The Ocean Calls, Freeing Me from the Weights of Life by Kathleen Wotton
Be the change you wish to see! Kathleen Wotton's (IG: @ocean_calls_swimming) remarkable story epitomizes the power we have to transform ourselves and rewrite our stories. Read her story and you will see, no barrier is too great to overcome. Kathleen is a shining example that change is possible! Never give up!
What a blessing when Kathleen joined the IG LIVE conversation that artist Helen (@artallotment) and I were having on water and transitions! She shared her incredible journey of transformation when the sea called her in June 2020. Overcoming lifelong bullying and its multiple consequences, her powerful and courageous refusal to continue to live the unhappy story set down for her early in life inspires, empowers and challenges. Thank you, Kathleen, for your generosity, perseverance in being who you are and gifting us with your infectious smile, inner light and optimism.
The Ocean Calls, Freeing Me from the Weights of Life
by Kathleen Wotton
The sea lifts my beaten limbs and comforts my worried thoughts with such sincerity. It asks nothing from me, just frees me from the heavy weight I've worn all my troubled life. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK and lockdown began in March 2020 I weighed over 40 stone (254kg/560lbs). I'd lost my way and life was forsaking me. I wanted to sleep and to never wake again. My fight to live had drained away from me. It was beyond terrible and I hid away so no one could see me. I could not move easily without assistance or stand upon the ground that lies below you and me. My face was lost to me. I was barely mobile, twisted and bent forward with rust, the creaking sound of the mechanics that do not work so smoothly.
Despite the fear and anxiety that struck the world with Covid, the UK lockdown gifted me something beyond my wildest dreams: I found the sea and it released me from the anchoring chains of despair. While submerged under the dark blue tides that embrace the life-filled shore, the sea gave me a feeling of freedom from constant great pain and lifelong misery. Rising to the surface, I inhaled the sea's beauty into my deepest being. A second life was thrust upon me as the ocean instilled hope deep inside my mind and body. Born again with no pain, my body floats effortlessly, whole again, full of sheer glee and no misery for you to see. Here is my story of how the sea saved me from my past and the current person I no longer recognized hidden by the enormity of fat deposited all over me taking away my life each second of every day.
Nursery Rhymes & Anti-Fairytales
How did I get to this dreadful place? Let me quickly rewind and return to my life as a small child. It seems extremely strange to me, why I would be sitting here thinking about writing an article or a book about myself as, after all, I am just me, in its whole entirety. I have no airs and no graces, no false impressions. My Sunday name is Kathleen. I am one of eight siblings, the third born and first girl. I was born in a small mining village in northeast England. I still live in this quaint little village, content where I'm meant to be. Once what was the coal mines is a huge plot of land where beautiful horses roam. I live quite close to the beautiful coast. As a small child I explored the outdoors eagerly. My eyes wide and bright especially when close to the sea.
My earliest memory goes back to 1977, age 4, and being as cute as a button but very shy and quiet with long dark curly hair. As a little girl I was gifted a nickname: Katie or Katie-tatie. The name came from a nursery rhyme I remember so vividly, as far back as I can recall or clearly remember.
she swallowed an Ha'penny
A threepenny bit an half a crown
K-K-K-Katy, She swallowed a taty
She swallowed a can of Pork and Beans the night before,
The night before that, she swallowed the door-mat.
Now she's trying to swallow the key to the kitchen door.
My granddad on my dad's side and his family loved singing it and I can still hear ringing in my ears: "Kik kik a Katie has swallowed a Tatie." At the time, I loved it so much but I would blush and hide my little face. I thought no one could see the embarrassment that flushed my bright, rosy-red cheeks. Innocence of a child. At first it was sweet but after age 8 and over, not to me anymore. I always prayed they would just stop. It reminded me of my grandad who was not here anymore. My little heart and soul bled inside of me as the rhyme was sang so much to me.
What I most remember about my childhood was the torment and anguish I endured every single day from bullying and most definitely honest sibling rivalry. While in my family my brothers and sister we were all equal and we all teased each other regularly (my brothers called me 'pork pie'), I felt lost, lonely, sad, angry and that I did not fit into society in any space or place. Misery was my constant companion. Children bullied me in and out of school. The name calling and beatings wore me down. It all started with one girl taking a dislike to me. Others joined in and laughed at me. I remember thinking, 'What's so wrong with me? Am I so horrible and ugly?' It's difficult to reflect upon these times without floods of tears still to this day.
