what daily sea immersion has taught me.
I have always been afraid of the sea. I know a lot of people say that, but I’ve had excessive fears of the sea for as long as I can remember. I loved the idea of being in the sea, but in reality it would take me the whole summer to build up my confidence enough to walk in without hesitation, every single year. And even then, the slightest splash, or seaweed brushing me was enough for me to hurl myself out again faster than you could blink.
In 2017, around Christmas I went through a really rough patch. A bad break up followed by a loss of any sense of purpose that I had. The only thing that consolidated me was a daily ritual of driving to the beach, sitting in the car with a flask of tea, and watching the sea. I learned that the sunrises in winter at my local beach were better than I’d seen anywhere else.
My January-blue self had booked my spring-self a break away to Sri Lanka, to escape reality and enjoy visiting some of my favourite places, and people in the world. Whilst I was there I began to get the urge to get in the sea - but travelling alone, and during the season when the tides are rough, it didn’t feel like a good idea; let alone the fact that my fears were far too strong to let me. I mean, people are quick to respond to fears of sharks in Wales with “don’t be ridiculous, there aren’t sharks in Welsh waters!”, but in Sri Lanka that seemed like a much more rational concern.
One week after returning home I listened to a podcast by a woman I was connected with on instagram, who spoke about the liberation she felt from swimming in the sea - all year around. I was in awe! I didn’t really know it was possible to go in the sea in winter in the UK, let alone enjoyable.
After hearing that, I managed to psych myself up to get in. It was the first week of May - still cold in the water, but the air was pleasantly warm, even very first thing in the morning. It was far from easy stepping into that icy water, but saying aloud “it’s not that bad, it’s not that bad!” with every step helped me to finally submerge myself. And then…it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I could only agree with everything that Hannah had said in her podcast about her sea swimming experiences.
It was blissful, peaceful and empowering.
As that summer progressed, I decided that this was something that I needed to keep hold of, so I promised myself to get in at least once a month for a whole year…which I almost managed! Then, on September 1st 2019 I decided to get in the sea every day that month. And I haven’t stopped since.
Daily sea swims has been transformative for me, and I really feel like I could write a book about it all, but today we’ll settle for a blog, and I’ll share the three biggest lessons that I learned from my daily dips; my thoughts don’t have to dictate my actions; if I drop the ball, I can pick it up again; and lastly, that I’m braver than I think.
My thoughts don’t have to dictate my actions.
I’d been practicing yoga for quite some time before I got into sea swimming; yet I feel that this practice taught me more than I had ever learned on my mat.
The purpose of yoga is to quieten the mind chatter. And, when you’re being led through a challenging sequence of postures, with practice, that can become quite easy - with so much to concentrate on in each moment there isn’t much space to be worrying about everyday life problems. However, applying that to everyday life is where it becomes more challenging.
When I first decided to go in the sea on that morning in May, I sat in the car willing myself to go in - but my mind was the biggest barrier. “What if there are sharks?”, “Is it actually safe?”, “Could I get swept out to sea?!”. I sat with those thoughts and addressed each one, eventually turning my thinking around from “what could go wrong?” to “how amazing could that feel?”. In the end I decided that, indeed, there was some small risk in this, but it was much smaller in reality than my mind was trying to convince me…and after all, what if it was just incredible?
Of course, this wasn’t the only time my mind tried to get in the way! In case my fears of sharks, jelly fish, fish in general and seals wasn’t enough; I used to be very afraid of waves too. I would guess that a lot of sensible people would be unnerved to go in the sea with big waves…but I’m talking about a fear of even the little ones! However, with my new understanding of my thought processes, I became able to assess the risk more pragmatically. My initial thought of “Oh my God, there are waves, that’s way too dangerous. I could get dragged out to sea and die.”, became “there are some waves, but if I stay where it’s shallow then I will likely be very safe”. Something so simple, but so powerful. I have been able to re-write the narrative in my mind.
This narrative became easier and easier to adopt over time - especially as I started to clock up a fair amount of evidence that I would be okay (with certain precautions in place; more on that in a little bit). Admittedly, I still have some way to go…if a seal pops his head up out of the water, I’ll still be the first one to whelp and run for my life; and I’m still working on applying this to other areas of my life.
If I drop the ball, I can pick it up again.
500 days of dipping didn’t come without it’s physical challenges. From a car crash, to dangerous stormy seas - I’ve had to be creative with getting my cold fix. I’ve learned that even when you drop the ball, you don’t need to give up.
