• Mair Elliott

Playing with waves

Roughly a year ago, a couple of weeks into meeting with a new therapist she asked me;


“What did you enjoy as a child?”


Without thought I immediately said;


“Water.”

I think it would be fair to say that I was a water baby. Any body of water, ranging form puddles to the sea, you could guarantee I was in it within a flash. Often, I’d pretend that I’d ‘fallen in’, when we all knew I had jumped in willingly and without care. I can’t pinpoint what it was about water that made me so happy, but it filled me with such joy that I couldn’t just walk past water without immersing myself. It wasn’t about swimming either, it was just pure, unfiltered, splashing and play. However, as I grew up it started to become less acceptable to play around in water and it phased out of my life.


Which brings me to last year. I had just come out of hospital, I was still very poorly and living each day minute by minute. I felt so hopeless and helpless, and honestly, I had no reason to think that this new therapist was going to be any different to the long line of therapists which came before. Each one promising I’d get better, each time ending up in hospital. I had no faith in mental health services – why would I? I had been ill since the age of 14, time and time again I fell dramatically into the depths of crisis despite service ‘intervention’.


“Why don’t you go in sea anymore?” questioned the therapist, a question which stumped me. Why didn’t I go in the sea anymore? There was no answer I could give to justify the absence of sea ‘swimming’ in my life. Why was I depriving myself of something which I know made me feel unquestionably joyful?


So here I am a year later having spent every opportunity I had in the sea. Quite frankly I think it has saved my life. I’ve wanted to write about this for a while, but I have struggled to find the words to explain why it helps me so much, even now I’m not sure if what I can write today will fully encompass the healing I have gained from the sea.


It has become clear in this current round of therapy that in my desire to hide my (undiagnosed) autism as a child I had forced myself to grow up too quickly. I had locked up the frightened, lonely little girl inside of me and disowned her. The same little girl who came alive with smiles when splashing in the waves. The first thing I notice when I allow myself to be in the sea, that trapped little girl can be free. I honestly feel like a that little, giggling 6-year-old again. It has been a part of letting myself feel the things I had cut off for so long. Exploring this internal landscape by allowing myself to have a relationship with the sea again. It has become a way for me discover the part of me which I was so scared and ashamed of. That little girl has a voice and space when I am in the sea. It’s the pure, unfiltered play again. I have come to realise that play, although judged to be a childish thing, is a big part of a peaceful mind. If I can stand against the crashing waves and play merrily, I can learn to let myself be free out of the water too.





On a spiritual level, the ocean is so vast and can be so dangerous, there is something magical about letting yourself be completely vulnerable to something you can’t control. It’s a letting go of sorts, the letting go of a steady ground beneath your feet and letting go of a steady sense of control. I always feel a slight pang of nervousness because I know that if the ocean wanted to it could swallow me whole. I quite like that idea. I spend so much of my time worrying, stressing and trying to control life because I want to feel like I have a say in what happens; which is ultimately futile. It feels so relieving to just give in to vulnerability and chaos. To let the world spin on, let the environment around me go about its usual mess, and just be floating calmly with the ocean rhythms.





On a more practical note, it means I get out of the house into the fresh air and daylight – something which helps all of us. Although I don’t necessarily ‘swim’ in its purest form, it is still a bit of exercise. It is an all encompassing sensory experience and helps me manage shutdowns/meltdowns. Given the temperature of the ocean around here it can be painfully cold, which helps me to manage my self-harm urges as well.


The sea has always been a big part of my life and I have no intention to change this. In fact, I have such a strong emotional attachment to it that I feel like I’m cheating on it when I’m in a boat. It is more than just a salty body of water to me; it’s a connection to my childhood, it’s a connection my home, it’s a place of peace and a place of overwhelming natural force, it’s a place of vulnerability, a place to face the unknowns, and a place of joy. Next time you’re at the beach remember how you used to play in the sea as a child, let yourself be that unfiltered little soul again and PLAY!




About Me

I am a young patient  activist, speaking openly about life with mental illness and autism. My activism includes public speaking, trying to affect change in mental health and/or autism services by contributing to relevant organisations, panels, committees and executive boards. I hope to break down misconceptions, stereotypes and stigma relating to mental illness and autism, and to create a future where mental health services are fit for purpose.

Want to hear me speak? Curious about my story? Think I could help you or your organisation to understand mental health and/or Autism?

Get in touch; Mair.elliott97@gmail.com

 

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