Bluetits Body Stories: Tracie

July 30, 2021

Bluetits Body Stories: Tracie

Welcome back to the Bluetits Body Stories.In this series ten women share their honest accounts of how their relationships with their bodies has changed: over time, in response to significant life events and as an ongoing process. They talk honestly about the visible and invisible marks left on their bodies, their body image and confidence and the ways in which they have managed to rediscover and reconnect with their bodies again.  

In today's story we meet Tracie who lives and swims in Devon. Over to Tracie...

Tell us a bit about you

I live in the South West of the UK with my husband. We are adoptive parents to two boys who are 27 and 25 and we also have a little rescue Frenchie. I make candles and wax melts for a living. We live in an 800-year-old cottage that once belonged to my husband’s grandparents. Family history is important to us; we love looking into our genealogy and family tree to learn about our ancestry. I’m originally from Staffordshire but met my husband who lured me away from the lights of the city to where we are today – I have lived in this area for over 30 years and we have a choice of five beautiful beaches within two minutes of home.

Deakin and Blue - Bluetits Body Stories - Tracie - Mesh - Mental Health - Swimming - Sustainable Swimwear

Where does your body image journey begin?

When I was much younger doctors discovered cancer cells in my uterus and I had a hysterectomy at 21. In 1999, when I was 30, doctors told me that there was a little procedure they could perform that would help prevent a prolapse in future. I didn’t know what the procedure involved and they implanted polypropylene mesh in my body without my knowledge or consent: this is where my journey begins. I was a guinea pig. In 2001 the mesh they’d used in my body was withdrawn from usage in the UK because it was found to be unsafe. At this point I still wasn’t even aware that I had mesh in my body.

I was a young active mum and we were a busy, sporty family. My boys were into their BMXs, we would regularly ride our bikes, go surfing, do yoga or kung fu. I was that mum cheering loudly on the side of the football pitch. Then in 2011 I started to feel unwell. At the time doctors said they couldn’t find anything and that I needed to try and manage with pain relief. This continued until 2017 when, on holiday, I started to feel very unwell. This was the beginning of my discovery that there was mesh inside my body. I was lying in 38’ heat and the mesh, which is made of plastic, was effectively distorting under the heat. Parts of it broke away, cutting through my bladder and bowel, making me incredibly unwell. It was barbaric.

I had lots of trips to Harley Street to see specialists and finally in November 2018, having survived Sepsis twice, I had my surgery. I was in theatre for seven and a half hours. The mesh and it’s removal had caused a lot of nerve damage and my mobility was non-existent. I was on a cocktail of drugs, I needed carrying and I didn’t leave the house for almost 12 months. I had to learn to walk again. I became very anxious and I was terrified that my body was going to let me down. My scars were a constant reminder of how damaged my body had become. It was really, really tough.

In December 2019 I wasn’t moving much at all and I got very sick. My body basically started shutting down and I developed pneumonia. I was on a lot of medication, the side effects of which included suicidal thoughts, and in January I realised I had to do something. I knew that if I didn’t I wouldn’t be around much longer. If you want change: change. Those five small words were the start of me regaining my life.

Deakin and Blue - Bluetits Body Stories - Tracie - Mesh - Mental Health - Swimming - Sustainable Swimwear

I started to look for alternative ways to feel better and came across outdoor swimming as being a good method for boosting the immune system. The antibiotics I was taking were destroying my body’s natural balance and so I was already eating kimchi, drinking kombucha and consuming every possible live bacteria. But the medication wasn’t helping me, in fact it was making me feel worse.

The first time I wanted to go into the sea was January 2020. It was the middle of winter and freezing cold, and I’d just recovered from pneumonia but I knew I wanted my body to be enveloped by the icy waters and I desperately needed to boost my weak immune system. After trying to convince me not to do it, my husband carried me into the sea. I lasted about a minute and a half that first time but the high was absolutely unbelievable and that was the start of cold water swimming for me. With each and every swim I felt my body become stronger and within two months of dipping every day I could get myself down to the water with just one crutch and I began to reduce my medication.

When I’m swimming in cold water I get these bubbles of joy. It gives me an inner strength and I’m so determined not to let the disability that I have, that the mesh gave me, stop me from being the person that I know I can be. When you’ve been so ill and had life changing experiences you have to look at what you can do, not what you can’t - and even the things you can do, you may have to do differently. I have to do it at my own pace: I might not be able to climb the rocks as well as everyone else, I am never going to walk quickly, swim fast or run. But I will give everything a go and each time I do it I am getting stronger. I have learned to listen to what my body needs and let the cold water work its magic. I’ve still got a way to go to be where I want to be but I’m a work in progress.