I remember quite vividly being pushed into the road in front of a big red double-decker bus. The screeching of the brakes, the screams of those watching. The terrible sounds rang hard in my tiny ears scaring me to the point that I wet myself. Oh…the shame and the pain. Not one day in my school life do I remember being a pure delight, always in sight was the fight to see a happier light. My siblings did their best to protect me but the bullies were many and quite clever in slipping past.
Hiding behind the smoke screens was me, anchored to the ground with the twists and twines of thunder and lightning sounds inside my mind, where bullies reigned streaking profanities of my worthlessness. I was stricken with stabbing ice-breaking, raw wounds that sliced me deep inside, inside my mind. 'Twas not the sound of a child's purity that laughed so merrily and played so innocently but a child in fear and a child in pain as the water drained from the vessels of my soul, in floods of stains, it ingrained a feeling of sheer darkness and misery.
Growing up I hid my most inner thoughts and feelings from everyone. I was truly never alone and did have an abundance of beautiful family but loneliness invaded me. Reminiscing on the pain of those days, my family and friends remind me of the happier times. I had two beautiful loving parents. After 51 years they are still happily married and in awe of each other, a beautiful thing to see and know. I don't much remember happy moments though back then.
However, I do vividly remember happy days at the beach playing in the rocks and swimming in the sea. Our mining village had an outdoor Olympic swimming pool. I loved being outdoors and especially in the sea or pool. Early in life I sensed that the sea was an earthly gift with an abundance of pure energy that flows through you, me and everyone in a sheer sound of magical harmony.
The water offered me a freedom from all the cruel words that were thrown at me. The sea became my comfort and the wall that surrounded me so I could play and feel free. I'd jump high as the waves came crashing at me letting the ocean hold me in it's comforting grip. The feeling of levity and buoyancy rang through my mind allowing me to totally unwind.
Misery Grows with Age
An unhappiness that dragged me down deep as a child grew with age weakening me. The daily torment didn't end when I left school. The bullies continued to chain me to the unearthly sounds that were made stronger in every beat of time. "No sense of being who I am, just a heartbeat's failure," I believed. I grew up hiding inside of myself and never letting anyone get to know me. I was scared that no one would let me be me. My only release was sitting by the sea.
As the years swiftly moved, like sand and tide upon the shore, I grew a voice but this voice was beaten to the ground so that I would not make a sound. I became locked in my mind, fixed only upon the sadness that grew inside me. At 17 a family friend offered me comfort and charming words that made me feel pretty inside and out. He was much older than me but I chose to accept his attention. It was my secret to keep as no one would see it as I felt it so happily. Despite his comfort I was still unhappy and wanted to say goodbye to all humanity. I had no life's ambitions and no guided path as my road had been drowned way beyond what I could ford.
I am now 48 years old with three grown children but the road has never been easy. Still as a young mum, I continued to be tormented and bullied. It broke my sense of self-worth at every turn. At 18 I became a mother, something so beautiful. It truly made me see how love can come unconditionally. My precious daughter gave me hope and love that I'd never thought I could ever feel. Many a trial and pain I suffered after that including abuse by another man and the loss of another child, sheer agony. Only my daughter's love stopped me once from going under the ground to sleep for an eternity.
Then through want of feeling love, I became pregnant again, twins. But as they scanned my belly, they told me only one heartbeat resounded. Oh… the pain, again. My son arrived with a huge bang and crash. My son had struggles just like me but mine were never addressed properly. Rocked at every twist and turn, his health journey included hearing loss, asthma, epilepsy, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder) and then ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I fell to my knees every time they gave me a new label to place on him. But no matter what, I stood my ground and stamped my feet to make sure he was looked after properly. What a fine young beautiful man he has grown to be.
I kept going being the best Mum I could be and in 2001, to my shock, along came another beautiful baby, a redhead. His birth came with a huge slap of reality: the same day my cousin slipped away in her sleep quite soon after her Mum also passed, the second person dearest in my heart. She always protected me. Oh, the loss.
Bullies: "Chained to the Unearthly Sound"
Meanwhile the bullying carried on. One day I found my pet shot and placed on the school field. Walking along the street horrible names were shouted at me. I became locked in a world of post-partum depression as it totally shook me. Anguish, despair and heartache surrounded my soul. As my children grew so did my own confidence and off I went to university. I did not want to fail but out came the bullies again. I passed my nursing studies but my mentor refused to sign me off as she disliked me. I spent many days at the beach crying while gazing at the sea. I gained more weight, felt the strain and I gave up fighting for myself.
