When the pandemic hit, Robert Flood was thrown completely off balance. Suddenly in lockdown, working from home, parenting, and homeschooling three small children, he was overwhelmed. Familiar with mental health struggles, Flood had always turned to swimming but, with the covid-19 restrictions, that wasn’t an option. Flood struggled through the pandemic, walking, cycling, and leaning on his support system to get him through, but it wasn’t until he got back in the water did he truly regain a sense of calm.
Watch a brief documentary on Flood's invigorating experiences with swimming during the pandemic:
Flood renewed his nine year practice of swimming as soon as the restrictions were lifted. He isn’t quite sure exactly why he took to swimming but he does know there is something about the water that makes swimming special:
“It’s a combination of things. The temperature of the water on your skin: you feel your body tingling and your heart beats that little bit faster. When you’re swimming out from the shallow water into the darkness and it just drops away from you and you can’t see the bottom, I quite like that feeling…When I’m in the water I don’t need to worry about anything else but me. There’s no external factors.”
The short respite from daily life gives Flood a sense of freedom and the space to clear his mind. “It just settles the mind down. I often worry about this, that and the other, and 'I have to get this done,'” Flood says. “While I’m swimming my mind is the least busy…When I’ve finished, everything that was all muddled up in my head has just aligned itself up.”
Nowadays, Flood tries to swim in the wild 1-2 times a week, but he always has his swimming gear ready to go. Having a routine, Flood says, is an important part of supporting his mental health and “knowing that I can just grab my stuff and go,” he says—having no barriers—makes it easier to maintain.
“Ultimately with open water swimming, as long as you’re careful, it’s just a towel and trunks. It’s not necessarily about distance either, you can just get in for a dip. And that just makes a big difference sometimes: just getting in.”
For most of his adult life, Flood suffered with anxiety and depression and he didn’t always know how to cope. The stigma toward mental health, especially for men, is a huge barrier and, Flood admits, in his past he felt like he couldn’t say anything. With the support of his partner, Flood was able to get the help he needed and now he’s an advocate for mental health, promoting and participating in men’s mental health in his community and by telling his story.
“The more I speak about [mental health] to people, the easier it becomes for me to understand when I’m not right, and hopefully the easier it becomes for others, male or female, to understand it’s okay not to be okay,” Flood says. On top of wild swimming, Flood is a community leader with the Movember men’s health charity, raising awareness with, of course, their famous moustache campaign in November, but also organising and leading community events throughout the year. Flood organises a men’s “walk and talk” group where local men get together and simply walk outside. Whether they talk about the football or something that happened during the week, it’s a space where men can open up.
“We hear all these sayings ‘man up’ and ‘boys don’t cry’ but they’re complete rubbish… I would really like more men to open up,” Flood says. “It might not be depression, it might just be a bad day and life has got you down,” Flood explains. With the staggering statistics that 75% of suicides in the UK are men* (up to 79% in the USA)**, Flood says just having a space where’s it’s encouraged for men to share their feelings will hopefully help someone.
By speaking openly about his own mental health, Flood has opened the gate for others and allows everyone, whether they are struggling with mental health or know someone who is, to be in acceptance. So whether it’s a walk with some new friends, a swim, or something else, “get out of the day-to-day life that you’re normally used to,” Flood urges. “Especially now that most people are stuck working from home, it’s too easy just to sit there and plough through the day; make time during the day to get some time to yourself and you’re guaranteed to be better for it.”
Find local Movember events and information at movember.com
Interested in wild swimming? Flood suggests finding a local group to help guide you.
More information: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240026643