Welcome to our Seashell blog posts where we dive into the stories of the Seashell people, share our advice and experience to help build the community. We hope to use this space and platform to inspire others and to start important conversations.
Let's get exploring!
"Well Coralie, if you can do this then you can get out and do anything".
Life has a funny way of allowing things to unfold.
It is easy to think that the way you are living right now will stay like that forever. For some that may be the case but for many others, including myself, it most certainly does not!
After being thrown in at the deep end (quite literally) of the swimming pool as a baby, I have always been into sports. I have grown up with the amazing opportunity of being surrounded by it.
My Dad is the head of Physical Education in the school I attended growing up and is still teaching there 30 years on so naturally I have always wanted to do him proud.
I was one of the kids in school that would try absolutely everything.
Even being the only girl in the football team and getting lots of hassle from doing it, it didn’t stop me! I started swimming competitively with Upper Deeside Amateur Swimming Club at the age of six.
I went on to swim at national level and at the age of 14, I became extremely interested in psychology and began my journey as a swimming coach.
Along with playing every sport that was available in clubs at school I realized my love for group sports.
All of this unfortunately came to a halt at the end of first year whilst at University at Strathclyde where I was studying Spanish and education. I quite frankly crushed my sporting dreams when I snapped my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and damaged my meniscus whilst jumping for the ball in a netball match. It took a year to get the operation and about 1 year of tough rehab to get back to feeling confident with walking on my knee again.
So yes, 2 years out! Pretty hard for a sports addict. During these two years, I learnt a great deal. This is probably why I am even more motivated today. We as humans probably take our bodies and life for granted. I think when you are young, it is easy to get complacent, think we are invincible or just think "oh I will just do that when I am older".
It made me realise that no matter what happens, we should always do everything within our power to look after our bodies and minds which should include doing sport and exercise. You have no idea what is around the corner, so make the most of the opportunities that you have whilst you can.
Now Covid was something that we did not expect to happen in the back end of 2019. Life back then felt "normal", (whatever that means).
Now I have to admit that since I was young, I would never go out and meet lots of people for fun. Usually because I just didn't have enough hours in the day to do all my sports and music activities if I did.
As I got older I began to meet more people. It would naturally happen at work, training and whenever I went home to see my family. For me anyways, I felt like I was free and was happy wherever I was.
Nobody was really sure how seriously the pandemic was going to be but in the back of my head, I told myself it would just be a tiny blip in the system and that it wouldn't last for long.
How wrong I was.
I starting to feel a big shift with my mental health within just a few weeks of lockdown.
" I felt this extreme sense of impending doom".
Now this is something that I have never made public before so I hope I can put it across in a way that makes sense.
In high school, I suffered from extreme OCD. I had Compulsive Rituals for counting in even numbers, cleaning, washing, moving, and eating etc. If I didn't do these things in a particular way then I felt this extreme sense of impending doom- that something bad was going to happen to someone I loved. It quite frankly took over my life. I am still not sure where it came from.
I am not going to lie, it is weird thinking back to this because it feels like a life time away and as if it didn't actually happen. If you know me now, you wouldn't believe it at all because I am probably the opposite now!
Now, I am not good with numbers, I like to clean but every so often when it needs done, I am always muddy and not the cleanest by any means. I would happily spend weeks going without a shower whilst out exploring in the forest and mountains and love to get dirt under my nails as it makes me feel human...
I somehow managed to naturally grow out of it at the end of high school and never thought about it until I had an anxiety attack whilst in a shop getting food during lockdown. I did not realise how not being able to see or speak to people and the fear of the unknown would affect me.
Staying in my flat in Aberdeen, I felt trapped and unable to be my true self. I wasn't able to work, train or see family or friends. I had no structure and no idea when it was going to end.
I tried getting out for walks but more and more felt like my energy from within was changing. I didn't understand what was happening to me and to be completely honest, I felt like a failure. I was always under the impression that I was pretty strong mentally so naturally never envisaged that I would find myself in this situation.