Deakin and Blue - Bluetits Body Stories - Tracie - Mesh - Mental Health - Swimming - Sustainable Swimwear

How has cold water swimming helped with your pain?

I will always live with the nerve damage caused by the mesh but thanks to the cold water swimming I can finally feel myself getting stronger. My mobility remains poor but in the water I can move freely. I love my body for allowing me to have so much fun and freedom in water. The cold water also helps with the inflammation in my joints - if I don’t go into the sea for even a couple of days my inflammation markers start to rise. I’m currently part of a trial at a local hospital into the effects of cold water swimming. It’s brilliant that research is underway to show what many cold water swimmers have discussed anecdotally for a long time.

I used to be that person that rolled their eyes at using mindfulness or alternative methods to manage pain. ‘How is hugging a tree going to make me feel better?’ I would ask. But now I regularly recommend cold water swimming especially if you are suffering from chronic pain or experiencing horrible feelings. Get in the water, get outside into nature and really embrace the fresh air. You might still be in pain but it’s better to be in pain outside living your life than miserable, locked to your sofa.

And when I’m in the water I feel so alive. On one of my first swims I got into the water and, I don’t know why, but I just started crying, really sobbing my heart out. It felt like I was letting everything go and resetting. My husband says I came out of the water a different person that day and after that I started to think of myself as a survivor. One of my closest friends in the mesh community supported me through my surgery but didn’t get her own mesh removed in time and died from Sepsis. Sometimes in the water I think of her. I’m doing this for both of us.

Deakin and Blue - Bluetits Body Stories - Tracie - Mesh - Mental Health - Swimming - Sustainable Swimwear

Is there something special about swimming with other people?

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to swim with other people. I was really conscious of the way my body looked. I have had muscles cut and large pieces of my stomach removed so I have scars, no muscle tone and I’m a bit wobbly here and there. I felt ashamed of my body and I didn’t want anyone to see me. My self-worth had also been affected by the whole experience: I felt naïve for having put my faith in a doctor. I’m from that generation where you didn’t question someone who was educated and I felt like a fool for not knowing that the mesh was being implanted. I was in a really bad place so it took me a long time to build up the confidence to swim with others.

When I did it was just incredible. It is such a tonic to be with like-minded people who don’t care what you look like. On those first swims I remember hearing the other girls chatting and laughing with each other as I walked down to the beach to join them. There was so much camaraderie and fun. The sense of community amongst the women I swim with is life affirming. I feel like I belong.

Deakin and Blue - Bluetits Body Stories - Tracie - Mesh - Mental Health - Swimming - Sustainable Swimwear

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Looking back I can see that I was vain: I was all about the looks. I spent a lot of my youth starving myself to fit into small clothes because that's what I thought I needed to do. If I could, I would go back to my younger self and tell her what I believe now: that your physical body is just a really, really small part of who you are. That you need to accept your body regardless of it’s shape, size or what it looks like, because it is the most incredible gift to have a healthy one. So nurture it, look after it, feed it well, love it. Give it sustenance and care and remember that the physical is just one tiny part of you and that it’s what is inside that really matters.

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Tracie wears the Sweetheart Swimsuit in Liberty Beach Meadow in a size 18 Hendricks

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Want to read more in our D&B x The Bluetits Body Stories series? Have a read of our conversations so far with Sian, Ali, Sophie, Lisa and Nic. We release a new Bluetits Body Story every Friday for the next 4 weeks. Sign up to our mailing list to be alerted when these beautiful stories go live.

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About The Bluetits

The Bluetit mission is to create a confident, capable community through cold water swimming and adventures.

No club fees, registration, rules, requirements, expectations. We are an informal group of mixed gender people who just like to swim together. Some carry on throughout the winter months, some don’t. Some enter swimming events, some swim across the Channel, some meet every morning same time, same place and swim chat their way through the water. Others swim ice miles, some meet for coffee and cake, and maybe a swim or even a paddle. Our link to each other initially is the joy of challenging ourselves to potter in and around open water together throughout the year in swimsuits.
Find your local flock

For more information visit:
The Bluetits Chill Swimmers on Facebook
The Bluetits Website
Sling The Mesh



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