One Flew Over the Seabirds Nest

Navigating a new world without the salty seabirds is a new learning. Simply being, eating and sleeping is enough right now. No pressure.

The sun is shining. The sea is inviting. I have the luxury of time on my hands. My family are all around me. All that’s missing are animated bluebirds chirping around my head. But we’re day one of lock down. I can’t enjoy the sun and the sea. I have time on my hands because I have no paid work to do. And there is definitely chirping around and in my head, and it’s not the seabird post swim chatter or the beautiful bluebird.  

I don’t naturally do slow pace, unless I am drop dead worn out or asleep. But I have learnt to do slow pace. After many years of approaching everything I do with plans, speed and efficiency I have learnt, the hard way, that I need rest to manage my mental health. Rest appears on the list and in the plan to ensure it is a task completed before we get to the drop dead worn out stage which is normally accompanied by a period of being unwell. Still not always able to spot the signs of when it’s needed, so being in the schedule, like a dog walk or a sea swim ensures it happens.

As well as the slower pace, there are a lot of silver linings to lock down. There’s the book you never got round to reading. The cupboard that is due a big clear out. The garden that needs weeding as spring sunshine encourages growth. But are we putting too much pressure on ourselves to learn the piano or to crochet when we are already trying to navigate a new world? My new reality worry is that I will have too much rest. Yes this is how my ever firing amygdalas work. They can create an anxious thought in the calmest of situations. As the world slows down my adrenaline production does not.

So my new reality is sharing my, what I thought was, spacious house with another 3 humans. I have created a space to hide myself away from them when I need to. And I need to. And as a result I am finding myself partaking in certain self-care activities a lot more than I am used to. Reading in an armchair. Staying in bed longer in the mornings. Afternoon naps. The problem is, this self-care is so similar to my depression symptoms that they can actually become the problem! Yes I need rest, but I also need a good dose of heart rate raising exercise, cold water stimulation and the company of the salted wellbeing community.  Hibernation and social isolation mimic my response to feeling down, and then we get ourselves in a wonderful cycle of what came first, the chicken or the egg.

The pressure people are putting on themselves to use this new found ‘time’ wisely during lock down is counterproductive in some cases. Definitely in my case. As we keep being told, these are unprecedented times. This isn’t just a turn of phrase – humans, literally do not have a standard response to a global pandemic. We are all trying to adjust to new home life dynamics and routines whilst trying to home school and earn a living. Why the fuck is now the best time to start a new hobby or learn a new language? I feel we should all receive gold stars for making it through the day. (If you have children at home, 2 gold stars if they have been fed and watered.)

Keeping the Seabirds business and swimming community going is enough pressure right now. I will learn Italian another time. Without our regular sea and tea time together we are suffering. And alongside many others we have witnesses our income disappear overnight.  Our wonderful Wild Swim Shop is our financial Tow Float earns us revenue which funds our work on our water and wellbeing projects. Again when we consider how to spend this time wisely promoting our wares to keep our heads above water has taken a bit of a bashing. Trying to keep the normally self-regulating flock afloat is now at the forefront. We specifically chose not to be a club with a committee and a constitution for a reason. But we have found ourselves in uncharted waters making Chief Seabird announcements and updates to deal with our changing world.

Just as the virus hit, Seabirds were on the cusp of growing. Our hard work was beginning to pay dividends. We’d been in Coast Magazine, and were due to be in Top Santé and will be in Outdoor Swimmer magazine. The numbers in our swimming community were soaring. Sales in the Wild Swim shop were encouraging and new products and stock were being added on a regular basis. We had swimposiums, pop ups and ‘Women, Wellbeing and Water’ courses planned for the summer months. And the cherry on the cake was our beloved 12 Moon Swim project exhibition curated by top bird Coral, being unveiled at the Fringe Festival. But all of this is now on hold. AND, confession time, I am a bit relieved the pressure is off!

Exciting times were imminent and they are still ahead, just a bit further away on the horizon. The time not being spent dispatching orders just means we have more time to plan. We have so many ideas about where Seabirds will take us next sometimes we don’t have time to sit back and appreciate all it has become and all it can be. When we started Seabirds we had an idea of what it would look like but it grew in some directions we hadn’t planned and halted in the places we thought would be more successful. We have been reflecting since January on the changes we would like to make in tandem with growing and nurturing what we already have. And we were concerned about how we would fit it all in whilst maintaining strict work/life balance boundaries. Now, as the world slows down, we can catch up. We can still do all the things we wanted to do, it’s just the finish line is further away.

It is very much a time to batten down the hatches and learn to adapt to a new world for the foreseeable future. This is the ONLY learning I will be doing. And this is what I have learnt so far;

  • My husband is paying the mortgage and bills solo for the next few months and now he is a permanent member of the crew I just need to suck it up
  • Ditto Bosun daughter and Cabin Boy son – who I will not be attempting to home school
  • I’ve got it good – and I am grateful (Although I don’t always sound it)
  • When your access to the outdoors is threatened the entire population of the South East of England makes their way to Brighton beach
  • Britain’s favourite food is anything tinned or dried
  • Britain is also partial to a clean bottom
  • That using a delivery service for groceries (Ocado), loo rolls (Who gives a Crap) and milk (Milk and More) for years was the best decision I ever made for the environment and now my stress levels
  • You can watch the Harry Potter films an infinite amount of times and it never gets old or boring.
  • I love Matt Haig more than I ever thought I could.
  • Mother Nature has a dark sense of humour by sending us a deadly virus and then sending us constant uninterrupted sunshine.

