Transcript #25 On Anxiety and Wild Swimming with Joe Minihane
Marcus: It was amazing when I actually did meet you the first time because I just was on my way to Brighton, I had about an hour or two until my friend finished work. So I contacted our mutual friend, Jo, from the Pease Pottage service station just outside of Brighton and she said, "I'm around and in about two hours my friend Joe is giving a talk about his book. I think you'll be interested it's about wild swimming and anxiety". And then about half an hour later I was having dinner with you and having a pint of vegan lager in a vegan pub. The most Brighton thing in the world. Before heading off to what watch a talk in an art gallery, which is also very, very..
Joe: ... carbon neutral, I believe O.N.C.A might not have any waste.
Marcus: So yeah. So it was nice. So suddenly I went from having no plan in a service station outside Brighton, to sitting, watching you talk about something I was very interested in.
Joe: It was all planned, it's fate.
Marcus: That's how it works, that's how it goes. The more you plan the less these exciting opportunities arise.
Joe: As I'm finding at the minute with new projects. Too much planning doesn't always work out.
Marcus: So then I guess I wanted to speak to you. I have been meaning to get in touch but I wanted to read your book first and then I had a pile of books and stuff to do and I eventually... I was glad that I left that space because it had fallen a bit out of my mind and I read it again just in time for the summer.
Joe: Just in time for when you actually want to go for a swim.
Marcus: And it really inspired me. So this summer I've done quite a lot. I mean we were just talking before we turned this on that I was in Sweden briefly, for quite a while actually, and me and my friends just drove, well, we spent about five days driving a journey which should have taken us less than a day, but we just lake hopped - it was 30 degrees. And we swam in the sea, not in the sea, in the lakes and it was beautiful. I guess over the past few months I've been doing quite a lot of swimming.
Joe: The heatwave certainly helped matters. Yeah. I'm not a particular believer in "it's better in winter". One of the things I like about this time of year, September, is that the beach is a bit quieter, but it's still kind of warm. It was golden this year. It was absolutely perfect. Like, you know, the sea here in Brighton was like plus 20. There were a lot of people in, but that's not really a problem. I mean I say that, I know that lot of swimmers are like when you get up to the beach and you're like, "there are other swimmers here, this isn't fair! Where are you in February?" And there is an element of that, but it was great. Yeah. I'm sure. I've never been to Sweden. I've been to Finland, but Finland in like November and ice swimming was not on the agenda, sadly.
Actually. I probably would have given it a go. I probably would have taken about six hours to recover. A good friend of mine, his wife is Finnish and I know he enjoyed it a lot this summer.
Marcus: Have you done any ice swimming?
Joe: I haven't done any. I've never broken ice. Every time I speak to people about breaking ice and amazed, but I have this pit of fear in my stomach because I know at some point I'm just going to do it because I don't really mind getting in in the winter. In Brighton, it's quite hard because you have to find the right day for it. So if it's windy for like seven or eight days in a row, which it often can be and then it's still, you haven't swum for those seven or eight days and in like January you kind of lose your acclimatisation.
So your will to get down there is already low. You've got loads of layers on and you have to prepare quite a lot for it. But obviously it's not ice swimming that's like, you know, five degrees swimming. Which is still really cold! I was reading something recently where someone described four degrees celsius as 'limpid'. and I was like, "No". Even the sea in summer is not limpid.
Marcus: You get people that swim by the pier everyday. I remember I used to live just down the road from here in Kemptown and I used to run in the mornings, run along the seafront often and just see these people, when it is basically still dark and there's just people walking in.
Joe: Yeah, those guys will go for it anytime. Doesn't matter the conditions. I was out last week for run. I actually ran on the beach because the tide was so far out and it was super windy and that was the reason I've gone for a run, because the tide was far out and it takes ages to get to the water.
But they were going for it, because they were going to go around the pier. I quite like a bumpy sea swim. But I don't want to go like full hat and goggles and then steam into, especially on your own, which is what I tend to do down here. I don't really swim with other people as much down here. Just by dint of the fact that I live right on the sea front and it's really convenient. And I have a 15 month old son who, you know, I'd like to spend time with and I like to help look after. The times that I have for a swim generally tends to be after he's had his dinner, but before he goes to bed, which is a very brief window of dashing across to the sea and having a dip and then coming back and helping out.