I was visiting friends in Arundel for Christmas, which isn’t too far from the south coastline, so I didn’t have too much concern about my daily dips going awry for those few days. Whilst I’m able to overcome the frightened voice in my mind, I’m still able to recognise when going in the sea is actually not a good idea. On the first day in Arundel, we drove down to the coast and I sadly looked out at the treacherous sea. There was no way I could go in; but instead of giving up, I improvised. Our friends said that people regularly swam in the river near their house, so we went back to check it out - but the water was moving so fast, I probably would have been swept out to sea from there too! So we came up with a new plan; there was another, smaller river nearby - but it was starting to get dark, so we had to get a move on. En route to this river, I saw the moat surrounding Arundel Castle…and a few moments later, I was in! That was the first of my more creative dips. The second day we faced the same issues when we tried the beach again; so that time I settled for a (very stinky) boating lake. I got a lot of funny looks! On our last day, we finally made it to the beautiful small river - the waters were crystal clear and tainted a gorgeous teal from the chalky rocks. Being forced to be creative with my outdoor dips added a fun adventure to the challenge.
Two months later, I was in a bad car crash. An oncoming driver had drifted onto my side of the road, and despite me breaking and swerving onto the grass verge, we collided very badly. I didn’t want to let anything get in my way of dipping, but with a cut on my head that was glued together, I had to keep my head completely dry for three days. The first day I could, I got back in, with my fat lip, bruised body and sprained shoulder. The waves were chunky and I felt fragile. But I’d ticked it off, and that was what mattered. I seemed to be having a bout of bad luck at that time though, and got a stomach bug the next day, which completely took it out of me. I took another week off, until I was much better. - but getting in that day took more determination than any other dip!! Once I was back in the game, I didn’t look back again.
Other times, the sea has just not felt safe to go in; maybe if I’ve been alone, or in stormy conditions. Again, I didn’t want this to get in my way - so I improvised some more. On the days where I know it’s too risky, I wait until the tide is low and find a big, peaceful rock pool to bathe in. I love to completely submerge myself in the water, and stay quite still once I’m in anyway, so it’s perfect for me. Whilst I find the waves fun, it takes away from the meditative experience that my daily dips are; and that’s what it’s really about for me. The only rules are the ones I set in this weird competition with myself - so I’m quite happy to adapt where needed, as safety has to be the top priority in order to keep this game going!
The challenge has evolved as time has passed; from staying in until I counted to 90 in the beginning, to staying in until I felt calm, to now challenging myself to longer times of immersion - it’s been a journey in so many ways; and as long as I’m getting in the water for my own physical and mental benefits, I can’t really fail.
I’m braver than I think.
I’ver never thought of myself as brave, but when it’s the middle of winter and every one of the few walkers you pass on your way out from a dip says “you’re brave!”, or “you’re braver than me!”, it gets you thinking you might be after all. It took me some time to recognise that, in fact, in my own way, I am incredibly brave.
Through challenging my thoughts and overcoming obstacles, I’ve uncovered my own resilience. Whilst looking back over my own Instagram for this blog, I came across a post where I’d talked about walking over to Worm’s Head (a nearby tidal island) on my own. It was a big deal for me, and I largely put it down to my sea swimming at the time. It has given me the confidence to trust another part of myself, that was usually overpowered by the worrier inside my head. My sea swimming journey has enabled me to think bigger, aim higher and allow my inner warrior to lead the way. This has been true not only in my personal life, but in other areas too. One of the ways this played out int my work was running a “Braver Than You Think” retreat day; I took a risk and invited everyone to join me in the sea….on January 4th! Luckily they really were a brave bunch, and the risk paid off.
I've also faced some of the biggest personal challenges of my life during this time. Throughout the first lockdown of 2020 my beautiful horse, Bella was terminally ill. I spent hours each day tending to her, and soaking up the last moments I had to share with her. Eventually her life came to an end in August, just a few days before my birthday. Having spent most of our lives together, losing her was incredibly painful. Throughout that period, the day of her death, and the time following, the sea again became my solace, pulling me through the darkest days.
Over time, instead of batting away the compliments that I received by onlookers, I began to gratefully accept them, and now when I hear those inspired words, I think to myself, “yes, I am brave” - because sometimes you do need to be your own cheerleader too, and I hope to help others to realise that also.
If you enjoyed this piece, and want to uncover your own inner warrior, check out my upcoming workshop, “Braver Than You Think”.