In some aspects the world is becoming a better place. Big industry impact on the environment is paused. We are getting to know our neighbours and considering the impact of our actions on others. I hope we all organically learn from our new world and continue the good habits the nation is now adopting. Kindness in the community, a love for the outdoors, looking after ourselves physically and emotionally. There will always be room for shit telly in my life but hopefully in the future balanced with a gratitude of my freedom, access to the sea and shared tea and cake with the Salty Seabirds. Lesson over!

Author: Seabird Kath

 

Swim Wild and Free

Swimming in the outdoors is free, BUT not everyone has equal access, availability or awareness.

If your social media accounts are anything like mine, you will be bombarded on a daily basis with beautiful images of the outdoors encouraging you to spend time in nature. Many are accompanied by the hashtag #free. The outdoors is free but is it accessible?

Spending time in nature, appears on the surface, (or below the waves), to be free. But having the luxury of free time to spend anywhere is a exorbitance many cannot afford. I recently read Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article in the Guardian about the masses of white middle class women claiming the new craze of Wild Swimming as their own when people have been doing it since time began. At first, my heckles went up. How dare she assume that I am part of the urban elite romanticising swimming in the outdoors! But the fact that I had bought and read the article in the Guardian in itself showed me to be the privileged white middle class woman that I am. And swimming in the sea on a regular basis to manage my mental health is free and accessible for me, but not everyone has equal access. Gallingly, Rhiannon has a point.

Brighton and Hove is a very bohemian place to live. It’s a very popular place for artists, writers musicians and the like to reside. We differ from the political landscape that surrounds us but like any city there are still pockets of significant social deprivation. There are a substantial number of Brightonians that have never been to the beach let alone swim in the sea. Quite a different story to the front page of the tabloids of packed beaches in the summer and historical Victorian seaside spa town built for the middle classes.

I made ‘wild’ swimming my job. I work with the other Seabird Cath, and we choose when and where we work (to a degree). My kids are teenagers and pretty self sufficient. I am financially stable thanks to a long suffering and hard working husband. I am confident in the water after a lifetime of swimming in the sea. I can swim pretty much when I want to, or at least when the sea is suitable for swimming. So it is free, to me.

But…….my circumstances are not the norm. I am privileged. That’s not to say I don’t have mental health issues, but I have access to and time to partake in activities that benefit my wellbeing. My choice is to swim in the sea. And there it is. That word. Choice. I know it is an option and I choose to do it.

wild and free

Sea swimming is free and available to all, in theory. But there are many obstacles that people face getting in the water or even considering it an option. There are many residents of Brighton and Hove who never visit the beach and swimming in the sea is not in their line of sight. This is because, whilst being on the beach and in the sea (river or lake) doesn’t cost money, not everyone has equal access, availability or awareness.

Many groups and communities face a lot of barriers to outdoor activities which include wild swimming. Outdoor fun is a privilege some cannot afford. It is easy to overlook inequality when you are part of a community that has access and benefits. It is undeniable that there is a lack of diversity and inclusion in the outdoor swimming community. Not intentionally but still undeniably.

As part of the Salty Seabird community, I know how much the cold water, connecting with others and being in nature improves my mental health. As Seabirds CIC we want others to realise this too. Last year we received National Lottery funding to run our ‘Women, Water and Wellbeing’ (WWW) programme with local mental health charity Threshold Womens’ Services, who referred participants to us.

It was a huge success, with the majority of the participants still regularly swimming with us. It was an unexpected outcome to be part of a thriving flock of fellow sea swimmers. Without intention we created an inclusive community where all are welcome. However, we remain mainly middle class white women! And we can only assume why this is the case. Is it due to our name and the female association with the word bird? Is a group of semi naked women screeching on the beach intimidating to other potential swimmers, particularly men? Is it because the times we swim are when those with more traditional occupations are working? Is it because many residents of the city do not have childhoods or backgrounds that encouraged outdoor activities?

What is clear is that Society’s hierarchies of ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, body size, and economic class do not miraculously disappear in the sea.  And what is needed is an understanding of what is preventing certain communities in our city from accessing the sea and potentially improving their wellbeing. Particularly communities that are socially and economically deprived.

Although in principle all you need to swim is a swimming costume, there are certain pieces of equipment that make wild swimming more manageable. On our famous shingle beaches only the hardy go without footwear. And if you wish to swim year round, neoprene accessories such as gloves and hats make the experience a bit more enjoyable – which is the aim after all. Not everyone can afford these.

As said, in principle all you need is a swimming costume, which most people own, but some do not have the confidence to put on, let alone in public. A negative body image can prevent people, particularly women, from taking part in activities that requires them to wear forms of sportswear. And there is no where to hide in a wet-suit. Some people simply can’t swim. They have either never learnt or have a bad relationship with swimming based on previous experience. Our group is very keen to promote the notion that paddling, dipping, sitting in the shallows and just getting wet, is in fact outdoor swimming!

Wild swimming requires a certain level of knowledge. Knowing it is an option and recognising that there are ways to improve your wellbeing. Pockets of the population have limited time to have fun and are unaware of communities residing in their local area partaking in outdoor activities. In times of austerity people are working more than one job and longer hours just to make ends meet and when they are not working have responsibilities for young children or is more common now, caring for ageing parents. Or both. These potential swimmers may be completely unaware of outdoor swimming.

There is also a certain level of skill and confidence needed to swim outdoors. Although I am the co-founder of our Salty Seabird community group I personally wouldn’t rock up on my own to meet a group of people I don’t know to swim in the sea. I, like many others who suffer from anxiety, would need a more structured first session where others were in the same boat. I do not like meeting new people and although I have the physical skills to swim outdoors I do not have the confidence to swim with strangers. Knowing where to go and how to get there is knowledge born of experience. Not everyone lives by a large body of water and if they do is it safe to swim.

