Katie’s Story

My name is Kathleen Wotton (Katie) and I live in the North East of England.  I am a Mam of three grown children and two grandchildren. I have lipoedema, osteoarthritis, severe hypermobility, fibromyalgia, I’m a chronic asthmatic and I also suffer from depression.

I remember as a teenager looking back at my first experience of lipoedema – what I never realised then, was that it was a chronic genetic condition and my legs were the same as my mam’s legs. To me, my Mam was perfect – I saw no fault, however she did get awful stares along with cruel and nasty comments like ‘Ha, Ha kebab legs’ and ‘Oh my god if I had legs like that I’d kill myself’.

As one of 8 siblings we all felt the heart ache my Mam endured every time someone would do this. I always had a very small waist to hip-thigh ratio and large calves, I noticed this even as a UK size ten. My knees to me always looked just ‘not right’. As time went on, and as I was expecting my first child, I gained over 10 stone in weight during pregnancy. I lost weight afterwards but my hip waist ratio increased in circumference and my thighs were looking different especially in surface texture.

I’d wear shorter skirts to go out and would notice a remarkable difference in size and shape compared to my friends. So, as time went on, I did yo-yo diets and my body shape and the appearance of my skin from below the waist down kept changing in both the appearance and ratio. I fell pregnant with my second child and the weight gain was once more out of control. After I had my second child I worked extremely hard to get weight off – changing looks continuously.

Five year later I had my 3rd child, with same weight gain, horrific despite continued exercise throughout my pregnancy. Once I’d had my last child my body shape was never the same. I thought I had severe cellulite, which is what I thought was all that my mum had. I hated my body; being one of 8 siblings and the only large sibling was very unpleasant. My siblings and my parents would torture me about my size and the way I looked.

Katie and her sisters

I was very unhappy and struggling to control my asthma my health became poorer at the age of 25 onwards. The less active I became because of the pain, but trying all of the time to lose weight and improve my shape, but it never happened. I just kept on accumulating larger hips, thighs and calves. My health kept declining, along with my mood.

Then came a turning point during the first lockdown in 2020 – at the age of 47, when I read an article that popped up on my news feed with images attached that looked like the bottom half of my body. Whilst seeing the doctor because of my pain and water retention to my lower limbs, I asked her about Lipoedema and she looked at my legs and responded that I had it without doubt. This was a defining moment and very emotional time. Now I realised that the shape and size of my legs was not just my fault, but lipoedema.

However, my mobility was virtually non-existent and I was in chronic pain. This is the moment I found the sea again. I’d seen a post where my sisters were swimming in the sea. I’d commented ‘I’m jealous’. My sister phoned, saying ‘Come with us’. I replied ‘no way, I can’t manage to get dressed and undressed or walk onto the beach’ I have two crutches for a start. After a lot to-ing and fro-ing I decided that enough is enough and knew that if I didn’t at least try it, I would soon become bed-ridden and totally immobile.

So, I got myself prepared. I wore long leggings and a swimming costume plus control briefs to try and look at least a little shaped. I barely managed to get into the water, it was agonising trying to get mobile. Once in the sea came the pain free release over mind and chronic pain. Such a momentous moment and feeling. It felt like I was a child on Christmas day.

I used words like ‘amazing’, ‘exhilarating’ and ‘fantastic’ to describe my time in the sea. The next hurdle came when out of the sea, trying to change into dry clothes, I fell and struggled to change. I was so emotional and felt embarrassed. I started just going home in my wet cloths as it was too humiliating to show my legs with them not being what is the supposed norm. My sisters begged me to ditch the leggings. I compromised and with that moved to wearing shorts. It made no difference and I struggled massively, continuing to travel home wet.

With much continued persuasion I finally took that step and just wore a costume. Again, still struggling, so still I travelled home wet. The next step was the moment I went into a bikini top and shorts. It was becoming easier to change, being able to just ditch the shorts and wear a bikini. I did it though with complete anxiety and shame. So my sister took a photo and sent it to me, saying ‘Share it’.’ I thought ‘there is no way I can do that.’ In the end I agreed to crop my body off the photo from waist down. But then at the last minute I was dared into being brave and share my full bodied photo.

Oh my, I was blown away by how accepting and amazingly supportive people were. The journey starts again! A New chapter. What I thought would be negative reinforcement became empowering positivity. I had 7.7k likes and over 2.5k beautiful comments only two that were demeaning. These were irrelevant and from this moment I was changing to go home. I felt like I’d lifted a lead weight from my shoulders.

My mobility is still very poor, but it is improving all of the time. I smile, I laugh, I engage with others, which I never did before. I wear a bikini for most swims to raise awareness surrounding Lipoedema and other debilitating conditions. I am proud of me – I can’t pretend that I don’t still dislike my appearance, however I do now embrace it.

Get in the water. Feel the freedom and enjoy your life. I hope that sharing my story helps you in some way and am thankful for the opportunity to share it.

Take a look at the Seaham Sea Swimmers in action.