Marathon swims for autism charity assist with mental health


In an very personal, heartfelt and brave blog written for youTalk-insurance Ben McBean QBE Europe’s Assistant Claims Manager and sometimes star of the BBC TV anti insurance fraud series ‘Claimed and Shamed’ explains how taking up the challenge of swimming two great English lakes acted as both therapy for his ongoing mental health issues and helped to raise awareness of a charity for children’s autism he help to launch...

For a lot of people, lockdown due to COVID-19 has been tremendously difficult due to their own personal circumstances.  Whilst there are no statistics on the point, it is anticipated that suicide rates are likely to have increased during this time.  However, lockdown came at a new juncture in my life as a single person; I was able to sort out my new family dynamic, recoup 3 hours commute a day and work on my mental health. 

My depression had hit a new low in 2019 and I had been referred to the waiting list for an Autism assessment.  Earlier that year I had been looking out for things I could do to assist with my mental state, in addition to counselling and being assessed for ASD.  I heard a man on the radio called Wim Hof, extolling the powers of cold-water swimming and bathing and how it can heal mentally and physically.  Immediately having listened to Wim, I started to take cold showers which made me feel invigorated.

In January I moved into a house overlooking the river Tees.  There was a huge pull to get into the water, only slightly dimmed by the thought of crocodiles, sharks and rat wee.  Open Water swimming seemed like the next logical step, though I had only done it twice before and nearly had a panic attack because of the cold. Despite this, I joined a Facebook group called North East Open Water Swimmers, I posted asking if anyone would be willing to let a novice join them for a swim.  Thankfully a lady replied that I could join them for a dusk swim, which I wasn’t that keen on, but thought I should give it a go anyway, my first swim being on 30th May 2020.

Due to the lack of support for families of children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) like our own, my ex-wife and I established, with some friends, an autism charity called Autism Parents Together (Tees Valley).  As with most UK charities fundraising has taken a hit this year due to lockdown, so I was keen to use my new passion to raise money for the charity.  My swim friends had organised a swim in the Lake district including Ullswater (11.5km) and Windermere (18 km), so I hesitantly signed up.

Twelve weeks after starting Open Water swimming, I was getting in Ullswater, which was amazing.  It was so clear, like mineral water and very cold.  The swim started off well, though I could feel my strength sapping away.  As I got to the last 2 km, it seemed to go on forever and the water at this point was very choppy.  Once finished I was very tired and my shoulders were aching, I was dreading the thought of a longer swim the next day and was contemplating dropping out.  After discussing the swim with the others and through a lot of cajoling, I was in the car at 4:30am the next day heading toward Windermere. 

For the first half of the swim I was thinking every 5 minutes about how I could get out of the water, and if I would be able to pull myself into the boat.  Unlike Ullswater, I had the benefit of regular feeds from a kayak or boat, so I felt strong and had few pains.  Once I passed halfway the water was less choppy and I felt I could finish.  Swimming does help clear your mind, but that didn’t stop me nearly crying several times thinking how I hoped my boys would be proud. 

After 7 hours of swimming I was delighted to finish on the beach at Waterhead with a crowd of people cheering and totally by coincidence an RAF C1-30 also flying low overhead.  It wasn’t until I had finished, and people spoke to me about the swim that I realised what I had achieved.  What I already knew was that swimming had really helped with my mental health and helped me to understand that I am capable of a lot more than I expected.  It has also had the additional benefits of time away from my worries and anxieties and also meeting the wonderful swimming community.

If you would like to make a donation and support the charity Autism Parents Together (Tees Valley) that Ben helped to set up CLICK HERE


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