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?

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………..

The Great Tit Weekend – Seabirds on Tour Part I – what to pack?

Some of us Salty Seabirds are off on an adventure. We are going to Wales. The weather and sea conditions look less than ideal but we don’t care. When you read this we will be waking up west. We are going to the Great Tit Weekend organised by The Bluetits, TYF and Celtic Camping. A weekend of swimmy celebration  with like minded souls from around the UK. The location is the Pembrokeshire coastline with plenty of swimming, eating, game playing, craft workshops, swim/coasteering and music.

The whatsapp group has been buzzing this week with what to pack. I am not quite sure why we are whipping ourselves up into such a frenzy when all we need to pack is what we take in our swim bags to the beach here in Brighton. But with the autumn equinox and storm after storm signalling the end of summer and our wild swim group growing significantly, may be it is time to consider the kit needed for cold water swimming.

This list is not exhaustive and really personal to me. I skin swim year round and fortunately don’t really feel the cold, so the neoprene accessories I pack are minimal. No wetsuit, no shoes, no gloves……..yet. It also does not include the cake, legwarmers and Uggs that accompany me in the winter. Also missing are the copious bags of crisps, red wine and middle age medication, that will be travelling with me to Wales but not returning.

  1. My woolly hat. I say that like it is singular but I have one in every colour of the rainbow. As a child my mum tried to force me to wear a woolly hat, which I did not consider cool, much like wearing a coat. Now I can’t wait to don one. The game changer is the fleece band inside which cover your ears. Bad hair days, which is every day when it has been in salt water,  are also very well dealt with.
  2. A sports cloak. Much like the vacuum cleaner being called a hoover, this product is more commonly known by the brand name dryrobe. And I have two. I swim outdoors a lot and I coach both open water swimming and surf lifesaving so having two does not feel excessive as they double up as work-wear. I have a short sleeved Charlie McLeod for autumn and spring and a long sleeve dryrobe for the sub zero winter temperatures. I use them as a waterproof cover to place over my dry clothes while I am in the water. When I travel I use the more compact Charlie McLeod. They are not cheap but they make a huge difference on a windswept beach and are roomy enough to get changed under. Are they worth it? If you get wet regularly and live an outdoorsy life, absolutely!
  3. A Towelling Robe. Although this is far from being a space saver in my kit bag, it is 100% cotton and so isn’t shedding micro fibres into the sea like other lightweight alternatives. It also protects my dignity and leaves my numb hands free to pull up my pants……if I have remembered them!
  4. Core Warmer. AKA Haramaki, which means ‘belly-wrap’ in Japanese where they originate from. After a cold water swim your core can take a while to warm up and this bit of kit is just the ticket. We have thick gloves and socks for our extremities but it is the core we need to focus on to prevent the ‘after drop’. The best thing about them is you can stick a hot water bottle in them!
  5. Flask. Another way to warm the core is a hot beverage. The only way to keep your drink warm is with an isothermal bottle or flask. My top tip is to take a cup with you as the flask keeps the heat in and so doesn’t warm your hands at the same time. Pouring your drink into a cup will transfer the heat to both your hands and your heart.
  6. Tow Float. I love my Puffin dry bag tow float. It’s main purpose is for me to be seen and keep my car keys in but it has been known to double up as a pillow when I take a float break in the sea and I fill it with disco lights when we swim in the dark. I am a Seabird so it makes sense that I am kept safe by a Puffin. Also it is the first biodegradable tow float to be introduced to the UK market. As the sea temperature drops it is so important to be seen if you get into trouble as time is of the essence.
  7. Swim Hat. This keeps my head warm and again is to make sure I can be seen. It is normally the only bit of neoprene I wear. I have a Zone 3 swimming bonnet (fastens under the chin) in bright orange to complement my tow float. I leave in on until the very last minute when I am getting dressed. It also covers my ears so helps stop water from getting in and the dreaded swimmers ear…….
  8. Earol Swim Spray. The key to cold water swimming is acclimatisation. I do this by getting in the water as often as I can. If you get an ear infection you can be out of the water for weeks. This spray prevents water from collecting in your ears, the main reason they get infected. Prevention is better than cure!
  9. Goggles. I have a small head so finding goggles is a tricky one for me. I recently got a pair of swipe goggles as market research for the Seabirds shop. They really are, and I am not just saying this because we sell them, the best pair of goggles I have ever owned. They were clear in and out of the water, didn’t leak, didn’t fog up, didn’t leave me with marks on my face. And you can get prescription ones for the same price. Being able to see stuff under the water on a clear sea day is one of my favourite things to do. I’d love to tell you it has improved my sighting, but it hasn’t. I can still happily head for the wrong buoy.
  10. Friends. I can’t fit them in my kit bag but swimming with friends, forming friendships in the sea, sharing experiences like this weekend with friends also makes you warmer inside.

Next weekend’s blog will be full of stories of our adventures in wet Wales. Right off to pack now!

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!

Woman cannot live on Swims alone

I’m all come swim with me until the summer when I have no desire to swim. Or is it because I have no need to swim?

