In our first article we explored the first two NHS ‘Steps to Wellbeing’ – ‘Connection’ and ‘Be Active’. The next is ‘Giving’, writes BN member and MBACP (Accred) Family Therapist, Sheila.
Giving to others is an act which benefits both the giver and the receiver. We all love that feeling of finding the right gift for someone we love – and the frustration of not being able to source that special something to show we care! As a counsellor I can hold my hands up and acknowledge that, when I have been of help to someone who is going through a challenging time, it makes me feel good about myself. But, of course, the counselling relationship is not about me. In therapy, a counsellor helps the client to manage difficult emotions by being reliably present, consistent, respectful and caring. Much of counselling training is about developing empathy not sympathy. Sympathy is sharing the feelings of another – you recognise them because you think you’ve been there yourself, or think you have. Empathy is understanding the feelings of another, but not necessarily sharing them. It’s the ability to stand in another’s shoes or walk alongside them as they go on their own journey, but not to get dragged down into the mire of their emotional responses, thus staying available and able to be there for or ‘hold’ the other person emotionally.
Helping others is neither a patronising nor power seeking activity, but an opportunity to engage with a cause or individual to use your skills, knowledge and experiences to make a difference to their life. By giving, you move away from a concentration on self and selfish agenda, and open yourself up to the needs and life experiences of others.
As a community, Naturism is naturally giving. People are keen to share their experience of, and joy in, Naturism with others. Newcomers frequently express surprise at the sincere welcome received from more established Naturists. We were all new at this once. Sharing a sundowner with a neighbouring camper, giving directions to the best Naturist beach or information about the next BN event all happens readily and easily in the Naturist community. Naturists are generally easy folk to talk to, displaying an openness with new people, experiences and views, which encourages sharing.
Another aspect of giving which improves emotional wellbeing is giving your time – Volunteering. BN provides a variety of opportunities to benefit Naturists. The majority of the British Naturism leadership team are volunteers. The directors give hours and hours of their time – here’s a shout out to them! And there are less time-heavy chances to volunteer in the Naturist community too: people who moderate online groups to keep their fellow Naturists safe from those with an ulterior motive, perhaps not completely aligned to the respectful principles of Naturism - thank you; folks who instigate and organise events, trips, visits, dining, walks and get togethers - cheers!; Those numerous Naturists who sit on committees, run working parties and do the less glamorous jobs at clubs all over the country – we salute you. Even people who write for the magazine or website – nice one!
As a sense of community develops within Naturism so does mutual support – giving and receiving. It is easier to give mentally and emotionally as barriers to engagement with another Naturist are removed with the clothing. There is an opportunity to start at a deeper level than the usual ‘How are you?’, ‘I’m fine’ which is the polite response to a conversational enquiry. How often do we reply ‘I’m fine’ even when the world as we know it is falling apart? Naturists are generally interested in people, thoughtful and accepting, giving others the chance to relax in that acceptance, with nothing to prove, which can often in itself produce a relieved feeling of letting go of some of the stresses of life as soon as you are within the Naturist community.
Kindness, acceptance and respect is endemic in the Naturist community and it’s all good for us – hooray!
I have suffered from depression and social anxiety for many years. Lockdown actually made things easier for me as I had a solid excuse for staying at home. Even when we had to go anywhere, social distancing meant I had my own space. However, when lockdown eased, my problems came back. I was unable to go out on my own, and even when with my partner, I had to wear my coat as a comfort blanket and form of defence.
We read in the media that there was going to be a naked Morecambe Bay walk, and my partner joked that I should do it, knowing that it would be like jumping out of a plane without a parachute for me, being with people without her - or my coat. Gradually I thought that if I could do it I might help my social anxiety, but felt I would back out before, or on the day. I decided to ask for sponsorship on Facebook, so I could not back out and let the sponsors down, with the money I raised being donated to the charity Mind.
For a few days leading up to the walk I had trouble sleeping and had to take medication to calm my anxiety. On the drive to the walk, my partner could see the state I was in and she offered to turn the car round and go home. The fact that I had raised over £300, and the messages I had received telling me I could do it, convinced me to go ahead.
