It’s not every day that you meet a real-life mermaid. But when you meet Lindsey, you realise that mermaids are just as beautiful and magical as you imagined.
Moved by her own personal loss and mental health battles, Lindsey started to use adventure as a way of coping, processing and making sense of her world. In the first of our Making Waves Body Stories, she tells us how she saw the way the environment was struggling to cope with human interference. And how she did something about it.
Intuitive, imaginative and creative, Lindsey is a natural storyteller who has turned her own incredible adventures into stories for children. Connecting with communities through her books, films and performances, she’s working hard – as a mermaid – to inspire the next generation to love our planet.
Content warning: Lindsey's story is incredibly honest and she shares references to self-harm and loss of a parent.
Can you tell us a bit about your current adventurous campaign?
I swam the length of the Bristol Avon wearing a mermaid tail and towing a poo sculpture to investigate how river pollution affects wildlife like otters, because otters are a good barometer of a healthy river. If the river’s polluted, the otters will go elsewhere. Then, I turned it into a kids book called The Mermaid, The Otter and The Big Poo, which is a fun way of storytelling about sewage pollution for kids. And to celebrate the launch of my book, I'm going to be swimming from Wales to England where the River Avon goes into the Bristol Channel.
The Mermaid, The Otter and The Big Poo is your second mermaid adventure story; is mermaiding your thing?
Yes, it's a theme. I was always an adventurer. And through exploring and adventuring, I got to experience some pretty incredible landscapes and environments. Then, when I was in Bali learning to free dive, I felt a sting on my hand and I thought it was a jellyfish, but it was actually a small bit of plastic and I realised that I was surrounded by more plastic than fish. I wanted to do something about it, and I was looking for another adventure. Then, I was scrolling through Instagram looking at posts about my new found hobby, freediving, and I noticed that some people wear monofins and some mermaid. And so, I thought I'd mermaid the length of the River Thames.
So, I had a giant mermaid sculpture made of recycled plastic to highlight the plastic pandemic, and I swam the length of the River Thames as a mermaid. Then, one day, I rescued a drowning cow and my story made it into The Sun newspaper. A school asked me to turn my story into the school play and I thought I'd turn into a book and now it’s a theme.
It's fun actually because campaigning and protesting is exhausting; investing all your energy to fight for something that you love. Whereas this is still a worthwhile cause, but I feel like I'm getting into education that’s fun and engaging and kids enjoy it and I feel a bit more secure and safe than getting burnt out – I don't feel like I'm hitting my head against a brick wall so much. When I did the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I sat in my mermaid tail and kids would walk past and I didn't need to do anything other than turn and wave. And at Glastonbury, I was with my friend, who was dressed as a cow and pushed me around in a wheelbarrow, and kids might be busy or on their way somewhere else, but I'd see them ahead in the crowd looking back at me waving and smiling. It was really magical.
Has adventuring and being outdoors always been a big part of your life?
Not really. I was a competitive swimmer from the age of about eight, but I wasn’t very competitive. But then my dad died and I was obviously very sad and I was in a place where I didn't really have ambition. I started self-harming because I felt guilty about his death. I was in Australia; he was in England. Then I had an accident and ended up in hospital and it was like a wake-up call where I realised that I shouldn't do it again.
And so, I signed up to do a triathlon to channel my negative energy. And then I got a bit addicted. So, I did an Olympic distance triathlon. Then I cycled to Paris, then I cycled to South Africa for the World Cup. Then I walked the Rabbit Proof Fence across Australia, and then I started roller-skating to places. I just liked travelling by human power.
Can you tell us more about what happened?
I was backpacking in Australia when I was 24, living in my van which was called Larry and had waves down its side and his name written on his front. Whenever I drove through a town, people would honk and wave, and it was really special.
My parents came to see me for Easter. Before she left Heathrow, my mum told me not to miss my plane because they were going to treat me to a nice apartment to stay in together in North Queensland. I was like, why would I miss a plane?
I was in Byron Bay at the time and I bumped into a friend who I hadn’t seen for five years. The day before that, I’d managed to jump the fence to this festival, so she encouraged me to do it again and then she promised to drive me to the airport the next day. I didn't have an excuse other than I couldn't miss my plane, so we jumped the fence. But then we lost each other and it start raining. All the Aussies ran for cover, but I was like, oh no, at Glastonbury, we celebrate the rain, we should mudslide! It wasn't really very muddy, so I got everyone to pour their pints onto the ground to make it muddier, but it didn't make much difference. When I did my first slide, I scratched my belly because the ground was really dry. So, the next time, I took a running leap and launched in feet-first. My foot caught in a dry patch and my whole body went over. The next thing I knew was this guy straddling me saying, if you get up, you won't be able to walk again because my foot was dangling off my leg.
So, I ended up in hospital and I didn't get on the plane. My parents spent half their holiday at my bedside where I was covered head to toe in mud and my leg was hanging from the ceiling.
A few months later, I was back on the road fruit picking, living in my van and I called home and got Dad, but Mum wasn't in. So, I rearranged to call them after I got back from my banana farm. But dad had died in between. I was beside myself and felt so guilty that I didn’t speak to him on that call and because the last time I'd seen them, I was covered in mud and he’d never seen me amount to anything. And that's why I started self-harming.
After all your cycling adventures, what made you decide to walk the Rabbit Proof Fence?
I couldn’t stop thinking about this book that I read in hospital just before my dad died, The Rabbit Proof Fence. It was about three Aboriginal girls aged eight to 12 who were removed from their home in 1931 and taken a thousand miles away to be assimilated into white society. They escaped and walked all the way home. And I think, because of the proximity of timing, I became obsessed with them. Whenever something happened to me, like when I was cycling up this hill, heading into fucking gales and I threw my bike on the ground and had a tantrum, I’d think about the girls and what they went through. Anytime I came across a physical or a mental challenge, I thought about them.
