The Kraken Awakes by Kath Ferguson
Yesterday, 10 October 2020, was World Mental Health Day. Depression and anxiety are terrible bedfellows. They haunt you, perturb you, rarely leave you in peace, and hang over your head like a veil of despair tinging with darkness the brightest of days. On the surface, one can appear okay but the storm within may rage darkly, sadly, interminably. For some these bedfellows feel like a beast, a sea beast of epic proportions such as the legendary kraken that haunted sailors of yore. Kath Ferguson (@the_kraken_awakes) shares how rising early and going to the sea every day helps her cope with her kraken within. Thank you, Kath, for your strength in sharing this important story of how the sea can help people manage challenging mental health issues and inspire wellness and wellbeing. --Dawn Swimmer
The Kraken Awakes
by Kath Ferguson
A legendary, terrifying sea monster, the kraken often lives in my head terrorizing me in the form of depression and anxiety. I am at my worst when I feel the beast of the sea arise within, and, as my husband will tell you, bloody scary. I take the kraken to the sea to soothe it and calm it which allows me to face the day. The kraken and I tolerate each other but we both have an irritating habit of waking up early, silly and ridiculously early, in fact. I awake and so does the kraken.
I have always been an early bird. Nothing really affects it. Neither a late night, alcohol nor jet lag do anything to change the hour I wake up. This is both a curse and a blessing. In addition to medication, I manage my depression and anxiety with a self-care package that includes sleeping well and swimming in the sea. But getting enough sleep, when you always wake before first light, is a challenge. However, always waking early means I benefit from solitude in the still, cool morning air to enjoy my first cuppa while I collect my thoughts. And, for me, a swim, as the sun is rising, is the best way to start the day.
When I wake up, whatever time that is, there is simply no going back to sleep. My busy brain engages and an incredibly messy amount of thoughts rush in to replace my dreams. I don't fight it anymore. I've learned to flow with it but it's often a tough, unpleasant current I swim in mentally. I get up and give the crazy, mind-chattering kraken some room while the kettle boils and I unload the dishwasher. Like the waves in the sea, fierce and full of energy, my thoughts left to their own devices, form into sets and swells. If left to organize themselves, the mental waters calm and I gain quiet clarity.
Being alone with my thoughts is something I actively avoid throughout the day. The constant battering of negative feelings and angry judgments my brain attributes to the smallest misdemeanour or change of plan is totally overwhelming. The kraken constantly haunts me and threatens to take over. But, there is something about the stillness of the morning, particularly on the beach or, in the sea, that makes my thoughts more manageable. The beast finds peace in the soothing embrace of the sea. I'm rested and ready to face the maelstrom of my mind. I can be rational and talk myself down from over-reacting rage. I can stop myself from spiralling into self-enforced isolation and pain-induced sleep. I know I'll be done by midday, exhausted and ready to retreat so it's now or never. It is the calm before the storm.
Before the sun takes control of the wind there is often a gentle off-shore breeze on the beach in the mornings. Only the tops of the trees know that the wind is there. It is enough to muffle and mute the sounds of the land. And it allows the sea some space to sing to the shingle [NB: shingle is an English term for pebbles, ie, without the wind there are gentle waves that make soothing sounds as the pebbles roll over one another]. Everything appears gentler, even the way I enter the sea and swim in the mornings is ethereal. Unlike my joyful run straight in with friends accompanied by siren screams, in the mornings, by myself, I simply slip in. I will float for a while and take stock of my surrounding before heading off against the current. I swim against the stream, focus on the rhythm of my breathing and on my stroke as well as the muffled sounds of the shore. The hard edges of the busy world and the volume of my busy brain are softened. The kraken and I swim together rhythmically. By the time I turn for the slow flow back to the beach I am in the midst of my mind, processing my thoughts.
I leave home before the kids get up and the house stirs. I feel my solitude most intensely in the mornings on the beach or in the sea. The season dictates what is in my always-packed-swim bag and how early I swim. I find spots along the summer busy beach away from dog walkers, serious swimmers and late night party goers. In the colder months, seclusion and solitude is much easier to find; to change on the beach, to shelter from the weather and to find quiet space. Conversely, this time of much treasured solitude, is when I feel most connected to myself. From the moment I spot the sea from the car on my short drive to the beach, to being alone, in the damp air, on a deserted beach at dawn, I am connected to myself and the natural rhythm of the sea. My world is still spinning but my axis is still.
Every day is a fresh start. And mornings have a special freshness I revel in. It's something in the bite of the wind and the coolness of the water before the arrival of the sun's warmth. My mind deeply senses: Yesterday is in the past. My possibilities for the new day are endless. There is hope.
So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.by Virginia Woolf
On wild, windy mornings I feel alive. And it's good to be alive! I feel every part of my body. I am strong. I am capable. I feel childlike, innocent joy! Mother Nature is at her best with the cold and the waves of the vast winter seas. My worries float away on a calm sea, but in choppy, chill waters in January, the sea renders them insignificant.
Routine is a key component to managing my mental health. Throughout the day the decisions I make increase which causes me mental fatigue. Consequently, having a morning routine that requires no decision making keeps the tiredness at bay. The brain's resources and my resilience are limited, but my morning swims, cemented in my every day, keep them topped up. This healthy routine helps me maintain physical, emotional, and mental health during stressful times.I find that morning swims differ from those later in the day. In the morning my mind and body are waking up. Swimming is a great form of low-impact exercise that gives your body a great stretch and work out. Even if the sea is too rough to swim in, I will head to the beach to walk on the shore or run on the promenade. Just being by the sea soothes and recharges my inner world.
My solo morning swims differ from those I share with my swimming community, the Salty Seabirds. This wonderful, supportive and inclusive wild swim group, swim for their wellbeing, year round on the beaches of Brighton and Hove. They are full of chatter, laughter and cake. My solo morning swims are meditative and mindful. I find a calm flow of repetitive strokes. Again, this is a time when my thoughts come and go and it requires little effort to practice. As the winter draws in and the sea temperature drops down to single digits Celsius , dawn distance swims are no longer possible and quick cold dips replace them. Instead, clad only in a swimming costume, the cold water resets my brain and shocks my body into morning mode.Having a swim, combing the beach or sitting and watching the waves come and go, allows me to literally collect my thoughts and the tone is set for the day. Without this morning ritual, the day can take quite a dark turn. I can slip into a habitual retreat from the world, unable to leave the house or on particularly bad days, my bed scared to leave the safety of the nest I have built. Up with the larks, I am grateful that it provides me with a natural coping mechanism for my anxiety and depression. Left alone with my thoughts I am able to plan rather than procrastinate.
The sea is my sanctuary. The sea keeps the kraken at bay. The mornings are my solace. I couldn't live without my morning swims in the sea. I couldn't live away from the sea.
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With honesty and candor author Kath has shared her personal story of how the sea has helped her plumb the depths of her depression and anxiety.