It’s the middle of winter, pouring down outside and I haven’t been for a swim in over a week. The longer I go without swimming the longer the rut lasts, and the harder it feels just to jump on the bus to the pool or my local reservoir. This felt like the story of the winter just gone, and despite signing up to the Penguin Gold winter swim challenge, my motivation was missing in action. However, more often than not my phone would buzz and the saving grace of my ‘Reservoir Ladies’ chat would pop up, “Anyone fancy a swim this evening?”
Swimming so often feels like a solitary sport, especially in the pool, and we forget the power of the friends that make those swims worth it and the strangers we have a chat with in the changing rooms. The best way I’ve gotten out my funk, and got back into a swim routine is simply by asking friends to take the plunge with me.
One of my now good friends, Sephy, was originally a stranger on a Facebook group asking for a friend to accompany her on her first open water swim. From our first dip together last April, we have met other women our age and found a network of supportive, fun and equally as barmy ladies. We now both run a Mental Health Swim group at West Reservoir in London, where exactly this kind of support is there for our monthly meetup.
Whilst getting out of that rut is important, we are in the midst of a mental health crisis after years of turbulence and challenging times, and it’s the swimming that has helped my own mental health most. In the freezing dips during winter, the moment I hit the water my mind is focussed on how I am breathing, checking my body is adjusting and feeling my mind reset. I notice the cold of the water on my skin, the grebes diving a few metres away, the reeds rustling in the wind, the smell of my swim gear and the taste of the crisp water as a ripple brushes my chin. I am brought into a mindful moment, forced to be in touch with my senses and my mind, and just for a few minutes abandon the worries and stresses of my day or week. When I leave the water, that feeling of achievement is like nothing else and I always have an enormous smile on my face and unashamedly a slightly smug walk back up the ramp. What I was finding overwhelming, too much and stressful before my swim, I am now ready to look at from a new perspective. I remind myself, I have never regretted a swim.