Then I returned to Australia and went to retrace their journey, but I didn't know if the fence was still there, whether it would be physically possible, whether it would be deemed culturally insensitive. So I just thought I had to go to see what I could do, knowing that I might pull out because no one had done it since them. Yeah. But when I got to start line, I made friends with their family. So, I had their blessing and then each day got better and better. I made it to the end and met Daisy, who was one of the girls, and Molly's daughter met me just before I go to Jigalong and walked into the town in with me.
Did you do these adventures for your mental health rather than physical achievements?
Definitely, although I don’t think I realised it at the time. I probably should have had therapy, but I didn't really know how to go about it. You need someone to hold your hands with things like this. I once talked to a doctor, but I didn't even know how to articulate it. That's why I started self-harming because I didn't know how to articulate my feelings. What do you even say? My dad died and I'm sad. It’s such a big thing to talk about, death, especially back then. That was part of the issue – I was 24 years old, and I thought as an adult I should have been able to handle it.
When I signed up to the Olympic distance triathlon (because it was only five pounds more expensive than the standard distance), the cycle ride was 40 kilometres and I hadn't cycled since I was 12 and even then, I only cycled with friends around my village. So, it was a massive deal. But I was distracting myself from the self-harm because that had also become addictive; whenever I felt a negative thought, I'd go and get a knife. So, when I got into cycling, I would just go out on my bike. And while that became addictive, it was much healthier. And then, when I crossed the finish line having not known whether I could make it or not, I felt such elation. When you don’t think you’re capable of doing something and then you do it, you then set your sights higher, so then I went on and did an Iron Man.
How do you start freediving?
After I walked the Rabbit Proof Fence, I went to see my brother in Bali where I did a freediving course because it was really cheap. I just loved it. It could be intimidating because you’re miles from shore and there are quite a few things you need to remember like, I struggle to pop my ears. But you duck dive and then you just sink to to 10 metres, 20 metres. After a certain depth, about 15 metres I think, you freefall and that's quite incredible. It's so quiet and dark.
For me, it’s meditative. I struggle to meditate so by swimming or walking long distances, I'm able to not think about anything else. It’s the same when I’m beneath the surface. There is a possibility of death, so you forget about everything else and focus on getting back up.
What really stands out is how you turn your mental health battles into adventures. How does being outdoors help you with that?
When I was younger, Mum would always want us to go for walks, but I never really liked walking. I don't like walks without a purpose; I like storytelling. Whereas, with the Rabbit Proof Fence, it was just incredible because it was just me on my own with this trolley that I named after my dad Trevor, miles from anyone and in nature. I was having breakfast once and I heard a rustle in the bushes and it was two emus spying on me. It was so funny. They were checking me out. I came across emus again. They’ve got small brains so they were walking ahead of me and I was behind them and every time they turned around, they panicked and would run into the fence. And then they’d forget that I was behind them again.
I've got a big love for the moon because when I was walking one day, the moon started rising and it was stunning. I learnt about the moon cycle when I was at school, but since then had become totally detached from it; it's ignited a love for it. So now I just love going anywhere, chasing moon risers, going to new locations to watch it rise; it's so fun. Also, it’s free.
That’s the thing with adventure as well – you don't have to go to another country to have an adventure. I think in the competitive adventure world, it’s a lot of muscles and people want to be the first of the fastest. But I like the random adventures.
I had a bad spell of depression recently because my partner left me three months after buying a house together. When I got better, I threw myself at everything. And to celebrate, I decided to buy this beautiful piece of moon art at Womad festival. One guy overheard me telling someone that I can talk about the moon and dogs for hours, and he interrupted me and told me that he’d spent a year sleeping outside with a full moon every month and had written a poem about it, so that's an adventure.
That’s what adventures can be. Relationships are adventures, my relationship with my dog Pippa is an adventure, writing a book is an adventure and, at the moment, doing up my house is an adventure.
You’re now relatively settled in Bristol with Pippa (your dog) and lots of friends in the swimming community. How does that feel?
What I’ve struggled with for so long was a conflict of interest because I'm a people person and I struggle with commitment. I travelled so much and moved around, and couldn't foresee how I could be in one place for a year. So, I was always moving in and out of my mum's or couch surfing.
What came with that was adventure and excitement, but what didn't was community. And so, I'd always been chasing that feeling of being part of a community. And then, with swimming, I found my kind of people. I don't even have to tell anyone I'm going swimming, but I always bump into someone. This is great for someone who's got ADHD and isn't very good at planning or being organised because you can wing it and have fun and still see people and have great conversations. I’ve found club sports like triathlon or cycling a bit cliquey – you have to break the new girl status before you can get in the crowd and I've never stuck around anywhere long enough to bother because I'm not into that.
Was the Deakin & Blue photoshoot an adventure?
Yes, it was so fun. It was a beautiful location, beautiful crew and a really lovely day. I love the bold, beautiful swimsuits and I didn't worry about slipping out, which is great for mermaiding.
Lindsey wears the X-Back Swimsuit in Scarlet in a size 10 Hepburn.
Did you enjoy reading this Body Story? Discover the other stories in our Making Waves series, and read about amazing women whose life-changing work inspires and moves others.
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“For me, it was this acceptance that this is how my body looks and I need to stop looking at it as a transitional body and just get on with it… Life happens and you can't put everything on hold just because of the size you are; you just need to carry on.” Read Becca’s Story.