Mental Health: Drowning

On Sunday some friends so graciously took me and Rick out on their boat. It was the most sun and fresh air I’ve gotten in more four months, since before the pandemic it was still winter time in New York. It seems I forgot how to behave in the sun… and got a pretty big burn to show for it.

(Fortunately I keep an aloe plant in my apartment. But, this post isn’t about burns and aloe (although there’s a mental health analogy in there somewhere…) No. I’m gonna make another corny analogy that came to me, because it was such a good parallel to my mental illness.)

In order to get away from the hoards of people in their individual boats and get some more space for swimming and fishing, we left the channel and went out into the ocean. The front of the boat slammed down with each wave, the significantly more violent movement signaling our entrance into the Atlantic. The channel was mild by comparison, a completely different ballgame. The only waves we seemed to encounter were from the wakes of other boats. The boat was rocking big time now, but we got what we were looking for. Solitude.

Rick jumped off the side and we all gave him a hard time because he asked for a rope to hang onto while in the water. We giggled watching him bump up against the side of the boat that had become at the mercy of the ocean’s movement and, after a very brief swim, he climbed back aboard.

“Okay, that’s good for me,” he said, laughing.

It was my turn to jump in, now. Seeing nothing around me but water kinda creeped me out, but I had gotten queasy on the ocean so I needed a dunk in the water to cut the nausea, anyway. I tugged at my bathing suit and stared down at the hazel water lapping against the boat and accepted my fate. While everyone was distracted, and someone was mid-sentence, I jumped starboard. No countdown, no witness, no pressure. Doing things on my time, just how I like it.

It felt good. Cold. I quickly swept past the boat’s side, enjoying the relief of both the nice temperature and having just gotten the shock of that first immersion over with. The boat bobbed passed me as I treaded water, looking on. Okay, that’s enough, I thought. I swam toward the ladder and looked up to find I was no closer than where I’d started. In fact, the boat was a little further away. I tried again. Nothing. I laughed and looked at everyone on the boat, now watching me.

“I don’t think I can do it!” I said. I tried again.

“You gotta swim, babe,” Rick called. “You’re not swimming.”

Our friend dog paddled the air with a smile on his face. “Do you know how to swim?”

“Guys, of course I know how to swim.” My disembodied head scowled from the water. Normally I was a dry-from-the-neck-up, breaststroke type swimmer, but in this circumstance I needed to swim properly. I gave it a shot. Nothing.

“I seriously don’t think I can do it.”

“Seriously?” Our friend asked, no longer joking. He was our captain and handled his role with care. Also, his friend’s wife like, couldn’t swim.

“For real.” I laughed nervously. I was stuck, nothin’ but water around me and below me, and I was floating further away by the second. The waves picked up.

I knew they wouldn’t leave me, or something, so I didn’t panic, although I easily could’ve being so out of control in the middle of the ocean. I embraced the fact I was out of control and relaxed my body, even turning around to observe the big waves coming my way. Nothin’ but water and lack of control. Nothin’ to do but wait and survive.

I heard the boat rumble to life and turned to see our friend inching toward me in reverse. He closed the gap and cut the engine, and I swam the last couple of feet with great effort against the current to reach the ladder. Rick was waiting at the back of the boat in his royal blue swimsuit with his hand out to help me.

“Are you okay?” He asked, supporting the weight I was putting on him as I stepped back aboard. Gripping the crap out of my husband’s hand. Relief.

case study of me being a solid hand gripper

“Yeah… but I was a goner!” I laughed.

“You were not getting any closer to us,” our friend said, partially stated as fact, partially in disbelief.

“Yeah, I was def a goner. Thanks for coming to get me, because I think that was almost it for me.” I turned to Rick. “I think I need proper swim lessons for real because that was scary.”

“We would’ve saved you! Don’t worry. Remember, I’m a floater, babe.” Rick thinks it’s funny to make toilet jokes about how his body behaves in bodies of water.

“Yeah, I know. It’s so comforting that you’re a floater, the ultimately water survivor.”

“Girl, I got you!” My friend said, sunning on the boat’s edge in a gorgeous designer swimsuit and shades. “I for real could’ve saved you.” I think she used to be a lifeguard. Either way, I believed her. My friends and family got me.

I smiled with incredulous relief and wrapped my arms around Rick’s warm body, so grateful to mash my head against the chest of the #1 floater of my heart.

Then, I felt like I was gonna ralph again. Then, everyone felt like they were gonna ralph. So, we retreated back to the placid channel, a magical place where no one feels like they’re gonna ralph.

I guess my brain couldn’t help but Carrie Bradshaw an analogy, here, because something bobbed into the waves of my thoughts. <- LOL I COULDN’T HELP IT.

When I see a big, dark wave of depression coming on, or get pulled into one unexpectedly, I can fight it, or I can panic. Or, I can just relax my body into it, wait it out, and communicate to those around me what’s happening and what they can do to help, if anything. In a weird way, I’m really proud of myself for turning around and looking out into the ocean that day, looking at the waves head on. Waves keep coming. Like it’s the nature of the ocean, it’s the nature of mental illness, too. If you accept what’s happening and remember all waves that come up must come down, and that depression lies, it will end. You will feel better.

If it’s never better, and you’re just getting slammed with life’s waves with no relief or sustainable way to cope, please, please see a psychologist to have talk therapy. If applicable, they can refer you to and work with a psychiatrist for meds. A lot of times, people just need to spit out what’s happening in their minds, even if, no, especially if it doesn’t even make sense. When you think out loud with the help of a good therapist, a lot of times you organize your thoughts and feelings in the process. Then, you can put a lot of the trauma you’ve been consciously or subconsciously grappling with behind you.* Don’t drown. You don’t have to drown. There are life preservers, friends, family, and your own steely resolve nearby.


*Concept from studies referenced by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score (2014). Important, highly recommended read.

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Bailey:
Mental Health: What About People with Depression?
Mental Health: The Social Toll of Invisible Illness
Mental Health: The Best Cure for Anxiety

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