Ocean Swimming In Winter: The Best Cure For The Menopause Blues

Sometime over the past few years, I lost my spark, and even though I wasn’t sure if menopause or the medication I took for my anxiety were the culprits, or even the amount of time my husband and I had spent together in lockdown together, I was desperate to retrieve it.

Woman swimming on her back in the ocean
Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Impatience and irrational outbursts of anger had become a big problem that were linked (I suspected) to menopause and poor sleep, hormone fuckery, the inability to control my body temperature, and my secret fears about the life-altering changes that lay ahead.

And, clearly, emotional eating and drinking weren’t working…

And so, as we approached our seventh week of lockdown — and I found myself subconsciously plotting my husband’s death — I decided enough was enough, and determined to find another outlet for my anger.

Admittedly, I laughed when a friend suggested swimming through winter, but I didn’t completely dismiss the idea when in the past, swimming has had a calming effect on me.

It wasn’t an obvious choice. Public indoor swimming pools had been closed down in lockdown and we were in winter in Sydney, and albeit I was aware of the health benefits of swimming in cold water, I needed more convincing.

After two years of comfort eating in lockdown, the idea of contorting my body back into tummy flattening swimmers didn’t fill me with joy

And despite living in arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, I hadn’t been to the beach in a while. Two years ago, our summer was spoilt by the blanket of smoke from bushfires, and last year, my age caught up with my body — with, firstly, a painful case of bursitis in my foot, and secondly, a malignant melanoma on my arm, which entailed surgery and stitches and put an end to my weekend dips.

However, those health issues did provide an epiphany of sorts, (or the cliched “wake-up call”), about the importance of living each day as if it’s my last, being grateful, getting back to nature, and enjoying the simple things in life, blah, blah, blah

And so, I decided to take the plunge

The water temperature is not warm in winter, nor indeed at any time of the year in Sydney. In fact, the only way to swim in temperatures comparable to the Mediterranean or Hawaii’s Waikiki beach in Australia, is by heading north taking your chances with the crocodiles and box jellyfish.

Hence, I admit that the thought of my first winter swim in one of our local ocean pools— originally built to protect swimmers from dangerous surf, currents, and…ahem… sharks — was hardly appealing, and in the end it was vanity that swayed my decision. Because, surprisingly, there are benefits to the crazy activity of swimming in cold water:

  1. It improves the body’s circulation
  2. It reduces stress
  3. It boosts the immune system
  4. It rejuvenates the skin
  5. It gives you an immense feeling of smugness
  6. And it eradicates any middle-aged body image issues, because NO ONE over 50 looks good in a wetsuit

Furthermore, really “cool” people like Julia Baird, Kathy Lette, and Benjamin Law swim through winter

Convinced, I ordered myself the most fetching spring wetsuit I could find in my size, a very unflattering swim cap, a pair of new goggles, and I set about preparing myself for my new adventure.

Admittedly, alcohol may have been involved as I psyched myself up for my first swim

As one of those swimmers who lingers longer around the steps than actually in the water, I knew I had to get into the water quickly for any chance of success, but as my teeth chattered and I felt the need to wee again, I strode as purposefully as I could into the shallow end and all feeling left my lower body.

Luckily, the trickles of iced water that broke through the armour of my wetsuit restarted my heart several times

The temperature of the water was around 17 degrees, but felt closer to zero. However, my new wetsuit did a commendable job of protecting me as I submerged my body with far less grace than a submarine into the icy-cold beneath me, grateful for the odd trickles of iced water that broke through the rubber and restarted my heart several times in between my underwater expletives.

Holding my breath, fully aware of the importance of keeping my heart rate up as I doggy-paddled frantically in the direction the “real” swimmers on the other side of the pool, I prayed silently that none of the lifeguards would jump into save me as a group of kids in bikinis laughed at my progress.

But I made it

And more importantly, the anger left my body as my brain switched its focus from the inadequacies of my husband to my survival. And although the smile of relief on my face nearly cracked until I located a warm spot in the water where the kids had peed, by the end of my second length I remembered why I had married him again.

Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

A Helpful Safety Guide To Public Swimming Pool Etiquette For The Illiterate

 Dear Person Who Cannot Read/Swim,

 

yokusuka-89827_1280As a staunch supporter of community public services, I have commandeered myself to remind you of the swimming etiquette in our local public pools. For while the lifeguards are confident to chat for hours with Kardashian-esque 20-30 year old, svelte swimmers in itsy-bitsy bikinis  erect signs with suggested swimming styles/speeds for each lane, they do not see it as part of their job description to enforce them.

 

The pool is a wonderful local facility and one in which everyone is encouraged to swim. Note my use of the verb ‘swim’ here, because that is the aim of the majority of members that come to the pool.

 

Understandably though – and please believe me when I say that I am as inclusive as the next person – some people prefer to thrash about like idiots/frolic/and generally act like they’ve never seen water before, and that is why the recreational lane is kindly donated for them in which to express themselves.

 

Fortunately, this leaves another four or five lanes for the serious ‘swimmers’. These are allocated fairly, to accommodate every level of swimming ability, from the slowest, most painful creepers, to the Porsches of the swimming world. That is why the boards state respectively, ‘slow lane’, ‘medium lane’ and ‘fast lane’.

 

Allow me to explain this more coherently:

 

If you cannot swim at all, or walk faster than you swim, are heavily pregnant, have mastered no other stroke than a doggy paddle, like to jiggle around embarrassingly to music in water or prefer to walk in the water because some hippy yoga teacher called Bluebell told you that this counts as exercise, you belong in the slow lane.

 

If you suspect that you are an average swimmer, which means that you don’t need an inhaler to breast stroke or the aid of flippers or snorkel, you can reach the other end without stopping, have acquired some breathing technique and swim much faster than the swimmers that bottle-neck in the slow lane, you may promote yourself to the medium lane.

 

Unless:

 

The fast lane is as busy as the motorway to Mecca for the Hajj, causing the slower swimmers to hold up the roadrunners, who, (because they are familiar with swimming etiquette), have given way sulkily majestically and retrenched back into the medium lane. In that situation, you get back in the fucking slow lane with the kids and learners. News to you, I know, but it is indeed possible to switch lanes.

 

And so finally to the fast lane (sigh). On no account do you dip your toe in this holy water, unless: your body is as ripped as Michael Phelps and you possess the aquatic capabilities of the Man From Atlantis; you mastered not only free-style as a new-born, (even the breathing), you don’t splutter when water fills your goggles or gets up your nose, and you have the bionic speed to match the statement created by your bulging, white, G-string Speedos with matching swim cap; you also do a pretty good impression of the ‘butterfly’ stroke and have never second-guessed why it was invented or how silly it looks).

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Louisa Simmonds

Do All Relationships Become A Competition?

Do All Relationships Become A Competition?Day ‘ALREADY COUNTING DOWN’ of the holidays and I still haven’t killed the old man, but it’s interesting how much there is still to learn about your partner, even after thirty years.

It turns out that the life sentence of twenty-one years of marriage, thus far, hadn’t fully revealed to me the full extent of the old man’s competitive nature.

Why do men have to turn everything into a competition? Perhaps it’s boredom, or he’s missing bullying his staff at work, but everything the old man and I do together, (when we are forced to spend too much time together), has to become a competition for him.

Have I mentioned that he has besmirched the Christmas holidays (and all they represent in terms of alcohol and food over-indulgence) by commencing another of his fitness crazes? That’s right, the one time of the year when we have a bonafide excuse to eat and drink excessively (in celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, of course), the old man decides in his wisdom to become a born-again fitness freak.

And not content to enjoy some personal, superficial smugness, with his carbonated fucking water and slices of cucumber instead of crisps, he makes me feel guilty about literally every bottle of wine I consume.

But he’s also decided to compete with me in the pool, and as you are aware, dear readers, swimming is the one sport that I have attained some level of coordination at without embarrassing myself – which makes it MY sport. Swimming also happens to be a sport that the old man has ridiculed for years.

