For the love of Swimming….

A Valentines Guest Blog by Seabird Didi

In her own words “here is my loved up offering post swim….warning….it’s gushy as I’m still high on endorphins……feeling the love!”

Managed almost 7 minutes in the sea today….although a good amount of that was me squawking and backing out and just splashing my face to try and acclimatise. Because this is the thing….I have always hated cold weather and cold water….but I know how amazing I feel when I have been in………and actually I have always loved the extremes of sauna and cold water……….but it’s also more than that…..there’s something in me that just feels the pull to swim outside and dive through that cold shock and I can’t put it into words but it feels as vital and important as breath. I can happily swim for ages in warm water…..dreamily and no effort…..I’ve always considered myself a strong swimmer, very much at home in the sea. But the WINTER cold sea; that’s a fairly new and challenging experience for me.

For for about 10 minutes before I go in I am getting anxious and then feeling stupid for feeling anxious about a self imposed activity that’s meant to be fun……..everyone else is smiling and excited whereas I am gritting my teeth and trying to squash down my fears. Butterfly nerves make me jittery and a little ungrounded. Then I am standing there with my hefty frame, in just my swimsuit, feeling ungorgeous, unglamorous and quite frankly ridiculous. I’m the biggest I have ever been and NOW is the time I take this up?

At this point some beach walkers usually clock us and stop to have a look. Sometimes they take photos. My private humiliation not quite complete….I then venture down to the sea’s edge and take quite a while dithering and flapping and shrieking…….watching my friends leap and dive in with confidence and joy.

My breath catches sharply, alarmingly and I feel like I have forgotten how to breathe out. FOMO wins every time though and VERY reluctantly and in a sort of disbelief I submerge myself….I practice my long out breath…..I steady my nerves…..I find my focus and then suddenly my arms and legs are paddling like crazy and I’m properly swimming…….in the winter sea with no wet-suit…..I feel like I’m crazy wild woman and I love it…..after 2 minutes of biting, painful sensations on my skin I can feel my physiology waking up from its domestic slumber and finally I feel THAT joy. I feel like a kid again.

My body remembers ancient and primal skills and starts activating clever responses to cold stress and physical challenge that I didn’t know it had. I feel euphoric and clever and strong and free and happy. I gurn like a loon to my swimming companions and blabber a lot at them about all sorts of nonsense. I marvel in the wild untamed beauty of the sea…….I coo at my clever swim socks, that delay that numbness just enough. I look back at the shore my perspective changed and my eyes feel soothed by the vast space and innocent beauty of it all. It feels like we are protected from the busyness, out of the spinning hamster wheel for a wonderful and precious little moment.

I feel so so so grateful to live here, to have this on our doorstep and even more grateful that I have a shared love of this with friends and now a growing community of Salty Seabirds, Sea Sploshers, Kemptown Kippers and of course the amazing iSWIM crew and most of all my lovely mate Laura without whom I would not have dived in at all.

Love (and friends) and the sea is all you need

💖💖💖Happy Valentines Day Salty ones 💖💖💖

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Finding my inner Mermaid

Guest Blog by Amy. Beautiful honesty, a true Seabird

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Amy

I first started sea swimming in 2013 when I dipped my toe into the world of triathlon. I’d run a few marathons and had my eye on completing an Ironman for my 30th birthday (because that’s what you do for your 30th right?!). I got into the water, and HATED it! Running was always my strength, I was OK on a bike but swimming, swimming was my absolute nemesis. I had never learnt properly as a child and despite hours and hours in a pool I just didn’t seem to get any faster or better. Despite loving being in the water I never found the love of chasing a time or covering distance. I just never felt good enough despite my desperate attempts to become the mermaid I knew I was inside.

After Ironman I carried on swimming despite my complaining, not wanting to lose the hard work I’d put in to my swimming fitness. I even entered some long distance events including the Dart 10k and swam round Comino Island in Malta. I wanted to be the streamlined graceful dolphins that seemed to be part of every group I swam with, but I still just never felt like I found my inner mermaid.

 

Fast forward to 2017 and all thoughts of sporting events disappeared as I started to suffer with my mental health. Throughout 2018 I fell into a black hole where I didn’t want to live anymore and was hospitalised twice consumed by the hideous monster that is depression. Running had in the past been my salvation, but even the enjoyment of my favourite trails wasn’t improving my mental health and so I looked to the water.

