The secret powers of the ocean, it’s cold waters take over my pain and replaced it with generosity and joy. ​​​​​​​

Last April, I started sea swimming.

It was shortly after I burnt out, got depressed or perhaps I was already depressed… difficult to pinpoint when it all started. The important step for me then, was my realisation that something was wrong, that I wasn’t myself. I was easily emotional, irritable and frustrated with everything and everyone at work and home. I was physically and mentally exhausted all the time, I experienced big mood swings, and my productivity dipped massively. It was easy to hide my emotions and reactions over lock down, as I worked from home and compensated with working longer hours to meet deadlines and commitments. After work, I would immerse myself fully into being a wife and mother. In secret, I wanted to run away from it all, including my family – my husband and 3 year old son. I wore a mask but couldn’t sustain it, initially no one noticed apart from my husband, who finally convinced me to see the doctor which I should have done earlier. Speaking to the doctor meant admitting that something was wrong which I wasn’t ready to accept. And, even months into my recovery, I could not bring myself to speak with anyone (apart from my husband) about my feelings, experience or admit that I went through burn out!

Under doctors orders, I took time off work, which was tough for me to accept but I drew up enough strength to be honest with my manager, who provided unconditional support and time to recover.

I started dedicating more time to relaxing, meditating and enjoying activities that would get my endorphins going. My husband shared with me an article from Guardian about the miraculous benefits of cold water and it intrigued me. Simultaneously, neighbours around me were all also sea swimmers and they motivated me to give the sea a chance.

I have always loved the beach and the ocean. There was something calming and peaceful about the waves that would hypnotise my soul whenever I’m near. But, if we were on holiday, I would often be the last one to be persuaded to enter the waters. I didn’t like the initial chill from the water even though I knew it would always pass. So, I don’t know really know what possessed me to take my first dip! Perhaps it was my desire to fix me, or to just feel better.

The sunshine and blazing ocean blue on that morning was alluring and inviting. Don’t be fooled by the picture, it was still cold, like sinking your feet and body into an ice bath. It was a slow entry, step by step into the sea until the water came up to my thighs. As I stood there, the cold became pain then numbness. I took a deep breath and dived right in. I shrieked! That initial shock, cold and numbness spread to the rest of my body. Before I knew it, I had acclimatised. It was exhilarating! I was splashing around and even tried to float on the water. I took in the blue and green all around me and admired the glitter of the sunshine as it hit the surface of the ocean. Beautiful. For the rest of the day, I felt different, I was more alert and energetic, less anxious. It was not a miracle cure by any means. I still felt broken, but for the first time in months, I felt good and perhaps it's because I did something different just for me, and no one else. Regardless, since then, I was hooked and have been swimming almost everyday.

Today, my son and I jumped against the waves despite the snow and hail last night.

Thank you sea for throwing your waves against us fiercely and furiously. My son took my hand and pulled me towards the sea. He said, “Mummy! Come!” It was priceless to witness that fearless look as he rushed towards the choppy ice-cold waves. My heart was full of pride for my boy’s courage. We held hands as we both ran towards the sea giggling and squealing. I felt like a child again. My jeans were rolled up past my knees, as the tide started to come in. My son was down to his nappies. Dog walkers and people on the beach watched on, some smiled while others watched in amazement. I didn’t care. I simply grasped this magical moment with my boy, danced in the generosity of the sea and enjoyed every second of it!

Now, a year later, I am in a much better place. My biggest learning from all of this is not to dismiss my feelings, but instead, trust and accept them.

Every now and then, I still struggle with indulging in my wellbeing because of “mum-guilt” or other more “important priorities”. In winter, it’s tough to find the motivation to swim or run. At times like these, I’m gentle to myself and I find alternatives like reading, meditating, taking a bath, or even high intensity classes online. Most importantly, I remind myself that, in order to be the mum, wife, team leader and colleague that I want to be, I first have to be good to myself.

Kelly Ling

Head of Dynamic Creative, dentsu