It seems that he has to find something to focus on with all this free time, and obviously morning to noon cricket just hasn’t been adequate.

So he has dedicated much of our precious re-bonding holiday time researching swimming techniques on Youtube, and yesterday he even made me video him at our local outdoor pool. The same man who used to laugh at swimmers who warmed up around the pool, now obviously thinks he’s the next Michael Phelps and smiles at them, knowingly, in some secret nodding code of swimming camaraderie.

He times his lengths, gives me tips about my style and laughs at the unfortunate strokes of other swimmers, even though he has developed his own try-hard, poncy, left-arm movement to his freestyle that makes him look like he’s signalling the lifeguards for help.

He keeps begging me to let him time my lengths. So far I have refused to give in to his need to win.

He spoiled our six-course Japanese meal the other night by calorie counting and making me watch video after video of his breathing technique and has wasted many an evening in search of the perfect goggles and budgie-smugglers, when we should really be having holiday make-up-for-the-rest-of-the-year sex.

How are you coping with the enforced quality holiday time with your partner? Do they always compete with you?

 

Middle Aged Woman Stalked by Sharks In Sydney

English: A Caribbean reef shark photographed a...
English: A Caribbean reef shark photographed at Roatan, Honduras. Deutsch: Grauer Riffhai (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) bei Roatan, Honduras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was a good weekend.

The sun was shining and the sky was that beautiful clear-blue that typifies a Sydney summer’s day. I discovered that grilled sourdough, avocado, feta and lime is not the gross combination it sounds like it should be and Magnum ice creams were on special in our local deli.

So we decided to endorse our travelling, Bohemian spirit and remove ourselves from the comfort of our own backyard to go to the privileged wilderness that is Double Bay in the Eastern Suburbs.

When I say ‘take us out of the comfort of our own backyard’, what I really mean is away from the safety zone of our local public pool to the complexities and dangers associated with the beach.

The pleasures of the Aussie beach are still an enigma to me.

Unfortunately, I read Bill Bryson before we migrated to Australia to become one of the next batch of lobster skinned, ‘scared-of-our-own-shadow’, whinging Poms when it comes to wildlife. I wish I hadn’t read it now. I still dwell on those words about Australia having ten of the most dangerous creatures in the world.

And I don’t think that sharks even made it to the list.

Australians have a very different attitude to wildlife to us Brits. They don’t care how aesthetically scary a creature is, (and it can be seriously as fugly as fuck); they only care about what kills them.

To demonstrate my point, some Australians keep these in the house as pets to eat the mosquitoes. And no-one thinks that’s weird.

Male Delena cancerides, Huntsman Spider or Avo...

Unfortunately, my innate fear of anything that moves and isn’t human sharks hasn’t diminished since I’ve been here. I was brought up on Jaws and like Pat Solitano and his trigger song in Silver Linings Playbook, seawater not only triggers the urge to urinate in me (something to do with fear, I suspect), it also triggers THAT music.

But as I sat in front of Redleaf beach yesterday and looked out for fins at the terrain in front of me, I decided to face my fears and I contemplated a dip.

For those not familiar, this is what Redleaf beach looks like:

Scary, huh?

You might not think so, but I’m not making this shit up. Notice that the swimming area is completely surrounded in metal bars?

Middle-Aged Woman Stalked By Sharks in Eastern Suburbs
Looks super scary, huh?

For one FUCKING man-eating reason.

So while others played and splashed, snorkelled and had fun, naively, I carried out my own personal full risk assessment. The bars looked intact, but I’d seen those television programmes where sharks bite through cages many times. My mind kept conjuring up an image of the whole of Jaw’s family lined up behind those bars, waiting and licking their razor-sharp teeth in anticipation of the white blob of cellulite about to enter the water. This would surely be their victory in revenge for the injustice on their distant relatives in Western Australia.

And to be honest, I’d give them a bit more than afternoon tea than the rest of the swimmers around me.