So yeah, Brighton has been a bit of a winner for that. Just having the water. We sort of moved here by mistake. By mistake because I lived in London for 10 years and we had good access to water. I lived near Brockwell lido, which is unheated and swam there quite a lot. And I used to go across town to Hampstead Ponds. Mostly to the mixed, in the summer. I quite like going to the Men's in March because that's when they're still breaking ice. I went there when that was about three degrees and I got chatting with one of the fellows there about breaking ice and he said this young chap had jumped off the jetty and cut his leg really badly because he thought breaking ice meant you just jumped through it. But that jetty is like three or four foot above the surface.
So he jumped in cut himself really badly and the ambulance arrives, and all that kind of thing. I think there are quite a lot of like city boys that used to go in and swim for like 20 minutes and he was telling me a story about one guy that had to get carted off because of hypothermia because he went in for too long. And I think one of the things that freaks me a little about winter and ice swimming is that people think they're invincible and go in for ages. I mean I am tiny. I feel the cold really keenly and three or four minutes tops and I'm out and that's enough to do me for the day. i'll feel amazing for hours afterwards. I think you do feel the burn a lot more in the winter, but you get a lot more from it mostly because like, you know what it's like getting out in the winter of any kind of activity is just like an achievement, you know?
I mean, whether it's going for a run or going for a walk or going for a bike ride, you feel good because you feel like you've stolen a part of your six hours of daylight in December, you know, you're actually stealing a little bit of it back. Whereas in the summer, you know, you can just be a little bit more free and easy with it. Head out at like seven in the morning and it would have been light for three hours. It's slightly different. I think my regret this year is I've not swum as much in freshwater and because I live by the sea, it's just not always possible. And having a baby means that you're not really willing to go too far to search out.
And when I was writing the book, obviously I was traveling an awful lot, but then I didn't really have, aside from, you know, being married, I didn't have any other responsibilities in terms of like where I needed to be or you know, people that I needed to, you know, help survive on a day to day. I had no backsides to wipe, you know, I had no one to cuddle, to get to sleep, so, you know, there is that. But yeah, I do miss searching out new places. People always ask me where are good places to go and I kind of feel like I'm cheating a little bit, telling them places I went five years ago. Sure. They're all exactly the same and still wonderful.
Marcus: Well you're about as close to the sea as you can possibly get.
Joe: Pretty much. Yeah. I don't think you could get any closer without getting salt spray right in your face.
So yeah, I mean thankfully we're in a basement so it's sort of protected from the worst privations of it when it really gets going in January.
Marcus: Can you tell me a little bit about your journey into cold water swimming?
Joe: Yeah, it was a bit of a... I don't think mistake, but certainly wasn't planned. I was living in London. This was probably like eight years ago, nine years ago. And my now wife and I recently moved in together. It was really hot summer's day and we lived in south London, in Balham , but we'd been wanting to go to Hampstead, well... She'd been wanting to Hampstead ponds for many years. I've never been particularly fused. I actually just thought that you went there and just swam in any of the ponds. I didn't really fully appreciate that it was an organised thing. With, you know, three ponds, one mens, one ladies and one mixed.
And so we went to the mixed pond and then I really wasn't overly fussed about the idea. But I was like, "Oh, fine. I'll give it a go". My skill as a swimmer was very much like I could jump in and I wasn't scared of the water, but I couldn't really do a decent front crawl or breaststroke. Yeah, I could do the heads out breaststroke. So she got in and just swam off and then I was left to my own devices standing at the metal rung. And I'm like, "Oh God". I lowered my foot down and thought, "Okay, that's cold". And then you put the next foot down and it's really cold and then you put your foot down again and there's actually no rung to go to and it's like, God knows how deep. Eight foot deep or whatever, so it's like, "Okay, well I've got to go". And, and that was it. And I just sort of swam off and I was in my own bubble very quickly. And this is what I love about Hampstead Mixed pond is that although it's quite a public space, and there is a lot of people there, it doesn't take long for you to get into your own bubble and you know, you lie on your back and you've got loads of trees around and there's moorhens and coots in the undergrowth and occasionally a fish will jump out and everybody screams. It's just a real sense of being in nature and you're literally like 15 minutes from the nearest train station. And that was sort of my first go with it and I loved it. But I don't think I fully appreciated how much at the time. I kept going back.
