How the ocean kept me afloat
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Having grown up by the sea in Brighton, being near the water always felt like home, being in it was another matter – aside from those long hot July and August summer days, where the sea became a refuge from the heat together with a Mr.Whippy.
"It was only when I moved back from London in 2017 to be by the sea once more, that the sea became a huge part of my life. And in time not only an anchor for my well-being, but life changing."
Walking my dog– Buster, on the beach became part of my daily routine. Up & down the promenade and the pebbles, whatever the weather. Over time I became more and more engaged with the sea through my senses. I began to learn the tides, the winds, the waves and breaks. Often when I was feeling a bit down or lost, I’d just sit and watch the waves to get some perspective. The sea was always there. Sometimes rough and raging, and other times steady and calm. Often it was a mirror to my mind.
"On wild days I’d get really close to the water’s edge so I could feel the salt on my skin as it tangled my hair. I’d throw stones when I was angry and cast my thoughts, hopes, dreams or things I wanted to let go of into the depths."
Roll on to one hot April day in 2018 after a run; finally I could not resist the call of the cool blue any longer. Stripping down to my bra and pants, in I went. It took my breath away. And my journey with being in the sea began.
I found myself diligently plodding down to the sea for the rest of that spring and summer, it soon became part of my day. I never stayed in for long, just long enough to catch my breath and feel my body in the water. Long enough to consciously get present. I had no idea about the proven effects of cold water for mental or physical health.
Getting into the sea was something I did on my own, and to be honest I had no idea what I was doing. I’d carefully judge the tides and the waves, and I managed to keep myself safe, always with Buster on duty as my lifeguard, watching from the safety of the shore.
I kept swimming all through that summer, getting a little bit braver and swimming further and further out. I kept this going until the end of November, when finally the cold took its toll. And I bowed out until the following April.
April 2019. I found myself back in the sea again - at the same time we were given my Mum’s diagnosis of a brain tumour. It was Spring, the thick promise of hope and life in the air. As our whole world crumbled. Even writing these words now I can hardly believe it’s true.
"The sea became the place I could go to to flood my senses with something other than the rawness of the truth of what was unfolding in our lives. I’d put my head under, sometimes time and time again. Letting the cold water reset my thoughts and my brain. I’d stay in longer and longer until the cold reached another layer in my systems - kicking them into life. I’d stay in the water until I could feel everything coming online and saying “I’m here, I’m alive.”
It was during the year of 2019 that the ocean kept me afloat.
Only this year I kept going all through the winter. It got easier, but it always took a bit of guts. I realised I could do it though - I realised it was a choice that I could make on my own, and it gave me an incredible sense of courage and clarity.
There was never a day I swam that I wasn’t reminded of the greatness of Mother Earth, and her capacity to hold and to heal us. I’d float, look up, look around, breathe in every last drop of salt, blue, green and grey.
I noticed the voice in my head which often said, “not today, today is really cold, you don’t need to do this…”, but when something has become hard wired in to your way of being, your body takes control, and you find yourself on autopilot wading down to the waters edge once more. Something else takes control and the mind begins to lose its power.
I cannot recall the amount of times during Mum’s illness and passing that I have wept into the ocean full of grief, despair and sadness. And I’m forever grateful to the ocean for its ability to help me emerge with renewed faith, energy, and a spark to just keep going.
"To stay plugged in to life".
It’s an honour to now hold space for others to explore their journey with water, whether that’s the sea, a river, loch or waterfall - witnessing "I cant's" turn into "I cans". Yes it’s cold, and yes sometimes it’s uncomfortable and it’s hard - but that is also life. If we can learn to master being okay when life feels uncomfortable - and beyond that - to find an ease and an opening there, then we can begin to ride the waves of our human existence. A dear friend reminded me recently, "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." (Dalai Lama).
So wherever you are, whatever your journey with water, oceans, streams and rivers, this is mine. It has, hand on heart, been one of the most enriching and life changing things I have done, and continue to do for myself at every opportunity. All it takes is that one first step into the unknown...
"We are more powerful than we ever believe ourselves to be, let the water hold and take away your your fears."
There are loads of awesome groups and resources you can tap into to support you on your journey, here are just a few which might spark something or support you on your journey with the water...
Wild Swimming: https://www.wildswimming.co.uk/
The Salty Seabirds: https://seabirdsltd.com/sea-swimmers-28-w.asp
The Outdoor Swimming Society: https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/