Ocean Swimming In Winter: The Best Cure For The Blues
Sometime over the past few years, I lost my spark, and even though I wasn’t sure if menopause or the medication I took for my anxiety were the culprits, or even the amount of time my husband and I had spent together in lockdown together, I was desperate to retrieve it.
Impatience and irrational outbursts of anger had become a big problem that were linked (I suspected) to menopause and poor sleep, hormone fuckery, the inability to control my body temperature, and my secret fears about the life-altering changes that lay ahead.
And, clearly, emotional eating and drinking weren’t working…
And so, as we approached our seventh week of lockdown — and I found myself subconsciously plotting my husband’s death — I decided enough was enough, and determined to find another outlet for my anger.
Admittedly, I laughed when a friend suggested swimming through winter, but I didn’t completely dismiss the idea when in the past, swimming has had a calming effect on me.
It wasn’t an obvious choice. Public indoor swimming pools had been closed down in lockdown and we were in winter in Sydney, and albeit I was aware of the health benefits of swimming in cold water, I needed more convincing.
After two years of comfort eating in lockdown, the idea of contorting my body back into tummy flattening swimmers didn’t fill me with joy
And despite living in arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I hadn’t been to the beach in a while. Two years ago, our summer was spoilt by the blanket of smoke from bushfires, and last year, my age caught up with my body — with, firstly, a painful case of bursitis in my foot, and secondly, a malignant melanoma on my arm, which entailed surgery and stitches and put an end to my weekend dips.
However, those health issues did provide an epiphany of sorts, (or the cliched “wake-up call”), about the importance of living each day as if it’s my last, being grateful, getting back to nature, and enjoying the simple things in life, blah, blah, blah…
And so, I decided to take the plunge
The water temperature is not warm in winter, nor indeed at any time of the year in Sydney. In fact, the only way to swim in temperatures comparable to the Mediterranean or Hawaii’s Waikiki beach in Australia, is by heading north taking your chances with the crocodiles and box jellyfish.
Hence, I admit that the thought of my first winter swim in one of our local ocean pools— originally built to protect swimmers from dangerous surf, currents, and…ahem… sharks — was hardly appealing, and in the end it was vanity that swayed my decision. Because, surprisingly, there are benefits to the crazy activity of swimming in cold water:
- It improves the body’s circulation
- It reduces stress
- It boosts the immune system
- It rejuvenates the skin
- It gives you an immense feeling of smugness
- And it eradicates any middle-aged body image issues, because NO ONE over 50 looks good in a wetsuit
Furthermore, really “cool” people like Julia Baird, Kathy Lette, and Benjamin Law swim through winter
Convinced, I ordered myself the most fetching spring wetsuit I could find in my size, a very unflattering swim cap, a pair of new goggles, and I set about preparing myself for my new adventure.
Admittedly, alcohol may have been involved as I psyched myself up for my first swim
As one of those swimmers who lingers longer around the steps than actually in the water, I knew I had to get into the water quickly for any chance of success, but as my teeth chattered and I felt the need to wee again, I strode as purposefully as I could into the shallow end and all feeling left my lower body.
Luckily, the trickles of iced water that broke through the armour of my wetsuit restarted my heart several times
The temperature of the water was around 17 degrees, but felt closer to zero. However, my new wetsuit did a commendable job of protecting me as I submerged my body with far less grace than a submarine into the icy-cold beneath me, grateful for the odd trickles of iced water that broke through the rubber and restarted my heart several times in between my underwater expletives.
Holding my breath, fully aware of the importance of keeping my heart rate up as I doggy-paddled frantically in the direction the “real” swimmers on the other side of the pool, I prayed silently that none of the lifeguards would jump into save me as a group of kids in bikinis laughed at my progress.
But I made it
And more importantly, the anger left my body as my brain switched its focus from the inadequacies of my husband to my survival. And although the smile of relief on my face nearly cracked until I located a warm spot in the water where the kids had peed, by the end of my second length I remembered why I had married him again.