It was during this time that I started just going in the sea for fun. I have some amazing, caring friends who would literally drag me out of bed and off onto the Downs for a run or into the sea to watch the sunset. Being in the water I realised was the place I began to feel at peace. Long gone were any worries about chasing a fast time or covering a certain distance, just the peace of floating around, feeling the water on my skin was the only thing that stopped the incessant chattering of the racing thoughts in my head that I suffered with the rest of the time. I ditched the wetsuit and fell in love with cold water.

As the year wore on and the temperature started to drop there were less people willing to get in the water with me and my friend Claire suggested I look up the Salty Seabirds. This amazing group has allowed me to continue with my winter swimming and has become a valuable part of my journey towards recovery.

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There is always a friendly face or 17 to chat to in the water and everyone is so supportive of each other with no competitiveness. Last week I even found myself setting my alarm for 04:30 am to swim under the Blood moon at 5am with 17 other brave seabirds. The thermostat on my car showing -4 degrees as I drove down to the seafront wondering what the hell I was doing! It was one of the most magical experiences, organised by seabird Sam, made even more special to share it with such a lovely group of people.

Although the waves of depression still get me, they are getting smaller and I am getting better at staying afloat. Maybe I have become that mermaid after all, or seabird. The future feels brighter, and definitely salty!

A Cold Water Love Affair

Guest Article by Salty Seabird Kim Moore

I hate the cold with a passion. Ask anyone who knows me, friends, family and they will all agree to this. I’m always the one to take extra coats, hats and scarves on a walk, to pack slippers and blankets with me on weekends away and to cuddle up with a hot water bottle as soon as the summer slips away. So why is it that I love cold water swimming so much? Honestly, it’s a bit of a head tickler even for me, but I’ll try to explain.

There are times in all our lives when too much unhappiness can tip the balance of our mental health. That was me a year ago. Doses of medication, therapy and meditation followed and the recommendation to exercise more. Now I’ve always been a swimmer and have lost track of the numbers of pools I’ve swum in over the years, but the charms of the busy, chlorinated echo chambers were starting to wane.

Reviewing my options, I discovered Pells in Lewes, one of the oldest public outdoor swimming pools in the country. The adults only early morning session first attracted my attention, that and the natural setting, it’s bordered by pines and a fishing waterway. You can hear the ducks as you swim and watch birds coast on the clouds as they bluster by. The cold water was a problem though, I’m not going to lie. Just dripping my toes made me cry and I’d spend many a session, cowering on poolside being laughed at by hardy lifeguards who’d been cold water swimming for years. But over time and with some steadfast encouragement, I grew to welcome the cold, not to love it, but to accept it. I was still in a pool though and pounding up and down in the lanes, a banal exercise that allowed me to wallow in my thoughts, not escape them, and so with winter beckoning, I went to the sea.

I’ve lived in Brighton for over 20 years and have always swum in the sea in summer when the sun makes its annual appearance. To swim in it year round, in all weather was quite another thing. Like most people, the sea is what brought me to Brighton. I’d spent my whole life desperate to live within walking distance of its windy shore. But fast forward a family, my own business and a move to the city outskirts and the sea was suddenly taking a back seat.

My illness was to be the catalyst to change that, but I’d lost confidence in sea swimming and was uncomfortable being too far off the beach, so I called a sea-loving friend and laughing, we set out to reacquaint me with the many pleasures of our briny shore. There’s no dallying with my friend Lara, she ran to the waves and threw herself headfirst into the maw. I, ever a procrastinator danced a while in the surf, gasping at the cold that was numbing my ankles, before joining her in the deep. As we swam and chatted we became accustomed to the chilly water and the sun came out to warm our smiling faces. I’d forgotten the sheer joy of being moved by the sea’s waves, of being held and carried along by it is both humbling and exhilarating. There’s a sense of letting go in the sea, of acknowledging Mother Nature’s greater power, it is extremely liberating and especially so for a mind that’s knotted with anxiety and depression. The combination of the chilly water and the energy of the sea focuses your attention on the here and now. There’s no room for agonising, deliberations or ruminating, the sea demands all of your attention and it’s a relief. And there are multiple medical benefits that have been shown to be gained from cold water sea swimming.