The list of why swimming in the outdoors is not accessible and available to all is lengthy. And not all of the obstacles can be overcome. But some can. In 2020 the WWW programme intends to work with an increased number of vulnerable people. Additional access to structured sea swimming sessions will transition non-swimming women into wild swimmers that will have a new way of improving their mental and physical health safely and confidently. Our approach will be to work with community development groups in the city that already have trusted relationships with women for whom, wild swimming is not even on their radar.

As a Community Interest Company, Seabird’s aim to provide a way for local people to manage their wellbeing by using sea swimming and friendship. The community courses we facilitate specifically focus on people that would not otherwise be able to access the sea/beach without guidance. We can provide the equipment, transport, childcare, flexible times and a nurturing community to encourage and teach the skills to provide the confidence to women. The sessions provide support to members with a wide range of issues, including anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem, loneliness and long term health conditions. Our aim is to give participants the skills, confidence and self-belief they need to enjoy sea swimming, no matter what additional challenges they face. We recognise that everyone person is different and each responds to challenges differently. But we believe that with the right assistance and support they can do it!

Author: Seabird Kath

N.B We recognise that there are men in the local community who would also benefit from swimming in the sea but we do not feel we are the right organisation to facilitate courses for male groups. The same can be said for communities that have come together based on shared experiences of race, gender identity and sexual orientation. We are also aware that the middle classes can be mentally ill too, just because they have greater access to free and paid for self-care doesn’t mean it is not needed. However, our 2020 aim is to encourage women, in areas of socio-economic deprivation, who would not normally easily access sea swimming as a tool to maintain wellbeing and yet are in great need of it, to give it a go.

 

Mama and the Sea!

Guest Blog by Salty Seabird Eloise.

Why I swim in the sea in winter? Several people have asked me to write more but I never have because it feels a little vulnerable. I write Facebook posts sharing windows into my life and I get such a warm response so I thought, fuck it. Here we are.

I would take my daughter, Odetta, down to the sea every evening just to kill that awful hour at 4pm when it’s too early to feed the beast and too late to take her anywhere in public without her having an exhaustion meltdown. Just as the sun would be setting I’d put so many layers on her that she would resemble a burst couch, tufts of wild blonde hair sprouting from her thick wool hat. The hat itself was way too big and would end up resting on those big pink cheeks she inherited from me. I would stop at Costa and get us hot chocolates to warm our hands as we made our way down to that beautiful blue. Sometimes when I walk with her hand in mine I have to pause to take in the fact I created this little wildling and those hands still seem so tiny in mine.

I started this ritual of going to the beach every evening when she was about 6 months old. Why? because being a single mum sucks sometimes. Winter nights start so early and once that baby is down I was sat in a small basement flat in Hove on my own. Those moments down the beach were a haven to me. Other families would be catching the last of the sun too and there was so much laughter and joy. Sometimes my heart would ache a little as my family didn’t work out how I wanted it too and I didn’t have that person to share the joy of my girl with, but I did my best to stay present in that moment and not get lost in the “What ifs”. That was relatively easy to do as more often then not I would be wrestling stones out of Odetta’s mouth or convincing her that licking old seaweed isn’t the best idea.

One day on our way back from the beach when the little rat bag was lying on the floor refusing to move, I saw two women about to get into that freezing cold sea, dressed just in swimming costumes and bright swim caps. In that moment, when I was so engrossed in my motherhood journey, bribing my child with every snack I could find at the bottom of my bag, exhausted, close to tears, I imagined myself stepping into that water and it gave me a moment of freedom. I felt an energy burst inside of me and I made a promise to find someone who would be mad enough to swim with me.

Turns out that I didn’t have any friends crazy enough. Then someone told me of a swim group called the Salty Seabirds. I joined the Facebook group and saw posts from women all over Brighton and Hove organising different times to meet. Informal, you just show up in whatever state you are in and swim. So on the 10th of Feb I took my pale arse down to the sea, flask in my bag, wrapped in a big jumper and scarf.

The weekends are my weakness, as I hear they are for a lot of single mothers. I would message all of my friends to see who we could tag along with but they would be having family time with their partners who worked during the week (selfish bitches) Which is understandable (it’s not) so often those two days felt the loneliest. Sometimes I’d just wait and see who got sick of their partners first or wait for one of them to have a row (kind of a joke. kind of) but mostly I’d have to just get on with it. Then swimming entered my life and I could bribe a grandparent to have Odie or sometimes she would tag a long with me and moan the entire time about how much she hates everything that’s nice in the world, hence her nickname Edgar Allan O. As soon as I entered that freezing cold water, and yelped and screamed and swore at the top of my lungs, jumping over the waves, I finally felt freedom. Motherhood is beautiful, achingly so, but it’s also the hardest and loneliest journey a woman can take. The sea made me feel ok again, like I could do it, I could be a good mum and a happy woman and those two things could coexist again.

When you take that first gasp as you step into cold water, you remember why you are here. For moments like this. Swimming towards the sun or in rain or sometimes even snow. Your body adjusts and a creeping pink blushes your skin as an addictive sting starts at your toes and works its way up. I’ve laughed so hard I have filled my mouth with sea water, and I’ve washed away tears in the sea too. Children are always watching, and I feel proud my girl is watching her mama do something nourishing and wild. Without those women I swim with, without that sea, I would be a different woman and mother.

Author: Eloise

Note from Seabirds – Eloise has very strong opinions on the type of toppings that are acceptable in polite society to accompany a baked potato.

January doesn’t have to be Blue!

A guest blog by Salty Seabird Claudine – how to beat the blues whatever time of the year it is!

