Sea Sick

Sea Sick – when you cannot “Accept and Continue”

Not the motion sea sick, but the not going through the motions sea sick. My normal daily going through the motions will inevitably involve the sea or beach. But at the moment it does not. So I am sea sick. Much like being home sick,  I have preoccupying thoughts of the sights and sounds of the sea. I am finding it difficult to think about anything else and being away from he beach for such a long period of time is causing me distress.

It’s not just the swimming that I am longing for. It’s this time of year swims. Time of year swims only happen once a year. As a year round skin swimmer it is a time when the sea is pleasantly cold rather than uncomfortably so. Well, to the acclimatised winter swimmer it’s pleasant. The beaches are still quiet enough to be secluded and your kit bag is a lot lighter to carry. You can lie on the shingle and soak up the sun in just a jumper. You can actually swim head in without pain searing across your skull. The cold water kick and high is gone for another year but the cold contentment of a spring swim brings an altogether different joy.

It’s also the beach that I long for. There is something about clambering over the pebbles, catching your first sight of the shoreline and your shoulders just drop. Everything becomes muffled and muted. The harsh sounds of traffic, sirens and seabirds are all made to sing in more gentle tones accompanied by the sound of the shingle. Especially early in the mornings before the sea breeze has got up, there’s a stillness to the beach, any beach, like no other.

My longing isn’t just for my local beach. Visiting different beaches a couple of times a year, particularly in the South West and Wales has been a family tradition forever. Never in the height of summer, but normally in the spring we will rent a small cottage, pack up the car and head for a new horizon. It’s part of the winning formula for managing my mental health. I can only really rest away from home.

Our sea from sea holidays always follow the same pattern. I still get up early in the morning and  walk the dog on the beach with a flask of tea. That stillness is ever present on every beach as the sun rises.  Days are spent on long clifftop walks on the SW or Pembrokeshire coastal paths to find secret beaches. The harder to find and clamber down to, the better. The evenings are spent in or on the water. Depending on the nature of our holiday beach we head down when the madding crowds have disappeared. The kids will carry or drag surf boards, SUPs or kayaks. We will carry BBQ or a camping cooking stove, booze and lots of blankets. We will make pebble patterns, decorate rocks, look for sea glass, swim, play cricket….. until it’s dark. Rinse and repeat.

Today we are meant to be in Cornwall, for what was our last time with Libby, my eldest,  before she heads to the USA for four years (or forever) and our family becomes the Fab Four instead of the Famous Five. That makes me sick to my stomach. The loss of this particular time by the sea, the last time with my daughter, is felt as pain. The type of physical pain caused by grief. Instead of listening to her laughing in the waves I am experiencing waves of gut wrenching pain.  And there is no abating it. I am grieving.

As an antidote to my ever increasing anxiety that my daughter will soon be flying the nest, my husband and I planned a lot of trips to give me something to focus on and look forward to in 2020. C19 has had other ideas. So far the virus has robbed me of a trip to Ireland and planned swims at Greystones and the Forty Foot. And now, like so many others, a family Easter holiday. I am not hopeful that our annual extended family (cousins, aunts, grand parents and siblings) holiday will go ahead at the end of May. This year a house, called The Beach House, had been booked in Dorset for the duration. Daily sea swims on my doorstep and the prospect of encouraging family members to join me. They always do, as they know how much it means to me. They do it for me which makes me all kinds of happy.

I know I need to accept the things I cannot control. The wise ones on social media have all shared their Venn diagrams, 12 steps to recovery and ways to change your mindset. I’ve had enough Acceptance Commitment CBT to last a lifetime. Acceptance will most likely cure the sea sickness. But acceptance isn’t something that I find easy. It took me long enough to accept that my wiring is rigged differently causing a frazzled brain  – but when my freedom is compromised – asking me to accept under the constraints of the current situation –  it’s asking too much. So grieving continues, and I know it will subside with time, but I won’t be rushed into it by trying to accept, to me, the unacceptable. I accept no swimming in the sea. I accept no pints in the pub. I do not accept my stolen family time, away from home, by the sea.

Instead of acceptance, I go for swims in my mind. I really realise how that sounds. Like the wise words of someone on social media!  But I’m going anyway and you are very welcome to come with me.

With April comes warmer seas and the end to winter storms. In theory. Things don’t always go according to plan as Mother Nature has firmly shown us over the last few weeks. But what is always true is that when April arrives, the sea temperature begins to rise quite rapidly. The  prevailing wind swings back from NW to SW bringing warmer air over the Atlantic. After the prolonged sunshine of recent weeks I would estimate the sea temperature is now a comfortable 12 degrees – warm enough for head in swimming.  