So I started going on my own. So it was when I was living in Balham. And then we went away for a while on a trip around Asia for like six months. And then came back and we were living in Camberwell and I would get the Thameslink up to Kentish town and then walk to the pond a few days a week right through from like April through to September. And I thought it will get warmer and it will get more popular and then, you know, that in September time, it might cool off a little bit and there were fewer people around and I was going an awful lot and it sort of dawned on me that the reason I was going a lot was that I felt really good afterwards. It wasn't like going for a run and feeling really good, like, you know, you've done some exercise because I was doing that as well.
It was more like I felt really good emotionally or mentally. I wasn't worrying about things. My mind was much slower and that was around the same time that it sort of dawned on me that my mind wasn't in the right... or wasn't right. Basically I wasn't in the right frame of mind. I didn't really understand what was going on. I hadn't labeled it anxiety at that point. But I knew that I really loved doing the swimming and I knew it made me feel calm. So that was good enough at that point. And then I started reading a lot about swimming, reading a lot about outdoor swimming and I bought a couple of guidebooks. There was Kate Rew's, 'Wild Swim' and Daniel Starts 'Wild Swimming'. So the latter is more very specific... these are the places to go.
Kate's book is a little bit of that, but then also a little bit of writing about swimming and Kate Rew runs the outdoor swimming society and she is a real aficionado and then I came to 'Waterlog' by Roger Deakin through Robert Mcfarland book, 'The Wild Places' because he writes a lot about Roger and Roger's death in that book. And I loved 'Waterlog' and I hated my job. So I still am a freelance journalist, but I was writing a lot about technology at that point. I'd worked for consumer tech mags for a few years and that was my freelance gig. I still do a bit of it. But I was really not very happy and I wasn't really doing what I wanted to be doing and I wasn't writing about the things I wanted to write about.
I wanted to write more about travel and the outdoors and nature. And so I realized that no one was going to do that for me. So I conceived of this idea that having fallen in love with Roger's book and read it countless times that I was going to swim it. And so I set up a blog called 'Waterlog Reswum', because annoyingly 'Waterblog' and already been taken, and that was it. I set off. I started, I didn't really have much of a preconceived notion of how long it was going to take. I knew it taken Deakin one long year, so from April until December. And then he'd done a few bits towards the end of the following year, once he'd written the bulk of the book, which is the last chapter of Waterlog. So I started blogging, I started swimming.
I did all the ones in London first. I was like, "Well, it's easy" I don't have a car, I don't drive. I'd gone to university and then I've done my postgraduate course and then I moved straight to London and you know, you don't really need a car in London. So I never bothered and I'd had a particularly bad experience of an intensive driving course with some quite abusive driving instructor, which hadn't done my anxiety much good in hindsight.
And so that was it. I just went off and started doing these swims and then I started working out ones that were close to train lines. So I went up to Cambridgeshire. And then a lot of them are in Norfolk and Suffolk. So Roger Deakin lived in Suffolk, near Dis, which is on the main line from London to Norwich and I went to university in Norwich. So conveniently there were loads of swims around there. So I sort of marked them all up on this big spreadsheet. I did a lot of colour coding. It all got a little bit too obsessive which I'll come back to shortly.
But there were loads of people that I knew through university, old friends and friends of friends who had read some of the posts I'd done and really liked them, and it turned out that a lot of them were swimmers as well, unbeknownst to me. So these people knew Roger Deakin's Norfolk and Suffolk really well and were willing to chauffeur me around and come swimming. Which was great. So it fast became this panacea for a bunch of things. I'd feel really good after having a swim so my anxiety would be dampened down. Also I was pretty lonely because I was working from home alone, which I'd always thought that I'd wanted to do and I do really like. I mean, I'm pretty much allergic to offices. But I'm not allergic to people, but I thought at that time that I was allergic to both. It turns out I just really don't like structured office environments. It was great, because it meant that I reignited old friendships, made a couple of really good friendships off the back of it, which I write about quite extensively. These people ended up driving me all over the UK. And there was family involved as well. I was leaning on quite a lot of people for favours.