It’s that time of year again when the inevitable summer swim slump occurs. Life gets busy and the beach gets busy. I find myself muttering under my breath about fair weather swimmers as I approach our increasingly crowded favourite spot of shingle in front of Hove Lawns. Hardly aligned with my belief that swimming is for all and everyone should give it a go. The warmer waters remove the temperature barrier that prevents so many from swimming in the sea. This is a good thing. But still it keeps me away from my sacred sea.

It’s not that I like solitude when I am swimming. I have written many times about the sense of community and connection I gain from swimming with others. But I also do not like crowds. Too many people, too much noise, bodies invading my fiercely protected personal space overwhelms my over sensitive brain. I also fiercely protect my swimming space and when I see plastic all over the pebbles I want to weep. Hardly my happy place in the summer months.

My swim squad also disperses across Europe on their holidays. They share images of Italian Lakes, Yorkshire Tarns, French Rivers and Greeks Seas. They have all found secret swim spots, a Salty Seabird haven away from our busy beaches. There really is nothing better than finding a swim spot with family and friends and there is no one else there. You’ve hit the wild swimming jackpot. This is impossible in Brighton and Hove as the beaches are always busy in the summer and good old Sussex by the sea is a wild swimmers dry spot. There are rivers and lakes in abundance but they are not accessible to the public. I scroll through neighbouring Surrey’s wild swim group in envy at the access they have to the Thames and the River Wey. The Wild Swim guide books offer no real alternative to the sea in Sussex.

The alternative would be getting up at sunrise before the beach gets busy. Not really a hard task for an early riser like me. What ever the season I will wake up between 5-5.30am every day. During the summer months it is light enough to head down to the beach for a swim. Seabird Christine runs the 6.15am club and most mornings partakes in a dawn dip so I would even have Salty company. But I just can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm during the hot months. I think I may be a cold water junkie. If the sea temperature is below double digits it seems to be more appealing. During the summer the sea is room temperature, which for me, is a bit bath like.

I am currently on holiday in France where they have a much more tolerant attitude towards swimming outdoors than we do in the England. There are Lakes and rivers in abundance close to where I am staying. But, in all honesty lakes just don’t do it for me, especially when they are 25 degrees. I class the Mediterranean as a Salty Lake – not a sea. The water level is low so the rivers near by are too shallow to swim in. With lots of research and driving around I could no doubt find a suitable deep bend in a river. But I came on holiday to relax and read not to swim. And I am just as happy to be dry for the duration.

So what happens to my mental health during these times of drought, when I am an advocate of outdoor swimming as a way of managing wellbeing. As I write this, with a glass on rosé sitting on a veranda in Provence in the cool outdoor air I am happy. I have in fact been happy all summer long, even with a reduction in regular swims. Life has been by no means smooth swimming, life isn’t for anyone, but I have experienced no significant episodes of anxiety or depression. Which has made me consider why. Don’t get me wrong I am glad not to be sad but I wonder why.

Cold water swimming is just one thing in my arsenal against my mental health demons. I have lots of other things that are working alongside regular sea swimming. They have been been doing their thing in the background consistently as the dips have dwindled. Supplements, talking, rest, new experiences, good books, digital downtime, exercise, dog walks; are just some of the things in the mental health ammunition box that allow people to continue to cope. I am fortunate to have access to them all.

I have a husband and a business partner that keep me in check and tell me to slow down when I am accelerating at a rate of knots that is not necessary. Down time away from digital distractions is a necessary part of my mental maintenance but difficult to balance when you run your own business. Being disciplined with my down time and clever with scheduling has had a positive impact on my wellbeing.

I am currently well rested. Lots of early nights and saying no to too many evenings out has enabled me to manage and recover from numerous Seabird evening sessions, lessons and events. Now I am on holiday and the pace has definitely slowed to a crawl. If we are lucky, the kids may rise before lunchtime, so our excursions are mainly low key and local. I have entire mornings to read, write, think.

I know these things, amongst others, are working on my wellbeing. They are the hidden cogs that aren’t as visible as my sea swimming. My shoulder was injured for months preventing me from doing any swimming of substance. Yes I was frustrated but I accepted it. The busy beaches have reduced my swim time to once a week but I don’t mind. I am on holiday and the main focus isn’t finding a swim spot and that’s OK.

Don’t get me wrong the desire to jump into any body of water I happen to stumble across is still there. And I cannot wait to get back to the pebble, waves and community of my favourite Hove beach. But for now I am just as happy out of the water

Author: Seabird Kath

Swimming with my Sister

My love of swimming in the sea was cultivated from a young age. I spent every school holiday, even the cold winter ones, in a converted railway carriage on Selsey’s East Beach. It was the stuff of Enid Blyton books. Sea swimming numerous times a day, camping out in haystacks, racing the Lifeboat maroon onto the beach and cycling on an array of Rand Hand Gang bikes for miles on the flat reclaimed land. All of this I shared with my brother, foster siblings, cousins, new friends (now firmly established as old friends) and my little sister. With only 2 years between us in age no matter how much I tried to shake her, there was always my younger sister! In her orange towelling bathing suit.

