Tonic of the Sea #alotusrises

Tonic of the Sea is a beautiful award-winning short film directed by Jonathan J Scott about open water swimmer Katie Maggs’ journey with mental health and her refreshingly honest account of falling into and recovery from burnout, anxiety and depression. Upon the incredible success of the film at 2018 Film Festivals and after being nominated for the BAFTA short films award Katie has gone on to write her first self-help book also titled ‘Tonic of the Sea’. Within her book and in the publishing of her writing in UK magazines she describes more details of her journey with mental health, crucial factors that supported her recovery and clear achievable suggestions to stay well in the future.

Picture By Emma Wink

Picture Credit Emma Winks

Katie will also be presenting at the Wild and Well Festivalin Bristol this coming October on the topic of ‘Nature Cures’ and is showing her film and discussing the chapters of her book at the Kendal Mountain Literary Festivalin November. There will also be an exhibition of her inspirational wild swimming photography in the small coastal town of Penzance, Cornwall at the beginning of the New Year.

For up to date details on the publishing of Katie’s book or to hear more about her current projects and upcoming exhibition you can do so through her website www.tonicofthesea.co.ukor by following her on Twitter and Instagram @tonicofthesea.

A Lotus Rises #WSC caught up with Jon and Katie to find out more about their collaboration.

How did the collaboration come about?

Katie: The collaboration with Jon came about from a swimming friend of mine who teaches at the same College – she saw a post Jon had put on a Wild Swimmers website searching for someone who had had difficulties with mental health or physical illness and had found the sea to be helpful in their recovery. My friend sent me the information and I emailed Jon to see if my story might be something that he was interested in. Luckily after a brief phone conversation he was.

Jon: As a travel and adventure filmmaker, I’m always drawn to unique stories that are connected to the outdoors. I had been hoping to get my latest project off the ground (or into the water…) for quite some time. But, due to logistical and technical difficulties, I had struggled. Having never shot underwater properly, I wanted to embark on a project that would challenge me both creatively and technically — goals this project certainly fulfilled. Having reached out to the UK’s wild swimming community via social media, I was inundated with requests from those who were keen to be involved. On speaking to Katie Maggs  I was immediately struck by her openness and honesty when talking about how she had struggled with mental health, and how wild swimming had helped here recovery. I knew immediately that I wanted to tell Katie’s story.

filming

What things did you have to consider as a film maker in addressing the issue of mental health and also how best to convey the relationship with the water?

Jon: When making a documentary I find its extremely important to let the story tell itself rather than trying to force out a story, my job as a film maker is to facilitate that storytelling and do my best to express it through a visual medium. Katie’s openness and honesty along with her passion for swimming meant that this was quite a natural process. Once we had shot everything, it was a matter of working with the footage and audio in the edit shaping it to best tell Katie’s personal story.

IMG_2306

What enabled you to share your story in this way?

Katie: To convey my mental health journey I just felt I had to be as honest as possible about what happened to my physical body and my mind. Everything had just collapsed through ‘burnout’, it was almost like my brain had turned itself off in a bid to protect itself from further damage.

 I was indecisive about sharing my story to begin with, I was concerned that people would think less of me, that I wasn’t capable to do my job anymore or to be a good Mum. I’ve always been an active independent person, positive and as fearless as possible when it comes to living life and experiencing new things. But all of that was slowly stopped through exhaustion and my body and mind gradually giving up.

 I wanted to share my story because the process of how it happened to me can so easily happen to other people. When we ‘do’ life every day we lose sight of allowing ourselves some quiet time or stillness. I was doing what I thought to be ‘normal’ I’d worked hard for a responsible job as a department deputy at a College, I was caring for my father before and after work, I was trying to exercise regularly but pushing my body to extremes in a bid to ‘be fitter’, trying to be a good Mum, a loving partner, all of the normal life stuff. I think if you are a kind, giving and empathic person and you feel things deeply, you can so easily start to fall out of balance.

battery Rocks Dawn .jpg

When did you realise that “all those have too s” had become too much?

 Katie: Looking back the warning signs had started to show. I often felt overwhelmed and teary, I became so unusually exhausted, even though I had slept well the night before. I was suddenly suffering with headaches, skin rashes, blurred vision and neck and shoulder pain. I kept going to the G.P with health concerns – asking for bloods to be checked, my eyes to be tested, moles to be examined that I was worried had changed. I can see now that the health anxiety was part of the deterioration of my mind (it was giving me warning signals, but I was unfortunately ignoring them). My once vibrant mind through so much stress, worry and sadness was gradually becoming dark. All the negativity in my life was coming out as physical symptoms in my body. Unfortunately, I realise now that when we are ‘busy’ and when busy is our norm we all try to keep ‘going’ and we ignore the warning signals that we are becoming dangerously overwhelmed.