Growing up the only thing I could control was my relationship to food. I learned early on that I could go days without eating. It felt like I was giving myself a well-deserved beating. I did not believe I deserved to feel good. I believed every single bitter, sour, disgusting word fed to me. I'd skip my meals until I became wobbly with weakness.Then I'd purge and vomit it away. I had control of this, you see. It gave me some hope in my destiny. I imagine this will be hard for readers to understand but I'm telling you the truth of how I kept myself going through all of my despair. My control kept me alive and kept the many unhappy feelings inside at bay. It's only been since the pandemic, with support and help from a nutritionist and hypnotherapist, that I realised how and why I used food to chastise myself becoming my own worst bully.
Trying to Lift My Head off the Ground
Five years later I started to dream again that I could be more than the misery I felt inside of myself. I went back to university to get my Public Health Hons degree I passed it and went on to start my masters degree. But then life and its pressures bogged me down again; I left half way through the program. Consumed again by pain and despair, the weight continued to rise in proportion to the depression in my eyes, eyes so bleak and full of misery. "Smile," they would say, "and take a chill pill". I would boil up inside of me and want to scream, "Go get a life and just leave me be!"
Finding Hope & Dignity in Shame's Darkness
Life's physical and mental pressures caused a reaction and reflux of weight that hid the best parts of me. No matter my age or the changes in dynamics, I tried to make, my weight would increase dramatically. After my weight became way over 40 stone I knew I must do something. A defining moment came the day I could barely stand upon my own two feet to use the bathroom. As I shuffled my feet across the floor, the urine dropped away from me before I could place my bum cheeks upon the toilet seat. My embarrassment knew no limit: my son called me a disgrace to humanity. It was the turning point: I knew must try something new.
I picked up my phone and looked at social media to distract myself. I heard Paul Holley singing with deep meaning. I listened intently. I blinked and thought hard. My grandchildren were missing so much of me. No longer could I play or spend quality time with them. Again, tears streamed down my face. I had become how the bullies defined me. Looking at my phone again, social media screamed: Go to the sea! My sister had tagged me in a picture of going in the sea. Green-eyed envy filled me. Then I decided to speak to my siblings to encourage me and help stop the crying. The singing man, Paul, I heard on social media quickly became a friend to me. Why didn't he ever run from me? I wondered. Instead he pushed me to try and feel free.
Rebirth in the Sea
The first day I went to the sea, my sister came for me. She helped me to the car and then out of it again at the beach. I stumbled. I crumbled. I fell to my knees as my face planted in the sand. I felt like I was a horrible thing. It was my own doing and I said stop inside. I must get up onto my feet. The ocean's breath in the breeze crashed inside of me to help me find some hope or dignity. I gathered my strength and got up in the most unflattering manner only to fall again, face flat in the sand. With many falls and awaking calls, finally the sea totally surrounded me. It gifted me relief from the pain inside of me. Now I've claimed my pain as friend and this allows me to listen to the signals in side of me that warn me to not act impulsively.
I found a strength and courage that came from a force beyond all reality. I believe the ocean kept calling me. Calling me to the safety of its embrace. Finally, I heeded the call and decided to stop believing the bullies. The coldness of the thick green-blue sheet of energy bubbling and smashing on all parts of me suddenly set me free. The mental cloud lifted and drifted over the ocean breeze to release me. Only then was I truly set free to love all of me. With a flash of pure honesty came a stream of love that took hold of my heart and mind. Like the river to the sea, the deepest feeling of happiness flowed inside every sensor in my mind and body as it burst with pure energy feeling free from the turmoil that struck me down for what seemed like an eternity. Born from the crispness of the ocean's breath, a new me emerged finally freed from the darkness in my mind (blacker than the night) and the angry, vile words always inflicted upon me. The forgiving ocean holds me weightlessly no matter the weather or the time as my feet float effortlessly on waves of freedom.
In 18 months I've become a smaller me. Time flew by with the blink of an eye and I nearly losthalf of me. The sea became my smiling eyes that could warm all humanity. I've now lost over 20 stone (280 lbs/127 kg) since July 2020. It's now November 2021. That's stone not pounds! The weight has simply fallen off me. My face, that was once lost, I can see again. In a way it seems to have fallen way too fast but I like to think it has instilled its beauty in the sea. I live a breath at a time with strength and tenacity. I have become like the buds in May that flourish with water soaked up through their roots. They become such a splendid sight, a momentary beauty in the wild field of happiness.
How the Sea Has Changed My Life
Since the pandemic I am a changed woman in my lifestyle and physical and mental strength. I stand tall now. I used to hide my mouth and spoke through pursed lips but now I speak with a wide, positive smile and smile brighter than my wildest expectations. I swim daily and sometimes twice. My anxiety is decreasing rapidly as my heart beats through the sea. I swim alone, swim with friends and swim with the wider swimming community. I'm involved with projects related to the sea and I'm raising awareness around disabilities. I'm working to get a ramp installed at the beach where I swim to increase accessibility for all. I'm also learning to sing, joined a theatre group and I've starting to travel looking for swim spots.
My passion is drawing and writing about my journey through art work and poetry. I can't wait until I start doing motivational speaking to share how the sea saved me and how I've overcome the terrible voices in my head to create a more positive me. I've been working with Live Well with Pain and their Footsteps Festival. I am positively growing second by second and the more people I help the more I achieve.
My journey is not over and I still have a long way to go. However, I do this with calm and sheer grace. Music and the sea are in my soul and keep me moving smoothly. I am so thankful I had Paul Holley guiding me. Time flies way above the deep blue sea sometime meeting and greeting just like you and me. My once rusted internal mechanics become more untwined and run somewhat more smoothly.
Thank you to everyone for the sheer love and support that's been given to me. As the sun rises so does the love and prosperity I found deep inside of me like the sea's cold icy blanket that surrounds and warms me up just perfectly. This love now shines inside of me and out through my eyes sparkling like the moonlit sky.
Smiling eyes have I, smiling soul have I, smiling mind have I and smiling heart have I. I am finally the person I was meant to be.
A lifetime of being bullied nearly crushed this author, Kathleen Wotton, until she discovered the life giving force of the sea. In words, photos and drawings Kathleen describes the tortuous journey she has had from early childhood to adulthood as a result of the bullying, which caused her to develop intense self-loathing. Eventually, she turned to the ocean, which has allowed Kathleen to feel free and to become a person she wanted to be.
I am inspired by Kathleen Wooton and have taken up open water swimming myself, now.The water breathes new life into me. And Kathleen is refreshing like a breath if fresh air
Transforming base metals into gold.
You are so much more than this body. X
Keep shining your light 🙏🏻
Kathleen you are my inspiration despite not living near the coast; after hearing about you I have visited the slope 3 times since July 2020 and swam in the sea I get you ...and get the relief from pain both physical and emotional .... I now swim 5 days a week at my local pool and for the first Tim in 55 years joined a gym too !!! Keep going girl you are amazing
A brilliant read..thank you Kathleen for sharing your story. I look forward to your book...and film....(you never know) Keep going Kathleen, enjoy your new found life and live it to the full..keep smiling....keep swimming... lots of love xx
Thank you for your feedback it’s greatly appropriated and heart felt x
Dear Kathleen - as a fellow swimmer I have read all your FB posts from day one. You are a true inspiration for me. My story is different but like you, the sea and my love of water saved me. You are amazing ❤️
Oh I think you ate totally amazing - so so
Much admiration - I work with complex needs and suffered bullying a lot - put on loads had bariatric surgery - lost a lot quick - got unwell put most back on - I love the miracles of the sea -!getting a bit cold now - will get there broke my back in Covid and have 2 stubborn knees but in the sea I have non of these
Thank you for your feedback. It’s greatly respected and welcomed x
Kathleen - you are amazing 🤩
Thank you for your kindness l, greatly revived x
Courage, transformation, inspiration! Kathleen embodies it all - swimmingly!
Thank you. I appreciate your feedback massively x
Thank you for your support. I am in awe of all the respect and kindness has been given x
Thank you Nancy (Dawn Swimmer) for working along side me to share my creative writing. I’ve loved writing since a child and it’s helped get me through some of the toughest moments in my life.
Writing this along side you Nancy was amazing your support and understanding to achieve the best possible article in my best interests was outstanding.
You are an incredible author and the honour is all mine.
I love that you kept it very much my words and true to the embodiment of the sincerity and reality it was wrote in.
I have been sharing my journey way over 1 year now but truly never developed the rational of why I arrived at this point in time.
My journey is still at the tip of an iceberg and my inability to recognise my skills as a writer have been blown out of the water.
I cried reading my article though and realised that I have a talent in expression and creativity in writing skills.
The layout is is incredible thank you for this.
I am dyslexic and struggle with structure and grammar so this has helped me find some understanding of continuity and fluidity in the importance of developing a flowing story line.
I feel honoured to have shared my journey with you and very safe in your hands.
Love Kathleen .
Nancy/Dawn your incredible.