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Mindfulness – a popular therapy for depression – is not a modern enigma, most ancient cultures teach it in one way or another and sea swimming is a master class in it. There is only the present, defined by the startling sting of the cold water on your body, the wind whipping the sea spray into your face, the roar of the waves as they meet the shore and the ecstatic scream of the gulls as they skim the sky. You must pay attention to the sea at all times, to reach safety past the breakers, to swim with the current and the swell and then, to time your exit without being dumped on by a sudden wave.

Anyway, I was hooked. Lara and I laughed and giggled like school girls once back on the beach, where sticky with seaweed, we hastily dressed and gulped back cups of scalding tea. Since then, even with the temperatures diving, I’m a double dipper, that is I try to sea swim at least twice a week. I get tetchy if I can’t, physically yearning for the release that the sea gives me. My family tells me I’m a nicer person when I’ve been swimming and I think I am. How could I not be when I’ve been washed clean by the sea, both mentally and physically?

For more info and inspiration on sea swimming take a look at Seabirds of Brighton!

We don’t want your money honey – Votes For Women!

Please vote for our Women in Waves project to receive funding from Aviva Community Fund

Here at Seabirds HQ we need help from the Seabirds community and supporters. We are not looking for donations but rather your votes.

We have applied for funds from the Aviva Community Fund for our Women in Waves Project. 

What do we want?

To introduce open water swimming to local women  to improve their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. There are lots of courses locally run to help people transition from the pool to the sea but many people are intimidated by these courses. Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives.

What will the money be spent on?

The money would be spent on 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.

Who will benefit?

We have canvassed feedback from local women, who have experienced hormonal and menopausal related wellbeing issues, aged 40-60. We asked them;

  1. If they visit the beach and swim in the sea?
  2. What factors can contribute to low confidence and motivation, preventing them from swimming in the pool or the sea?

We then asked them to help us develop ideas for activities that would “make them feel happier and more confident” as part of a pilot session. In this way we have gained a real insight into the issues faced by women of a certain age.
We understand that there are points in women’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. We believe that outdoor swimming can improve outcomes for women experiencing mental health challenges from firsthand experience. Modern day living is a challenge, particularly in times of austerity. Services are being cut and many vulnerable women are falling through the net.

Why we want your votes

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

How do I vote?

How you vote in 3 easy steps;

  1. Click on this link Women in Waves and register with Aviva (you must be 13+ to vote)
  2. Enter your email address, create a password and enter your name to register. You will be sent an activation email to this account. Click on that link
  3. Once signed in to your Aviva account you can opt out of their mailing list and search for ‘Seabirds’ which will take you to our project and allow you to vote.

The Small Print

  • To stand a chance of receiving the funds we are aiming for 2000 votes. We are currently at 834
  • Voting is open until 20th November.
  • You can vote using all email alias’s available to you
  • You can share this project with your family and friends and ask them for their votes too.

Still undecided?

Various social factors put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However, women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would act as a foundation for women to join the already established swimming community group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

Here are some quotes to encourage you to vote!

These are the comments from the women that participated in our focus group pilot session.

” For the time we were in the sea I really didn’t think about anything else but the waves.”

” It was wonderful to connect with new people”

” The sentiment ‘you go in strangers, come out friends” really rings true”

” Lovely idea, good solidarity, much needed”

” Really supportive group – loved it”

” Invigorating, confidence building”

As ever – Thank you for your support and  hopefully your vote.

Seabirds xx

Women, Wellbeing & Water

Since the announcement that Birds get Big Lottery Grant we have been super busy at Seabirds HQ. Not the bad kinda busy but the good kinda busy. People asking to join the closed Facebook Group which is used to organise our swims and share smiley swimming snaps. Lots of enquiries in the inbox asking how people can join our sea swimming community group Salty Seabirds or register for the funded confidence course. An endless amount of coffee invites from Brighton Beach community supporters keen to celebrate our success and offer help.

As can be the case when starting a social enterprise, there are just as many lows as there are highs. Money and time are tight and you can feel for every step forward you are taking two back. Funding rejections can test even the most resilient Seabird. Not only has the lottery funding covered the costs of the course but it gave us much needed affirmation buoyancy to keep our project afloat.

The number of enquiries we are receiving highlights there is definitely a demand for this type of community swimming. Open Water Swimming has grown significantly over the last few years. In Brighton and Hove there are lots of swim groups that regularly meet up for a dip in the sea. It appeals to a huge variety of people from Triathletes to soul swimmers. And there is certainly room for everyone to swim their own swim and find the group that suits their needs.

