Community. Family. Pressure. My year of 2020.
Last year was a roller coaster. I put a lot of pressure on myself in 2020 and made myself crazy. I was continually making sure the kids were keeping up to date with all their schoolwork, that things stayed as ‘normal’ as possible and didn’t slip because of the lockdowns. I didn’t have much human connection with other adults during this time. I certainly learnt my lesson from this, so I made sure that leading into 2021 it was going to be different.
Resilience. Connecting. Kindness. My year of 2021.
I went into the new year with a different attitude. I took the pressure off myself by just doing what was needed, not anything more. I learnt to leave the rest as it didn’t matter.
I grew up in Queensland and I spent my whole childhood in the water. I am the third child in our family and my dad taught me to be tough, and to never let a challenge get in the way of doing things. We moved from Thornbury to Frankston South at the start of the year for a better lifestyle, one that had a focus on the outdoors. We sold and bought our houses in COVID, but thankfully the physical move was between lockdowns. The person who ended up buying our house initially viewed it via a video tour. When restrictions lifted, we were allowed to have one open house inspection; they came to this before deciding to purchase.
With our move to an unfamiliar area of Melbourne, I was so happy to have something new to look at. I could not have handled another bike ride in lockdown around Merri Creek in Thornbury! Since relocating down here, I haven’t connected with many people. I have two primary school-aged children and I have found it a little hard to meet people as you weren’t having the incidental chats at the school gate.
I had been following the Facebook posts of one of the mums from the kids’ school about the Frankie Mermaids. One afternoon in early August, it was pouring with rain and only about 8 degrees outside. Even though it was 4:30pm, I was actually in bed! I knew the Mermaids were meeting at 5pm to take a dip in the ocean. I popped my bathers on and went down there. I was a little apprehensive as I didn’t know anyone, but I thought back to what my dad had always taught me about meeting a challenge.
When I rocked up there were five other women, all of whom were so incredibly welcoming. My mantra leading into the water was ‘don’t think, just do it’! I entered the water, and I was in such pain from the cold, I began hyperventilating. One of the Mermaids grabbed my hand and said ‘just breathe, it’s ok, it will pass’. It was just what I needed; that support around me and to know the feeling will pass.
The water is icy cold upon entering, it’s actually difficult to breathe. It’s best to try to put your shoulders and hands under as quickly as possible. After two minutes, you start to become numb and then you gradually warm up. The next 8 minutes is when you really draw on the powers and positive energies from the ocean and the strong women around you.
In the cold water you disconnect your emotional receptors from your physical body. It’s your receptors that are telling you that you’re cold, that it hurts. The quicker you can separate from them, the better it is. I love being an ocean mermaid because of this – it gets you out of your mental state and into the physical. It’s a circuit breaker, cutting off the negative thoughts.
I prefer it when the surf is up – the rougher the better! It’s harder when it’s flat. I always run on the spot, do aerobics, paddle; anything so that I don’t stay still. When you get out of the water, you are warm, so warm that you don’t even want a towel. As you walk on the sand, it feels like there are razor blades under your feet and then, five minutes later the shakes start. As soon as I get home, I have a bath. If I don’t have a bath, I just don’t seem to warm back up!
I set myself a challenge to cold swim for 30 consecutive days! What got me down there was not the water, it was the women. Every time I went, there were women, often new women, that were on my level. They were into bettering themselves in whichever way possible and had a really positive outlook on life.
I started to help new women with what to expect in their 10-minute experience of being a Frankie Mermaid. I believe it's so important that I show the kindness that I was shown, so I now assist people through their first dip. It’s a very confronting thing to do for the first time. Just knowing that you have support is like receiving a warm hug.
I knew the list of health benefits of doing cold swims; I had read it all. It was around a week after my 30 day-challenge that I noticed a feeling of real grounding and an endorphin release; a sense of true happiness. Being part of the group was really important during lockdown. Aside from the social interaction, the biggest benefits I’ve noticed from being a Mermaid are that it’s both a mood stabiliser and a mood enhancer. I don’t need to do meditation or breath work anymore. It’s not about the Wim Hoff method for me. My mindfulness comes from being in the ocean with other people.
On day 31, I decided to have a break and I remember having the biggest FOMO (fear of missing out). I could see the sunset from my home, and I just wanted to be there in the ocean, with the other Mermaids.
The swims have been my saving grace. Talking to someone for 10 minutes, having a laugh, and just connecting. My cup became filled so much that I wanted my children to share in the sensations and experience too. I put some rules around it at first – I didn’t want the kids to come every night and would only allow them to come on the weekends. Now I share the full experience with them. I go four to five times a week, and they are often with me. Sometimes we go for longer swims. We are all water babies.
Last year’s lockdown craze was sourdough, and this year it’s cold swimming. Not just for me, but for many Melburnians. Whatever the outlet, I think we have all just needed something to focus on, otherwise we would just cry! You can’t change the circumstance; I am just trying to control what’s in my bubble. For me that involves the ocean. Water heals all. What has got me through is the positive energy of the ocean, and the positivity of the Mermaids; all those strong women that just want to have a laugh. The ocean and women – that’s a powerful combination!