I Should Probably See My Therapist, But I Wrote This Instead: An Ode to My Mom

Guest Blog by Bailey Forsyth

I should probably start by introducing myself – my name is Bailey, and I’m Teresa’s introverted, first born daughter. I think I’ve made an appearance on here once or twice, thankfully all good things – my mom didn’t HAVE to be so nice, but she was. Thanks, mom :).

This is me! Post-swim, probably inquiring about who brought the beer this time.

Anyways, brief background on me: I am a senior at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, double majoring in International Affairs and Economics (please don’t ask what I want to do with that, I still don’t know, and I’m so sick of coming up with some bullshit answer every time – I’m just trying to survive out here). I’m also a sprinter and a captain on the track and field team (I know, I know, hold your applause); I love the grittiness of sprinting, and it’s something that I am immensely proud of.

Me and my awesome team right before Covid hit.

As we all know, 2020 was pretty shitty, for a number of reasons. If you’ve been following my mom’s lovely blog, you know my family has had a doozy of a year – why not throw cancer at my mom, too? Just get all of the shit out of the way in one terrible year. Anyways, the middle of March was when my 2020 track season officially got cancelled due to Covid. In a word, I was devastated. To have that pulled out from under me was a blow, and I took it pretty hard. I’ll admit that it was far from the end of the world, but track was (is) one of the biggest factors to my mental health. To lose that in the middle of a pandemic, while still trying to process the information that my mom had cancer, was Hard. Watching one of the most important people in your life go through something like that is Fucked Up, and I felt pretty helpless about the whole thing. 

Me and my kick ass mom at sunrise!

I ended up moving back home to the island, because school was online, and I wanted to be around for my family while my mom went through her cancer “journey” or whatever bullshit people call it. I never thought I would be living with my parents again for the long term, but all of a sudden I was back in my childhood bedroom. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I was a fresh 21! I should have been doing stupid college kid things with my friends on the weekends! I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jim and Teresa know how to party, but having a beer with dinner and then going to bed by 10 wasn’t *exactly* how I had pictured my evenings going. 

Just look at these party animals!

I probably sound ungrateful – that wasn’t the case! I’m lucky to have such a great family who loves me so much. It was just too much all at once for my brain to handle in a healthy way. In short, I got depressed, and hit a low that I hadn’t seen since high school. It was tough. My motivation was at an all-time low, and I couldn’t do anything but watch as my mom took on this monster that I couldn’t do anything about, and I had to face it every damn day. There’s no distracting yourself from the Bad Thing if you’re stuck in quarantine with it for weeks on end.

Despite everything, I think my mom caught on, because she started dragging me along to swim with her and her friends, even when she wasn’t allowed in the water herself. Now, I’ve swam with these guys occasionally during the summers, when it’s nice and warm out, but APRIL? No offense, but what college kid wants to get up for an 8am swim in 50 degree water?? It certainly wasn’t very high on my priority list at the time. But I did it, because it was something to do, and I finally found something I could do for her – I could be her place holder in the water until she could get back in. 

So I got up at 7.

And swam. 

And froze my ass off. 

And immediately wanted to go again. 


Me freezing my ass off while I wait for my mom to take her sweet time.

I mean this in the most literal sense: it just might have saved my life. I was quickly losing all sense of myself, which is something that terrifies me. The water was cathartic.

All of a sudden, I was surrounded by beauty, and people who just loved life. It was infectious, and I couldn’t possibly be depressed when I was immersed in salt water and surrounded by friends. I realized I was probably in the best place possible – where else could I run for 20 minutes and end up on a beach where I looked out and there were dozens of porpoises playing at the drop off? Nowhere, I tell you. The cold water seemed to shock me out of whatever funk I had fallen into, and I emerged feeling resilient. It was meditative and cathartic; the water was a safe place to work out problems in my head, while simultaneously exhausting my body. 

There were countless times I found myself smiling like an idiot into the water (the flounders that saw me probably thought I was a psychopath). My favorite days were when the water was a little too rough, and you got out feeling like you just went 10 rounds with Rocky. A close second was when we were playing in the bioluminescence at 10pm on a Tuesday night after drinking shitty Kirkland-brand margaritas. I mean, come ON! 

Rocky waves!

I ended up spending the summer surrounded by friends, and had some of the best times in recent memory – I think I laughed harder and longer when I was with them than I have in years. Granted, they weren’t the friends I had expected to be hanging out with this summer, but rather were new friends I made that I lovingly refer to as my “old people friends” (I should clarify that none of them are actually old, but I think the age gap between myself and the next oldest of the group is roughly 35 years).

My old people friends!

They welcomed me with open arms, and I loved spending any kind of time with them. The water not only saved me mentally, but it led me to some of the coolest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet, and the cool part was I think they liked me back! 

I can now say that one of my best friends is a 50-something year old Canadian – I would be remiss if I left her out of this. 

I was home for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and was overwhelmed, kinda sad, and completely stressed out of my brain. The water was a balmy 47 degrees, and I hadn’t swam in about a month. But it didn’t matter. My mom and my friends were there, grinning like the lunatics they are, way too excited about getting in the Sound at this time of year. The water welcomed me back home like I hadn’t missed a beat, and, taking after my mother, I cried into my goggles.

– Bailey James

(Note from TJ: Some days you’re given a gift you can never repay. So much gratitude. Love you, Babygirl.)

Wow It’s 48 Again

Courtesy of Matt Simms. Thanks Matt!

First swim back today after six weeks! I’ve been counting down the days since my surgery, waiting for today. It was flat, it was sunny, but man was it 48 deg!

And let’s be clear: the water felt like 48. I did not.

During one of those long 42 days out of the water, I wrote down all of the new swims my buddies and I did this summer, back when it was warmer. And mostly sunny. And not November.

