Bird of Paradox: Finding your Flow

“And if we swim with the current, instead of fighting against it, we find a momentary state, one of motion and yet paradoxical stillness that is flow” Bonnie Tsui

I still get people exclaiming surprise that I suffer from Anxiety and Depression. After all these years, lots of no shows at parties, periods of silence, people that have known me for years are still shocked when they ‘find out’.  Even when people have read my blogs, which are basically a handbook for interacting with me, they proclaim they had no idea and overwhelm me with intense and intimate questions which see me recoil instantly. You see I am a bird of Paradox. I have a loud, outgoing, confident public persona and I have a much protected, social introvert private life. Very few get to see both as I am ashamed of the latter.

I also have paradoxical emotions and feelings about the same situation at the same time. Which has me well equipped for C19 lock-down – everyone is swinging from high to low. Feeling anxious one minute and feeling relieved at the slow pace the next. For once my feelings are deemed NORMAL. Oh the times I have wished to be normal, but I didn’t really imagine a global crisis would be the way I achieved it. I have always had periods of energy and enthusiasm mixed in with periods of overwhelming sadness and staring into space. They can happen in the same day, the same hour and the same moment. But having lived like this for years, I have found my flow.

I am best in the mornings, I am fresh and ready. How I start the day can pretty much dictate how it will pan out. So my routine is awake around 5/5.30, I am an early bird, and drink a vat of tea in bed coming round slowly whilst my husband gets up for work and leaves the house around 6am. I will then do emails, write and do some work with a lot of pottering in the quiet kitchen. The teens normally surface or are woken at 7.45 and are gone by 8.30am. I’ll do some form of exercise and then the day starts. None of this is now happening. No one leaves the house, there is no pottering, exercise is sporadic, the only consistent is the amount of tea I drink, which will always remain a lot!

So I’m having to find a new flow. This new flow sees the social introvert in me thriving. But hiding yourself away all of the time isn’t exactly healthy although I am enjoying the removal of social pressure, particularly nights out, I know this isn’t necessarily good for me. Regular exposure to situations that make me anxious form a vital part of my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

I find flowing easier when coping mechanisms like swimming are in my life and just when I need it the most, it has been taken away. Bonnie Tsui, author of ‘Why We Swim’ said it best recently in a New York Times article ‘What I Miss Most is Swimming.’ She said, “And if we swim with the current, instead of fighting against it, we find a momentary state, one of motion and yet paradoxical stillness that is flow” So I am learning to accept my new environment and go with the flow.

Having lived my whole life with paradoxical thoughts about my existence and personal circumstances I am actually adapting to the current situation well. I guess years of practice has me game ready. I accept my conflicting thoughts about my current living arrangements, upheaval of my precious routine and limited access to the beach and sea.  I am not trying to change my mindset with gratitude exercises, positive affirmations or celebrating getting dressed for the day. Having furious thoughts about the world, silent sobbing moments and over-reactions to the smallest things are my state du jour. And right now it’s acceptable, reasonable and frankly unavoidable.

So in the absence of swimming in the sea, give yourselves permission to feel all the feelings. Positive and negative, rational and irrational. I am of the school of thought that no feelings are irrational as some valid emotion has triggered them. And at the moment a global pandemic is it. So I asked myself, how am I feeling?

Well I feel relieved because life was beginning to get very busy before all of this happened and now the pressure is off to perform at my optimum and there is absolutely no chance of burn out. I am fretful for my family and friends and their safety and wellbeing. I am hopeful that the outpouring of appreciation for our poorly paid key workers, the rejection of being productive as a measure of success and the limitless capacity for human kindness will continue when all of this is over. I am overwhelmed at the opportunities available to me to finish DIY, clean out cupboards and learn a new language. I am grateful that my eldest is confined to quarters with me before she flies the nest. I am nervous that social isolation will undo all the hard work I have done to balance my brain and preserve my mental health. I am content in my own company, never bored and pottering in the kitchen and garden is something I could do all and every day, especially when the sun is shining. I am concerned about the uncertainty of lock-down, how long will it last, when can I plan gatherings, holidays and trips. And that was just a quick check in!