Once naked, my anxiety went completely and I felt so relaxed. It was something I hadn’t experienced for so many years, that feeling of calm. Although most of us deny it, we often judge people by the clothes they wear, even if that judgement changes if we get to know the person. Once naked that judgement is removed. I did not judge and more importantly I did not feel judged. I tried to explain the feeling to my partner, but I think until you try Naturism nothing can truly explain it. She said that she could not and would never go naked in front of strangers, but a few weeks later she wanted me to go
to the Lake District with her and spend the day with someone she knew. This would be difficult for me so I made a deal. If she came with me to Silverglades, Morecambe Bay Naturist club I would go with her to meet her friend. She reluctantly agreed, telling me she would not take her clothes off, but once there she took the plunge. She enjoyed it so much that we went for a day again as soon as we could. We bought camping equipment and stayed there for two nights, after which she told me that it had helped her own mental health so much.
We are now true Naturists and only wear clothes when we have to. We are looking forward to visiting other sites and also taking part in events next year, and our life has been improved beyond measure. When telling friends and family we have had mixed responses, from telling us we are soft in the head, to telling us that they wish they could join us too, but haven’t got the courage. We are happy to tell the world, and to say that it is a way of life that improves wellbeing, both physical and mental.
I’m writing to say thank you to British Naturism and all the members I met during lock down. One of those was a Body Positivity discussion at which I told my story - and was encouraged to write it up for the magazine.
My story starts back in 1980 when I was the grand old age of 19, a time when I was very happy, having just got engaged to my girlfriend, a young lady I had known since I was five. Then disaster struck. Firstly, I had a bad knee injury that stopped me playing rugby and football, and then a month after the engagement we had the worst blow any young couple could have. My fiancée, at only 19, was diagnosed with terminal Leukaemia, and needless to say my world came to an end just five weeks later when the cancer took her from me before our lives had even started.
I had already discovered I loved to be naked whenever I could, though I hadn’t heard of ‘Naturism’. There were six of us in the family and so I wasn’t able to do it often. Losing my fiancée caused me to withdraw into myself, and lose interest in looking after myself. Lack of physical exercise meant the pounds began to mount, though I always managed to keep things hidden: from my family always managing to keep a smile on my face and be the life and soul of the party.
In 1993 disaster struck again when my dad collapsed and died suddenly at the age of 56. My parents had been devoted to each other and my mum had her own health problems, and on the day he died I think part of her did too. I spent the next 10 years as her sole carer, I felt it was my duty as I was the eldest child and the only one not married with a family of my own.
Throughout, I kept my secret hidden, and began to resent everything but then I would see myself in a mirror or shop window and would convince myself without much trouble that I couldn’t become a real Naturist because no one would look at me without laughing. Despite loving being naked I hated my body.
In 2003 the Big C struck me and after a full left-side mastectomy and 12 weeks of radiotherapy, I turned even further inward and became a workaholic doing 10 hours a day at work and taking another couple of hours home with me, at the same time still caring for my mum who by now was virtually immobile spending 24 hours a day in one room. When she died in 2005, I began to come out of my shell and to free the real me.
An advantage of living alone was that I could now be naked at home whenever I wanted, which was all the time, unless family were going to visit. I still hadn’t told them my secret. I had a relationship with a woman who was totally against Naturism but after a few years I was back to living alone, and my secret life. I decided to quit my job in York where I was Deputy Manager of a large Co-op Supermarket, to return to Barnsley my home town, stepping down from a management role and cutting my hours, determined to reduce my stress levels, try to beat the depression and get my life together. Still keeping my secret from everyone. Still hating my body and not knowing how to get away from that mindset. Things didn’t improve when I had a heart attack followed by a quadruple heart bypass and an atrial clip.
I returned home from hospital, and although I had lost weight, I still hated my body. I thought, however, that as I had been given a third chance at life and decided not to waste it. One day I was looking at something on my laptop when I spotted a link to BN. I spent the next hour scrolling through the web pages and decided this was what I needed to help me become who I wanted to be.
I had never been naked in front of anyone before, but I took the plunge and having seen the online classes, signed up immediately for the coffee morning the very next day. I was nervous but I have never felt as free as I did that day. I felt like a new person, and desperate to do it for real. Subsequently, I signed up for many sessions. It even prompted me to tell my sister and aunt, the two most important people to me, not knowing how they would respond, only to find that they couldn’t care less. It also gave me the courage to book my first Naturist holiday at Lakeside Farm in Lincolnshire.
So I end by saying ‘Thank You’ again to BN for giving me the opportunity and belief to get involved. I might not be totally body positive yet but I am now well on the way thanks to the support from everyone I talked to in the Zoom meetings and the in person meetings I have since attended.