This week's photos are random photos of my self being courageous. These aren't on the print store as I can't imagine anyone wants a photo of me on their wall.
Thank you all for following along these past 2 years to 100 issues. You’re awesome 🙂
Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous
This is Issue 100. I started this project roughly 2 years ago and published issue 1 on 9th Nov 2019. Next week will be a look at the future and past of the newsletter. This week I want to focus on a quote that has been with the newsletter most of the way.
"Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous." - Captain Christopher Pike, USS Discovery.
The quote struck a cord with me when I watched the episode of Star Trek: Discovery a few years ago. It isn't a heroic speech before going into a big battle to save the galaxy. Captain Pike almost casually says it before they go explore a mystery because at its core Star Trek is about exploration and explorers do need to be bold, brave and courageous.
But am I? Am I bold, brave and courageous? My anxious depressed brain would say I'm "only aspiring but really why bother?" However... how do we challenge negative thoughts? We bash them with positive evidence to the contrary. I only recently realised I have such evidence. 3...2...1... let's jam.
record scratch meme So how did I get here?
About 4 years ago I saw a short film about a woman who swam naked in the lakes of Wales all the time. Go watch it if you haven't seen it then come back here. It's only 5 minutes long.
When I first saw that film I thought the woman was bat-poop-out-of-her-mind. "Swimming naked in a lake at winter? Why in flump would you do that? It's cold and you might get seen!" Little did I realise the idea burrowed into my head. I wrote a blog post about it and about how, while I may never do it, I would hope that some day I could be the kind of person that does. I believed it was better to aspire to be that person. Did I want to walk into cold water? Nope. Did I want to believe I could if I wanted to? Yup. I really wanted to believe I could do anything if I put my mind to it.
I started saying yes to things that scared me. A year later I was trekking along the coast of Holyhead in a storm loving it. 18 months later I was climbing Mount Snowdon at 1am to see the sunrise. Just over 2 years later and I was embarking on my open water swimming adventure. I was beginning to believe.
My autism diagnosis in 2018 had a part to play in all of this. Being told that I am actually different instead of believing I'm just "quirky" or "weird" really empowered me to lean into that way of life. No escaping it. I am actually different to 99% of people. How do I accept that and stop fighting it? Embrace it. Be different every day from the little things to the big things. Think different.
I started dying my beard and hair fully purple. I would regularly go for a swim in winter conditions in nothing more than swimming hot pants (tiny trunks?), a hat, gloves and swimming socks with bold purple hair and big bold purple beard. No t-shirt. People could see my body for what it was. I wasn't an adonis. I was a "guy" who enjoyed beer and bread. I was oddly ok doing this because while people might point and laugh (which they never did) I was doing something they couldn't. That thought empowered me. Whatever this over filled bag of mostly water was it was still getting into a cold lake and smiling. I became confident? I reached a point where I would happily stand around in my tiny swimming trunks air drying from the summer sun and not caring what people thought because look at what I just did.
I had also found women on Instagram who were normalising and reclaiming nudity to some degree. Women who swam naked but were not nudists. They simply enjoyed the connection with the water. Others wanted to feel comfortable in their own skin. As an overweight person who has never felt that they looked good I appreciated seeing people come to terms with their bodies whatever its shape was.
After a year of seeing people skinny dip, following the stories of people reclaiming nudity to empower themselves, and walking into a very cold lake proudly with a purple beard and a belly full of toast I decided on a warm summer's day in Wales would be a good time to go for a skinny dip. I only had a short 5 minutes or so in the water but it felt glorious. We heard voices in the distance so I quickly got dressed again which was good because the moment I was dressed a train went by. "There's a god damn train track right there!" My wife and I laughed a lot at that. Of all the places to pick.
I felt great. Oddly great. Maybe because I had again done something others don't do despite how I looked? So I tried it again a few weeks later but this time it was in an effort to prevent the onset of depression for failing to swim close to a waterfall. Something definitely changed in me that day. Swimming and standing naked felt absurdly ok. How I felt the last time wasn't a fluke. I knew fear and I knew anxiety. Neither of those feelings were present. Ok there was comically nervous when I thought I heard someone but basically it was fine. I felt fine. Why? Seriously, why? We're not supposed to feel ok naked in public. Are we?
A few months later my wife and I were heading into Wales again for a weekend away. On the way to our AirBnB we stopped off at a lake. A proper big Welsh lake in Snowdonia. We parked up and wandered down to the lake where I posed for photos in my non-binary finery. I then stripped off, posed for more photos because I'm oddly confident in this situation (who even am I now?!?!) and got into the lake wearing only gloves and swim socks. By this point I had skinny dipped a few times in the sea and some rivers but not a big lake. While I was oddly confident I had never been this brazen. We were by a road and I could see camp sites in the distance. At any second a bus filled with nuns could turn up.
It was cold but I soon acclimatised and enjoyed it. I was actually swimming in a big Welsh lake almost totally naked as the sun set over Snowdon in the distance. It was amazing. At one point a stranger appeared and took some panorama photos. I'm not even sure if they saw me. If they did they certainly didn't shout "Naked man!" The water was ridiculously clear too. It was beautiful and I felt so at ease with the world. I sat naked on the rocks for some photos to remember the moment and to really push myself. Anxiety never came. I felt alive.
It wasn't until a week later that I remembered back to the video from 2017 of the women swimming naked and I connected my experience to hers. I felt exactly as she did. The video could have been about me. I had been inspired by her courage but I hadn't watched the video in years. I wasn't trying to emulate her I was trying to find myself and in doing so I actually forgot about the video. It dawned on me that I had become the person I hoped I could be back in 2017. Back then I thought it would be amazing to be the kind of person who could do this. I never actually believed I could become that person.
I didn't do something once as a dare. I have spent 4 years (I guess 43 years really) learning, trying, tip toeing, exploring, fighting, hating myself, and being the best version of myself to affect change. Amazingly it worked? 100 issues into this newsletter of self analysis and nearly 2 years into open water swimming somehow something along the lines has worked. Not consciously. I was never thinking "Oh this will make great newsletter content." It was more "Huh. That was fascinating. Again." I discovered things that didn't trigger massive amounts of fear and perhaps manageable amounts of anxiety that I now try and reframe as courage and I kept exploring.
Has writing actually helped? I would definitely recommend it to anyone. You don't need to do do a newsletter each week. Write in a private space just for you. Get the thoughts out your head and somewhere else. This has helped me process issues.
On top of that being unafraid to be open about things also has helped. I talk to people like my way of life is 100% normal and that they're the "weirdos". Somehow I have managed to free my mind, a little, from fear, doubt and disbelief. jumps over a shoe "Whoa."
Understanding that being worried about what others think is a path to fear not to progress. Assuming I'm not breaking any laws then whatever I'm doing be it open water swimming, skinny dipping, wearing a skirt, is all legally fine. Why be worried about what others think? Do I know what they think? That's actually something my first therapist tried to make me internalise way back in 2005 and I'm only now getting it. How do you know if they don't tell you? Ignorance is bliss. Having their thoughts in your head can only feed your anxious brain and you end up fighting mental ghosts rather than the actual people.
Being ok with my own body has also helped. Sure it isn't perfect but I'm ok with it because it still does things others can't. How can I hate that? Lockdown oddly helped because I wasn't being battered by social anxiety all the time. I was wearing whatever I felt good in and not worrying about looking fat or sweating through a shirt. All I was doing was feeling ok and occasionally pretty good.
Lastly, what has maybe helped is going all in on something when you find it interesting and can handle the anxiety by being courageous. I wonder if this is due to autistic special interests? shrugs What I know is it's rare when this feeling occurs. Got to grab it and see where the rabbit hole goes.
All these things take time. Thoughts I had 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 4 years ago all take time to ferment. We're big ships at sea. It takes time to adjust. Don't worry if it's not happening today. At least try not to worry. I would probably worry and then remind myself not to because anxiety, ugh. But please don't compare yourself to me on my journey. You're on yours. Change can occur.
Am I bold, brave and courageous? No. Maybe? No. I'm just me. Imposter syndrome or maybe an attempt to be humble and not egotistical? Bit of both probably and yet I'm doing things others don't. A marathon. Swimming with ice floats. Wearing lipstick. Wearing my clothes bought from the women's section of a store outside in public for all to see. Wearing my bold colourful tights and skirt outdoors for all to see with bold purple lipstick on and a purple beard. Wearing those things then taking them off to get into a lake naked. Ok there's a slim chance I'm a little bold, brave and courageous these days.
I just wish I could be bold, brave and courageous enough to remember to sort emails, brush my teeth, eat correctly, pay bills, earn money, etc. OK before I beat myself up for being a failure remember it's Executive Function Disorder causing all that. I'm not a failure. I'm disabled. It's ok to not be ok. I'm ok. It is important to understand the difference between all these things. Things I cannot do well are for this reason. Here are things I can do well and that others can't so remember "Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous."
Happy Issue 100 folks (folx?). Thank you all for reading these words over the past 2 years. I have plans for the future. Stay tuned.
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