I started sea swimming about 2.5 years ago, after seeing something on the local news about a sea swimming group, formed during the Covid pandemic, and it’s been the best thing I’ve done for my mental health and wellbeing. I’ve always had an affinity with swimming and nature and just knew I had to give it a go.
I remember that first dip so clearly, the feeling of immense cold as I entered the sea that October morning is still palpable. I didn’t have any of the gear, no wetsuit or neoprene socks or gloves. I was bare footed and in leggings and a t-shirt with my towel and dressing gown in my bag at the water’s edge. The coldness of the sea on my feet and legs as I gradually edged my way further into the sea was so painful. Every sense in my body and mind was telling me to stop, turn round and run from the cold. But I didn’t, I persevered and went in further, with the encouragement and support of other swimmers already in the sea.
Looking back, it took a lot of courage and that makes me feel brave and I realise I’m so much stronger than I think.
I went back for another dip a few days later and that was it, I was hooked. Now I try to swim in the sea most days. The feeling it gives me is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and I would go as far as to say that the sea (particularly in winter) and being in nature with like-minded people, has changed my life. I don’t class myself as a religious person really, but I find outdoor swimming very spiritual and healing.
I feel a real sense of joy when I’m in the water and the feeling of peace and contentment stays with me for the rest of the day. I feel so connected to nature and the changing seasons.
I know when the sun will rise and set each day, what the weather forecast is for that day and the sea conditions, as well as tide times, all of which is essential knowledge to swim safely and prepare for each swim. I never forget that cold water swimming is classed as an extreme sport, there are real risks of hypothermia so if you are thinking of giving it a go, I’d urge you to please do some research beforehand. The Outdoor Swimming Society has some great advice for beginners.Go to Outdoors Swimming Society website
There are lots of local swimming groups along the north-east coast and there’s a charity called Mental Health Swims, a mental health peer support community, hosting free and safe swim meet ups nationwide, including in the north east of England.Go to Mental Health swims website
When I first enrolled at ARCH Recovery College in the North East of England about 5 years ago, my mental health was on rock bottom, having experienced several prolonged periods of chronic depression and anxiety throughout my adult life. I attended some fantastic courses at ARCH which helped me so much with my personal recovery, but one in particular called ‘Recovery – The New Me’ was a lightbulb moment for me. The course focused on the CHIME model of recovery (Connectedness, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment). I realised that for various reasons, many of the things we talked about in the course were missing from my life and I now felt I had the knowledge and tools I needed to move forward with my personal recovery. For me personally, outdoor swimming and everything it brings to my life ticks all the boxes of the CHIME model of recovery. I feel so connected to the sea and nature and to my fellow swimming community. I have an abundance of hope and look forward to each swim which is always so different and joyful. Cold water sea swimming has made me feel brave and empowered and I feel so much more resilient and better equipped to cope with life’s stresses and whatever it may throw my way.
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