Rachelle Silver only starting squad swimming after the birth of her third child just over three years ago, but will tomorrow leave for the UK to attempt the ‘Everest of Ocean Swims’: Crossing the English Channel.
It’s 33.3 kilometres at its narrowest point. But tidal shifts means Rachelle will probably be swimming between 40 and 50 kilometres when making the crossing in mid August. She expects it to take 14 to 16 hours.
The GP has just finished her final session with her squad when we talk this morning. She’s been swimming up to 3 and a half hours a day for months now, along with a weekly four to eight hour ocean swim — with no wetsuit and in constantly changing weather conditions.
Rachelle’s making the swim in support of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), which provides a specialist national perinatal mental health telephone counselling hotline and other services.
For Rachelle, the mission is personal. While she’d personally diagnosed post-natal depression in other patients, she didn’t notice the symptoms that spiralled quickly out of control in herself after she had her third child.
“It happened quickly and suddenly and escalated downwards. When it hit, it hit hard. At the time, I had a four week old baby and two toddlers, I wasn’t being a doctor looking to diagnose myself, I was being a mum.”
She’s thankful to the doctor who noticed something was wrong during her baby’s six week check up. Rachelle was told she didn’t have time for therapy and needed to immediately start on anti-depressants. Rachelle’s mother later took her away for a weekend triathlon, and Rachelle then started swimming with a squad a couple of nights a week, while her mother offered to help out with the kids at home.
Three years ago, Rachelle made the decision to swim the English Channel. While her coach — who has trained dozens of successful crossers — suggested a two year plan to make it happen, Rachelle opted for three years.
She had a lot going on: kids (now three, five and seven), her medical practice and finishing her medical specialist training and fellowship exams. “Everything has been planned out intricately,” she said. “What I could control I did control … I had trained through my youth, but since starting my medical studies and having kids i’d been swimming very infrequently. I started from an unbelievably low base.”
Working part time and needing to make time for some long and intense training, Rachelle says her husband and mother have been 100% on board in helping her reach her goal.
She says the years of training have also resulted in some other positive outcomes at home: equal parenting. “We both understand that it’s way harder to spend the day looking after three little kids than it is to spend the day at work,” she says. “We both understand that having to be at work the next day does not mean you can’t get up to help in the middle of the night. He started his own startup 18 months ago, I’m doing this swim, we’re both happy to support each other and see the kids as our shared responsibility.”
Rachelle’s supporting PANDA with the swim due to her own experience, but also after recommending their services to a number of her own patients. She says that while some feelings of guilt as well as exhaustion can be normal during pregnancy or after having a baby, it’s not normal to be constantly feeling guilty or finding no enjoyment in your family, social occasions or other activities. “Call a mental health hotline like PANDA, speak to your GP, just talk to someone,” she says.
Rachelle also wants to see more women prioritising themselves. “We get under the impression that we have to make someone else happy before we can be happy ourselves. But you can’t actually make someone else happy if you’re not happy in yourself. It’s better to be happy, then rushing around trying to get your kids to a thousand different activities.”
Asked if she’s chasing a time when she leaves dry land next month, Rachelle said her goal is to get to the other side.
You can support Rachelle’s cause here.
For help with depression or anxiety, contact Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636.
Contact the PANDA hotline on 1300 726 306.