This last year has been difficult. It’s been gloomy. It’s been drenched in uncertainty, unknowing, uneasiness.
Locked up in our homes, many of us haven’t felt very alive. In fact, I know a lot of people have been experiencing tremendous struggle. Suffocation even.
Me too. I’m human, right?
But it is said that our dark moments often lead us to the light, and that has been my experience in every difficult situation I’ve gone through.
Feeling shackled by the misery of lockdown, I wanted so badly to feel alive again. Not in the sense where I wanted to be surrounded by lots of people or immersing myself in the kind of artificial high one gets from retail therapy or pubs. Nothing like that.
I wanted to touch base with myself again. With my inner being. With the light within me that had been dimmed.
So I did what any normal person would do, and I chucked myself into cold water.
That was back in February; swimming in the chilly sea turned out to be such a significant experience that I have been doing it weekly since.
I feel that over the last few months, these cold water swims have shifted something in me. It’s become a drug that I just want more of.
Here’s what it’s taught me so far.
Being Uncomfortable is Liberating
We are taught that comfort is key. Wrap up warm or you’ll catch a cold. Wear fluffy slippers and wrap yourself in a big comfy blanket and everything will be ok.
Like most things, we were taught wrong. Being comfortable is not the answer to feeling at ease. Quite the opposite.
Each week when I get to the beach and start undressing, I feel a sense of discomfort rise in me. As each layer comes off, my body’s response is to want to chuck my clothes back on. I feel scared. The cold breeze from the wind reminds me that I am laying myself bare, I am stepping out of my comfort zone and into the unknown.
As I start running towards the sea, my discomfort turns to excitement. Then as the water begins splashing at my body, the adrenaline starts pumping. It’s liberating.
I’ve learnt that staying within the confinement of my comfort zone is the very meaning of discomfort. I am not here to be comfortable; to feel warm, fuzzy and fluffy. Being comfortable means playing it safe, and I am not here to play it safe. I am here to live. To feel alive. To say “No” to comfort in exchange for life.
Stop Being So Anal
I’m the first to admit that I’m anal. I like things in a particular place. I like to run my life in a regimented way. I try and keep everything neatly and perfectly together.
But do I really like living like that or is it a coping method I once picked up that helps me to feel in control?
Either way, life isn’t that simple; it’s not possible to have it together all of the time, and those expectations only lead to unhappiness.
So therefore, I’ve found that the answer lies in not being so anal. Sounds simple but how does one stop being anal?
Well I didn’t know how until I started dipping my body in the sea.
As I’m running into that water, an exciting buzz starts running through my body. It’s a familiar feeling; it reminds me of being a child. I feel free. I don’t care about my hair getting wet or screaming with excitement so loud that passers by look on in bewilderment. All of my structure falls apart as the water hits my body and I melt into the ease of it all.
In these moments, when I’m not being anal, I truly feel like myself.
That anal part of me, which is useful at times, isn’t who I am at heart. I am carefree, wild, playful, excited – that’s me and I’m so grateful the sea has reminded me of this fact.
Get Out of Your Mind
Some people turn to drugs or alcohol to get out of their heads. I’ve turned to cold water, and it works.
I was watching an interview James English did with Wim Hof recently where Wim was talking about the break you get from the mind when you get into cold water and I thought, “wow, that really is it.”
Life is tough at times, it’s bloody overwhelming. We all need a way to get out of our heads to improve our mental health but I don’t think drugs or alcohol is the answer.
However, when you’re in freezing water and it’s so cold that it’s painful, you automatically disconnect from the pain in the mind because your mind becomes fixated on what is happening right now. The body starts tingling, the neck aching, you have to pay attention to your breath – in other words, you’re back in touch with yourself and the present moment rather than being preoccupied by difficult thoughts.
I’ve learned that being in cold water, even for a minute or two, breaks the chain of pain. It takes me out of it and recentres me. And I believe we all need a break from the mind.
Wim Hof says that cold water can heal you, and I have no doubt that he’s right. My journey with cold water has only just begun and now I know how alive it makes me feel and the enormous mental health benefits it gives, I will not be stopping!