Marcus: I think that is one of the things I saw when I was reading your book, that I really felt resonated with me and the project that I'm doing exploring depression and anxiety while driving around. In the fact that when I set off it was very much a journey about moving away from society and people and just trying to work out how to feel good about myself. I thought it was going to be very much a journey of isolation and that was something that really worried me. That when I left Brighton I was leaving behind my community and my friends. That I was going to be spending a lot of time by myself in the van, parked at the side of the road crying ad such like, you know?! But actually what I found is that the friendships in Brighton are still there, they are still strong. But along the way that very same thing has happened. People have come along, I've met people that I've been saying I'll meet up with for years, and we never get to, but I now see them more. Actually I feel I've spent a lot more time with people close to me because I've been doing this. When I read your book I really got that same essence of people answering your call.
Joe: Yeah. I was really surprised. People just wanted to get involved. I really missed that when I finished it. After I finished I got chatting with a guy who was a friends ex-boyfriend. I bumped into him at birthday party. He didn't even get in the water, and he said, "I don't think you even realise what you did for everyone. That you brought everyone together". I'd not really thought of it like that. I'd not thought that I'd done anything particularly out there to go and do that. But it did, because I saw people that I hadn't seen for years, people I'd been saying, "Oh yeah! We'll definitely meet up", and you might see them every 3-4 years, but I might be seeing them every 2-3 weeks. It was amazing and I was getting something out of it. That was a huge byproduct. I've managed to maintain a lot of those friendships even though I'm a lot more settled down, here in Brighton.
The trip did have its downsides, in things like I did get a little bit obsessive and that played into some of the obsessive tendencies that I have. I got very anxious about the trip itself, thinking, 'Oh! I'm not doing it right. I'm not going to enough places. I'm not doing it fast enough". It became really clear that Roger Deakin had done it really fast, for many reasons. He was retired basically. He owned a farm house with a moat. He'd recently got divorced. His son was living elsewhere. He didn't have any immediate family responsibilities. I had to pay rent on a flat in London and all those things. So it started to become a bit of a chore and I got really anxious about it and then half way through the trip I broke my wrist. I had a bit of a run in with an irate Range Rover driver. I came off my bike and broke my wrist, and that meant that I had a bit of a spiral and had to reassess where I was at and that is when I started having therapy. I went privately. Fortunately I lucked out and the first person I went to was great. I still occasionally see him even though he is in London and it's a bit of a pain in the arse to get to him. He's really good and he put a lot of things in perspective and talked a lot about this idea of floating. My tendency as he saw it was that I would always line things up in a row. Lining ducks up in a row and then trying to nail all the ducks down. I had this very set sense, especially with the swims that, 'When I've done this, this, this and this, then everything will be okay".
Marcus: I was flicking through your book again yesterday and looking at the bits that I had underlined and a lot of those bits are all around the idea of self imposed deadlines and beating yourself up about it. In the notes I've written, 'Oh that's me. That's what I've done'. So much of my time in therapy has been talking about these ideas. As a freelancer, I guess I have very little structure, so I say for example, 'By December I'm going to have that done', and then it gets to December and I'm nowhere near having it done and I start to freak out and I start to think, 'I'm not good enough. Someone else could have done this much better than me. Why couldn't I do it by December?', and then eventually I take a step back and think, 'In August, you just arbitrarily picked a date out of the air and now you are beating yourself up about it".
Joe: 100%! I was saying, before we started recording, that I'm working on a new idea, and I've actually imposed this deadline of December to get the proposal done. All the trips I had planned for it were planned months ago, and then they never happened and various things, like other work happened. Life happened. I've been putting myself under quite a lot of pressure about that. I think I'm much better, since doing therapy, at taking myself out of the scene and saying, 'Look, you chose that deadline. No one else is telling you to get to that point'. I've got a lot better at realising that done is better than perfect. And that, 'You wrote a book!'. That's one of the things I've been doing recently. Telling myself that I didn't write it and I'm not a swimmer. It's good. Self sabotage is one of my specialities. I'm particularly good at it. I'm much better at recognising it now. That was where the whole idea of 'floating' came in with the therapist. He was like, 'You need to think of this idea of bobbing around and you are just bobbing around. You can't control everything'.