The final health problem was that I developed restless leg syndrome that later transformed into Myaclonis of the larger muscle groups (Muscle Spasms). As my anxiety took hold and with the ongoing fear of my new and very alien condition unfortunately I deteriorated. I was so terrified by what was happening to me that I developed severe insomnia, becoming afraid to go to sleep as a result. I couldn’t escape the night time body spasms and in the early hours of the morning, sleep deprived and alone I felt like a stranger in my own body.  It was the loneliest experience of my life. I had lost control of my mind and it didn’t matter what I did, I just couldn’t find my way back.

katie Tonic of the sea

What advice do you have for anyone else in that position?

Katie: Advice I now offer to friends and family or even strangers at Battery Rocks is that we need to slow down and listen to our bodies when we are tired or feeling overwhelmed. It can be harder to try to fix things once they have got as far as mine did. All in all, my recovery took about a year. It came about through a mix of regular yoga, seeing a sleep therapist, low dosage anti-depressants, and most importantly my regular morning sea swimming. Here I was able to find myself again and rebuild what the breakdown had taken from me. Through meeting new and inspiring people at Battery Rocks and feeling part of a swimming community, I was able to rebuild my confidence in my body, my sense of self, my courage and my belief in who I was as a person. All these things were just for ‘me’ and about ‘me’ and before I had become unwell that is exactly what I had been missing.

 Before I suffered at the hands of burnout I wasn’t doing anything solely just for myself that meant that I rested, experienced joy or took some quiet time simply to get some daily clarity. I was giving out regularly, but I wasn’t putting anything back. With so many elements of worry in my life my mind had understandably become fatigued and overloaded. I realise now that the brain behaves like a muscle, it can become weary and overworked just like any other muscle in the human body. To protect it we must anticipate that negativity and stress is bound to occur but if we have factored in our daily ‘me’ time and cared for ourselves first then we will be better equipped to deal with whatever daily chaos comes our way. Protection from burnout can be achieved by factoring in time every day that is just about ‘you’ and ‘your’ happiness or creativity. If warning signals are there already them it is vital that you take drastic steps to pull back from as much as you possibly can in a bid to try to regain some balance in your life. Even small gradual changes can make all the difference in terms of how severe the outcome can be.

me water 3

What does your swim community mean to you?

Katie: The Battery Rocks swimmers changed my life, they provided me with new friends, people to lean on and learn new things from, I felt inspired by the older swimmers (some 80 +) who got in every day all year round in swimming costumes. Through conversations I slowly learnt that many of these people had experienced their own struggles in life, it helped me to feel less alone, more supported, and it gave me confidence that I too could get better.

Please describe your relationship with the water?

Katie: The sea reminds me that there is something bigger than me, that there is a world out there full of mystery and beauty. It takes me away from worrying about insignificant things or things that I cannot change. When you are swimming you can only really think about swimming – it’s like a quiet underwater world where all the noise from land can’t reach you. It’s peaceful and still and even on choppy days you can feel like you soak up the positive energy from the water somehow. It is my time, my space to be me, there is no falseness, no pretence, just me, a free mind and the sea.

Overcoming anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, is a powerful journey, please describe how the sea helped bring back your confidence and how it influences your life on land.

Katie: With my breakdown/burnout I lost all confidence to do anything I had previously been doing. I felt like I couldn’t do my job, I wasn’t strong enough to exercise or see my friends, I felt scared and anxious about going out or enjoying time with my family – whilst my mind was recovering my confidence in living my life had been lost. Sea swimming every morning brought that feeling back, it made me feel proud of myself, I felt I had done something different, something extraordinary, and something most people feared doing. It made me feel brave and like I was capable again. It rebuilt my self-esteem and confidence in myself and in my own body’s physical and mental ability. For the first time since I was a child I felt like a real-life adventurer!

Have you always been a swimmer?

Katie: My father was a keen diver and loved being in the sea, as children he would take us to quiet Cornish pebble coves after a school and we would swim underwater to look at the crabs and long lines of sea kelp. As I got older I swam at school, but it slowly dwindled. I was never a front crawl swimmer I always just got in and would do breaststroke. As I got older I started pool swimming and found a love for front crawl, but I was always afraid of swimming front crawl in the sea. It wasn’t until I became unwell that I just ‘let go’ and thought how it can get any worse or any scarier than my current situation.  One beautiful morning at dawn, after yet another sleep deprived night and whilst out with my camera I met the Battery Rocks swimmers and slowly over time they gradually managed to coax me in and I have been swimming with them ever since.

Do you always swim without a wetsuit?

