By Penny Swann
CHANGE is scary. We fear it – we look for safety, for comfort, and we fear its loss.
I had a ‘safe’ life – marriage to a man I’d loved for 25 years, two children, and my mother living just along the road. Of course there were challenges – a child with cerebral palsy, teenage tantrums, the endless juggle of fitting your needs around those of others.
But then everything changed. My mother was diagnosed with cancer, and we lost her, shockingly swiftly, in January 2017. Four months later, my husband admitted he had been having an affair with a colleague for several years.
And suddenly, I was alone. I had two heartbroken children to try and mend; more paid work to find after years of childcare and of putting my husband’s career before mine. And I had to hold myself together.
When something like that happens, you can spend a while in shock. You can find yourself doing things you would never have done before, because you’re full of adrenalin and everything is upside down. Unexpected people offer help, friendships radically change, and during that time I found myself saying ‘yes’ to the most preposterous things.
Yes, I’ll have coffee with you, though we haven’t spoken for years. Yes, I’ll buy a wetsuit and go swim in a lake. Yes, I’ll enter a 10k trail run, though I only ever go for 20-minute jogs along a flat canal path.
For nearly all my adult life, I had stayed away from exercise because I wasn’t very good at it. Now I found that when I needed to run away from all the pain and responsibility, exercise was the only safe way to do it.
I’d had a very indoor marriage – reading a book with a glass of wine, watching a film with a good whisky. There was a choice to be made, and my old way of life wouldn’t work any more. Compared with the danger of opening a bottle of whisky alone, stepping into a cold lake seemed hardly a risk at all.
The first time I swam out into Rydal Water I remember thinking “This is what it feels like to be alive.” And that feeling – of being alive, of being outside, of shedding a skin and becoming a new me – was what I began to seek out when things felt utterly desolate.
And they did, so often. For all the mental health benefits that cold water swimming and exercise are meant to bring, I can’t count the number of times I drove home from a lake swim crying, or collapsed into bed in a miserable heap after a long run. One day, shivering after a cold swim, I asked my friend – also going through a tough time – “those amazing euphoric feelings that you read about? When do they kick in?”
She replied, “I’m afraid we’ve probably already got them. I think we’re just starting from a really low bar.” And we stood and laughed hysterically as we fumbled back into our clothes.
I have rebuilt my life around exercise and female friendship. My own little band of wonderful wild women have kept me alive over the last two years, and I love them fiercely. They’re clever, funny, loving, sometimes slightly evil – I can’t say enough about them. It would make me cry.
I love my life. I’m happier now than I’ve been for years. Not every day – single parenting, being without my mum, they’re not always easy. We’re all dealing with something – with loneliness, with loss of dreams, with not having enough hours in the day.
Running, swimming, friendship – along with the yoga I’ve done for years – are the things I cling to when I’m feeling low. Ring your friends. Get out your yoga mat. Walk into a lake. Things will change, and all we can do is love what we have right now.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Penny for sharing her story.
We are so happy to have met you and that you chose to spend some of your play time the Wonderful Wild Women Community, its been an absolute pleasure to have laughed, run & swum with you <3