I guess being mentally strong within a sporting sense is very different to being mentally strong in other aspects of life. This anxiety attack had been building up over a long time so when it happened, I felt pretty much helpless. This had NEVER happen to me. For some reason my mind felt like I needed to distract myself from the pain and began to self harm during and after the attack.
What made it worse is that I started to do it in even numbers, just like when I was younger with OCD. It was like something had flicked a switch and I was back to this feeling of impending doom.
The human mind is fascinating!
Terrifying yet beautiful.
It has hard to understand why these things happen. It could be as easy as one or two small things that build up over time and I feel like environment and experience can have a massive roll in how you feel mentally and physically.
Fundamentally, we as humans are social beings. You can be an introvert or an extrovert but at the end of the day, our thoughts, feeling and emotions can eat us up from the inside no matter how "strong" we are.
How did Wild swimming help me?
After this happened, I decided it was time to spend the rest of lockdown at home. I needed to be at home with my family and not alone in my flat. I was able to recover there with my family and we were able to be open, honest and discuss mental health.
For some reason the topic of exploring came up in conversation.
Then Dad began to show interest in finding different lochs to swim in. Lots of people are always out climbing the Munros but very little are out seeking all the lochs.
We started looking at maps and become aware that there was a whole new world out there.
There were hundreds of lochs in Scotland and we had only been in a couple during triathlon races.
We started looking into how many lochs there were in the Cairngorm National park and decided we needed to start ticking them off one by one. We wanted to make sure they were big enough and not just swamps so with the help of our friend Miles Newman, we discovered about 59 lochs that were at least 200m across one way within the park.
So once we were able to travel more we hopped into the van and off we went to camp at the Badaguish centre near loch Morlich. But this wasn't our first loch on our list.
For some reason our first loch to do in the list was Loch Eanaich just a little further into the valley from Loch Coire an Lochain (Highest loch in the United Kingdom).
It took us quite a while to cycle there and a soggy hike as there was no path to the middle of the loch.
We planned to get to the middle of every loch and dissect them from one side to the other and back. I was super excited for this day. The weather was amazing, the cycle was beautiful and we were exploring a new place. Even walking into the water I was buzzing!
I dipped into the water and had a look underneath, the water was so so clear. We started to swim and then all of a sudden the clear beautiful water became black nothingness.
A few strokes in and a realised I was way out of my depth. All of the other lochs I had been swimming in during my triathlons were pretty shallow. I could stand up in most of them if I wanted but there were also lots of other people in the water including safety kayaks etc.
Here there was nothing but us. I felt like we were entering a black hole.
This was probably the deepest loch I had ever swum in and it felt like we were isolated from the whole world. Of course I had to have this realisation whilst swimming.
I started to panic, I could feel my heartrate getting faster and faster. I then couldn't even swim with my head underwater. I was struggling to breath as I was trying (and failing) to hold back tears. I had no idea what was happening.
I managed to calm my breathing and keep swimming to the other side but had to close my eyes underwater so I didn't see the black water. We managed to get there and clambered out.
Dad just looked at me and asked if I was alright but I couldn't respond. I was experiencing something internally that I had never experienced before.
After a few minutes my Dad said he was going to start heading back as he was getting cold. I looked around to realise that I was surrounded by cliffs, rocks and no path around. I had only one option, to swim back the way we had come.
Off my Dad went and I was left behind. I saw him heading off into the distance and knew that I HAD to get back in that water. It was the only way back. This might sound dramatic but I could not think of anything worse.
My brain was telling me it was't safe.
"What if I got cramp", "what if there were big fish or loch monsters that would come up and gobble us up"?!
"There must be something underneath us that has been living here and waiting for this moment"?!
When I look back at it now, I can start to appreciate and understand that my biggest fear is the fear of the unknown.
I now get it! I could then relate to this to my anxiety attacks and my OCD. In schools we are taught a lot through systems and how to be successful by going through processes.
