Before I get in to this, I want to say something - do not do this without thinking it through. It i not 100% safe given that it can damage your nipples and cause scars to burst open, or to stretch. I did it because I felt like my body was healing well, and my mental health was plummeting. I was willing to take the risk, but I am not necessarily advocating it. The road to recovery is not necessarily linear. I have since been back in calmer seas in a wetsuit. I was super conscious and did things like turning my back to the waves and also made sure that I did not have any open wounds before going in. I also checked myself over thoroughly afterward. It will be a while before I can fully swim in the water, but this is a start.
One day, I'll get a waterproof camera. Until then you'll just have to put up with pics from my friend's phone, but look - I went swimming! In the sea! While it was stormy! In SHORTS. I cannot describe that feeling. Right before surgery I had started to develop a spiritual link with the sea. I want to try to explain that briefly before I explain the importance of it and why I named this blog swimming for survival. Perhaps my first post did that already. Perhaps I will never be able to put it in to words. But, dear reader, I wholeheartedly believe that I would not be here were it not for setting feet in the water. Here's a little bit about the four people who inspired me to get in the water, in no particular order - 'The Iceman' Wim Hof, Anna Deacon, my partner M and my therapist. So... Wim Hof is this fascinating man who took to ice cold water in order to cope with his wife's passing. His story caught me. Like... why did the ice and the water help him survive? Like what was it about it that kept him here? How did it work? Why did it work? I had a vague memory from centuries ago as a child in the sea and ducking my head in to the icy water and feeling sort of cleansed. I didn't understand it and when I did some cursory googling, I found very little science behind it. This meant that while I believed it, my anxiety brain had nothing to help me make sense of it. No solid grounding to kind of understand what seems to go against everything that I understood about the human body. But throughout lockdown, the name Wim Hof seemed to gain traction - all with this kind of 'we don't understand why it works, but it just does'. You might wonder why that mattered. I cannot and will not be able to put in to words the place I was in then. I was desperate to find a way out of life. I had been waiting for 4 years (or 39 years depending on how you look at it) to breathe. The vice like grip around my chest was tightening and my will to fight was waning and my heart was darkening. If I still drank, I'd have drunk myself in to oblivion. As it was, I started to hide behind some less than legal substances but that's maybe a conversation we will have another day. I'm not quite ready to explain my relationship with weed to people just yet. ANYWAY, this crazy man was on the telly telling me there was a way out that was free and exciting way out of the hell I was in. My curiosity piqued and I started talking about it with others. Including my partner. In fact I think she might have been the one who said 'hey there's this guy who explains why ducking your head in cold water helps' and pointed me in his direction.
At that time M had started sea swimming - she maintains it was cos of me. Because I got a buzz from sea swimming the summer previous with a friend. But really she is the one who regularly dipped in to the sea and took the lead in getting in regularly to help with both mind and body (yeah cold water swimming also helps with pain management and your immune system and hundreds of things - google it) and I became increasingly curious. I saw the happiness it brought her in her own wee way (one day I might persuade her to write her take on things on here, who knows?) and I got the good old compersion. Like I wanted a piece of the action but anxiety held me back. And then she gave me a book called 'Taking The Plunge' by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allen. And I read the different accounts and it pushed my anxious legs closer to the beach. So I joined the Wardie Bay Wild Ones and Anna was in there. Reading her posts and little comments after reading her book honestly made me realise that
this was something I had to do. And seeing the MASSIVE grins on people's faces in the Wild Ones swimming groups. But fear still gripped me. I also joined these groups as a result of my therapist at the time urging me to. I was circling a drain and I was struggling to continue living. My top surgery was taking ages and covid sort of extended my wait after the GIC and life had pushed it further and further away from my grip and then the media threw a case in my face that resulted in PTSD flashbacks - I was NOT WELL. And J came in to my life with kind empathy and a voice that said 'hold on'. She didn't tell me to swim initially, if memory serves but agreed with me that it would be good for me. However, I think the third or fourth time I spoke with her about it, she was like 'you NEED to do it' and I eventually did. Her gentle but firm guidance, was the push I needed. I put my toes in, had the cold water shock my lungs, and then I slowed my breathing and ducked my head under and there it was. The reset button. I hit it hard. And then I tethered myself to the pole in the storm. That moment changed my life.
I got to experience the joy and then form a relationship with the sea that... well it became spiritual. I used to joke that I was a waterbaby, or a kelpie when I was younger. I didn't know how the joke would become more of a reality for me. I only know that the sea became important to my survival and then I had to give it up almost as soon as I took it up because my surgery date came up and once again, because of covid, I had to isolate for two weeks prior to it, and then I had 6 weeks of recovery. In that time, the only thing I could do was pop my toes in the water and stare out to the middle distance. It helped, but it wasn't the same. But I knew I'd be back, pressing the reset button, and communing with the water again soon.
That was when I decided I was going to go in in shorts and show the sea my scars. The sea doesn't judge, remember? I had no idea about how it would feel but the first time had to be topless and as soon as I could. And so the minute I could, I popped on my shorts (which were a little tight) and waded out. I couldn't really swim as such cos I don't have the mobility in my arms so much, but I doggy paddled. I did old people breast stroke (hey! no shade, it's just they're the only people I see doing it - where they keep their heads up and just do wee strokes) and I have never ever been happier. Literally never. And I was there with some of my favourite people (who also inspire me in their own ways - I'll write about them some time too I'm sure - they know who they are).
So if you are trans and are nervous of swimming pools and the eyes? The sea won't shame you. The sea doesn't judge. It resets things. It helps people stay on this earth.