The sea could well be my lifesaver.
|We love watching surfers in action.|
I lost days. Many days, to bed, to sleep, to hours lying in the gloom cuddling the dog or writing grim poems. I had stints in the mental health ward, in crisis respite and at the healing haven that is the Taranaki Retreat.
I held on. Because of love and family, support from mental health staff, because of hope, the deep knowing of my purpose as a storyteller, and because I believed, like every wild storm, “this too shall pass”.
|Fitzroy on a stormy evening.|
Even after I wrote a story about how to save your life, which was published far and wide, I fell again. Slipped into a dark cave, a hell in my own head, brain defaulting to perish mode.
It wasn’t enough to hold on. I wanted to thrive, not just survive.
So, on March 11 this year, we turned to the sea.
You see, in 2009, my husband Warren, son Nelson and I, swam in the sea every single day.
It was the New Year’s resolution of a 12-year-old boy that led to a miraculous discovery – I had no bouts of depression that year. We stopped in March 2010, because I couldn’t shake off a sinus infection, which led to passage-clearing surgery.
A decade on, there’s a raft of research coming out about the benefits of cold-water swimming, and, while the Tasman Sea has yet to turn freezing cold, it will. But already our daily dips in the surf are keeping gloomy days away.
|A rainbow at Back Beach.|
“Our” and “we” means Warren and me. We are dedicated to getting our every-day dose of “vitamin sea”, which we also refer to as the “saline solution”.
The idea is head to the beach each day, and dive under at least three waves, feel the worries of the world wash away and soak in the glory of nature.
In less than two months, we have basked in sunsets, swum with shags, stepped on slippery fish, been drenched by rain before plunging into surging surf, gazed at rainbows, waded into stormy seas and watched in awe at the dexterity of Taranaki’s many surfers, who have long known about the healing powers of Tangaroa.
Mostly, we swim at Back Beach, but sometimes head to Fitzroy at high tide, so we can walk our dog, Luna.
|A Taranaki traffic jam.|
During our travels, we have been held up by cows on Beach Rd, Omata, watched a just-dusted Mt Taranaki turn pink at dusk, and been mesmerised by a murmuration of starlings as they pulse and soar at the end of the day over the Sugar Loaf Islands below Paritutu.
We love following a golden path into the sea at sunset and often turn to each other and say: “Look at this place we live in.”
On Star Wars Day, May the 4th (be with you), we invited anybody to join us at 11am on the sand below the bottom carpark at Back Beach. Six women came along on a day when the surf was even and strong and the day was calm.
|On May the 4th the surf was even and strong.|
They all loved it.
Each woman came for different reasons – to support me, to improve their own mental health, to find out about this crazy idea of a daily dip and to be together with others.
Afterwards, all six said they would join us again for a monthly swim.
They felt elated following their Saturday morning dip in cool(ish) water.
“(It was) cold, refreshing and great to be immersed in nature,” says Dee Doherty, who felt greatly energised afterwards.
“I love swimming in our cool, clean powerful ocean and feel so invigorated, physically and mentally, afterwards,” says Bridget Fleming, who is a regular sea and river swimmer.
|Cloud spires reflected in black sand at Back Beach.|
“I went through so many emotions – fear, excitement, being exhilarated, feeling togetherness, relaxation,” Olena Williams says. “After the excitement was gone I felt very tired and had a nap.”
“Today was magic,” Michelle Bent says. “The sea was refreshingly cool, the waves just the right size. Diving under the first wave, you have to steel yourself for it, but once you’ve done it you feel completely alive. Being with a group enhanced the experience for me.”
Afterwards, she felt alive, strong and young.
Laurel Davis enjoyed “the rush of water, light, sound, being right there tumbled in a wave”. Hours later, she was still feeling “bloody fantastic”.
|Luna caught in the path of the setting sun.|
Sue Kelly has also started to swim in the sea daily, when possible, to keep the blues at bay. “I feel the physical sensation of the power of the waves exhilarating. Also, the size of the waves creates a degree of fear that I find mentally challenging. So, when I combat those fears it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction and achievement.
“Physically, I felt my skin tingle and (I was) exhilarated especially as we were in for 20 minutes.”
Sue and I stayed in the longest. I also felt uplifted, but also peaceful and bloody cold. It took me hours to warm up properly, so I don’t plan to stay in that long next time. Three waves are OK by me and, in winter, even that will be tough.
But there is no out. I will be in every day because my life depends on it.
So, like a life buoy, I’m clinging to the wise words of one of my greatest fictional heroes, Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”