I know I cannot control the current situation or how I feel about it. Having paradoxical thoughts and emotions is OK and for once deemed ‘normal’. They ebb and flow like the tide. But I can control how I react to those feeling and emotions. So it’s not really like I’ve found my flow, as the blog title suggest, but rather I am going with the flow. Acceptance is my reaction.

Author: Seabird Kath

NB; this blog was actually a lot longer but has been split into two. So part II will be next weekend.

 

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

At he launch of Extinction Rebellion’s 12 Days of Crisis, the Salty Seabirds take to the sea!

Today the Salty Seabirds song is one of protest, of solidarity, of rebellion. We don’t have all of the answers but we can add our voices to the protectors of the planet. And the way we have chosen to do this, is by swimming in the sea of course!

 

Today, the Salty Seabirds will be creating an Extinction Rebellion XR logo out of our wonderful sea swimming bodies in Hove on the beach and in the SEA!
It’s part of the national ’12 Days of Crisis’ peaceful protests across the country 1-12th December, leading up to the General Election to encourage folk to put mitigating climate change at the top of their voting agenda.
We’re igniting the first of many XR solidarity symbol beacons across the country where flooding due to climate change will happen if our ‘new’ government doesn’t #ActNow. Organised by our resident activist the formidable Seabird Kelly the Salties have answered her call to arms.

It doesn’t take a lot to persuade our flock into the sea but why is this swim so important? Why are so many of us coordinating our weekend swim to be in the same place at the same time? Why are we creating a seabird formation? Because the beach and the sea is our happy place, our club house, our community hub. And it needs protecting.

The only way we will protect our seas and reverse the damage already done is to connect with the sea and the beach environment. It is only when humans connect with their environment that they will become it’s protector and custodian. Think of the projects that have been successful in inner cities where crime and antisocial behaviour was high. They encourage young people to take pride in their locality and create safe spaces. As a direct consequence vandalism and littering is reduced. I feel fiercely protective of my playground, the lungs of the earth, the sea. My heart breaks when I see the state of the beach after the summer crowds have left for the day. They haven’t connected to it, it isn’t their happy place, they feel no responsibility for keeping it clean. It is only when you feel connected to your environment that pollution, at an individual level, can be tackled.

When we Salties swim in the sea, gather on the beach we feel part of it, connected to it at a fundamental level. Sea swimming is very different to the other ways humans connect with nature. When you walk in the countryside you are not really in it, just an observer.  But when you are swimming, you are in it. Not on it, or around it, but immersed in it. When you enter the water you do just that, you enter it become part of it it, connect with it. You connect with the sea in a way like no other. And it provides you with perspective. We are insignificant in terms or our size and strength. It’s a thing of wonder, which allows you to wonder. Wonder how we can protect it for future generations to experience the same connection we do.

There are incredible initiatives, charities and community groups up and down our country that campaign for cleaner seas and beaches. We are an island nations with thousands of miles of coastline. Surfers against Sewage was started because a bunch of like-minded souls were witnessing the destruction of their playground first hand. They say, “We began as a response by the surfing community to the dreadful state of our beaches. Those hardy souls who ventured into the water back then often found themselves swimming in raw sewage. There’s tales of sanitary towels on heads and human poo sandwiched between bodies and boards. Completely unacceptable.” The UK now has some of the cleanest beaches in Europe…. but it is not enough.

After every Atlantic storm more marine plastic is washed up onto the beach here in Brighton and Hove. As regular beach users and sea swimmers we are conscious of the amount of marine litter in the sea and on the beach. We swim for our wellbeing yet seeing the state of our sea can actually increase our anxiety. But we can make a difference, a small salty but significant one. Our aim as a Community Interest Company is to get more people in the sea as a way of managing their wellbeing. Encouraging others to reconnect with nature is part of our raison d’etre and in this way more sea custodians join our salty community to protect our playground.

We are 1300 strong at our last count and up to 3 swims can happen per day all year round. Running across the shingle to pick up plastic is one of our favourite ways of warming up after a cold water swim. We huddle around home baked goods drinking tea from our reusable coffee cups. We swim in our recycled ghost net swimming cossies with our biodegradable tow-floats.  Simple ways of paying forward and protecting what we love. A ripple effect! Today’s swim will be a coming together of our salty community to create a visual representation of swimming solidarity with all the wonderful organisations that work tirelessly to protect our playground.

