I was originally introduced to outdoor swimming around 7 years ago when I lived in Bristol. It offered me solace and freedom from a stressful job working in Community Mental Health. I would often have sleepless nights worrying about my service users, which resulted in a period of extreme anxiety and I eventually had to leave the job and the area for my own wellbeing.
Since returning here I experienced a catastrophic life event, the death of my first born daughter in infancy. I had been searching for an outlet for my grief, trauma and anxiety over time, where I wouldn't be hurried back to normal but rather to process it in my own time. I had not given a thought to returning to swimming, other than deciding on an occasional whim to go to an open water venue. I felt disconnected and fearful.
Fast forward to last year at the advent of a global pandemic, I had a resurgence of my symptoms. I had finally found the courage and confidence to return to my previous profession after several years out, only to have that pulled from under me. I was able to cope with the isolation as this had been a common feeling following my loss, but just could not see a future.
This is where outdoor swimming came into its own for me. In this last year I have become completely addicted. I swam the Sywell open water season, which I interspersed with swims on the River Ouse in Olney and later in the year I joined a local wild swimming group. This all offered me a safe haven to swim with volunteers on hand to help, and with friendships I have formed in engaging in a sport which has its risks, but with the benefits greatly outweighing these.
It is sometimes difficult to convey just how the act of immersing myself in cold water has benefited me. It is both a feast and a challenge of the senses. The wild silky waters, seeing nature at play, reflections and sunsets where you are totally enveloped, even the smell of the water lures me in. The heightened sense of surroundings that make me feel safe within myself rather than being hypervigilant with every small thing, makes this a unique experience.
It is the feeling of becoming alive and in stark contrast to my early days of grief, where everything felt so hopeless. I have found that whilst I swim, I can remember my daughter without any outside interference, it feels like she is swimming alongside, guiding and protecting. Brain fog in my every day becomes like a sense of renewal and clarity. it keeps me calm and happy.
I would encourage anyone to give outdoor swimming a try but build up slowly. Be guided by experienced swimmers who can show you the way and just enjoy it. If I could bottle the feeling that open/wild swimming gives, everyone should have a taste of it.