In December 2020 I wrote about the benefits of getting out of my ‘comfort zone’ in a blog that was perhaps a subconscious preparation for what was to follow. In it I extolled the virtues of all sorts of peculiar therapeutic practices that are difficult, painful or scary, my favourite being cold water immersion in the wilderness.
I have written a number of essays trying to encapsulate just what it is that keeps me coming back to the water’s edge. Since then a steady trickle of media on the subject has turned into a gushing waterfall of wonderful, well written accounts from wild women and men who have discovered for themselves the almost supernatural benefits of regular cold water dips, chilly nips and blue bits. It is commonplace now to see bobbing bobble hats in the seas and rivers from Torquay to Tynemouth.
Dryrobe Wankers everywhere…My people!
Just four months after I wrote ‘Comfort Zone’ I began a spontaneous sustained period of extreme self-imposed discomfort of a different kind, cushioned only by overwhelming relief, pure joy and a sense of ecstatic freedom. Of course you can achieve all of this by taking a cold dip, but in this instance these feelings arose from seizing control of my own destiny in a more literal sense, and I do believe that the inner strength I found in the icy North Sea helped me to carry it through.
In short; I left my marriage.
Having pushed myself physically and emotionally through my forties, this was to be the biggest most frightening leap of faith I had ever taken, but when something really scary is snapping at your heels, you tend to jump willingly and pray for a soft landing. After 25 years together, I knew, and dreaded, the rage and recriminations that would follow but it was a comfort to know that whatever slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune he might chuck at me, I would always have the ability to recalibrate, refresh and restore balance with a cold water swim when things got tough, and they did. *
And the cosmos is still not done teaching me stuff. It’s funny how things line up. Last week, driving home from a Winter Solstice skinny dip at Hornsea with the lovely human porpoises who, precisely two years earlier had inspired me to write that 2020 entry, I was forced beyond my newly established comfort zone.
Alone and euphoric, flooded with post-swim endorphins, and still gilded with that invincible cold water glow, I sped home along the undulating Wolds, blithely unaware that as the air temperature plummeted an evil patch of black ice was creeping across the un-gritted tarmac in a shady hollow ahead. As the tyres lost traction and my little car veered recklessly, skating a wavy pattern along the deserted stretch of starlit road, my inner voice softly said, ‘you’ve got this, you’ve got this’. Eventually though, we waltzed hard into the high verge and what followed was a beautiful moment of weightless calm as the air around me filled with floating lip-balms, a tissue box, charging cable, ice-scraper and other cabin detritus, like a video transmission from the ISS. I enjoyed an unexpected sense of complete peace and stillness, perhaps that which comes as you surrender to fate, even though it was probably more akin to being trapped inside an industrial tumble dryer. We rolled to an eerie standstill, the stereo played on, the headlamps illuminated a cross section of hedgerow and I hung there, cradled in the drivers seat, snugly restrained by my seatbelt and adorned with a million glittering diamond pieces of safety glass.
With my left foot supporting me on the icy asphalt where the the passenger window once was, I released the buckle and crouched, my face next to the sunroof hoping that it was still working. As I slid out through the hatch into the chill night air, like a giant Dryrobe-clad cesarian baby, I was unfazed by the enormity of what had just happened. Instead I was just pleased I hadn’t been travelling commando, (Wild swimmers sometimes do so for speed and convenience) It wasn’t until a little later, bathed in pulsing blue light, that it hit me. The little red car emitted an awful noise as it was unceremoniously pushed over and righted by the twin prongs of a farmer’s forklift tractor, and it was this sound that induced huge painful sobs, rising up from my chest. I’ve always been daft about cars. When I was 16 I wrote a sentimental poem about my dad’s beloved Audi 100, after it crashed into a stationery vehicle in the snow. My dear, brave little car, dangling lifeless from the iron prongs, had just saved my life. A beautiful bargain, it was a potent symbol of modest means and complete freedom after my ex took back my ‘matrimonial’ car soon after I left. And now it was scuffed smashed and bruised beyond repair, and there was I, miraculously unscathed, not a hair out of place.
Something or someone was watching over me that night.
In the days that followed I came to realise that I need to slow down, and not just behind the wheel. The ice was there for a reason, yet again the cold was teaching me a lesson. I looked at the faces of those I love around me and resolved to take better care of myself.
2022 has been another spiffing year of freedom and adventure, fierce love and passion, sunsets, sunrises, swims and sleeping bags, glorious wonderful memories. But it’s been pretty brutal at times too, and I’ve been running on empty for a little while now.
I turned FIFTY this month, FFS! How on earth did that happen so suddenly? As my body ekes out those last remaining micrograms of oestrogen I sometimes find myself unable to focus, often confused and forgetful, tearful and stressed and more recently, ridiculously hot all of a sudden. And so, on this last night of the year as I contemplate all of these things, and the scary exciting future, in the glow of the wood burner with a sweet hairy hound to hand for company, I count my blessings, thank the heavens that I’m alive and promise to go easy on myself for a bit. When the new year dawns tomorrow I will be back at the water’s edge, side by side with my stalwart swim buddies for a freezing Filey frolic. Let’s just hope I can avoid being mauled by the massive walrus that has recently moved into the area!
*Credit also goes of course to those many amazing people in my life who continue to sustain me with love and friendship, practical support and best of all, humour!