Guest blog by Salty Seabird Claudine

January, hey?  It gets a bad rap.  “New year, new you”, Dry January, Blue Monday.   Not much fun and joy contained in those words.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A couple of years ago when I first discovered the body positive movement, it became so much more than a transformation of how I see myself when I look in the mirror.  I did an exercise called “taking the blinkers off”, and it opened my eyes to the nonsense I’d been fed by the media for so long.  Not only the societal ideal of beauty which for the most part was airbrushed, unrealistic and certainly not what I was ever going to look like, but also to other media bias.  I mean, I had of course known about this and been somewhat mindful of what I chose to read and watch, but suddenly I saw through the lies I’d been blind to before.

One of them was about how depressing January is, and in particular the concept of Blue Monday, the third Monday of the year.  As well as being a song of my youth, it is a concept apparently made up by the travel industry to make people feel particularly low so they book a holiday to escape the grey drudgery of a British winter.  This is despite being “depressed” (obviously, some people actually suffering depression and others just feeling pretty down for a while) and having the Christmas bills coming in whilst waiting desperately for January pay day.

But it doesn’t have to be all bad, does it?  I have the joy of seeing my girl turn another year older each January, always scraping together a party for her after the madness of Christmas.  Although I haven’t made new year resolutions for years, I like to use the start of a fresh year to take stock, think about what’s happened over the last 12 months and give some thought to the 12 months ahead – how I want to be, and how I can achieve that.  And now for the second year, I’m looking forward to swimming (or at the very least dipping on the coldest of days) in some of the lowest water temperatures of the year.  It’s a pleasure to have something to look forward to through winter, and for us cold water lovers and to the confusion of the rest of the population, the colder the better.

 

At the event I curated for iSWIM, entitled Reclaim Blue Monday, we heard from a range of panellists and experts in cold water immersion and blue space.  The discussion was about why and how we benefit from this crazy (as some people see it), pastime of wild swimming, in terms of socially, physiologically, psychologically, spiritually and environmentally.  What does the sea give us; and in return, what can we give the sea?

We heard about the stimulation of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, enabling us to cope better with stress – physically and mentally.  We heard about the transformative, connective and re-orientating power of a swim, especially a chilly one.  We heard about the power of awe, and how immersion in freezing water and being in nature contribute to positive wellbeing.  We heard of the value of the beach and the sea as a therapeutic landscape, and the idea that the more we use the ocean and gain some benefit from it, the more likely we are to care about its wellbeing and take action against water pollution.  It reminded me of the short film, Nature is Speaking, with Julia Roberts voicing “mother nature”, a powerful message about how nature doesn’t depend on us but we depend on it.  Nature has existed for billions of years before us, and will exist long after us, she will evolve no matter what our actions.  But we need to evolve as well if we want to carry on as a species.

All this means much more than the things we might be encouraged to do every new year: cutting out alcohol, stopping smoking, becoming fitter, faster and slimmer, or setting ourselves goals of achievement, smashing our PBs.  It means being mindful of what is around us, of separating the truly important things from those we are told to believe are important.  And for me, this begins in the sea.  It’s a place where I can be myself, get what I need, and take nothing away (apart from plastic I find on the beach).  The sea is a place I can feel free, forget the stresses of the day, week, month, and reset.

Every swim is different and gives me something the last one or the next one may not.  It could be a purely physical refresh, a wake up, a shock to the senses by the prickling of the cold water on my skin, bit by bit as I get in.  It could be the sense of achievement of getting in a bouncy sea, assessing from the shore when and where to get in, whether the waves are too big, how often they are breaking.  Watching the waves break with such power and force, working out where the shelf of the beach is, and how likely it is I’ll get “washing machined” by the shore break.   On these swims I barely notice the cold, too busy trying not to drown.  Once I’m in, I’ll enjoy the swim, but with a little part of me feeling anxious about how difficult it will be to get out, whether I’ll time it right or get knocked over by a wave, and pummelled by stones.

Once I’m out after a swim like this, I feel like I can take on the world!  Or it might be the conversation or uplifting support of fellow swimmers.  I’ve had such a vast range of conversations with people whilst bobbing along beside them, hearing and sharing such profound and personal stories with people I’ve just met, or sometimes sharing my own struggles and letting the overwhelm and anxiety wash away, with my tears, into the salty water.  Other times, it’s the hysterics of the after-drop, the not remembering exactly how to get dressed, the giggles about a risqué comment from another swimmer, or just the fits of laughter that come out of nowhere and are about nothing.

Whatever I get from a swim, whether it’s the things I consciously feel and think, and whatever unconsciously going on in my brain and my body, I always get something good.  Even on the very rare occasion I feel like it wasn’t much fun, I didn’t really enjoy it, felt rubbish as I went in and far from ecstatic coming out, and I got battered with wind and rain trying to get dressed, I’m still convinced I come out feeling better than if I hadn’t gone in.  It’s sometimes hard to put into words what I get from it.  But every time I get in, once I get over the breathlessness of cold shock, I find myself taking a deep inhale, and as I exhale, I always find myself saying, “ahh, that’s better”.  Discovering cold water swimming and meeting the incredible community of i-swimmers and seabirds has certainly cured anything blue about January for me.

Note on the Author; The life-changing film Embrace is being screened again by BoPoFitCo – Christine Chessman and Claudine Nightingill-Rane – a body image coaching duo from Hove. For both of us, and for many more who have seen our previous screenings, it has been a catalyst for a hugely positive change in the way we see ourselves, treat ourselves and the work we do to help others do the same

Sometimes a Seabird needs Grounding

How the sea can set you free from negative thoughts and feelings

Not literally – you can’t clip a seabirds wings and stop it from swimming – but grounding is a technique used to focus on what is happening in the present moment. And we all need that once in a while.

