Jax has been organising the Great North East Skinny Dip and raising money for Mind since 2012, here she blogs about how it came about and why there’s nothing like the feeling of running into the cold North Sea.
Despite years of personal struggle, I have never formally been diagnosed with a mental health problem. For a long time I moved through life with blinkers on, desperately trying to keep up. I was in denial and I numbed myself with drugs and alcohol.
"It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties that I gave myself permission to acknowledge and honour my mental health problems."
Nowadays I am able to accept that it started much, much earlier than this. I remember being so confused when my dad suggested that I would make a brilliant radio presenter. I thought “But how could I ever be that happy? Every day?!” I just couldn’t imagine it.
To this day my options are limited by my depression and anxiety. I have made significant attempts over the last few years to change my lifestyle and make better choices for myself and yet I remain hugely overwhelmed and dissatisfied with my life.
I identify as an empath, an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP). When I was 22 I suffered a serious head injury in an accident that nearly ended my life, and seemed to compound all of my symptoms.
Take on an active challenge for Mind
I have a cognitive impairment which means I find simple daily tasks more challenging than someone with a fully-functioning, uninjured brain. Things like controlling my mood, problem-solving, memory and concentration are more difficult for me.
Processing everyday thoughts and feelings is a gargantuan task. I rarely manage to keep up with conversations and therefore spend a lot of my time confused, angry and unheard.
On top of this I have a severe sensitivity to light and noise, and get tired very easily, making even “normal” social situations near impossible. I rarely find the energy to socialise or indeed do something nice for someone else. This plagues me with guilt and sadness.
"I walk around in a daze much of the time – I see life happening around me but I am somehow grossly disconnected from it."
On my worst days I feel like I am drowning and I long for a solitude I cannot find. So, when life seems entirely meaningless. When I can’t seem to find any space or silence or clarity. When my pain is too deep to bear. I find nature.
Simply walking barefoot on the earth can remind me I am alive, if only for a moment. But skinny dipping takes this experience to a whole other level for me.
"Taking my clothes off and stepping naked into our North Sea feels like going home."
The sheer sensation of cold, fresh, pure water enveloping every inch of my body. I really wanted to share my practice and the healing properties of nature with others. So in 2012 I started the North East Skinny Dip.
The North East Skinny Dip is about challenging socially constructed ideas of beauty. It’s about celebrating our bodies. It’s about taking a risk. It’s about immersing oneself in nature and embracing a moment of joy, bliss and release.
I chose to use my event to raise money for Mind so we could help raise awareness of the mental health crisis in today’s society and the importance of understanding and acceptance.
Last year 400 people turned up on a wet and windy September morning to strip down and run wild and free into the North Sea at Druridge Bay, Northumberland.
Running into the cold North Sea with hundreds of other humans at sunrise is a magical and unique experience and to know I created the event brings me a real sense of purpose and achievement. A sense of purpose I have been unable to find in any other area of my life.
Every year I stand naked and wholly present in the energy we create together on that beach. And I bask in it. I drink it like a nectar. I breathe it deep into my lungs. And I pray that it will nourish me in the days ahead.
I invite you to come along to the North East Skinny Dip 2017 on Sunday 24th September. Sign up and turn up. Without any expectation of self. There is absolutely no obligation to be naked. Or even to get in the water. Simply being present at this event can be an awesomely empowering experience. You will know what is right for you in the moment. Trust yourself.
When you’re living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, having access to the right information - about a condition, treatment options, or practical issues - is vital. Visit our information pages to find out more.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.