I like open water swimming. If you are wandering along the Brighton coast in the winter and come across a small group of semi-naked people picking their way barefoot across the pebbles to get into the sea, there is a fair chance I will be one of them.
I don’t wear a wetsuit, I do shake when I get out in January (the sea is at its coldest then) and, whilst I am not suggesting this constitutes an evidence base, the only time off work I have had to take since then was a two-week stint to let a tattoo heal. That’ll teach me.
I swam half the length of Windermere last month - five slow miles because I hadn’t trained properly. The water temperature was fine but there are big boats on that lake and the wind and rain made the second half of the distance quite hard. At one point I found myself in sight of the end with achy shoulders and an overwhelming desire for fish and chips, and I wondered what would happen if I just stopped swimming. I think deep water brings you close to yourself, not necessarily in a good way. I also think - should you ever find yourself in it and feel a bit uncertain - you need to just keep swimming.
Anyway, I mention this for two reasons. The first is because it is September and we have new student nurses starting. First, a caveat: I have been known, when newish students tell me that they want to leave, to refrain from persuading them to stay. I think sometimes you come across good people who are being made deeply unhappy by doing something that doesn’t suit them, causes them pain even, and they are looking for permission to stop. That is not to say I point at the door and call for security but I don’t try to persuade them all to stay.
However, there are others who feel fear when they begin and want to run for home or who have horrid first days on the ward, or first hours, or first patients or first mentors who need, I think, to just keep swimming.
I think that starting your nurse education is brave and hard. You are joining a profession that can sometimes inadvertently behave like a cult. It can be scary, but just keep swimming. Oh, and by the way, welcome and thank you for coming.
Right, enough of the swimming metaphor. Let’s move to the practical bit. The recent news that nurses were being offered Zumba classes was reported with the arched eyebrow that accompanies the absurd. I think it was the most sensible bit of nursing management I have seen in years. Apart from the obvious fact that lending some sort of constructive attention to the wellbeing of nurses will probably reap all sorts of benefits in terms of care and morale, I think that the benefits of doing something with your body to help manage the way you feel is - philosophically and professionally - really progressive.
I think nurses embody their experiences. Indeed, our experiences can gather and sit in us like sediment and no amount of thinking or rumination or worrying or cake will help if that sediment is heavy. I think doing something with my body helps with that.
I don’t say all this as a call to early morning exercise class or to the virtues of healthy living. I say this because I believe we as a profession need a broader and more considered approach to safeguarding our own wellbeing, and attending to the body will, if we are serious, become a significant part of that.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe