by Katie Maggs, star of BAFTA nominated short film Tonic of the Sea

Chapter 7 - Beneath the Surface – The value of Authenticity

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”

(Mother Theresa)

Katie knee-deep in the sea looking at the sunset

Often when I take photos under the water it reminds me that we all owe it to ourselves to be authentic and to show more than what is just skin deep. Some photographs I have taken whilst sunrise swimming have shown half of what is below the water and half of the world above.

It started me thinking about the need for us to consider that our mental health is not just about our mind being unwell but also about showing up as our true selves and being real to the world. Before I became unwell I was fussy about makeup and how people viewed me. I wanted to portray that I had it all together and that I could handle everything and anything.

When you suffer at the hands of mental health everything that we once were or pretended to be must be stripped bare. Meeting myself at my lowest point was a turning point for me to look below the surface of myself and really embrace what and who it was that I found hiding there.

When I decided to take part in the small film ‘Tonic of the Sea’ I was amazed at how many people said how brave I was, for being honest, for baring all to the world and for being filmed just in a swimming hat and with no makeup. Incredibly it was painful for me to understand where they were coming from. I too had been that person, scared to go out without my face on, scared to show people weakness or that I felt lost or unhappy. I realised I wasn’t being me, I wasn’t being the me I was born as, the little girl that I saw looking back at me in old photos of myself, who was she? What had happened to her? Where had she gone?

We all feel insecure sometimes and we all like to show how successful our lives are but every so often by putting on your goggles and just peaking below the surface of yourself it can do wonders for your self-esteem, your self-worth and a feeling of really knowing who you are.

Showing up as your true self brings with it a wealth of rewards. It doesn’t mean of course that you can’t wear makeup or achieve successful things, it means that whatever you do, you are truly only doing it for you. It’s letting the world see you as yourself, it being real about who lifts you up and who brings you down, it’s doing things you love and less of what you hate, it’s listening to your inner ‘you’.

Authenticity of the self also supports our relationships with others, it builds trust, security and respect from other people. When you show up as yourself you let other people know that it is safe and ok to do the same. People get the real version of you, not the one that you are showing on the surface to be a true representation of who you really are. Allowing others to see below the surface is a chapter that is very close to my heart. My breakdown forced me into a state where what people thought of me no longer mattered, all I wanted was to be fit and well again for my family and for me, what others thought was at the bottom of my ‘what do I care about in life list’.

My breakdown took away the veil as I was no longer strong enough to hold it up - I was finally able to be real with everyone I met, my makeup was off, my swimming hat was on and my real happy true self-appeared. My authenticity of self brought about new friendships, new ideas, new opportunities, new creativity and exciting new inspiring people into my life.

I found an inner confidence and I felt stronger in who I was and what I was about as a person. Looking just below the surface as often as you can helps to support our mental health in so many ways. Stress, anxiety and worry are all connected to other opinions of us, how we are performing in our lives, other perceptions of ourselves and of our life choices.

Katie in swimming hat and goggles with the sea as a background

When we dive a little deeper and investigate our own hidden depths, gently dragging them up to the surface and out into the light, we realise how much of what we do and say is often more for others than for ourselves. I realised that by not being true to me I was exhausting myself daily. I was trying to perform, to please and to be approved of and it was slowly suffocating me.

An easy way for me to describe authenticity is by watching the sea life that I see every morning on my sunrise swims, the fish, the crabs, the seals and the dolphins. They have no agenda, no false behaviour, they are just completely and authentically themselves. Animals act in the now and act only from the self. As humans we allow our minds to take over and to function purely from the ego and functioning from the ego causes only unhappiness, concern and stress.

Accepting what you are keeping back is the art of realising that no one is perfect, and everyone has their own flaws and differences. My breakdown enabled me to come out the other side with a completely new attitude to life. I felt safe enough to be the real me and no longer afraid of what others might think. I had been honest, vulnerable and I had told my story.  I had set myself free and I was finally able to be the truest and purest form there was of me.

“Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.”
(Eckhart Tolle)

Katies bicycle parked close to the ocean with clothes on the saddle


 

Chapter 13 – Woolly Socks – Being Grateful

With wild swimming, especially in the winter months, you learn to be grateful for the small things, the things that in the daily grind of life would pass you by unnoticed and without an ounce of gratitude.

Wild swimming takes everything back to basics, you have your favourite towel that dries your skin like no other, your flask of hot steaming tea or coffee and most luxuriously your woolly hat and gloves.

Until I started wild swimming in the winter I firmly believed that no human being could ever get as excited as I by the feeling I got when I pulled on that first warm dry sock.

Shoes, clothes and a thermos

It quickly came to light that it had taken me until the tender age of 36 to recognise that I had neglected to notice the smaller pleasures there are to be found in this life.

It is not until all is stripped away and we immerse ourselves in natures finest, free and ‘open all year round’ swimming pool that much of life’s mysteries soon become incredibly clear.

Being overwhelmed by the feelings of anticipation and joy of simply pulling on a pair of gloves in a mid-February minus seven wind-chill was a lesson on this journey that I was clearly meant to learn.

The sheer indulgence of wrapping my numb fingers around a hot steaming cup of tea whilst my body juddered from the inside out was a feeling unmatched by any others I have ever experienced.

It helped me to appreciate that it is not really until we experience true hardship that we will ever really know true joy. It seems that gratitude goes a long way when struggling with one’s mental health, it helps us to live in the now and to be fully present in the moment.

To be grateful is to feel content and to feel content is to be truly happy.

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."

(Eckhart Tolle)

Wild swimming helped me to recognise that whilst I am vulnerable, cold, and exposed to the elements and, especially with only the basics to hand, I can be grateful for a towel to dry myself and a place to shelter from the wind.

Often, we are so far removed from ‘basic’ living that we have lost the ability to be mindful of the simple and more natural things in life. Vital things like being warm, dry and having access to a hot drink.

True wild swimming is about taking everything back to nature whilst having simple equipment and simple swimming attire to hand. This simplicity supports our natural ability to experience true gratitude with all that we have available at that very moment in time.

In the winter months whilst fighting to get out of my swimming costume and with a fierce easterly wind whipping at my half naked body there is pure indulgence to be found in the entombing of oneself in what can only be described as a large green and very tatty tent of a beach towel.

There is a wealth of research that currently supports the idea that being grateful for the mundane influences our ability to be more successful, have higher self-esteem, improved mental health, greater resilience and improved relationships with our loved ones. 

Gratitude helps us to better cope with the bad times and to be more present in essentially what is the ‘good’. When I first noticed how grateful I felt for things that normally would have passed me by, like having a small towel to stand on (instead of standing on cold concrete when getting changed), or the feeling of pulling on my thermal leggings after a long cold swim I was shocked to find that we typically think of being grateful as being about all the bigger life ‘stuff’.

Our minds wander to our new cars and our new kitchens. I realised that for all this time that I, and possibly many others, have been loading our gratitude in all the wrong places. I have recognised that the type of gratitude that really packs a punch, is the type that when you felt it, you could easily compare its worth to a feeling of true enlightenment. Through wild swimming I finally discovered that the key to happiness was very cleverly hiding in life’s very small and often mundane and insignificant things.

Katie

It is found not in what we ‘want’ but in what we ‘need’ as human beings to survive. In basic food sources, in warmth, in companionship and in shelter. Happiness comes from the ability to recognise what basics we are so fortunate to already have in this life and to be conscious enough to realise when we are too incredibly spoilt to see it.  

It is nice to have nice things, but it’s when the nice things cause us to neglect recognising the joy in the mundane that’s when we become incapable of really knowing true happiness. To be grateful for warm woolly socks is to live a truly contented and satisfied existence.

Katie Maggs is a writer, lecturer, photographer and an open water wild swimmer.

Katie lectures in Health Studies and is Deputy Head of Department at a Further Education College in Cornwall. As an all year round, open water swimmer Katie documents her personal relationship with the sea through her outdoor dawn photography.

Upon the completion of her first self-help book also titled ‘Tonic of the Sea’ and in the publishing of her writing for National and International magazines she describes more details of her journey with mental health, crucial factors that supported her recovery and clear achievable suggestions to stay well in the future.

Katie will be presenting at the Wild and Well Festival in Bristol this October on the topic of ‘Nature Cures’ and will be showing her film and discussing the chapters of her book at the Kendal Mountain Literary Festival in November.

There will also be an exhibition of her wild swimming photography at the start of the New Year.

For up to date details on the publishing of Katie’s book or to hear more about her current projects and upcoming exhibition you can access it via her website or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

If you like the idea of sea swimming have a look at Aspire's Relay Channel Swim

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