Katie: I have always swum without a wetsuit, I don’t feel like you have really been in if you have a wetsuit on. I like the feel of the cold rush of water and how it makes you feel so invigorated afterwards. You feel alive and reenergised after going into very cold sea water, like all has been washed away and I am brand new again.  In the winter I wear a thin neoprene body suit – it is the connection with the water that holds all of the magic.

IMG_2297

What do you think the future holds for you in terms of swimming?

 Katie: Swimming every morning has really changed life and my swimming ability. I used to panic a bit when I first started sea swimming and my breathing would suffer as a result but now I feel like I could swim forever! Someone once told me that once you get into a calm space and you relax then swimming should feel no harder than walking. I can completely agree with that now. My lung capacity has dramatically improved and I have so much more energy. I will sea swim until I physically can’t get in anymore. The sea has brought about so many incredible changes and opportunities in my life and I owe it so much more than just my recovery. The sea has become a part of my future now, part of my own healing but also part of my work. I would never be doing all the incredible work that I am doing now if it had not been for the Battery Rocks swimmers and the wonder of the sea.  We have so much to learn from the great outdoors, so much good can come from time spent within it, our minds are free to wander, to explore and to create. When we take real time each day for ourselves, just like the sea, anything is possible.

Favourite Swim Cake?

Katie: Something light with fruit.

Favourite piece of kit?

Katie: My favourite piece of swim kit is my wider lensed goggles from aquasphere. I like to be able to see as much as possible under the water, when we are finished swimming I often float around looking at all the starfish, crabs and if we are lucky some very friendly grey seals!

Thank you Jon and Katie: Out of the water A Lotus Rises #WSC

cropped-a_lotus_rises_blue_red.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janet Jackson, Team Work and a Woolly Hat: The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust Solent Swim Challenge with Anna Wardley

Postponed in August because of bad weather, we had to wait until 5th October to complete our Solent Swim Challenge in aid of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.

Solent Swim Challenge - Stokes Bay - The night before

Solent Swim Challenge – Stokes Bay – The night before…

Magically, we caught the last day of summer and were greeted with calm seas and blue skies – The next day, Autumn officially arrived.

Solent Swim Pod - Credit: Solent Swim Challenge

And we’re off! Solent Swim Pod – Credit: Solent Swim Challenge

As I wrote back in June, I love how swimming adventures pop up as if from nowhere; yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life, together. The Solent Swim Challenge connected: childhood adventures to the Isle of Wight; my favourite jumper lost in the Solent; a university student inspired and kept on the straight and narrow by the achievements and determination of Ellen MacArthur; family and friends who have battled cancer; and an aspiring open water swimmer with a lot of dreams and whose perception of what is possible was transformed by Anna Wardley’s Five Island Swim Challenge …

Solent Swim Challneg - the day before - My first ever TV news interview - EXACTLY how I envisaged it would be...

Solent Swim Challenge – the day before – My first ever TV news interview – EXACTLY how I envisaged it would be…

You never know where a swimming journey is going to take you; but to be honest I thought this one would be fairly straightforward: build up swim strength; get sea swimming experience; and then the biggest adjustment for me – getting used to swimming in UK water temperatures without a wetsuit. I did all that, but injuries and health complications created unexpected hurdles and made participation in the swim highly unlikely at one point.

When the swim was cancelled back in August, to be honest, I was relieved. And, standing on the beach in October looking out across the sea, I knew that beyond the shores of the Isle of Wight, there were a lot of unknowns for me. I was frightened, but on the upside, I love swimming, so spending the best part of the next two hours in water seemed like a good idea!

Swimming in the Solent!

Swimming in the Solent 🙂

The Solent swim team were put into pods according to pace and each swimmer was partnered with a kayaker. I was in super swim kayaker hands; swimming alongside Matthew who had been Anna’s support crew when she swam around Jersey – he even had a whistle to alert me when I was swimming off course – exactly.

I’ve not swum with kayak support before, so this was a learning experience. Matthew was my eyes for the swim. I didn’t have to sight very much at all, just look to my side in rhythm with each breath and be guided along by the kayak. He inspired my confidence from the outset, which was wicked because it meant I could relax, listen to my body and enjoy the swim – particularly welcome as my cervical spine isn’t a big fan of looking up and sighting all the time.

Team!

Team! Credit: Solent Swim Challenge

Matthew also kept me updated with my stroke rate (I must confess I am cr*p at maths, so I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of this, but ascertained that it was consistent, which I was confident was a good thing), and last, but by no means least, as we started off on the final stretch, my bikini top had a wardrobe malfunction. Thankfully fixing bikinis in the middle of the Solent is clearly covered in module 1 of swim kayak training …

Hooray! Credit: Solent Swim   Challenge

Hooray! Credit: Solent Swim Challenge

This swim was wonderful. The camaraderie amongst the swimmers and support crew was lovely – we’d supported and inspired each other whilst training over the summer and there was something really special about us all making the crossing together.

Solent Swim Challenge with Anna Wardley for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust - Mission Accomplished - WICKED!

Solent Swim Challenge with Anna Wardley for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust – Mission Accomplished – WICKED!

The water felt beautiful and there were big ships making the whole thing feel that extra bit intrepid. We were all on our individual swimming journeys and treading water on our rest stops with my pod I looked between the land points and remembered  journeys across the Solent for childhood holidays on the Isle of Wight and in adult life, taking to the helm of a yacht to sail through a gale on the Solent – I couldn’t quite believe where I was!

Camping adventure on the Isle of Wight!

A camping adventure on the Isle of Wight!

Concerns about speed and time just disappeared, this was all about the water and the joy of swimming.  Suddenly our pod was nearing Rye Sands, the water became shallow, and I found my feet – We did it!

TEAM! All Open Water Swims must be accompanied by an appropriate hat.

TEAM Heading home – we just swam across that! (Note: All Open Water Swims must be accompanied by an appropriate hat…)

Together the 21 swimmers raised enough funds to send more than 50 young people on sailing courses with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust; helping re-build their confidence on their journey of recovery from cancer.

The wonderful Solent Swim Challenge Team - we got a certificate!

The wonderful Solent Swim Challenge Team – we got a certificate!

Solent Swim Challenge!

On August 17th I will be swimming 2.5 nautical miles, to the Isle of Wight to raise funds for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust (EMCT), which takes young people from the age of 8-24 sailing to help them regain their confidence, on their way to recovery from cancer.

I believe in the power of sport and the outdoors to empower individuals to overcome the difficult challenges we can all face in life (open water swimming did that for me). I am really excited to be able to celebrate that by being part of a fantastic team of 24 swimmers raising lots of cash to support the brilliant work that the EMCT does.

10177905_860556093968921_7290669955561020355_n

Swimming, the great outdoors and a hyperactive dog – Scientifically proven to make you happy!

I have been thinking about how to describe the positive and long term impact that the EMCT’s work has and realised that it’s best illustrated in the inspiring stories of the young people who learn to sail with them:

Larvell was 10 when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He spent a lot of time in hospital and missed over two years of school. During this time his hair fell out, he gained weight and lost his confidence. 

Larvell first sailed with the Trust in 2005. “I had never thought about sailing before, but I enjoyed it a lot, and could talk about anything with the others on my trip.” He didn’t look back and has returned every year since.

In 2009 Larvell sailed in the J.P.Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race where he was introduced to the former Head of UK business at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. A huge advocate of the Trust, he was so impressed by Larvell’s outlook and positive attitude that he offered him an internship with the company, beginning in 2010.

Since Larvell first stepped onboard with the Trust, his Mum has seen him transform from a shy retiring boy into a more confident and independent young man: “Being on a low income and living in Nottingham, sailing was an experience I could never have given him. Larvell is fairly quiet and doesn’t go out much, but has travelled the length of the country on a train by himself to go sailing with the Trust. It has given him much more confidence and taught him to see the ability inside him. Something good has come out of something bad, and I am very proud of him.”

In addition to that Larvell now runs half and full marathons, volunteers with the Trust, oh and has time to fit in studying for a Marine Sciences degree!

You can read other inspiring stories and find out more about the EMCT’s work on their website. Unsurprisingly, I feel immensely proud and privileged to be involved!

Every swim is different: Pool, lake, sea, river, training swim, skinny dip etc, and I love the changing dialogue I have with the water and where that takes me in my life on the shore.

10157146_10151988978135168_316433326_n

Swimming with mates!

I also love how swimming adventures pop up as if from nowhere; yet somehow reveal a hidden logic that joins once disparate dots from across your life, together.

Anna Wardley’s Solent Swim Challenge in aid of the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is one such swimming adventure.

It connects: childhood adventures to the Isle of Wight; my favourite jumper lost in the Solent; a university student inspired and kept on the straight and narrow by the achievements and determination of Ellen MacArthur; family and friends who have battled cancer; and an aspiring open water swimmer with a lot of dreams and whose perception of what is possible was transformed by Anna Wardley’s Five Island Swim Challenge

Camping adventure on the Isle of Wight!

Camping adventure on the Isle of Wight!

Aspiring and incredibly serious open water swimmer

Aspiring open water swimmer keeping serious and focused across Lake Zurich

So, ‘hello’, new swimming adventure. I very much look forward to seeing where you take me!

You can follow the Solent Swim Challenge team’s adventure on twitter and facebook and of course feel free  to donate as much cash as you like (and check out some potentially embarrassing pics of me from my childhood) on my virgin money giving page.

Thank you very much for your support and Happy Swimming!

Alice