I remember when I snorkelled for the first time in the Great Barrier Reef where there are only Reef Sharks who, APPARENTLY, aren’t interested in tearing your body apart when their myopia makes them to mistake you for a seal. Did you know that sharks are virtually blind? So you can guarantee that death won’t be quick or easy unless you’re lucky enough to be decapitated first or they chew through an artery.

I was the only adult in a stinger suit on that trip – the only Smurf on the reef – a vivid-blue human beacon to man-eating wildlife.

Eventually had to kick me into the water such was my resistance, whereupon, after my first brush with a sea cucumber, (which are frankly GROSS), I dismantled my goggles and snorkelled in braille so I couldn’t actually see what was surrounding me.

As I looked out to the water in Double Bay yesterday, I felt calmed by the knowledge that there were a lot of children out there at the back of the pool, as well as the over-nourished proportions of the old man who was making a complete pratt of himself diving in and out of the water like a child.

Those kids might just give me the chance to get out of the water quickly, I rationalised.

Lost in my thoughts, the anguished peal of an infant cry suddenly broke through my reverie and my fight or flight response set in. Before I knew it, my body was hurtling up the sand quicker than it does at the start of Happy Hour at our local pub.

‘It’s a fish!’ aforementioned ugly child squawked, proudly holding up something the size of a tadpole in his chubby little palms.

And I realized then that I’m still not quite ready.

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Swimwear Shopping for Middle-Aged Women

Fanny Durrack (left) and Mina Wylie, Australia...
Fanny Durrack (left) and Mina Wylie, Australian swimmers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to buy new swimmers yesterday.

Shopping for a new swimming costume when you’re over 40 must be up there with admitting how much weight you haven’t lost at a Weightwatchers meeting; in terms of excruciating embarassment.

Because designers are still not catering for middle-aged women, and that makes it so hard for us. Not to mention our self-esteem.

There are two clothing items that no middle-aged woman likes to buy – swimming costumes and jeans. They’re just so hard to get right when your body decides to re-define itself with age.

Luckily, on this occasion, I wasn’t looking for impractical ‘fashion’ swimmers – the ones you flaunt your body in as you still try to pose provocatively on the beach hoping that you’ve still got it, (all the while knowing that you haven’t).

No, I was looking for a practical, full piece suit to aid my new Olympic training sessions at the 50m pool. (Yes, you heard right – I did say 50m).

My weekly dips have obviously pushed my loyal Target swimmers to the limit of their endurance. The chlorine rot is so bad now that holes have appeared in the nipple area and the fabric sags badly everywhere else, so my boobs free-fall to the sides mid breaststroke. It was obviously time to get the right equipment – I’m not averse to skinny-dipping in a public pool but the sight of my un-encased breasts is obviously causing a discernible awkwardness among the older set when I pass too closely to them in the lanes.

My mission should have been an easy one. As I mentioned, I wasn’t looking to make a style statement and I had a budget of around a $100 because a) I take my sport VERY seriously and b) I saved it on the food shop by cutting out all the old man’s favourite junk food.

I was quite excited at the prospect, for five minutes.

I think I must have tried on forty sets of swimmers in all, although the sales assistant did remain very calm and professional throughout our ordeal, (yet typically a tad invasive – what’s with them barging in when your tits are hanging down out?). By the thirtieth costume, I had had enough and was ready to capitulate fully and buy this horror of a floral 50’s retro cozzie, partly to get out of the shop, but mainly because it was the only one I could contort my body into that was a size 14.

Generally I am a size 14 12, but do you think I could pull any of the size 12s over my muscular thighs? And even when I did, they were all so damned short in the body that they did a better job than gravity at pulling my boobs further down towards my ankles.

The experience was beyond mortifying for the assistant.

She looked at me pityingly as I stubbornly tried to squeeze my body into each tiny cozzie like sausage meat into a skin. The more I persisted requesting size 14s, refusing to consider any diaphanous suggestion in a size 16, the more she shoved those big motherf*cker maternity costumes in my face.