Since the new broke about the Women, Wellbeing and Water course and the opportunity to join us for a Pilot Session our small informal  swimming group has grown ten fold. We have no facilities, no committee, no rules and no subs but still people wanted to join us changing on the beach and jumping in. So many women identified with the fluid easy nature of the group. Salty Seabirds have a few regular swim spots and times but basically is there for people to say when they are swimming and where so that others can join them if they feel like it and if it fits in with their family and work commitments.

The aim of the Pilot Session was to try and test out ideas that will shape the WWW course next year. Again demand was high and we had to turn people away and instead invite them to join a Salty Seabird swim instead. This reinforced our belief that there is a need for a course that focuses on respite from daily life and provides participants with the confidence to introduce sea swimming into their lives. So leading up to the day in question was beautiful sunshine….on the actual day non stop pouring rain. Heavy traffic meant we were late to open up and set up and we hadn’t managed to bake the much promised cakes. But all participants turned up, all  participants shared their swimming experiences, all participants got in the water, all participants smiled through the rain. Oh and those smiles.

Lots was learnt including never underestimate Brighton traffic on a rainy Saturday afternoon in September and shop bought cake goes down just as well as homemade after a cold dip in the sea. We’ve all met up since for the Harvest Moon swim and the regular Friday Frolic swim which celebrates the end of the week. Many participants have introduced new swim spots that are closer to their homes since our session and swum with people they met on the day. It seems that when you strip off your clothes to swim in the sea and share that experience you instantly become part of a very inclusive community. I heard someone or read somewhere that you can enter the water as strangers but leave the water as friends. This was very true of our pilot session and we are very exited about launching Women Wellbeing and Water in 2019.

 

To learn more please email info@seabirdsltd.com

To Swim or to Gym? That is the Question

National Women’s Health and Fitness Day falls on the last Wednesday in September. i.e. yesterday. This is an American concept but one that the UK seems to have adopted. My Social Media streams were full of positive images of women keeping physically fit. Lots of references to introducing exercise into your life and healthy living particularly diet and super foods. But still a disproportionate lack of advice, images, suggestions to promote Women’s Mental Health.

Mental and physical wellbeing are intrinsically linked. If you focus on physical health, i.e. diet and exercise, there is a positive impact on mental health . The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.” Nowhere is the relationship between mental and physical health more evident than in the area of chronic conditions. … People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.

In the past I have prioritised my physical well being over my mental health. I was your typical gym bunny. Always doing the school run in Lycra and headed off to a gym class as soon as I had dropped the little darlings off. The sweat was addictive and the endorphins kept me coming back for more. As with open water swimming, there was a supportive gym and school mum community too. But it was a double edged sword for me. It brings out my  competitive nature and I found that it was never ‘enough’. I hadn’t trained hard ‘enough’. I hadn’t gone to ‘enough’ classes. If I didn’t sweat it wasn’t ‘enough’. My focus on my physical wellbeing was beginning to have a detrimental impact on my mental health.

So I changed my approach and looked for balance. I reduced the gym classes and mixed them up with more gentle classes that focused on strength, flexibility and relaxation. Much needed for 45+ year old joints and a frazzled brain. Slowly I weaned myself off the sweat addiction. But the hardest activity to change was my swimming. Open Water swimming has always been part of my life but in recent years I have introduced pool swimming into my routine. Not indoor pools….that would be a step too far! I applied my standard discipline approach to this activity. The number of lengths I swam each time and the time it took to swim distances. It was hard to be a seabird swimmer, free from swim drills in the pool. The lane ropes almost dictate swim drills to me. So I headed for the sea and ditched the pool. Luckily there was a Seabird flock waiting for me to join them.

Over the last 18 months, since the Seabirds were formed, I have swum in the sea all year round and there has been a marked improvement in my mental wellbeing. However, as soon as the water warmed up enough to be safe,  I found myself setting swim distance targets all over again. Round the pier, counting the groynes or using the iconic yellow swim buoys to measure the distance of my swim. I even swam solo, which was as much to do with a confidence goal as the need to pursue physical goals. If I didn’t swim front crawl without stopping and get up a sweat (yes you can sweat in the sea) it wasn’t ‘enough’.

