This summer I want to swim in the sea more than ever
The last time I swam in the sea it was freezing.
The tail end of September looming, I refused to leave my togs at home on a cusp-of-lockdown trip to Galway. Forcing myself into the sea while my boyfriend sat on the beach in a puffer jacket and pair of gloves, I spent a solid five minutes easing myself into the ocean until I was but a neck and head, freezing, mildly shivering, and completely delighted.
Swimming in the sea is a new novelty for me. Spending most of my 20s a mere 10 minute drive away from Dún Laoghaire meant nothing. It was long after my 25th birthday that I finally took the plunge as an adult, embarrassed that my swimsuit sagged at the waist, paranoid that my belongs were bound to be stolen. They never were, but my friend did have a pouch of Amber Leaf tragically swiped one fine day.
The trick was to stay in long enough to become numb - to the cold, to the fear, to whatever stresses about men, work, or men at work had plagued me that week. We'd bob along, just the two of us, our heads barely above the water, our ankles grazing slippery seaweed - and we'd chat. About our days, about what we wanted for dinner, about how good we were going to feel when we got out.
We always did feel good. It might have been the cold, it might have been the shock, it might have been the aul fella on the pier half stripped declaring "there's nothing like a sea swim girls!" Whatever it was it worked. I'd enter tense and emerge brand new, looser. The feeling might not last long but it was there, at least for a little while.
Sea swimming is often credited with reducing signs of anxiety and depression. The word 'hydrotherapy' might be often familiar to those who struggle with chronic pain and joint issues, but supposedly it can have positive effects on everyone: young, old, worn out, and not.
The beta-endorphins, or so-called ‘feel good’ hormones, are rampant. Apparently paddling around the sea increases their production, which sounds about right considering I've never waded out of there and not felt at least mildly serene upon returning to the shore.
There's something about feeling weightless, focusing every bit of your energy on staying above water and, more importantly, staying warm. Tensities are shifted elsewhere, anxieties are subdued. My body is simultaneously relaxed and acutely aware that it could drown me at any moment if it just let go.
I haven't swam in the sea since the end of last summer, bopping along the Galway coastline inching towards the beginnings of the cool autumnal sun. I've wanted to, but proximity to the ocean and a four month long lockdown wouldn't allow it.
I think about going, catching the Dart on a particularly sunny day, heading to a quiet enough spot at Seapoint and getting in for a dip. But it's just not the same when you're on your own, no one to talk about your day with - or someone to stand guard and watch your shit.