She was ever present in the sea with me. If there was a summer thunder storm at night we would be allowed to get out of bed to jump into the sea to watch the fork lightning display floating on our backs. (It was the 1970s there was no H&S). We perfected our jumping and diving at high tide off the breakwaters into the depths that the long shore drift had created. We created flotillas of rubber dinghies, washed up crabbing pots and floats and old rowing boats and set sail into low tide lagoons.

With exactly the same upbringing and childhood experiences it has always fascinated me how we grew into such different adults. She is always well turned out and I look like something the cat dragged in. She has incredible patience with people, probably due to working as a nurse for 25 years, and I, diplomatically put, do not. She is able to cope with blood and gore while I am firmly hidden behind the cushion. I get in the sea all year round and she, even on on a summers day does not. But she did. She just doesn’t anymore.

The family holidays of the 1970s and 80s on the Sussex coast have been replaced with annual family celebration holidays. If there is an 0 or a 5 at the end of your birthday year you are expected to find a big house, by the sea, and invite siblings, parents, children, aunts, cousins and dogs to join you. This year it was Dad’s 75th and we headed off to Bude at Easter. I packed my swim suit, my sister did not.

What is not outwardly apparent is that behind my sisters immaculate appearance and organised life she has more than most to deal with. Her youngest daughter Emily has been refusing to go to school for most of her time at senior school. She is now in year 10 and they have lived with school refusal for 3 years. My sister works for the NHS and is like a blood hound when it comes to getting answers but even with that on her side she is no closer to a resolution. I could go on and on about the lack of services available, scarce school funding, female autism going un-diagnosed, acute anxiety, daily melt downs but you get the picture. Life is incredibly hard for my sister and my niece. With that in mind I planned to get Emily in the sea. This I knew would be relatively easy as she loves the sea. It calms her and gives her overworked brain a rest. She swims with me at Grandma Seaside’s on the Isle of Wight and this time in Cornwall her cousin and uncle were going to teach her how to surf. We bought spare wet suits, gloves, boots, robes with us and Emily packed her swimsuit.

So during the holiday, Emily headed into the sea at Widemouth bay and had some foamie fun in the white water. My sister watched from the beach, every present, ever anxious. She doesn’t like the cold water and the waves fill her with dread. Yet here she was watching her daughter, entrusting her to her cousin, having fun. Knowing she had to sideline her own anxiety to allow Emily some respite. Later I went in for a skin swim with my sister-in-law, in the waves, to the amazement of neoprene clad on lookers and again my sister looked on. Same seventies upbringing in the sea but she couldn’t bring herself to get in. To be honest it didn’t even cross my mind to ask her if she wanted to join us as I assumed the answer would be a firm no. And she hadn’t packed her swimsuit.

The holiday house was full, all week, with wet-suits, towels, swimsuits drying on every available radiator and hook. Talk was invariably about swimming, surf spots and surf reports. Post sea highs where shared around the fire with steaming mugs of post sea tea. The highlight of the week was that my husband and niece were going to join me for a swim in the iconic Bude Tide Pool. The surprise of the week was when my sister announced she’d like to join us too! Now to find her a swimsuit.

I often wonder what made her decide to come for a cold water skin swim that day. I think it was because she could see how much it does for my mental health and for her daughters. Perhaps she was curious about the post swim happiness high and whether it too would be some respite for her. Maybe it was good old fashioned sibling rivalry. The Tide pool has sides and a way to get in safely with no crashing waves. It also has changing rooms so that you don’t have to struggle on the sand to get your knickers on. For her the perfect conditions. So she borrowed by daughters swimsuit, refused neoprene but donned various rash-vests, gloves and boots. She questioned why she was doing it over and over again on the way there but didn’t turn back.

We talked a lot about cold water shock and what she should expect when she got in the water. It was March when the sea is at it coldest. I got in first and showed her how I floated on my back and controlled by breathing. She attempted to get in a few times and needed a bit of coaxing but eventually she took the plunge. You could see by her face she was trying really hard to control her breath so we sang. We swam and and we sang and slowly she was able to talk and regulate her breathing and we took a gentle breast stroke turn around the pool. And we were transported back to the 1970s when we regularly swam in the sea together. She was able to forget about life’s daily challenges for a few precious minutes and was so chuffed with herself that she had done it her happiness was infectious. For those few precious minutes she was back in her orange towelling swimsuit with no inhibitions, self consciousness or anxieties.

As a regular outdoor swimmer I am asked all the time if I have a favourite swim. Well this was it. It was the best swim ever. I have swum in the beautiful Glens of Scotland, Tarns in the Lake District, Rivers in the Somerset levels but I never thought I’d see the day when I would share the sea with my sister again. There was no thunder storm, breakwater jumping or dinghies but I did share the sea with my sister again. And it was the best! And now when she holidays in the UK she packs her swimsuit. My sister is a Seabird.

Author: Kath Seabird