Swimming in the snow. Taken by: Kevin Meredith
Why I swim…
“Cold water is nothing, it is just cold water. [when you compare it to] The things that life throw at you which can be so painful… then to get into water which is 2 degrees centigrade is nothing.” (Unknown woman, ‘The Ponds’ documentary)
The link between cold water swimming and mood has, until recently, been tenuous at best to the general public. Something of a closely guarded secret to those that partake in the sport, however with a rise in participants and a significant amount of new studies popping up, the cat (or perhaps, fish) is out of the bag!
As someone who has previously suffered the heavy wrath of the dreaded ‘black dog’ I’m here to tell you that I am a walking, talking, (writing), lab rat- living proof that the research speaks for itself! The water can cure you (even if you don’t think you need curing). The thing is though, probably like most, I uncovered this ‘cure’ entirely by mistake! You see I’ve always loved the water- I could swim before I could walk (I’m not even kidding!) and whilst Australia’s climate isn’t exactly the same as Brighton’s (UK), and a pool has nothing on the open water when it comes to the benefits of nature, I have always found that there is still something peaceful about the feeling of being totally immersed in water. The result is a kind of tranquility that is vaguely familiar, like coming home to a place which you can only faintly recall but feels totally right (some would speculate it’s womb-like).
As a child and teenager I couldn’t get enough of the water. At the height of my swimming obsession I was a fierce competitor who trained up to 11 times a week, but I had never put two and two together, that is until now: It was my (angsty-teen) stress release; not just the feeling of tranquility that I get from being immersed, but the happy endorphins that flow through you after exercise, which are a well-documented natural mood booster. 15 years later I found myself in the midst of the concrete jungle that is London, having not swam for years and surrounded by the heavy fog of debilitating anxiety and depression. In the midst of my tumultuous life (which at the time felt so foreign) I felt compelled to visit the ocean. It was like my subconscious instinct knew the cure before my brain realised what my gut was saying; and before you knew it I had decided that an upheaval was non-negotiable and I was living in Brighton. It took a little while to discover the Sea Swimming Club (until then just living near the water was calming enough), but again, my gut (and google) led me there and I embraced the cold water with open arms (or at least an open heart).
Did I ever think I would be the kind of person who voluntarily swims in the snow for pleasure? No! Never! I’m STILL the kind of person who inches into a swimming pool on a tropical holiday! But there really is something about the cold which shocks your mind into realising that you are alive! Something that we can have a tendency to be numb to in this digital age whilst we’re too busy juggling the rest of our chaotic societal expectations (eat healthily, exercise regularly, never age, excel at work, be hair free, exceed at parenting, find the love of your life and most importantly have lots of cool friends that make elaborate weekend plans every weekend because #squadgoals).
“In a world of flux and chaos, it is almost a shock to discover some experiences remain natural, unhurried and unchanged.”- Samuel Smith Patrick McLennan (Director of ‘The Ponds’)
The anxiety and depression which afflicted me is part of a wider systemic problem which exists more regularly today than I think ever before; something that the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti sums up very well:
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”.
Anxiety and Depression are at an all time high, higher still if you are a millenial (which I am). At some point we have to stop and ask ourselves ‘why’? I’m not the tech-addicted, junk food eating, games-console-playing stereotype that the world would paint our generation as, quite the opposite: I’ve exercised all my life, have a healthier diet than most, avoid technology where I can in my personal life and all in all am a very happy person. Something is wrong with this picture, and if you ask me the anxiety we’re suffering stems from uncertainty. Uncertainty for our planet and for our own futures. We are collectively struggling as humans to live peacefully on this earth whilst subconsciously understanding the damage we’re inflicting upon it. The looming threat of climate change and extinction (amongst other things) is weighing heavily on our hearts and minds… I mean even the children are feeling a need to rise up (#climatestrike)! Now more than ever we need people to be in nature so they can truly appreciate what we could potentially lose if we’re not conscious, yet we’re destroying nature faster than ever before. Just writing that sentence makes me feel anxious!
I truly believe to my core that the ‘cure’ for what ails us lies (in part at least) in nature itself. The Germans have a word for it that we don’t in english: Waldeinsamkeit: The feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods, and a connectedness to nature. That connection to our planet is what we might just be missing. There no other person or thing which gives so selflessly and asks for nothing in return except for mother nature.
So why do I swim? I swim for the stress release, because life IS stressful. I swim for the camaraderie between friends who enter into something resilient together and come out victorious. I swim for the endorphins and the feeling of resilience I get which helps me to overcome any fear I feel over smaller tasks; but most of all, I swim to remind myself that nature exists, and she is beautiful, and generous, and that we need to protect and take care of her at all costs. I swim because it drives me to do better and be better.
So if you’re feeling what the Germans call Fernweh: Feeling homesick for a place you have never been to; or what the Portugese call Saudade : The feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost or even what the Russians call Toska: A sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without a specific cause; a longing with nothing to long for, then it’s probably nature calling you, asking you to reconnect with her. Answer her. You won’t regret it, I promise.
What the ocean gives to me (and what nature can do for you) is nothing short of a miracle. She is the reason behind everything I do to help tackle pollution and climate change- this blog, my public speaking, any content creation- its all to aid in her preservation so current and future generations can benefit in the same way I have.