Rumination is my usual state of mind.  It causes me sleepless nights and anxious days,  thinking about things I cannot solve but also cannot accept. I focus on the past and problems rather than the present.  My solution for rumination is grounding.  I need to be bought back to the moment. Sea swimming does this for me

Grounding is a technique that can be used to distract you from negative emotions or challenges. We can use things in our physical environment to do this as way of redirecting our thoughts. The seascape and immersing yourself in the sea is a really good way of doing this.

Being in or around the sea is an absolute assault on the senses so works really well as an environment for grounding. In fact you can ground yourself without actually realising that you are doing it. Your senses focus on everything around you leaving little room for rumination and anxious thoughts.

Part of grounding is not just focusing on something physical but touching something, a tangible object. And what could be better than a large body of water. I love how the seascape changes everyday depending on the sea, weather and tide conditions. I love the changing colour of the sea and sky and have begun to consider different names for them/. A Seabirds colour wheel. I focus on my hands as they glide through the water and provide a perspective on the shade and tone. I have been known to base my decision to swim or not to swim on the colour of the sea. Focusing on my surroundings grounds me.

Against all good safety advice, I enter the water swiftly. Normally because I need a wee (I always need a wee) but also because by nature I am quick to act. It stops me from hesitating and procrastinating at the waters edge – which is just another variant of rumination! My routine is to then take a few head in strokes and flip onto my back to float once well clear of the break line.

Floating as a physical form of grounding is incredible in so many ways. When you enter cold water, particularly when you do it quickly, your breath is literally taken away and you can find yourself gasping for breath. Lying on my back, I am able to regulate my breathing with either deep diaphragmatic breaths, singing (in my head or out loud) and counting. I am present in my breathing. Once my breath regulates I take time to consider how the water feels. Which direction s the current going in so I can decide which direction to swim in. How choppy is it so I can consider which way to breathe or do head out breast stroke. How cold does it feel on my skin and is the burn subsiding. Although the temperature can remain static for weeks on end, how I am feeling mentally and physically changes all the time impacting my ability to cope with cold water. Floating allows me to take stock of this before I venture too far from shore.

Getting in the water is not at simple as it sounds, particularly when faced with a steep shingle shelf. You have to focus on the waves, their size and speed and search for a lull to enter. All done on a floor of shifting shingle whilst you trying to maintain your balance and muster up the courage needed to plunge into cold water. At certain tides,you feel with your shuffling feet for the soft sand that you know you will eventually find making staying on your feet more likely. It’s the same when you are getting out, head swinging from shore to sea to decide when to swim and run like Billy-O. There is no room in your brain to worry about anything else.

Once swimming, I find that moving my body, in long purposeful strokes is a distraction from the day to day. Challenging my arms to ignore the muscle memory of my inefficient stroke and consider my body position in the water. I almost enter a hypnotic state as I count my strokes. Keeping on eye on my direction, location and proximity to other swimmers and shore also keeps my mind occupied. When the water is clear you can use the sand lines to find your way home, swimming through them horizontally until you hit shingle. Then listening to the shingle roar grow louder as the water grows shallower indicating when it is time to stand up. (or do a handstand!)

As well as physical grounding techniques there are also mental ones. Most of them are not intended to prevent rumination but to ensure I have a joyful swim. There are preparations to be made when you go for a sea swim in Brighton. You can’t just grab and towel and jump in. Well you can but it is not advisable. Where and when we swim is dictated by the tides and conditions so being able to read various complicated apps becomes a girl guide badge mission. Once on the beach,  a review of your swim area also helps you focus on the here and now.  Are there other beach/sea users, where are your safe entry and exit points, are your clothes lined up ready to be quickly pulled over your head post swim. Do you have your underwear and is it wrapped in a hot water bottle! All of this occupies your mind so your anxious thoughts can’t.

In all of these ways and many more the sea provides a way for me to manage my negative thoughts and feelings. The sea, as a brilliant oxymoron, can ground you! The sea sets me free!

Author: Seabird Kath

 

 

 

 

Story of the Seabirds

This is us. The Seabirds. Who we are and why we do it!

Cath and Kath LOVE the Sea and Swimming in it. Our first winter swim-through was 2017. We didn’t plan it, we just never felt like stopping. It never got too hard or painful and always felt worth it. It made us feel happier and kept us buzzing. It very quickly became the thing that we hadn’t realised we needed but really, really did and we recognised the huge benefits to our wellbeing from it. Couldn’t give it up. So glad to have found it. So became a bit ‘evangelical’ about the whole sea swimming and wellbeing thing…

Swimspiration

One day when we were having a swim and floating about on some pretty bouncy waves we thought – we could share this with other people – everyone should be doing this! – its so good for our wellbeing. This is how Seabirds was born. The name came from Cath, she realised one day that they had become ‘those old birds that get in the sea every day’ that she had admired from afar while staying dry (how did I live without the sea in my life??!!! Cath). Now proud to embrace this title and new life enriched by the sea, we called ourselves and our venture, Seabirds…..

Social Enterprise

We didn’t want to start a charity knowing the vagaries of funding and grants etc. We wanted to run our project sustainably and self sufficiently – so we started a Community Interest Company with the profits going to fund Seabirds‘ ‘Water and Wellbeing’ community work…..

Seabirds’ Wild Swim Shop

We sell swim stuff in our online Wild Swim Shop and we run courses, talks and sessions. All profits go towards our Salted Wellbeing work. We source swimmy items that make sea swimming more comfortable – robesgoggleshats, tow floats etc. We take the quality and ethics of the products we source very seriously. We spend a lot of time choosing and testing before we decide to sell them (a fun bit!)….

 

‘Women Wellbeing and Water’

Sea swimming is free and available to all, in theory…but there are many obstacles that people face getting in the water or even considering it an option. There are many residents of Brighton who never even visit the beach. We know how much the cold, the community and being immersed in nature help us and we want others to realise this too. So our main aim is to get those who would not normally easily access sea swimming as a tool to maintain wellbeing and yet are in great need of it. We got lottery funding to run our ‘Women, Water and Wellbeing‘ course in 2018 with local mental health charity Threshold to refer participants to us. It was a great success and we plan more for next ‘warm season’.

