I know “strange” times is popular, but I prefer “weird” times.
I went back in the sea today. Glittery panda hat, neoprene gloves and socks, swimming costume, and swam out and back across Cullercoats Bay. I walked in slowly, lulled by my warm feet. I splashed water up onto my chin and shoulders. I hugged my arms across my chest and lowered myself in. Then the cold hit my chest as if it was heat, as I stretched my arms out into a breast stroke. The sun was making a golden trail along the surface of the waves. The stone arms of the harbour wall held me as I crossed between them, but I could look out and see the expanse of blue and white ahead of me. Freedom, it felt like.
It was only when somebody else said it that I realised I’d been in trauma “fight or flight” mode the last couple of days of the New World of Weirdness. My strongest urge was to go walking and swimming and camping in Scotland and not encounter a soul. I wanted to be with people but I also wanted to be on my own. I feared abandonment, but wanted to run. Boring old traumas resurfacing. I also had grief. The grief I’ve been sitting in (not always consciously) since ending my marriage in September. And moving away from my home and dog. And my Step Mum passing into the stage of dementia where she barely recognises me. And other stuff I’ll write about one day.
There has not only been grief and loneliness; there has been love. And sometimes joy and exploration. But grief has become a Screensaver. And now it seemed the whole world was joining me in it. In the sense of not being able to picture a future ahead. The terror and possible liberation of that.
But swimming in the cold, cold sea again reminded me that we can acclimatise to anything- and quicker than we think. I could bear 15 minutes in the maybe 8 degrees centigrade of the North Sea in March because I’ve been swimming in cold water through last summer and autumn and a couple of times in January. My body remembers and it doesn’t take me into the shivers of cold water shock. If I keep going in the sea a couple of times a week from now, I’ll gradually build up the time my body can stay in without my hands turning to knives. Minute by minute. I’ll even begin to think it’s kind of warm.
And it made me think about how this crisis will become “the new normal” sooner than we think. We’ll get used to staying in, planning our shopping, managing on less or scrabbling to find out about what support might enable us to stay afloat. We’ll be used to emptier streets and not “popping out” and only one thing on the news and the cancellations.
There can be a downside. For anyone who has ever swum in trauma, it is a state we can ping back to too easily, even when there’s no need. I am acclimatised to that, and to loneliness, to a degree. But I can also sit with some of the strange solaces of isolation, sadness and slowness. The unthinkable can be thought, and become okay or more than okay. The freedom of cold water without feeling the shock every time…