Vanity played it’s part too. Ditching the gym and the pool changed my body. And not in a way I liked. It didn’t stop me from stripping off on the shingles and showing half of Brighton my bare bum. But lots of my clothes now don’t fit and even the most resilient woman would struggle in seeing the positive in that. Without knowing it the Seabird Community brought me back to balance. Listening to their pre and post swim conversations I distinctly remember one Seabirds saying at school she wasn’t ‘sporty’ and now she is proud of what her body can do after months of sea swimming. Others have talked about being role models for their children, showing them that there’s life in the old Seabird yet. All of them talk about how happy they feel in the water and for hours sometimes days afterwards. The running theme throughout was always that getting in the sea was ‘enough’. It didn’t matter if you swam out to the buoys, lay in the shore dump or floated in the waves. It was ‘enough’

Health and Fitness is and always will be a very personal choice. Alone or in a group. In a gym class or in the outdoors. Dry land or in the water. If you don’t enjoy it and if it doesn’t make you happy it won’t be ‘enough’ and you won’t keep doing it. And your mental health is as important as your physical health. For me finding a balance is a challenge. But I think I am finally there. A mixture of gym classes as I like routine and encouragement. A daily dog walk on the South Downs as I love solitude and fresh air. A seabird swim free from arbitrary goals that leaves me feeling happy.  So the question isn’t really Swim or the Gym. A balance of both is ‘enough’.

 

 

Fitting in a Swim

….or not.

Pretty apt this week because I can’t. That to do list is ever present, either in the back of my mind, the forefront of my mind, or written down (with no ticks) on the back of a used envelope. A great example of winning at the who’s busiest competition but losing at life.

Women are their own worst nightmare when it comes to wearing BUSY as a badge of honour. Whether you work full-time, part-time, freelance, manage the home or volunteer we like to share how busy we are. When asked ‘how are you?’ the reply will nearly always contain a reference to how busy you are rather than how you actually are. Probably because we are so busy we haven’t actually taken the time to figure out how we are and so don’t know the answer to the question.

In a world where Social Media now shapes and influences our lives we are bombarded with images of women who are busy. Famous female CEOs who have treadmills in their offices so they can exercise and do their emails at the same time. Women who go back to work after a few days maternity leave. Why are we even asking the question about how they balance work and life? Perpetuating the busy.

Are these ‘busy’ women pioneers shaping the way for future females or is this feminism gone wrong? This very female phenomenon of being busy all of the time could be a consequence of competing with men. They possibly feel they need to be busier to justify their position. To smash through the glass ceiling. Multitasking seen as a female attribute – men can’t do it. Women demonstrate and foster this thinking by working, cooking from scratch, running marathons, joining the PTA, arranging numerous play dates, meeting friends for drinks, attending sports day, ferrying kids to activities. It’s not that men can’t do it but chose not to do it. They worth is not measured by their peers in levels of ‘busyness’.

There is nothing wrong with doing all of the above but there is also nothing wrong with doing none of the above. I am a big reader yet I am often met with scorn from other women when I suggest a good book to them. I am have been told, on more than one occasion, I am lucky that I have time to read. It takes all of my self control not to snipe back ‘I am just more organised than you’ but that would be childish and encourage the busy competition. I hate busy competition but it is ever present in my life. I worry when I post a happy picture of me swimming in the sea it will be received and interpreted as ‘she’s got far too much time on her hands’ by other women.

I am not immune to these thoughts, opinions, scoffs. It’s so easy to judge and compare when our lives are laid out for all to observe on Instagram or Facebook. One of the ways I combat being caught up in the busy race and social media life comparisons, is swimming. You cannot take your phone into the sea. Your mental to do list is actually erased by salt water. And I can’t be a mum Taxi if I am on the beach.

There are still times when I am ‘too busy’ to swim. This week is a great example of how Mother Nature put pay to my swimming plans and I rolled over and let her. I could have relocated, found shelter in the harbour, tried a river instead or even an outdoor pool. But no, I had a great excuse not to swim. Stormy seas meant having to consider tide times and conditions and relocating was far to difficult to fit into my busy schedule. So I didn’t and haven’t had a sea swim all week. And my goodness do my kids and husband know it!

So I am back in the sea today. I can’t wait. Whilst I have had a dopamine hit from ticking off that to do list, I think an adrenaline rush from diving through waves would have been better. It’s great that I have managed to re-do our household budget, switch insurance providers and sort out my cluttered wardrobe but all of those tasks could have waited until after I had had a swim. Especially when I know how great I feel after some salt water therapy.

It’s time to stop the busy bus – I want to get off!