In the sea we save ourselves – so we must save our seas!

 

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!

 

A Seabird out of her depth

My experience of completing the STA Open Water Swimming Coaching award in the midst of anxiety.

And I was, I really was. Although I was treading water, on a STA Open Water Swimming Coaching Course, I was definitely a Seabird out of her depth.

So how did I end up here? The rhetorical answer is, I was hoping to gain a qualification that would enable me to be the lead coach for our Women Wellbeing and Water sessions and any future Seabird sea swimming courses. The literal answer is by train from Brighton to Welwyn Garden City.

The timing of the course could not have been worse. My husband was working away at the same time. We are trying to sell our house and buy a new one. And my 16 year old was embarking on her first trip abroad, to France to watch the Women’s World Cup with her mate. Plus June is a busy month on the Seabird calendar with lots of events, sessions and get togethers.

The days before were challenging. My anxiety was spiralling out of control and the internal chatter telling me to withdraw was relentless. Flicking through the pre-course material did nothing to quieten the hard time my brain was giving me. Buoy turns! I float at the buoy and take smiling snaps. Drafting! I draft more people into the sea by providing them with encouragement and a safe environment. Pack swimming! We forget to pack our knickers and laugh about it over tea and cake. The manual had very different descriptions of these open water swimming skills. I quickly flicked to page 99 on the skills section entitled ‘ Acclimatisation and Overcoming Panic’ desperate to ease the worry.

Is it possible for one human to produce an infinite amount of cortisol? In constant fight or flight mode for days I was hanging on by my finger nails and exhausted. And the course hadn’t even started yet. I busied myself with helicopter parenting of two very capable teens and left packing and considering train times until the last minute. Classic avoidance. So it was no surprise that I ended up on the wrong bloody train! Cue the first fighting back of tears. I even remained on the wrong train until a minute before it’s departure, frozen in fear with my M&S nuts and wine. Finally I plucked up the courage to retrieve my kit bag and suitcase and made my way to the correct platform to board the correct train.

The rest of the train journey was uneventful but provided a lot of time to think with little to distract. Cue more more tear fighting and a ridiculous amount of texts to my husband who was waiting in a German airport for his flight home. As the train pulled into Welwyn Garden City I was very ready for a walk to my hotel and some fresh air. Living my best life I was curled up in a Premier Inn bed, in a town I suspected was the set of Stepford Wives, watching Netflix on the iPad by 9pm.

You’d think I had never swum in open water, put on a wetsuit or coached/trained groups of people in the water before. But I actually have a ton of experience in all three. But the impostor syndrome persisted into the next morning when I woke up at 4.30am. Thankfully breakfast started at 6.30am so just 2 hours of worry time between me and a full fry up! My depression and anxiety have never come between me and a meal.

By 8am I had received a lifeline call from Will. Will and I know each other from a previous course and he too lives in Brighton. He is an incredible swimmer, but his best quality is his infectious enthusiasm and capacity for kindness. He was travelling back and forth from his parents house rather than experiencing the delights of the Premier Inn on the outskirts of a purpose built town. He had arrived early and was trying to find the course facility. With his clear directions I set off to start the course.

I know, I know. It makes no sense to be nervous about completing a course when there is a familiar friendly face there to greet you. And it was a huge relief to see his smiling face when I arrived. But that is what anxiety does. It robs you of your ability to reason. Gradually the room began to fill up. I scanned their faces, looked at their physiques, considered their kit backs – trying to ascertain their swim ability. We then did a round table introduction starting with me. Stories of swim teaching experience decades long, huge endurance feats completed or about to be completed, our coach was Keri-anne Payne, Olympic silver medallist for goodness sake. Any respite Will’s welcome had provided was very short lived.

The course is 3 days long, mainly classroom based, with coaching practice in a lake. Keri-anne created a wonderfully inclusive learning environment which set the tone for the next few days. Her stories were inspirational but not because of the phenomenal feats, medals and wins she has achieved. They were inspirational because they were relatable. She too has been spooked in the water – by a twig of all things.  But I was still apprehensive about getting in the water. Yep, you heard it right. Me, nervous about getting wet. But wet I did get. And it was fine as everyone except for me knew it would be.