Thanks for a great summer, guys. The pic below was taken back when Island County was in Phase 3, and outdoor groups of 50 or less could gather. After this, we swam in groups of 10 or less. (Yep, that’s my disclaimer, folks.)

If you read this list and remember one we did that I forgot, please let me know.

New Summer Swims 2020

  • Chuckanut Bay
  • Lake Cle Elum
  • Columbia River
  • Clackamas River
  • Willamette River
  • Whidbey-to-Mukilteo Ferry Crossing (almost to Edmonds!)
  • Whidbey-to-Camano Crossing (both days!)
  • Clinton ferry park
  • Double Bluff to Robinson Beach
  • Phosphorescence Night Swims Useless Bay
  • Bush Point
  • Bush Point to Shore Meadow
  • Lagoon Point to Bush Point
  • Glendale to Sandy Hook
  • Bells Beach to Baby Island
  • Beverly Beach to Baby Island 
  • Greenbank Farm Wonn Road public access
  • Ebeys Landing
  • Driftwood Park to Keystone Spit
  • Golden Gardens
  • Mukilteo Ferry to Boeing dock

Not too bad for a global pandemic summer laced with surgery anxiety. Here’s to new experiences in crappy times. Somehow they just shine a little brighter.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Feeling It All

Driving to one of many many (so many!) swims this summer, a song came on my Spotify that stopped me mid-thought. Isn’t it great when that happens? You hear a certain lyric out of the blue and it’s like getting hit between the eyes. 

The song was People Get Old by Lori McKenna. Not the most clever title, invoking an initial “no duh!” response from me when I first heard it. But then this verse:

Time is a thief / Pain is a gift / The past is the past / It is what it is.

The last line is cliche, so we can skip that. But time is a thief? Absolutely. Pain is a gift? Truth. Eight words that sum up my summer.

I realize I’ve been remiss on the blog posts. Thanks to the folks that asked and prodded me to get back at it. I love you all.

But I make no apologies for the last three months. I swam my ass off, farther and stronger and better than ever before. Just like I promised myself I would while recovering from my mastectomy in April. 

It feels good to keep a promise to yourself.

And when I had to choose to write or swim? You know what I did.

I’m out of the water again, six weeks this time, following my DIEP flap breast rebuild surgery. (Wow did that suck. But  I’m back to wading!) Plastic surgery is crazy magic. Who knew all that Brie and beer built up on my gut over the years would come in handy? 

So relieved this final step on my stupid cancer “journey” (eye roll) is complete. I feel like a cat out of the bath. 

Pain is a gift.

This afternoon I’m turning the tables, albeit briefly, and stealing from time instead of the other way around. The sun’s out, the new puppy is asleep, and I’m wearing real pants as I write this. (Trust me, after that surgery, it’s a big deal.)

Feeling so much gratitude for it all.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

Catching Up

How is it that I’m at home more than ever before, yet I’m so far behind on everything? Just yesterday I finally repaired four wetsuits that I was supposed to do two months ago. And time seems to be absolutely flying by. 

Yesterday the wetsuits, today the blog! At this rate I might even get to the dining room light fixture that’s been just a socket with wires sticking out of the ceiling for more than a year now.

But let’s not get hasty.

We’ve been swimming a ton, it being high season and all. Lots of new places, new summer-swimmer faces, and with Island County in phase 3, we’ve been able to bring back our weekly Saturday Seawall swims. 

The first one was a cold, windy, rainy morning, and we had 23 in the water. I love swimmers. 

My two daughters have been joining me, and it is my utmost joy and delight to see them glide past me at the start, effortless, adrenaline-filled, and powerful. I don’t see them again until I get out, where they’re patiently waiting on shore: dry, smiling, and on their second cups of tea.   

Catching up. Can I get an amen?

–TJ Wiley Forsyth

It’s a Sickness

“You’re my hero!”

That’s what a kind man walking the beach shouted at me a few days ago as I was toweling off after a swim in Mutiny Bay. Ironically, I was the first one out, not because I was fastest, but because I’d gone the shortest distance and was the slowest of our group. 

Not exactly a heroic swim. But whatever, I’ll take hero worship whenever I can get it.

I waved, smiled and said thanks. People will frequently engage me in conversation after a swim, if I’m alone. If we get out of the water in a pack (school? pod?), a few brave souls will approach us, but most just smile and move briskly past, in case our lunacy is contagious.

Which it most definitely is. 

The gentleman asked the usual round of queries: how cold was it, how far did I go. But then he asked, “How many millimeters is your suit?” This guy was a contender, serious-curious. He had some background, whether as a surfer, a diver, or maybe even a swimmer that used to do open water. 

“Are you a swimmer yourself?” I asked him. 

“Oh I used to be. Always wanted to try getting out there.”

I gave our facebook name, mentioned our open water swim clinics coming up, and encouraged him to give it a try. He said thanks, and after wishing me a good day, moved along down the beach.

After I give people info on how to connect with us, I usually never see them again.

But now and then a new person will join us that has the same disease we have. It’s usually apparent the first time they swim with us. While we welcome everyone, it’s the rare few that keep coming back. Something clicks for these folks. 

More than clicks, it’s almost like witnessing a homecoming of sorts.

These aren’t the ones who swim to prove they’re tough, or who come to train for something, or who need attention by doing something unique. We always get those folks around this time of year, and they usually stop swimming after a few weeks.

The ones who stick with us, who end up swimming year-round with us, the lifers? They just come to be. 

To be in it, to be part of a body bigger than themselves, to be slightly lost in something wild they can’t control.  

It feels amazing to find your people. No heroics necessary.

–TJ Wiley Forsyth