World Mental Health Day: Wild Water Swimming

World Mental Health Day blog series

Wild Water Swimming

by Michelle Rhodes, Pathways to Employment Lead

At the end of May this year I found myself not only coping with a global pandemic and suddenly working full time from home, but also facing the end of my marriage and becoming a single mum of three daughters and two misbehaving dogs.

I really had to take a step back and re-evaluate my life, my plans and goals and re-discover who I actually was. I knew I had to do something or my mental health would take a drastic nosedive and let’s face it who’s wouldn’t given the circumstances?

I didn’t know where to begin, but I knew I had to throw myself into something different because I realised that if I kept doing the same things, I would keep getting the same results.

But what did I like? What were my hobbies and interests? I have always been quite active, loved being in nature and consider myself a bit of a water baby, enjoying things like surfing and paddle boarding. I have always found the sound of the waves instantly relaxing.

It’s almost as if the universe had my back. I saw a post on social media about wild water swimming and decided that is what I wanted to try. Before I knew it, I’d joined a wild water swimming group and a lovely lady called Lee-Anne, offered to take me for my first swim. I was quite apprehensive but excited at the same time!

Lee-Anne gave me great advice and reassurance. Take a flask of coffee, keep moving whilst in the water and get dressed as quickly as possible with lots of layers to keep warm.

After firstly taking my breath away for a couple of seconds, I found myself engulfed in the fast running River Wharfe. Lee-Anne and I chatted and swam and the sun broke through the clouds onto me, what I call ‘angel rays’. I looked around, mesmerised at the natural beauty surrounding me. I watched the ducks in the distance and kingfishers darting about as we swam upstream.

When it was time to get out, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude and my jaw was aching from smiling the whole time I was in the river.

Since then, I have never looked back and truly believe that this has helped me through such a difficult time. I have swum in lakes, waterfalls, rivers, dams and a tarn. One swim even being in the dark which was a little scary but I was pushing myself again out of my comfort zone.

There are so many benefits of wild water swimming, which include, better sleep, better circulation, increased happiness, reduces stress, increased metabolism, a boosted immune system, better skin and burns more calories which is always a bonus! All of which I can personally vouch for.

Not to mention the amazing new friends I have met along this adventure. I have even managed to convince our amazing CEO, Kim Shutler and Head of Client Services, Heather Tattersall to join me on the odd occasion.

I love it so much I have applied to become a mental health swim host, where people can meet for a swim once a month and chat and then eat cake afterwards. Watch this space!

Wild water swimming is something I hope to do for the rest of my life, and I’m so proud of myself for trying something new and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.