Salty Seabirds

Our swim community (currently at over 1000 members!) was born when we held our pilot session for our Women, Wellbeing and Water course and many of the participants wanted to keep swimming then and there. It is an unexpected joy to be part of a thriving flock of fellow sea swimmers. Swimming, silliness, support, handstands, hugs, friendship and general playful messing about and cake. Its all bloody brilliant. An inclusive community where all are welcome. Turns out we all need more of this in our lives!

So that is our Seabird story (so far anyway!). You support our work every time you buy your swim stuff from us and share our social media posts. Thank you! We genuinely do little happy dances every time we make a sale. Do come for a swim and share the swim love with us if you haven’t already, it has changed our lives and we are very glad.

With love,

Cath and Kath

Directors of Seabirds Ltd, Community Interest Company

It’s not only fine feathers that make fine birds

An afternoon modelling swimwear with creative, kind and accomplished women left this Seabird walking on water.

So this week I have been a swimwear model. Fortunately it was a sunny day in Brighton as I was photographed wearing very little apart from Deakin & Blue Swimwear. An easy collaboration for me.

The company was created by a formidable female, who promotes body positivity and rejects mainstream media and it’s enthusiasm for airbrushing.

As a sea swimmer who cares deeply about the state of our seas, this swimwear is made from ocean friendly econyl.

 

Photographer         

The photographer for the shoot was Coral, the face behind the camera at Salt Images. Coral is not only brilliant at what she does she is also brilliant with people which evident in the images she creates. She has a very gentle approach and is almost ethereal in her movements. You cannot help but be drawn to her and when you get there, you feel safe. She, like me, is a big believer in the healing power of the sea and captures this in every photograph.

Concept and Direction

Rosie is a woman of many talents. She set up Deakin & Blue swimwear brand as a direct response to not being able to find a swimming costume that fitted and made her feel good.  She has a hands on approach when it comes to her business and when she is not revolutionising swimwear she can be found answering customer queries, providing a very personal approach. On this day, she was the creative director as no-one knows the concept better than the woman that created it!

Models

There were 5 models that day, myself included but due to the timings of the shoot I only had the pleasure of meeting Mel. Mel had travelled all the way up from the West Country and was staying in Brighton for a few days so she joined the Salty Seabirds for a couple of swims while she was here. Mel has an infectious smile and a strong sense of adventure. She epitomises wild cold swimming and I can see why she stood out from the crowd and was asked to be a model for the day.

Me

I was modelling a couple of cosies and I stripped off quite happily as I am accustomed to doing on the beach on a regular basis. When I realised everyone on the seafront could see me, I just turned around to preserve a modicum of dignity. I have never had a problem with body confidence. When asked to adjust my swimwear, again I was more than comfortable to pull it down and have a good root around until I had put it on properly. But I was dreading being in front of the camera.

I have been eating and drinking a lot lately and am in a bit of a funk. So not overly happy with the way I look at the moment. Along with low resilience comes low self-esteem – like an unhappily married couple. But it was more than that. It was a low level, quiet but constant, internal dialogue that I really didn’t know was there. Until I listened and it gained an external self-depreciating voice.

I cannot believe how many negative comments I made about myself all day. It began to get embarrassing. Loosely disguised as humour I pointed out all of the bits I am less than fond of. Teenage tattoos, small boobs, pebble pedicured feet. Even in response to the positive comments I was receiving I was able to turn them into a negative. Think “Your hair looks amazing in that shot” “yeah I had it cut and coloured recently, it normally looks like a bleached birds nest”.

The reasons why we think such negative thoughts about our bodies is well documented. No one is immune and body confidence doesn’t translate into body positivity. But I was still astonished at the volume and frequency of my negative thoughts. I assumed I was body positive as the older I get the less I give a toss what others think of me. But it turns out that’s not as true as I thought. Yes I have a strong attitude, yes I wear what I want, and no I don’t wear makeup, brush my hair or shower very often. But the internal dialogue is still there.

Alongside an awakening that I have more work to do in the body positivity department was a wonderful afternoon in amazing company. An all-female cast of photographer, make-up artist, models and CEO all creating a hugely positive environment. The energy was off the scale. I learnt that what I see as flaws others see as beauty and strength. Turns out these ‘flaws’ are what makes me stand out and why I was asked to model. I felt fierce in front of the camera!

In the company of other strong, successful, kind and considerate women of the water I felt at ease and empowered. Seeing myself through someone else’s eyes uplifted me and encouraged me to see myself as others do. A sea swimmer with a strong and capable body that can rock a mango and coral swim suit. In that moment I was body positive. Their comments, and how I felt that afternoon will stay with me forever.

Try it. Say something positive to people. If we do it enough to each other it may just drown out the negative thoughts.

Author: Seabird Kath

Note from the Author: I am now the proud owner of the mango and coral swimsuit and have taken her out on her maiden voyage. Two complete strangers complimented me on how wonderful it looked as I made my way into the sea.  I could have walked on water – but I didn’t – I got in and had a swim!

 

We Came, We Swam, We Conquered

On World Mental Health Day, a reflection on our Women, Wellbeing and Water courses. We are all water warriors in our own way. Salty Seabirds swim group was set up as somewhere to signpost people that self identified as having mental health or wellbeing issues. A safe haven for them to enjoy the sea.

For as long as we have been swimming together, Catherine and I have talked of making the sea accessible to others. In the sea, where all the best ideas are borne, we came up with Women, Wellbeing and Water. A course aimed at giving women the confidence to get in the sea for respite and relaxation and to escape the day to day. 

