Caroline Hawkins talks about her love of lidos and her connection with water for her well-being.

“Caroline is a water baby” was how my parents always described me. The first in and last out when it came to swimming or messing about in the water: pools indoors or out or the sea. Apparently, I’m true to my zodiac sign of Cancer the crab, a little bit awkward scuttles near the edge and likes to reach land rather than strike out to sea. Built for distance rather than speed, with a shell to help protect against the outside.

But water, essential for my well-being. Finding water is necessary to bring calm to the choppy waters of life. The Lido was the first ‘port of call’ when I hit rough waters in 2019.

My car broke down, it broke down several times in the space of two weeks and seemingly overnight I lost my confidence to drive. I had to drive to teach my classes as an adult education tutor and my well-being went totally out of kilter and full blown panic kicked in every time I got into the car. Anxiety and worry were bedfellows that I had just got used to over my life and occasionally

I had a blip, most of us do from time to time and deal with it. However every so often the pull of anxiety is a bit stronger and we are less able to ‘manage’ the existence of it in our every day. Luckily I recognised the coming onslaught and I was able just to ‘pull it back’ before I needed to seek additional help.

This is where the Lido came in.

I knew if I could just get to some water, but crucially outside it would help me focus on the positives. I live by the Nene, but wild river swimming is not for me. I like the openness of the sea, but no enclosing river banks and weeds thank you! The Lido at Peterborough is big (the nearest ‘sea type’ encounter) and I wasn’t in the right place to drive for long to get to the coast. Getting to Peterborough in a half-hour drive was pushing it at that moment as my mental well-being was fragile, I needed something local. It was the best decision I had made in months. Literally going through the gate of the Lido into the ambiance of a bygone time of a listed building was enough. There is something about lidos, they evoke a different time and a different experience from the usual ploughing up and down the indoor swimming pool. Exercise suddenly becomes exotic, a little bit more fun and a lot less like a chore. There is a potential to feel different a step change, a portal into a new dimension. The delight of getting into a warm outdoor pool was a relief. The welcome of the early swimmers was a treat and I began to heal and feel brave, the anxiety effectively washed away. Driving to the lido had a purpose, and the purpose was to swim and recover my lost confidence.

Swimming in particular for me just makes me feel alive. Golf I absolutely love, but swimming enables me to focus on my breath and be in each and every moment, the water laps my skin and the water washes my fears away whilst I loose myself in the act of swimming. Swimming is tactile. Letting the water hold me whilst I work with it to move me forward. Focusing on breath, stroke, personal length tally, all combines and the enticement of the post-swim steaming hot drink; tastes like nectar from the gods! Being in like-minded company with people who loved a fresh dip in the outdoors was great.

Gradually over that 2019 season, I grew stronger in spirit, my confidence came back and I looked forward to my regular early morning trips, plus the post-swim chat and cuppa. The Friends of the Lido made me feel welcome and I gladly said I would help out in the best way I could. For me writing about my brush with my mental wellbeing is my contribution and my testimony that this excellent facility that so needs our support is a lifeline for many. Dramatic you may say, but for many lack of exercise and loneliness speeds the slip into pushing our wellbeing out of balance quicker than, well falling into the deep end! Regular exercise is a key fact in helping us keep our mental health in ‘good spirits. When access to that regularity is restricted, it is hard to get back into a good routine. Our well-being slips back and we have to start again, and each time that start becomes harder. Creating good regular habits to bring back the balance is easier said than done, especially when we are in a fragile state of mind, but if we can, talking, recognising and taking account of our own wellbeing is a step in the right direction. Sometimes we are going to need extra help and asking those we trust or our doctor is the first step to recovery. But being honest and asking for that help in the first place is often the single most bravest thing we can do. I can only speak with my voice on my own experience, each of us will tell a different story, that’s the point we need to keep those lines of communication open if we are going to be able to heal and move forward with potential for good mental health and wellbeing.

Swimming challenges our mind to coordinate, to breathe to strengthen, and we do it against our own bodies. We have to work our minds to swim, that mind workout is good because all that energy getting our bodies to coordinate cuts out the time available to dwell on the negative thoughts that sometimes punch their way into our heads! The very act of swimming negates that negativity and fuels the lovely endorphins that make us feel more positive and generates those smiles that we so need! Through it we form new relationships with fellow humans. Friendship, exercise in the outside is fabulous for our well-being. We noticed that in the last 12 months when we couldn’t do our exercise of choice; our ‘go too’ our feel better acts of kindness on our minds, took a battering when we couldn’t get out and swim. Understandably we have had to be sensible and keep ourselves and others safe; we are on the cusp of emerging into a whole new world and outlook, we are continuing to be safe. We are stepping away from our enclosed lives and looking forward to being out and splashing around in the lido depths again! But oh it was so missed. Fresh air, outdoors and generally naturally socially distanced, we couldn’t swim. and we sorely missed it.

 Yes, Lido’s mean a lot to me: freedom from anxiety, a place to imagine being a mermaid, the pleasure of feeling water on my skin and the chance to wear a really silly hat!

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