So my swim bag includes goggles again and footwear is flip flops. I cycle down to the seafront armed just with a towel , flask of tea, a book, hat, goggles and my cossie. I make my way across the shingle, towards  the sea, winter apprehension replaced by a spring in my step. I am on the look out for a spot, flat, sheltered from the wind but in the sunshine, away from people. There’s space by the breakwater. One of the wooden ones, I prefer. I love the colour they bleach to over time and the how smooth the sea has made them. There are always posts and knots that can be used to hang towels and perch cups of tea. Sheltered from the wind.

It’s mid tide, so deep enough to swim but enough beach exposed to not be busy. Course sand and small shingle are at the shore line. I settle in front of a shingle bank, by the breakwater and begin to spread out my things, claiming my spot. As I begin to strip off I watch the sea. I should be watching to work out which way to swim and where to get in. But I’m not, I’m just quietly watching. The swim has started. 

I have a unique way of entering the water. I just walk until I have to swim. No fuss, and at this time of the year no swearing. The winter frantic first strokes and floating on my back have been replaced with a gentle glide. The current is strong pulling me west so I swim east toward the West Pier. The sun is in my face making it hard to sea but there is a sunlit trail of sparkle to swim in. After a while I slip into an easy head in freestyle. My face, hands and feet are cold but I am able to find a rhythm. I haven’t seen the seabed for months but now I am able to follow the lines in the sand again.

I don’t want to stay in for too long. Not because I am afraid of the cold but because I want to stay on the beach for a while post swim. I turn and float with the current – occasional strokes but really letting the sea do all the work. I swim until my knees scrap the shingle and stand up.  I stay near the shore for a while, diving under the water again and again. I don’t feel I’ve had a dip unless I have fully immersed myself and the pointy toe perfection of a handstand does not come without practice.

Back on the beach I throw on a towel and face the sun. The wind is warm and I close my eyes for a few moments. There’s no post swim high, fuelling a fierce need to get dry and dressed fast. There’s a slow sedate contentment that the sea was cold enough to still feel it on the shore and will remain for a while. I am not high, I am content. I stay until the comfortable chill tells me it’s time to go.

When home, I hang my things out to dry in the garden.  Radiator drying is no longer required. My feet are still cold, slippers are donned and shingle is still caught between my toes. It makes me smile. Hours later I can still taste the salt on my face and the skin on my shins begins to crack. In  the hot sun of the summer this can be unbearable, but in the spring it’s a welcome reminder of my swim. I stay salty all day.

So until the sea sickness subsides I will continue to head to the beach in my head. Next time I may step over that shingle to find a bunch of seabirds there. I imagine the new dawn when Seabirds reassemble will be something quite spectacular.

Author: Seabirds Kath

 

The Great Tit Weekend  – Part II – A Tale of Two Seabirds

We had the most wonderful weekend in Wales at The Great Tit Weekend.

 

Cath and Kath do a ton of stuff together. By the very nature of being business partners our daily lives are entwined. We share values, experiences and thoughts on an almost daily basis. More recently we have been told that we look alike and asked if we are sisters, (what parent would call both their daughters Katharine/Catherine?).  It would seem, to the onlooker, we are morphing into the same person. But we couldn’t be more different. So this week’s blog is written by both of us about our shared experience of the Great Tit Weekend from our differing perspectives.

13 Salty Seabirds went to Wales for a weekend of sea swimming.

 

Kath’s Story

I was really looking forward to swimming in Wales, I have visited Pembrokeshire a few times before at different stages of my life but not since being a Salty Seabird. So exploring the beautiful quiet coves in the water rather than from a cliff top or harbour wall was really appealing. But as the day to depart drew ever closer I began to get anxious. I manage my mental health by balancing my life with regular downtime which includes swimming. But the other tools in my box are sleeping, reading, walking – all of which I do in solitude and silence.

I have learnt that, although I enjoy the company of others, after a while I need time away. This is for lots of reasons, the main ones being;  i) I am deaf on one side and the constant white noise of crowds being filtered out so I can actually engage in a conversation is really tiring. So is lip reading and my eyes are constantly darting around trying to keep up with the conversation ii) when you have anxiety, as I do in groups, particularly in groups I don’t know, suppressing the urge to run out of a room or finding the strength to enter a room is exhausting. The idea of bunk house accommodation, with nowhere to hide, a definite lack of sleep and meeting new people is my worst nightmare. But the fresh air, beautiful countryside, like-minded lovely people and new places to swim and explore are a dream come true. I can’t stop the waves but I can swim in them!

So how was it? It was wonderful. I had my moments of silent screams but they came and went. When Cath went to the room early on Saturday night every part of me wanted to follow her but I didn’t, I stayed and I danced and I laughed and I wasn’t just OK I was happy. Sunday morning I went down to breakfast on my own, saw Laura in the queue and devoured a full fry content with her charismatic company. On the way back from Abercastle swim I struck up a conversation with a stranger and we didn’t stop talking until we go back to our cars. I sat blissfully at peace, quietly with Claudine on the pebbles after a morning swim. I jumped naked into the Blue lagoon to a rapturous round of applause with Sam and Kelly.