With the help of a National Lottery grant and funding from Paddle Round the Pier Charity Festival, we have been able to turn our talk into action. We have the beaches of Brighton and Hove on our doorstep but it is still under-utilised by so many. The idea was to help women that wouldn’t normally have the confidence to don a swimsuit or wetsuit access the benefits of sea swimming that we have both experienced over the last few years. We know how much sea swimming has helped us and people around us, to get through some difficult times.

We ran a pilot session in September 2018 after funding was secured, which allowed us to try out our ideas and gain valuable feedback from participants. Then in June this year we launched our first course. All swimmers on the course were referred to us by Brighton Housing Trust’s Threshold Women’s Services. The service supports those with issues including anxiety, depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, parenting issues, birth trauma and perinatal depression. The demand for the course was high and it was full within 24 hours.

We very much intended the course to be participant led, free from arbitrary goals. As part of the pre-course paperwork we asked them what they hoped to gain from the course. We knew our aims, what were theirs? Confidence was a reoccurring theme.

Greater confidence around other people and in the water particularly. More knowledge about being in the water and it’s benefits.”

“Confidence and resilience”

“Confidence and company”

“The confidence and momentum to swim regularly in the sea”

“Happiness, enjoyment, confidence”

And this aim really struck a chord as it echoed our reason for swimming in the sea!

“Positive mental and physical wellbeing and a return to who I truly am rather than the stressed version of my current self”

 

After our pilot session we were contacted by Dr Heather Massey from the University of Portsmouth. She and her colleagues are working on a research funding application to investigate the use of outdoor swimming for depression. As a result they need as much controlled quantitative data as possible relating to ‘new’ swimmers. If you ask an existing wild swimmer if they think it has a positive impact on their wellbeing they are liable to wax lyrical for what seems like forever. What Heather and her team need is data relating to swimmers that identified as having wellbeing issues and were ‘new’ to sea swimming. So our swimmers completed questionnaires before their first swim, after their first swim at at the end of the course to measure any changes in their levels of wellbeing, which we hope will provide more insight. Whilst we understand the need for this type of data collection in the world of academia, especially if you want to effect change, we were more drawn to the wonderful anecdotal comments………

How have you found outdoor swimming?

It was amazing experience, so freezing, joyful and hypnotising. Life giving and relaxing. Friendly atmosphere and felt so looked after.

Fantastic. It has been great learning about the sea, current, tides etc but the sense of a group experiencing the water together is lovely

Life affirming. It has lifted my mood and given  the confidence and encouragement to plan on making it a regular habit.

Will you swim in the outdoors again?

Definitely yes. It was life giving experience to feel nature,  waves and still feel safe as I was look after well in the water by Cathy. I loved sound and feel of the sea, which made me feel happy, relaxed and enthusiastic. I feel energetic, optimistic included and better to deal with problems and chronic pains in the future. Thank you for a great experience.

Yes. I’ve joined the seabirds and started swimming with others. Its life enhancing actually life changing. Thanks so much!

I will definitely swim outdoors again – in fact I have already ventured in a couple of times between lessons. I feel so grateful to have had the privilege of being amongst such kind and encouraging experienced swimmers and I would really like to start meeting up. I would also like to maybe learn how to do the crawl, and would like to hear of any lessons….

The reference to swimming with others, the sense of community and connection which provided the confidence to swim in the sea. This is at the heart of the Salty Seabird Sea Swimming group. So much so, that many of our group volunteered to join the new swimmers each week to swim, guide, assist, chat with them. And drink tea and eat cake with them at the end of every session of course. It is these swimmers that encouraged the new swimmers, happy to pass on their skills and experience, happy to welcome them into our flock. As the new swimmers gained confidence, the Salty Seabirds gained new members. That was our aim. And that was the new swimmers aim.

A huge thank you to Catherine, Mel, Alex, Claudine, Emma, Maria, Sam, Hannah and  Libby. And welcome to our new Salty Seabirds.

Right time to start planning the next course………..

Swim Yourself Happy

I was recently approached to write a piece to be included in a book. An anthology of personal stories of how a range of activities and hobbies help people manage their depression and mental health. The brief was to focus on why sea swimming helps my mental health and how it helps me. So, whilst I was incredibly flattered I was also incredibly nervous. My thoughts normally dictate what I write and  they are very much my anecdotal ramblings. Now there are rules and a format! Anyway, here is the first draft, I hope you like it. 

Picture this; A cold crisp winters day on the beach, wind whipping along the shore, foreboding pewter coloured waves and …….a bunch of scantily clad people smiling and squealing in the sea. I am likely to be one of them.

I swim in the sea, all year round, to keep my anxiety and depression at bay.  When I looked to understand how this works for me,  I first had to consider how my mental health moods manifest themselves. Everyone with a mental health diagnosis or individuals struggling to manage their well being experience very unique moods, feelings or thoughts, although there are themes that resonate with many sufferers. Here are some of my most common ones.

Most of the time I see the world in black and white, devoid of colour, devoid of joy. The flip side to this, is when I occasionally experience joy it is so completely indescribably wonderful – it’s like the moment when Dorothy lands in Oz and suddenly there is colour. I can be happy and content but unadulterated joy is very rare and only happens when I am completely present and in the moment. When it happens I find myself scrabbling around for ways to recreate it, which as you can imagine is counter productive and pushes me into the waiting arms of the “mental monkeys”.

The “mental monkeys” is the name I have given to the constant internal dialogue in my brain. They don’t miss a trick and are very rarely quiet. Any opportunity to chatter about situations out of my control, inconsequential self enforced deadlines missed, what people think about me, did I say or do the right thing. You get the idea. They have no concept of night or day and will happily fill my brain with their negative opinions and questions 24/7. When I am tired or overwhelmed and my resilience threshold is low, there is a veritable chimps tea party going on in there, one which I am not enjoying!