It was the principle of the matter.

I must have worked off 10kg in that changing room. Ever tried changing swimming costumes with straps that test your IQ, padding in unobvious places, and in a space the size of a toilet cubicle?

But finally, I found the one.

The sales assistant cracked open a bottle while I sat on the floor and wept with joy, sweat pouring down my face.

The Men’s Over 60 Swimming Club is definitely going to be a little disappointed this week, now that my breast tissue has now been firmly strapped in. Thanks Speedo.

This post was inspired by Nikki Parkinson’s post Am I Fashion’s Invisible Woman at http://www.stylingyou.com.au.

Public Swimming Pools – Ten New Rules

swimming pool
swimming pool (Photo credit: freefotouk)

A polite message to my fellow swimmers, because it has come to my attention that when one swims to a near Olympian standard in a public pool, it is unfortunately necessary to share one’s water space with members of the public, who may not, necessarily, share the same rigid discipline principles.

I’ve been swimming professionally seriously, (for me), for almost a month now and I have become an expert on what the etiquette in the pool SHOULD BE. Like any sport, I fervently believe that there are simple, inherent rules that need to be adhered to, so that everyone can maximise the full potential of their training, and I would like to impose introduce a few special rules of my own:

  • Old people – First let me say that we love you and respect you but PLEASE stay in the f*cking slow lane. That lane (which is predominantly full of slow, age-challenged old people) is marked ‘slow’ for a reason. Let me reiterate that we are REALLY appreciative of everything you did for us in the war, but the whole point of lanes is that they have been created to cater for different swimming speeds, a bit like motorways, (although I know that you have problems with those too). If you ‘paddle’ or ‘float’ aimlessly, you have no right to be in either the ‘medium’ or the ‘fast’ lane.
  • Toddlers – please stick to your recreation area and stop swinging your arms, shouting with abandoned glee and generally spreading your pathetic mirth into the faces of the serious, focused swimmers in the other lanes adjacent to you.
  • Middle-Aged Women Who Think That Aqua-Aerobics Is A Sport – IT’S NOT! I’m glad you feel like you’re making an effort towards fitness by partaking in ‘aerobics’ (*spits in disgust*), but do you have to take up half the pool at peak times, leaving the serious swimmers to fight it out in single file lanes? You can’t seriously think you’re going to lose those wobbly bits flailing around in water, do you? You’d burn more calories walking to the coffee shop. And after your session, could you use the showers in shifts, please – a gaggle of over-50, naked women in the shower is really quite overbearing.
  • Anyone wearing a Band-Aid should not be allowed in the pool.
  • Just because you are wearing a swimming cap does not automatically give you ‘top dog swimmer status’ in the pool, the implication being that fellow swimmers should move out of your way.
  • Please don’t hog the wrong lane. If there is a jam of swimmers behind you, read the signs – YOU’RE PROBABLY IN THE WRONG F*CKING LANE, GRANDMA!
  • I would prefer it if children had their own changing room. I don’t want to listen to little kids having tanties about having to get out of the pool too early or catch them gawping in horror at my aging body when I’m changing. I have enough of a body image problem. Perhaps children under eighteen could  swim in a special children’s half hour between 5 and 5.30 am on a Saturday morning, say?
  • Power walking in the lane  – (WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ALL ABOUT ANYWAY?) – should not be allowed. It’s what pavements are for.
  • ‘Landing strips’ are a necessity for all female ‘privates’ in the pool, and the upper thigh area of all men that wear those ridiculous ‘budgie-smugglers’ should be trimmed accordingly, (as well as back hair). I do not want to witness terminals 1,2 and 3 through my goggles.
  • Please don’t strip off in the shower if you’ve never heard of waxing, exercise or discretion. You can revel in your naked glory in your own shower at home.
  • Back-strokers – Just get out of the f*cking pool.

Anyone got anything to add?

