earth.
Sunday – The last day and not even the slightest chance of it being a rest day. Instead I will be launching a home made raft from Brighton’s Beaches at part of Paddle Round the Pier’s Paddle Something Unusual. It is the only time of the year my friends Clare and Louise get in the water so it would be rude not to join them……..
So there you have it – my 7 days of birthday swims. Makes getting older a hell of a lot happier
Author: Seabird Kath
July’s Seabird Book Club Read. Floating
It’s been less that a month since we re-launched the Seabirds Virtual Book Club but it is already time for July’s book.
This month we move away from the science of Tristan Gooley to the memoir by Joe Minihane. “Floating: A Life Regained” sees the author follow in the footsteps of Roger Deakin and swims in the locations described in Waterlog. As a Seabird my favourite type of swimming is floating so the title immediately appealed. Joe is also based in Brighton so there was another tenuous link. He probably won’t remember, but I met him swimming in the sea once in front of the bandstand with his friend Seabird Laura. I went all a bit star struck and he just smiled.
As for the book – I know it will appeal to the seabird flock. It’s acutely honest and touches upon topics we regularly consider when swimming in the sea. Our joyful love of being outside and experiencing nature first hand. The warmth of the friendship we have found within our flock. A story of acceptance of his anxiety and how to live with it is also a common theme in our clan.
He writes; “In swimming I found the only thing that truly broke me out of my anxious cycle for longer than a few moments…I swam to fix myself.”
It’s on my list to read again, and again, and again. Joe is a Seabird. Enjoy Salties
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.
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
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.
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.
I invite you to bare with me!
I don’t believe we are just numbing ourselves in this sea. I look at my friends coping and surviving. Like the rolling of waves, the thrill of the dive, the rush of the cold, they choose to stay unchained. This is as free as we can possibly be
So this months book review has been written in one of Brighton’s Cafes when I was able to prise my hands away from a hot steaming mug. I have just been for a sea swim and now it is October there is definitely a drop in the air temperature requiring a thaw out afterwards. What better way to do it on International Coffee Day, in a Cafe, writing about a book that resonated with me so strongly. This month’s book is ‘I Found My Tribe’ by Ruth Fitzmaurice.
I have very little in common with the author but so much in common with her. It is a collection of memories of her life, with her membership in the Tragic Wives’ Swimming Club as a back drop. It documents her thoughts, fears, experiences and swims from the point when her husband is diagnosed with MND to a full moon swim on their wedding anniversary. The chapters are all short and sweet with the most wonderful titles, such as ‘Waves (And Cheese Puffs)’
The things I do not have in common with the author are numerous. She has 5 kids none of whom are in double digits and I have 2 teenagers but we are both mums. Her husband has Motor Neurone Disease and can only communicate with his eyes. Mine is fighting fit but we both struggle to always see eye to eye with our spouses. She lives in rural Ireland and I live in urban Brighton but we both love swimming in the sea and use it as a coping strategy to deal with everyday life. She swims with the Tragic Wives’ Club and I swim with the Salty Seabirds.
I genuinely do not know how she has managed to fit in a swim with 5 children and a husband who needs round the clock care. She is really quite remarkable, hugely resilient and a great role model for modern day mothers. But the best bit about the book is you can easily pick it up and put it down. It is a perfect read for the train or bus as they are all short sweet chapters that can be read independently of each other. Or for those of us that start to get sleepy when we read before bed. Or for readers that just want to grab a read with a sandwich at lunchtime. Just remember your tissues!
Along with Lynne Roper who penned last month’s book Wild Woman Swimming, I was inspired by Ruth to organise a Harvest Moon swim for the Seabirds last week. Ruth’s moon swim is the conclusion to her book and it was something I was very keen to try. It was wonderful watching my tribe appear across the shingle and make their way to the waters edge to swim under a simply stunning full moon. At that moment I knew I had found my tribe.
Hope you all enjoy the book – as ever please do let us know!