Being overwhelmed is my normal state du jour.  At times, self inflicted, as I chase the elusive joy by filling my life with lots of things to do. Accepting every invitation to prove I can be ‘normal’. Self destruction button well and truly depressed. If I do not get the rest and respite I need,  I am liable to shut down. This doesn’t happen quietly like a worn out battery, it will be accompanied by a lot of angry noise before I lock myself away for varying lengths of time depending on how tired I am. Just acting like a ‘normal’ person can leave me shattered by around teatime.

This list is not exhaustive, but just indicative of how I feel most of the time. So what does sea swimming do for me to keep anxiety and depression at bay?

Sea swimming, as a pastime, is joyful. Instead of constantly trying to orchestrate feelings of pleasure and elation, the sea provides it. I swim with a great bunch of people a few times a week and we play in the water. Literally play like children.  We connect as community and we laugh hard and long. Even on the bleakest of days, I never regret a swim, and there is always a warm welcome. The post swim high can last for hours after the event and knowing that the sea is a constant and therefore I have a constant supply of joy,  it buoys me up. 

When I am in the sea, the endless negative internal dialogue is silenced. The sea overloads all of my senses, silky water on my skin, salty tastes and smells, shingle sounds,  blue sights. The sound of the mental monkeys is quite literally drowned out. Repetitive activity of stroke after stroke gives me space to collect my thoughts. I used to shy away from mindfulness exercises and meditation, too afraid it would give the mental monkeys free reign. What I have discovered is the exact opposite happens – I have my best thoughts and ideas in the sea. The cluttered brain fog clears with the sea breeze.

The rest and respite I need to counter how overwhelmed I can feel  is easy achieved at the beach. You cannot take your phone into the sea and you cannot hear it beeping on the beach when you are in the water. The constant scrolling images and high pitched sounds are replaced by a never changing horizon. I swim year round, in freezing temperatures and challenging sea states. Putting myself in these situations on a regular basis I am exposing my body and mind to stress. Getting into wavy cold water is stressful for your body and mind, but I cope. I have adapted to deal with this stress and it helps me go on to deal with every day stress. When I am swimming in these conditions I can only be concerned about myself, in that moment, in that situation – there is no room to be concerned with anything else. 

Other people think you are mad for swimming in the sea, all year round and I own that label! Being in the sea reminds me that my depression and anxiety is transient, it ebbs and flows like the tide. It provides me with the opportunity to check in with myself, to see if another episode is on the horizon. Although dark times are part of the disease, sea swimming can provide a break in the clouds.  I did not chose to feel this way, but I have chosen how I deal with it on a day to day basis. I have found a safe haven when my seas are stormy. 

Author: Seabird Kath

N.B. I was asked to write by the founder of The Recovery Letters website www.therecoveryletters.com . They have already produced a book entitled  ‘The Recovery Letters: Addressed to People Experiencing Depression’ published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

There has been a huge increase in the popularity of wild swimming. We live in strange times, that humans were not designed for. Many of us have founds ways to escape, to be our unaffected selves for just a moment, recapturing those feelings of possibility. If you want to give wild swimming a go to the Wild Swim website to find a group to join near you.

Sharing the Swim Love – the Salty Seabird Way

What is the Salty Seabird sea swimming community group and how does it work?

“Sea swimming has become part of my regular routine now. It gives me equilibrium. It never fails to shift a black mood. I am outside in all weathers, enjoying life and feeling alive.”

Swimming with the Salty Seabirds has brought fun and laughter into my life on a daily basis. Having FUN and JOY as a routine part of my daily life is SO MUCH BETTER THAN BEFORE. This has made me realise how previously days/weeks/months could go by before, where life was mainly job and duty, no scheduled FUN, much less laughter and playfulness. I have re-discovered my inner child doing handstands in the cold water and found my tribe having a laugh about forgetting my pants again with other Salties drinking tea on the beach.  This is why we started Seabirds Ltd and then the Salty Seabirds. To share the swim love and enlarge the group of like minded folk who relish dicking about in the sea in all weathers! We all deserve fun and laughter and to play – it is the antidote to many, many things I have found.

So if you want to start, how does the Salty Seabird Swim Community work? Firstly it is SELF SERVICE so if you need a swim set up every Wednesday at 3pm for example – you can set one up. Our current regular swims are: Mondays 10:45, Fridays 13:30 and Saturday 9:45 (all Hove Lawns/Dolphin 5) were all set up to fit with our work/life routines.  Regular swims are in the events section in the Facebook group. So are event swims like the monthly full moon swims.

So there are the regular swims, and then the daily random/spontaneous swims posted in the group. This of course takes a bit more Facebook hovering. Anyone can post and if it is posted in the group any member is welcome and can turn up. Unless stated otherwise (ie the rare ‘who will come around the West Pier with me type invitations’) dipping and messing about, head out breaststroke or head down crawl swimming round the buoys all welcome. I for one am a parallel breaststroker and happy with that. You don’t need to be a confident or ‘strong’ swimmer to stay in the shallows and swim parallel to the shore. No wetsuit or wetsuit on. Whatever suits you best. No judgement, all welcome. The experienced Salties are all very friendly and kind, you will be welcomed and glad you came along.

If you would like a bit more information and advice starting to sea swim or are thinking about trying to go through the winter for the first time we are putting on some introductory sessions in October. More information available on the Seabirds website.

Author: Seabird Cath
N.B. To join the Salty Seabird closed Facebook group you will be asked a couple of questions to ensure you have read about us and understand how our group works and if it is the right group for you. Happy Swimming!