The next day was more of the same but better. By now we were all getting to know each other and I was able to appreciate what a wonderfully warm group of people I was with. Our backgrounds, swimming experiences and goals couldn’t have been more different but our passion for swimming, in all it’s different guises, had bought us together. I swim for community and connection (and cake) and it was still here, in a lake in Hertfordshire with a bunch of strangers that were fast becoming my support network.

Then it happened. The tears. On day 2. Holding it together for prolonged periods of time can only end one way . Day to day functioning is, for me, the hardest part of my mental illness. I can do it, but I need to factor in rest, relaxation and respite. The days leading up to this course, the lack of sleep and unfamiliar faces and surroundings were fast eroding my game face. It happened when we were split into groups of 3 to practice coaching an OWS skill with each other. Rob, 34 years in the armed forces, was tasked with coaching myself and Christine on pack swimming. My biggest barrier is swimming in confined spaces. In indoor pools, in close proximity with other people I have experienced my one, and thankfully only, panic attack. To say I was going outside of my comfort zone was an under statement. But I did it. Part of the coaching methodology is for it to be swimmer led, asking questions to consider their needs. Poor Rob asked me how I found it. The response was initially a whimper and then a full on sob. I quickly reassured him that his coaching had been all the things it needed to be to get me to do something I didn’t want to do and the tears were because I was beyond chuffed that I had done it. I think everyone saw, I am not a quiet crier.  The compassion with which my tears were met made me cry harder. I was caught in a crying loop.

That night I felt well enough to have dinner with some of the others at the local Beefeater – living the dream. May be the release of crying was just what the doctor ordered. I certainly felt less uptight and restless. And now that the others had seen the real me, the vulnerable me, the over-thinking me, the crying me, the worst had happened. The mask hadn’t slipped, it had totally fallen off and I was OK. My crying had been met with kindness. Sleep was still evading me and we still had to be assessed the next day, so I wasn’t out of the woods yet. But pretending to be confident in my abilities was one less thing I had to worry about. That floodgate was well and truly open and there was absolutely no point in trying to close it again.

The next morning, Will picked me up and we arrived early as we had to complete our written assessment too. This is where depression makes his appearance after being pushed to the back of my mind by anxiety. Where anxiety tells me I can’t do something, depression physically stops me from doing it. The thought of doing something, anything, is met with lethargy and avoidance. On the outside it looks like you can’t be bothered, but in reality you don’t know where to start and feel totally overwhelmed. We’d had plenty of time to complete it in  the evenings, mornings, breaks but I just hadn’t done it. Sometimes the only way round this is a deadline. I needed to complete it, I needed to pass the course, the Seabirds Women, Wellbeing and Water project was relying on it. So I started.

What was reassuring was that everyone was nervous that last day. Everyone had questions about the written assessment. Everyone had worries about the practical assessment. We were connected in our concern and we were community in the comfort we provided to each another. I wasn’t alone. I was with a group of Seabirds.

So day 3, the last day,  started. We had a round table discussion on what we had learnt and what we would take away from the course. A really positive way to start the day as we shared our stories. Then it was time to be assessed in the water. We were split into 2 groups and had been given a skill to coach the night before. There would be pack swimming in a group of 9 at the end. My mind started searching for the fear, but it just wasn’t there. The whole group had witnessed me at my worst, they knew I hated it and Will who was coaching the pack swimming session was able to adapt it. I was at ease. So we did it, with me right on the furthest edge obviously. Christine, a very gentle woman positioned herself right beside me to ensure I was OK. And never left my side reassuring me with her calm presence. But then Will asked the question. Did anyone want to change position? And I did. I wanted to know what it felt like to be in the middle, amongst melee. He shouted go from he other end and I swam. It wasn’t long before I was kicked hard in the leg (still bruised now), swallowed a gob full of water and was left behind by the faster swimmers. This time there was a smile, not sobbing. I’d done it.

It was with heavy hearts that we all said good bye to each other and swapped details at the end of the course. But we were all really excited to get home and put our new coaching skills into practice. It’s an incredible course and one which  would thoroughly recommend. And I will, in another blog………

My mental health is the biggest challenge I face on a daily basis. It tells me I can’t do things, when I can. It tells me I don’t need to do things when I do. But the sense of achievement of when I can and when I do in the context of my anxiety and depression is my Olympic medal. And as my mum always said, a smooth sea never made a good sailor. Or in this case a skilled Open Water Swimming Coach.