New Year, New Body

A swimmer swimming
A swimmer swimming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that the boxes have been unpacked, the mail has been redirected and we’ve discovered our new favourite local eateries, I’m running out of excuses for not doing any exercise. January is traditionally the month where I make another feeble attempt to retrieve my wedding day body. New year, new body.

So what’s this year’s abortive plan for ‘the body’, I hear you ask?

Well, last year you may remember, I dipped my toe into the yoga arena (Can Yoga Help Me Find My Core?) in the hope of finally locating my ‘core’, because that is apparently the precursor to true fitness (eternal life, lifestyle and happiness) and prevents us falling prey to the dreaded ‘embarassing leakage’ problem which haunts every middle-aged woman. All my friends had been yabbering on about the benefits of yoga for absolute donkeys years, like it’s as important as Chardonnay or something, so I obviously HAD to give it a try. The high point was the confirmation that my body is physiologically completely ill-suited to extreme sports; the low point being when I fanny-farted in the middle of my Cowface pose.

So this year I decided to go back to the basics, to a sport I trained in for a long time (until I began to take sport really seriously with the Jane Fonda Workout), and even enjoyed on occasion. (Hmmm, ‘enjoyed’ is probably a slight over-exaggeration, but then exercise has never been something I’d really make a choice to do if, say, I wasn’t a) unfit and b) overweight). So the sport I’ve decided put my faith into this year, to truly give me the best chance of becoming Louisa ‘The Body’ Simmonds, is swimming.

As luck would have it, we find ourselves in the vicinity of an enticing 50m pool, a little too close for comfort, to the new abode and as I need to shed at least 5kg and at the same time expose the ADHDer to some direct sunlight, due to tangible concern over his vitamin D levels, (as rather like RPatz in Twilight, his skin appears to cristalize when exposed to UV rays), swimming seems like a good idea.

But there are obvious concerns. Although I have matured beyond the sharks- entering-the-pool-via-the-plug-phobia, (being a sucker for any ‘rogue shark movie’), exposure of the middle-aged spread is obviously my biggest fear.

Such personal exposure transcends all sorts of mental body image issues. Exfoliation is the first major problem and the need to constrain wobbly ‘bits’ (hairy or otherwise) is the second, because the underwater swimmer can see EVERYTHING.

I’m certainly not averse to borrowing the old man’s razor at Christmas or on his birthday but waxing is something I only do to avoid looking like Magnum or my son, who currently believes that cultivating the bum-fluff upper lip look is cool. Having said that, I did notice a particularly long, rogue hair sprouting halfway down my inner left thigh the other day, (which provoked a horrified ‘eeeeewwwww’ from Nerd Queen, who I always enjoy shocking), so some work may need to be done in that area; purely for the sake of aqua-dynamics.

A friend of mine swims free-style for an hour, four times a week; (yes, you heard right). Our lengthy swimming strategy talks have informed me that, apparently, ‘free-style’ doesn’t mean any style’; it is what we Brits term ‘front crawl’. Not that that is really going to be an issue for me as I have never progressed beyond a hybrid doggy/breast stroke style. But unfortunately, our local pool doesn’t cater for doggy paddlers so I may be forced to begin my training in the recreation lane.

To demonstrate my commitment, I thought I might invest in one of these colourful Speedo cozzies that Olympic ‘swimmers’ wear, although it has come to my attention that they offer very little by way of support to the breast area and I am concerned that having the teabags swing freely around my waistband may constrict my aqua-dynamics too.

The other issue with swimming in a serious pool that I have always struggled to come to terms with, is swimming in a straight line. The last time I tried I ended up lacerating my ankles quite seriously in several places on the lane ropes, leading to several head-on collisions whilst being overtaken as I fumbled around trying to un-mesh my tethered feet – anyone who has done this will understand immediately how much it hurts. So I’m wondering if the ADHDer could somehow tow me along, rather like a car, by letting me hold onto his feet.

After further consideration, I’m beginning to think that I may need January to make my preparations fully and will commit physically to the ‘new body’ in February. In the meantime, I may take a few really long showers to acclimatise.