Cold Water Swimming Benefits? My Body, Maybe. My Mind, Definitely.

I thought that I was never going to swim with my friends again, which was ridiculous, because of course climate change doesn’t happen all at once. The horrors would recede, regroup and advance again with new strength, and there was no law saying we couldn’t go swimming through it all.

And before long we were back out there every day, in that beautiful water. It wasn’t so much that I planned on swimming into mid-November in a lake in Northern California at 3,017 feet, as I just kept going every single day and over time, the water kept getting colder and colder. It was around Oct. 26 where I started to feel that I was doing something unusual and brave and at times painful. My first thought every morning was resentment that my day had this big hard part in the middle of it. But even as the air and water got colder, it didn’t get worse, it got better. My body started to get used to it. The big hard part of my day became the best thing in it. My first thought every morning became “swimming.” And then I would just lie there smiling stupidly into the dark.

For the first minute in very cold water, your brain just goes on a vacation. (Cue several million people Googling “cold water near me.”) You are nothing except a body experiencing itself. I laugh at this stage, I laugh like my guts are going to fall out of my body, then scream. It’s so cold, and yes, that is hard. But it doesn’t last that long, and you can feel the unpleasantness of the cold melding with the pleasantness of it until it is all pleasantness, until all you feel is bliss.

Your skin is cold, but inside, you are warm, and safe-feeling, so that the cold is just a sensation, and not a misery. It’s unlike anything else I have ever felt in my entire life, and it is just a moment every day when I feel too good to remember that things are bad. And then, honestly, I spend the rest of the day recovering from it, not hyper-focusing on a million tasks, not being free from anxiety, not feeling ready to conquer things. I take a long bath and often fall asleep, and at some point manage to do the work required of me, but it’s basically a whole day lost to 20 minutes of extreme pleasure, and that’s fine with me.

I think it’s funny that whenever people talk about swimming in cold water they immediately start talking about how good it is for you. “Oh that’s so good for your immune system, it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your skin, it’s good for your circulation, good for your anxiety. Maybe at another time in human history I would have cared, but at this point, I’m like, what does “good for you” even mean? Two months ago I saw the sun disappear, and it will not be the last time, so, forgive me if I feel like the “good for you” ship has sailed.

The lake is not my source of strength or my fountain of youth. I swim in the cold water because it feels good, and I will keep doing it for that reason, until one of us is no longer here.

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