Author: Seabird Kath

Note: The featured image is a coaching session on pack swimming before we lined up at the start line. As Denise says – “we’re all friends here, until someone says go!” And my goodness did she go – I quite literally ate her bubbles. I managed to keep up with them for at least 2 strokes and I survived the washing machine it created. I put myself right in the middle and I survived.

Big thanks to Will, Rob, Christine, Amanda, Julie, Ellen, Lisa, Denise and of course Keri-anne for spending an amazing three days with me. 

 

Do Good Deeds in Dark Times

Doing good makes you feel good! How the Seabirds built doing good into their business

The Seabirds became a flotilla as our moral compass points the same way so swimming with each other in the same direction was easy. When we decided to start a business together our decision to be a social enterprise wasn’t even discussed. It was assumed. Registering as Community Interest Company was as fundamentally a part of our company set up as registering with Companies House and signing our Articles of Association. Ultimately we are a business and we need to make money to thrive. But with the money we make we reinvest in our business and donate to causes that share our aims of improving wellbeing and the environment. So why do we do this?

The News is full of unhappy headlines. The impact of austerity on the most vulnerable in society. Leaving Europe with ‘No Deal’. Climate Change and the plight of the Polar Bear. Global Civil War and unrest adding to the Refugee Crisis. I could go on but you get the picture.

I don’t read or watch the News. I bury my head firmly in the sand. It’s a form of Self Care. If I let myself dwell on the day’s news I become overwhelmed at the magnitude of the problems we face as a global community. I am rendered a useless sobbing wreck, devoid of joy. But not devoid of hope. Instead I focus on the small stuff. The daily good deeds that make a difference. The Good News!

There is a viral quote that often circulates in the wake of tragic public events.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

So how does a Seabird do good deeds in dark times? How can we be the people that are helping?

The answer was assumed and simple. We set up a business that gives back!

We have a trading arm webshop that gives supporters the opportunity to give as they live. Giving makes you feel good. So does shopping. So why not combine the two?. The internet is accessible to all and our products are affordable, ethically sourced and sustainable. It’s conscious consumerism. Community Interest Companies are governed the same rigour as any other Company ensuring integrity and honesty in its trading but the profits don’t go to shareholders. They go back into the community.

We have a service that enables people to access the sea in a safe environment with the aim of improving their well being. In an age when modern day living rituals have a profoundly negative impact on mental health, the supporting services are being cut back. People are unable to access state funded services unless they meet certain thresholds. We have received National Lottery Funding to run our first wellbeing service courses aimed at women who lack the confidence to swim outdoors that is accessible to all. Until our trading business is buoyant enough to financially support this service we will continue to raise funds via grants.  This Service provides a contribution to the community.

We have a community of year round sea swimmers and Seabird supporters. These seabirds, sea dogs and sea squids give up their time to read through our business plans, set up Pop Ups, review our accounts, volunteer in the water and provide us with feedback. But most importantly they join us in the sea on a regular basis, so we too get respite from from running a new small business. Being part of a local community group  being part of something bigger, being part of the change keeps our business and our mood buoyant.

 

Doing good really does feel good and whilst it won’t solve the world’s problems, as Vincent Van Gogh said ‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together’. Together we can do good deeds in dark times.

Author: Seabird Kath

Whilst you are here………Our next fundraiser is the  Aviva Community Fund. We are not asking for money but we are asking for 3 minutes of your time to register and vote via the link above. You get 10 votes and can use different email aliases to vote more than once. 

We hope to receive funds to buy equipment like swim hats and dry robes – to keep participants warm and safe, changing and pool facility hire – to provide a safe environment for participants to get used to open water swimming, administration costs and dedicated coaches and instructors to facilitate the courses to ensure the participants get the best out of the courses. Female-centric courses with participants falling into a similar age bracket in a safe and structured environment may be the only way some women would even consider swimming the sea. We are passionate about encouraging more women into the waves to improve their wellbeing and voting for this project would make this happen

Thank you!!!