As kids we are rarely put into stressful situations that are very unknown to see how we would handle them. Everything was controlled and geared towards memorizing things to get high grades.
Naturally humans are now used to starting small, building and practicing until we become good at something and it becomes autonomous without even thinking about it.
So no wonder I had been struggling.There were so many unknowns about many aspects of my life and these had all been building up until I couldn't take it anymore.
Somehow I got back into the water and just swam as fast as I could to catch up with my Dad. At least if I was next to him then we would both be gobbled up by the loch monster right!?
Once I got back to the clear water I realised everything was okay. I got very emotional and then could NOT stop smiling.
I had just done something mentally that I had never done before. The first thought being:
"Well Coralie, if you can do this then you can get out and do anything".
It sounds so clique but it was true.
I can't ever remember any experiences where I was so pushed out of my comfort zone like this that is has had such a profound change in my life.
I then ask the questions, why not? Maybe we should be getting kids out and giving them more opportunities and experiences like this?
Obviously there is a safety element but there must be things that we can encourage younger kids to do so that they can practice perseverance.
Surely we shouldn't wait for these experiences but more encourage people of all ages to search for challenges like this.
I simply cannot be the only one who has experienced things like this and for this reason I am sharing my experiences so that others out there know that they are not alone!
Life has been very different since that day.
Although the next few lochs I did were probably equally as scary, I have gone on to swim in many lochs all around the country, including the top 10 highest lochs in Scotland.
I can still sometimes get pretty scared and panicky when I am in them but I always just think back to that first time and how I felt afterwards.
Till this day I have never seen any fish or anything alive in the water apart from a few small birds on our journey to the loch side. I am sure there are small fish in these lochs but the higher lochs seem too cold to have anything alive in there. I am yet to be corrected.
My brother also says, "if you do get eaten by a loch monster, you will be the first person EVER in this country", so I guess we all have nothing to worry about right?
In all seriousness, even thought it can be a scary thought. However I have never ever left a loch feeling worse than when I got there. The feeling you get from being in the water surrounded by mountains, cliffs and open wilderness give you such a sense of freedom that I cannot express in words. Especially if you can get out there with family and friends.
Looking back at wild swimming, it has given a sense of adventure that I didn't have growing up. It pushes me mentally and physically but in a healthy way. If I don't want to swim to the other side then I don't have to. I usually do push myself as I know I will regret it if I don't but there is always that option. It has allowed me to meetup with other people who are out doing the same or similar things.
Climbing the Munros is an epic challenge but I feel proud to be doing something a little different. I could have summited many of the Munros along the way but instead went up, over, across and down to swim in these remote and beautiful lochs instead.
Most with no paths to get there. I have seen things and been to places I don't think many have ever been. Not to mention swimming in the lochs there.
What is even more exciting is that there are still hundreds more to explore including all the rivers too!
Get out there and push your comfort zone!
I hope this inspires others to get outside and explore the unknown. You will find that pushing yourself outdoors will help with being able to deal with other things in your life.
It has helped me realise that things will be okay. Sometimes you just have to give yourself some time and space. There is no rush. Life is a journey full of smaller journeys.
Mental health is important for all ages and stages, no matter who you are. Most importantly we are never too young or too old to get help and that it s not a weakness.
I want to give and allow opportunities for people to get outside and learn more about their mental and physical health. Please never think you are being a burden.
Give someone a call, message or reach out to places like SAMH who will talk you through things. Come and join us in our meet-ups or even come join me in my adventures!
We all matter.
Coralie Dee Arthur.
"Seashell Robes have the best robes on the market and they’re growing in popularity."
"Not only do Seashell make waterproof changing robes, but they also have their own community. Seashell practice what they preach and put their products to good use in wild swimming and fitness community events up in Scotland."
Thank you very much for reading our blog post. We hope it has inspired you to go and explore into the wild.
Our aim is to share other people's stories. Whether you have a story about mental health, community or why you started wild swimming for example.
If you would like to be featured in our Seashell stories then email us on: email@example.com
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