All of this was possible because of the sisterhood of swimmers. The brilliant Blue Tits that organised the weekend and the Salty Seabirds, some of whom I had never met, that joined me for a weekend away. The sense of connection and community amongst us was strong and the smiles never stopped. The post swim highs continued into the follow week as I remembered more moments of joy and fun. Naked women in cow troughs, freezing foofs and questionable dancing. People helping others into or out of the water. People sharing stories, advice and friendship. Not once were the memorable moment’s ones of fear or stomach knots.

I’m never going to be able to approach new faces and places like Cath. She has a rare gift of being able to talk to anybody, I watch her with people in awe. She is naturally warm and friendly and brings an energy to social situations that can’t be described. I can jump off a 12 metre cliff naked but I struggle to talk to strangers. Which is why two C/Kaths are better than one.

Cath’s Story

I was really excited about the Blue Tit Weekender. I haven’t done much wild swimming away from home and Brighton and had seen so many beautiful photos. I was looking forward to meeting the Blue Tits too. They seemed like our gang. Lairy women embracing the cold with two fingers up at ‘middle age’.

I did manage to mess up my foot 5 days before we went so I was worried about not being able to get about. Extra footwear in the bag and off we went. 4 of us in the car up the motorway. A long old journey punctured with essential (and usually slightly overdue!) wee stops and lots of chat. It was a good laugh – like weekends away when we were younger. Lots of laughs and singing along to shit old songs on the radio. Hannah commented as we nearly arrived that “I had nearly forgotten that this wasn’t the fun bit” we had such a good time. Of course Kath was driving so I can’t speak for how much she enjoyed the journey up! (Thanks Kath!)

On arrival there was a lovely smiley Blue Tit in a dryrobe pointing out the way down to the reception and more smiley women waiting in the canteen as people gradually arrived.  I felt comfortable amongst these people – they were our gang and we fitted straight in.  One of the smiley woman waved and pointed at her ‘SaltyAF’ Seabirds hoodie – this was Loz, Lorraine in our Salty Seabird Group. Hadn’t managed to meet us at a swim yet but had signed up and come along to join us. Brilliant! She and husband Andy fitted right in with us and we fitted in with all the others.

The whole gang (100 of us) mainly, but not solely, BlueTits shared a common love and a common purpose – to enjoy the water and enjoy the hell out of the weekend. Within that environment everyone was inclusive, friendly and chatty. We met two young women from Manchester (who we named the ‘Mancy Tits’) who had come along knowing nobody. They came and hung out with us when we went for a swim on Saturday afternoon. Someone joined us on that swim who had grown up 20 minutes from me and had headed up to Wales to swim without remembering the BlueTit Weekend was on! When in the waves together all barriers are down.

Saturday night and I was starting to feel tired and flagging a bit  – but Kath got the Salty gang in the mood with all over face tattoos courtesy of Hannah, Laura dished out beards and pirate accessories and we got in the swing of it enjoying the evening’s entertainment. There was a powerful sense of community and camaraderie in the songs and the room that really moved me.

The overall highlight for me was the Blue Lagoon swim on Sunday morning – as I limped round the path heading down to the water we were greeted by the sight of a great mass of women. Colourful swim hats, cosies and robes to naked fabulousness. It warmed my heart and made me glad to be alive. We are empowered, proud of what our body does not what it looks like. It really looked and felt like being in a fairy story or legend, I had rounded a corner and come upon the powerful women, Selkies or Swim Witches. Happy in their skin. Wonderful.

Now I am a bit shyer, and “British” about the nakedness. Not bothered at all if others want to, but a bit shy to get my own personal tits out. Not at the Blue Lagoon. Off it came and in I went and it felt amazing. Powerful. Joining the sea witchy coven! Then to look up and see Kath coasteering stark naked and jumping in from a high drop to great applause. Fan-bloody-tastic. So glad to have found my tribe I love them all. Yes, I can talk to strangers but I doubt very much I will ever be able to jump off a cliff naked (or otherwise!) like Kath, especially in front of over 100 people – legend! (and thanks again for driving all the way up and back and the extra bits to save my mashed up toe x)

Thank you to all that joined us in Wales from Brighton and to all the lovely Tits we met over the weekend. It really was a wonderful weekend. The magic of the sea cast it’s spell and strangers left as friends.

Next year Scotland. Who’s in?

Safe harbour when you’re swimming for your life

being buoyed up by a Salty swimming community when your wellbeing is wobbly

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