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The Sea & Me

October 22, 2020

I’ve always been drawn to the water – my parents used to call me a mermaid. I used to spend my summers in Wexford and would spend days on Curracloe Beach with my family and friends.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are of running along the sand dunes and playing in the sea until my lips turned blue and my teeth were chattering. Running up to my family, absolutely rattling, and grinning from ear to ear. I’d wrap myself in towels and have a sandwich (with extra sand) while staring out at the waves – bliss!

Since then the water has been a source of comfort and relaxation. Whenever I find myself stressed or overwhelmed, I’m drawn towards nature, especially the sea. I’ll sit listening to the waves lap against the shore and it instantly lifts me. I’ve recently discovered that this is a phenomenon called ‘Blue Mind’.

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After cutting short an ill-fated trip to Barcelona in 2013 (long story), Joe, my now-husband, and I wanted to make the most of our remaining time off and booked a trip to Lahinch, Co. Clare. It was then that I rediscovered the fun and joy the water could bring. We started travelling to Lahinch regularly to surf.

Finding Sea Swimming

In 2015, on the way back from one of our surf trips, I started feeling strange. My face felt numb, followed by my arm and then my leg. After a few months in and out of hospital getting every test under the sun, I was diagnosed with chronic hemiplegic migraines. They are a rare form of migraine that mimic a stroke. I get paralysis down my right side and have balance issues, as well as all the more typical migraine auras.

I’ve had a headache every day since June 22nd, 2015, have had to take a year out of work, and learn to walk again. 

Migraine, who knew?!

Around the same time, Joe was going through a pretty stressful time at work and had suffered a couple of panic attacks. He was hoping to find an east coast alternative to surfing that would help him get into a “flow state” and relax. At this point, I should say he was not a confident swimmer, despite being able to surf.

After years of slow progress with my migraines, I heard about a documentary called ‘100 days of Vitamin Sea’ which followed a girl with similar issues to mine using wild swimming to manage her illness. I thought, what’s the harm? We decided to try sea swimming as a kind of an experiment to see what, if anything, would happen. This decision was nothing short of life-changing!

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More Than Mindfulness

So on June 1st, 2019, we went for our first sea swim at The Vico in Dalkey. It was a bit of a choppy day, so I gingerly entered the surprisingly icy water and swam about a little. Joe, not being a confident swimmer, belly-flopped in and went hell for leather to get to the ladder. 

It was a short but transformative experience. 

I entered the water with the right side of my face drooped from paralysis and emerged like a new person. My body buzzing from the zing of the cold, and a full smile plastered across my face.

Don’t believe me? You can see one of my sea transformations for yourself in the pictures below.

Forty Foot Fans

We started going regularly, venturing to different swimming spots depending on the tide. The day after our wedding was no exception. We got married in Dun Laoghaire in September 2019 and started our married life with a swim at the Forty Foot. 

A dip in the sea has become an essential part of my ongoing battle with migraines. 

Outside of the physical benefits, we both saw the mental benefits. Joe’s stress reduced after a few weeks and when the migraine took away the control I had over my own body, sea swimming gave me some control back. 

We both emerge from the water lighter and happier, somehow transformed by the water. Having the Forty Foot within driving distance of our home has made such a difference to our lives – I only wish we lived closer.

There’s an amazing community spirit around the Forty Foot and Sandycove. When you’re in the water there are no judgments made about job title or status. Everyone is on a level playing field. All squawking and laughing, united in their internal battle to take the initial plunge.

I never grow tired of seeing grown men line up, totally carefree, to gleefully jump off the rocks into the water. Greeted every time with friendly “hellos” and reassuring fibs of “it’s lovely and warm once you’re in there”, as you walk towards the steps. There’s a special kind of madness that bonds everyone.

We really struggled without this connection during the initial lockdown as the Forty Foot was beyond our 2km. Counting down the days until we could be reunited with the embrace of the sea and the buzz of other swimmers brought to life after their dip.

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Helping My Healer

Spending all that time in the water made us increasingly aware of the volume of plastic in our seas and the negative impacts humanity was having on our world.

We knew we had to try and do our bit to protect the sea we love so much. This was the beginning of a move towards living a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle.

Over the years, we’ve made changes to our lifestyle to reduce the amount of plastic we consume. We’ve also started doing our own #2MinuteBeachClean after our swims. I keep a produce bag and gardening gloves in my swimming bag – it makes it so much easier to do our bit. I plan to get something better down the road but this does the trick for now.

Doing my #2MinuteBeachClean

On the way back to our car we pick up any rubbish we see and put it in the public bins. Then it’s just a matter of flinging the bag and gloves in the wash with my swimming gear when I get in. The volume of litter and plastic you can pick up in a matter of minutes is truly heartbreaking. Finding seaweed entangled with countless pieces of plastic, you can’t help but think of how much must be out there.

It’s so sad to think that the people enjoying our coast are contributing so much to the damage. If you’re not able to fit in a #2MinuteBeachClean yourself, please ensure you leave no trace. If you can, please do them as often as possible. It may seem like a never-ending task, but if we all do our small part, we can make a difference.

We have recently started our own sustainable clothing brand called Against The Tide Apparel. With this, we hope to build a community of like-minded sea lovers who care for, and want to improve, the state of our planet and oceans.

The sea gives so much to us, we need to protect it and the wildlife that live there.