3rd anniversary of cold water swimming

3rd anniversary of cold water swimming
Long exposure of a river with docks in the background. In the middle a non-binary person in a red hat smiles and does thumbs up to the camera.

Two weeks ago was my 3rd anniversary of my first cold water dip. Over the years I’ve got a deeper understanding of myself. While it’s never resulted in depression curing euphoria or made stopped me having anxiety, I do keep returning to the sea. I remember being fascinated by Lomokev’s photos on Flickr back in the late 2000s. Who thought walking across a snowy beach to swim about in icy cold water was a good idea? No, just no. Yet, the photography was great and I kept following his work. Was I tempted back then? No. Absolutely not.

By the mid-2010s, I was a confident swimmer in my local pool, but only because it was a controlled environment with no big waves or jellyfish to worry about. I was not a confident sea swimmer in any way. The only times I swam were in super safe coves while on holiday. Swimming in the sea was not something I did in the UK, despite being told I should try out for a triathlon by the instructors at the pool. I had self-taught myself well, it seemed.

Later I bumped into the story of a woman who wild swam every day in the lakes of Wales totally naked. Again, I thought it was an absurd idea. Every day? Even the cold ones and with the fish? Naked?! What was wrong with staying in the warmth and playing video games? Was I tempted? No, but secretly maybe?

Non-binary person wearing bright red lipstick and a back beanie swims in a river on a sunny day.

Over the years I saw articles about cold water swimming and the idea bounced around in my head. If I had been well enough while we were in The Hague, I would have been adventurous and joined in the New Year dip. Over 25,000 people do it and you get a hat after. It wasn’t until we returned to the UK when I saw a couple of women in bikinis in January wander into the river on a windy day and go for a swim. The kind of people I had seen in Lomokev’s photos years ago were now on my doorstep. Could I join them?

So I did. I documented the event before and after, and I’ve continued ever since. My last swim was a few days ago and, assuming I notice my alarm in the morning, I will nip out for a dip tomorrow.

How I wish it cured my depression or that I’m anxiety free. I’m not. Maybe being autistic means I’m never going to be free of those issues. Last year I went for a swim in calm water and had a massive panic attack. I’ve been doing this for 3 years now. Shouldn’t I be able to happily swim without issue? How I wish I could. I would love to grab my gear and run into the sea each morning, feeling inspired and creative for the rest of the day.

It isn’t that way for me. Perhaps I’m going for a dip at the wrong time of day, and I’m out of spoons (mental energy) to sort everything. The neighbours playing music could have put me into sensory overload. Who knows somedays? It throws me off, and I’m easily affected by the world around me. The weather might not be perfect, and the water could be choppy. Could it rain? All sorts of panic sets in. I pack my bag in the wrong order. Everything is wrong and I can’t explain why. I hate that this keeps happening, and I become depressed for the rest of the day despite having done something others would gloat about on Instagram.

I just want to swim, to throw my clothes off and run into the waves. At least be the kind of person that can do that. I’ve been doing this for 3 years now, and I’m exhausted by being exhausted from sensory overload. There are times when I wish I wasn’t autistic. I know I’m supposed to champion being different and be OK with disability, but how nice must it feel to be able to do things without panic attacks?

Non-binary person with a dark purple beard and a red beanie hat on glances back at a big wave closing in on them.

All that said, would I have ever come out as trans non-binary without wild swimming in the UK? That is a fascinating thought. Did I naturally have the confidence to walk around in a skirt with makeup on, or has the past 3 years helped with my body issues and given me the confidence to see the non-binary person inside me all this time? 2 years ago, I wrote;

I remember when I first got into running 10 years ago, and I would run around the backstreets by my apartment. I was terribly afraid of someone seeing me. I was 23 stone and felt like a disgusting sweaty fat blob. I didn’t want anyone to see that. Of course, it took years to come around to the idea that I’m at least trying to get fit. Now when I run I feel fine if someone sees me in tight-fitting clothing. I understand why those types of clothes are good to run in. More importantly, I am happy to be seen because I hope it inspires others. I’m not the $6 million dollar man. I’m more like $1 pizza man. Confidence is what makes me feel like the $6 million dollar man. For me to get into an icy lake with my shirt off with my beer/chocolate belly flopping over my belt and not only be fine but feel great is incredible.

Doing this has given me such confidence to be OK with who I am because I’ve had a taste of it. I know that inside me, there is someone I want to be.

You’re seeing that too, right? 2 years ago, I wrote, “I know that inside me there is someone I want to be.” No, I can’t title this piece “How wild swimming fixed my gender.” That would be silly. It never fixed me. It only helped give me the confidence to feel OK about myself. In slowly coming to terms with my body I felt confident because while I may not be #BeachBodyReady, my body is fine with getting into a cold wintery lake. This body lets me do things others can’t. That’s a pretty good body to have, imho. I even reached the point where I was wild swimming naked in the lakes of Wales just like that woman who inspired me years ago.

In reaching that conclusion, I read more, learned more and discovered a part of me I didn’t realise existed. Having spent months walking to the lake wearing a towel robe (basically a long hoodie dress made from a towel) I realised I had been practicing being out as a non-binary person. Things just clicked into place and a wild new me appeared.

My sensory issues from being autistic means I may never reach the point of being able to throw off my clothes and jump into the water. But, the years of slowly being OK with my body means that when I can get in the water I’ll do so with a purple beard, nail polish in sparkly briefs with hot pink lipstick on. I think it’s good to do something I’m afraid of in the most amazing way I can. It’s clearly good for me in ways I can’t see.

Non-binary person with a purple bead, green lipstick, black shades and a black beanie looks up to the sky after a swim.

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