I think I am a massive control freak. I still have this mindset that once I get to point X then the whole world will be okay. I still do it. I like catastrophizing... I say that, but I don't enjoy it... my mind enjoys it. Coming up with ridiculous scenarios. So the good thing about knowing that and doing the therapy is that in a weird way, breaking my wrist was a good thing. It was a horrible experience, being pushed off the bike by a crazed individual. But it meant that I was able to assess myself a little bit better, take a step back, do the therapy, do the work and then go back to the swimming and understand that it wasn't the thing that was going to fix me. It was an important part of my mental wellbeing. I like to swim. I need to swim. I'm not a swimmer in the sense that I'll go and swim 1500m in a wetsuit and fins, and do it really fast. Sometimes I'll go in with a hat and goggles and I'll swim 'properly', but the other day I got in and thought, 'It's too much of a beautiful day, I want to see what's going on', so I just waded in in my shorts and had a little potter around and it was lovely. But I still get that same feeling when I come out. Your skin feels amazing and I feel a lot calmer. There is this sense that your heart rate has come down. I know there has been a lot of research around that recently. Cold water potentially curing depression. I know there is a lot of talk about the University of Sussex doing research into it and potentially subscribing it. I'm not 100% sure whether everyone prescribing it might be a bit of a strong thing to do because not everybody wants to do it. But what I found was that it was one thing that worked for me.
Marcus: That's interesting because I often here about these things. I think for me it is beneficial. I know the last time I saw you I talked about the fact that I often do the cold shower thing, and I know you said that was a no no for you.
Joe: Yeah, I like blisteringly hot showers, generally like 2 hours after a swim.
Marcus: I think that is the important thing. It works for me and I do it, but I've looked up on the internet what are the benefits to anxiety and depression and it's one of these things that there are people waxing lyrical about how it's the cure all for everything, how it's the best thing in the world and cures all traces of depression. And then there is the opposite end of the spectrum saying that that is a load of nonsense. And then there is everyone in the middle. I think it can be very easy for people to latch onto 'the one thing'.
Joe: This whole idea of 'the one thing' is something that really interests me at the moment. There has been this recent research, which has been on the BBC and the Guardian recently, and on CNN in the States, about can cold water swimming cure depression. With this one particular case in Lancet, about a woman who had been prescribed it and was going every single day and it had massively alleviate her symptoms, and I could totally get on board with that. But, there are plenty of people for who the idea of getting in the sea brings terror and they don't want to do it. So there are other things. So it has to be a multi-pronged approach.
I was chatting about this with someone last week. It might be that you go cold water swimming, but you also take Sertraline, and you also go to therapy. All three at the same time. And then maybe you come off the Sertraline and you still go to therapy. And maybe you stop the therapy when you feel a lot better and you carry on cold water swimming. But it might be running. Something I got into earlier this year was going on mindless walks around places. There is all that talk about habit forming. Therapists are often talking about this, how your brain can form a habit within 21 days. Trying to find ways to remap your neural pathways. So I liked the idea of almost physically doing that. So at the start of this year I started writing about a few of these ideas. Like, I'd go up to London for work, and I'd generally always go the same route, because it was the route I knew. So I'd set myself a challenge, 'Right, I've got to be at Y from X at a certain time and I've got 2 hours', and then I'd try and walk a weird way just to see how my brain would feel. Sometimes that would be really stressful and I'd be like, 'Christ, I've got to get on the Tube now'. But a lot of the times it was quite good because it was allowing me to think a little bit more about things and lose myself. One of the things I like about swimming is that my brain sort of stops functioning like that, because the only thing you really need to keep focusing on is your breathing and kicking your legs, and moving your arms. Survival is all that matters. Whereas, when you are walking there can be lots of other things going on. There are distractions. You can put music on. You might get your phone out and scroll through things or whatever. Trying to get away from those distractions was something that I was interested in.
Marcus: So swimming sort of grounds you in the experience?
Joe: Yes, swimming for me, that's what I really like about it. I know for some people running does the business for that. I did a half marathon for the first time last winter and I really actually enjoyed it, and it was pleasingly mindless in a lot of ways. Running up and down the seafront and under the cliffs towards Rottingdean from Brighton. It was great, and I'd maybe listen to the cricket or something like that, but my mind would always go off somewhere. But then you always have to come back to your pace and putting one foot in front of the other and making sure you don't trip over. I quite enjoyed that, because I often tell myself I'm going to swim through winter and it gets to like January and it's like, 'Oh, I just can't be bothered'.
Marcus: I used to do that exact run in the morning. I used to live literally a few roads down from here along the seafront. For me running has never really been about exercise. Exercise is always a byproduct of it, but it is really that meditation feeling. I used to always run listening to music or a podcast, but then someone one day said to me that they just run without listening to anything, because otherwise it becomes this thing where your like, 'While I'm running I could kill two birds with one stone, and listen to a podcast'. I'd never really thought of it like that and I found that as soon as I started running without listening to anything it really changed my relationship to it. That's when it really clicked and I got into running more. Because it became much more about the moment. Yes, the thoughts are coming and going, but I can ground them. But when I was listening to something, it became like my body was a vessle going through the motion.... I guess with swimming it's more... well, I guess even there you can get things to listen to if you really want to...
Joe: Oh yeah. Of course you can. I got into it for a while where I would wear a watch and time myself. And then I just didn't enjoy it. So I stopped doing that. And then the runs that I always enjoy the most... well, I know how far a 5K is from the door of my house, so now if I go for a run I don't track it. That is the thing that for me takes a lot of the pleasure out of it. I know that I will have run 5K, and I might have run it however fast, and the next week I may run it a minute slower, but it doesn't really matter. The fact is that I've been out and done it.
Marcus: Otherwise you start competing with yourself.
Joe: Yes, I think there is an element of that and I think it's really telling to me that companies are trying to tap into that mindful thing with products. The new Apple Watch has this new mindful thing, and it's like, 'Yeah, but you are also a watch that keeps harassing people to go for a run or telling them they have text messages or giving them Twitter notifications. It's the absolute opposite of mindfulness. I hate the fact that I am addicted to my phone. I wish I wasn't, but I am. I mean, there are great mindful tools for an iPhone. There is one called Pause by a developer, Us2, where you trace your finger across the screen. But the best way to be mindful about your phone is to leave it at home. It's not always possible. That's another thing I like about swimming. No one can get you in the water! It's just you and a sea or a lake or a river and nature. I love being in and having my head out. You can be doing front crawl and really in the moment, but go on your back and have your head out and there will be gulls over head or a cormorant flying across quite low. Or you might see a trawler with loads of gulls behind it. It's great. You get that real sense of being in nature that I find quite hard to find elsewhere. Unless I have a backpack on and I'm going up a mountain. Ready access is quite hard for a lot of people. I get that. I'm not one of those people who thinks that it's going to cure your depression or anxiety straight off the bat. It takes a lot of will to get in the water.
I did a reading earlier in the year with a friend of mine who I mentioned earlier, called Jessica Lee. She wrote a book called 'Turning' which is about her year swimming in a different lake around Berlin, where she moved to. Ice swimming and all that. Mostly as an idea for writing, but also as a way of curing, or helping her with her depression. We did this reading together and someone said to us, 'It's great that you say these things fix your anxiety or depression, but there are days when I can't even get out of the house. So how do you get over that to go out and do those things?'
I don't know, I don't have answers to that. That's where I think things like if you've got the wherewithal, and you have the courage, then that's where going to your doctor and saying, 'I've got depression and can I have some help please', is really important. I think that's where maybe medication comes in. I'm not anti-medication at all. I think the movement against it has been a little bit over the top? Again, I think it goes back to 'The One Thing' thing. Sure, just taking drugs isn't going to fix it in and of itself. Talking is really important. Doing exercise is really important. That might be the one thing that then gets you out of the door to go for a swim, or a walk, or get on your bike or whatever. It's interesting because I've been talking to quite a few people about this recently.
I went to my doctor earlier this year. When I first was doing these swims and realised that I had anxiety, and I've spoken to a lot of swimmer friends who say they also have anxiety, it was pretty evident that I did. I went for private therapy. I wanted therapy and I knew that if I went to my GP I wouldn't get that. I just straight up knew it. Not because they wouldn't offer it to me, but because I couldn't wait 12 weeks to go and see someone. I needed to see someone within days. So when I went to my GP earlier in the year, I'd been having a bit of a rough time and hadn't really been able to swim much, and wasn't really feeling myself. I was feeling overwhelmed and my anxiety was really bad. There was a spot of depression. I can spot it. I knew what it was and I'd felt like that for a few weeks. I went. I kind of wanted them to give me meds, and they did. But they offered me therapy - I can laugh about this now... they offered me therapy but they said, 'Umm... we can offer you therapy but it's self guided and we send you self help books'. And I was just like, 'Guys, I can go to Waterstones. It's not like there aren't self help books available in the bookshop. I need to actually sit down in front of someone and unburden myself and get them to tell me it's going to be okay. Or it's not going to be okay and I need to do more work on myself'. Eventually, I think it was later July I received a letter asking if I'd be interested in these self-help books. I'm like, 'Are you serious?' So they gave me a month's worth of Sertraline, which my anxious mind didn't take because I read too much about it. Which was daft. I probably should have done. But I read far too much about it and its side effects and it scared me. I'm fortunate enough that I can afford to pay for therapy. I went back to my therapist in London. But I live in Brighton so that is an expensive proposition. £70 for a session, £25 for a train ticket, a bit of lunch. That's like £100 minimum for a day! You do that 5-6 times... I'm fortunate that I have some money saved so I can do that. Not a lot of people can. Not a lot of people know they have problems.
The doctor was embarrassed. She knew offering me a self help book... well, what's it going to do? There are self help books that work, but... Christ. I've written a book about my anxiety.
Marcus: Maybe they will issue you your own book
Joe: Ha - 'There's this great book about wild swimming, you should check it out'... I know what I'd do though. I'd self edit. I'd do what I do whenever I do readings. 'Oh no, that's not... You finished writing this over 3 years ago!' That's the thing that I do whenever I do readings now. If I don't like a sentence I just change it! Read out something different.
Funnily enough, when I was in the GP and saw that service advertised, 'Can Self Help Book Cure Depression?'... No. Can they help with depression? Sure. In with a massive mix of things that includes an amazing mental health provision where everybody gets access to talking therapy and there is parity of service.
Marcus: What do you think it is about the wild swimming that actually [helps]. Do you think it is the thing that it does to your body that helps. Or the fact that it gets you into a place where you can start exploring the other areas of your life as well?
Joe: I think a mixture of both. The initial thing is what it does to my body. Your initial response, especially getting in cold water, is to start hyperventilating. Your body almost goes into shock so you have to slow your breathing down. If you slow your breathing down, you slow your heart rate down. Therefore, you feel calmer. I was reading a thing last week, once your skin temperature and the water temperature equalize then you start to feel a bit warmer in the water. Okay, you don't want to stay in for too long because that's crazy. But then it's that feeling, when obviously your breathing and your heart rate come down, and therefore, its meditative because your mind is only focused on the swimming and staying in the water. Then your mind will be like 'Okay, it's time. We need to get out now.' When I come out I'll generally have that very calm feeling for anywhere from 30 mins to 5 or 6 hours depending... in the winter it can last a really long time, but it will take me ages to warm up. Which is fine. I know having a hot shower straight away is daft, because it pulls all the heat from your core and that is when you go hyperthermic. But then I think what it has sparked in me is A) whether you can feel like that all the time. And I think what I've discovered is that you can't. But you can certainly tap into those ideas through different things, be it meditation. I do quite lot of yoga at home. Maybe 15-20 mins a pop 2-3 times a week, and I feel really good after that. Again that is another situation where if you put all your devices away from you, you just stay in your little cubby hole and you can feel really good about that. It sent me down a further path of self examination which is something that was an unintended consequence. I didn't think I was going to have therapy. I didn't think that I was going to study myself and my life in such depth as I did when I started. That has been an massive and amazing byproduct of it.
I've got a much better understanding of myself. I think it's understanding that anxiety doesn't really go away. That you can understand the causes of it, and you can understand the core of it. That switching it off is really hard, but understanding that it is there and noticing it when it comes up is great, because then generally, say if I go for a swim now, or do whatever, I will be able to get a bit more perspective on something, and perspective is really important. That's the thing that I generally always lack. One of my issues is that I almost try and rationalise things too much now. I've sort of gone too much the other way, and you can't always rationalise things. Somethings just happen because they do. Like today I dropped my son off at nursery and he was happy as Larry on the walk up there, but as soon as we got there he started screaming his head off, and I was trying to rationalise it. But that's just how it is. He might not be like that tomorrow. You just have to accept that and move on. There's somethings that happen and you're just like, 'Yeah, I got it', but then it's working out which things that happen do we need to rationalise and work our way through. But that's certainly not how I felt before I started swimming. But the swimming has to happen quite regularly otherwise I get a bit... you know. I said that I didn't swim through the winter last year, but I did swim at least once a month.