Before you read (or skim): This post has been sitting on my desktop for probably a month now. I didn’t know why I wrote it. Little by little, God would meet me at my computer and help me put into words what the past 6 months has meant to me. He helped me string the snapshots together to create an overall feeling I’d been experiencing. But yet, it sat on my computer because of my insecurity. Today, through a random conglomeration of clicks on the internet, I found a post (without searching for it) very similar to this one, and it filled me with so much hope. It made me realize the reason I am so drawn to this topic is because I KNOW that I’m not alone in this feeling. So, because of that little push, I decided to post what God’s been stirring and working in my heart. As always, thank you for reading, I know you have better things to do.
I was a lifeguard for around 4 years, and the most important lesson I learned is that it’s possible to not notice someone who is drowning because it doesn’t actually look the way we expect.
If I were to ask one of our new lifeguards, “how do you identify a drowning person?” they would usually respond with, “I look for someone who’s desperately trying to stay above water, thrashing around, maybe screaming/yelling for help, and making a lot of noise.” Although this is correct a very small percentage of the time, it isn’t a sound enough perception to operate effectively from.
Drowning is usually silent. For the most part, it happens to the person who is out of breath, unable to make noise, trying to swim forward, out of energy, who then slowly starts to sink below the water line. It is truly a terrifying way to die.
I remember in our training, they would play real footage of a young child who knows how to swim but begins to drown mere feet from a lifeguard stand. For a while, he goes completely unnoticed. He floats just under the surface for several minutes before his mom realizes what’s happening and jumps in past the lifeguard stand to save him. Luckily he survived, but it was a gut-wrenching video to watch.
It made us realize that someone could be drowning right next to us, and if we didn’t know what to look for, we’d miss it completely.
Earlier this year, I was drowning. I didn’t make any noise, cry out for help, or even acknowledge that I was running out of energy. I’d gone under without signaling I needed rescuing because I was too prideful to admit I was failing.
I’d come to the end of myself in a lot of ways. I’m a very problem-solving, “don’t ask, just google it,” analytically minded person, so being at the end of several ropes in my life with absolutely no solutions was more than just a little stressful.
I had taken all the steps one might take to find success: graduated valedictorian from high school, got a scholarship to college, graduated early, Magna Cum Laude, got a job, and chased a startup dream. By all accounts, I had taken both the road less traveled by and the traditional route towards success, and handled them both correctly. From the outside, everything looked as it should for someone my age.
Yet, I was sinking.
I was out of ideas. I felt like someone who had drifted too far away from shore without realizing it, was now trying to swim back, but was quickly losing the ability to do so. I felt like I’d dreamed too far, reached too high, and lost sight of my capabilities.
I was embarrassed, ashamed, and felt worse about myself than I ever have, so it honestly felt better to just sink below the waterline unnoticed than to publicly signal that I needed help, fast. I didn’t want the façade to shatter, but I’d also never dealt with oppressing sadness and anxiety before.
Lately, I’ve heard many tragic stories, both in the headlines and in my personal community, of people who are losing their battles to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and other mental illnesses. Too often this past month, I’ve read a headline alerting the world that another famous person has taken their own life, which begs the question, “what could have been so bad? Didn’t they have it all?”
When news broke that Kate Spade ended her own life, I feel it affected the world in a unique way. People texted me about it, my brother talked with me about it over dinner, and the whole world seemed to be processing the news together. The air around the situation felt so unbelievably heartbreaking. People were beginning to realize (some for the first time) that suicide is something deeper than a reaction to money problems, marital issues, failure, depression, loss, etc. Suicide is not prejudice.
Kate’s death made me think of the sadness I felt at the beginning of this year and how heavy such a small burden had weighed on me. I was flooded with compassion for her. How heavy were the burdens she was carrying? How much turmoil was she experiencing? How long had it been since she’d felt peace? The line in her husband’s public statement that left me with chills follows:
“There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
She was drowning in silence. Kate struggled with anxiety and depression leading up to her suicide, but was actively seeking help for those illnesses. I’ve only ever experienced a small portion of what she must have been feeling, but when I heard the news, for the first time I began to realize that it’s impossible to understand how suffocating mental illness is for those experiencing it daily. Kate had been deep in the abyss, but by all accounts looked like she was handling her waves well…until she wasn’t.
When I was struggling, I was nowhere near suicide. I wouldn’t even classify what I was feeling as true depression. But for the brief moment that my head was under water, I was able to open my eyes to the oppression behind mental illness. It gave me a small glimpse under the waves into what the true deep looks like. As an analytical person, I used to think, “well if you’re depressed, just do something about it. Fix it.” But now, I understand that suicide and depression aren’t just feelings, they’re much more than that.
When I came to the end of myself earlier this year, I finally started to cry out.
One day, I broke down in front of my parents and just straight up told them I felt like a failure. I felt like I was constantly disappointing everyone around me. I felt like I wasn’t worth the education they paid for or the investments they’d made into my life. They reached down into my abyss, and began pulling me towards the surface again.
I started answering questions from my community more honestly. If friends asked how I was doing, I told them I was struggling. I could feel how raw my answers were, and in the silence that followed I would start to second guess myself. But again, they would reach into the waves and pull me back towards air.
The final step that brought me above the surface was asking God to save me from how I felt about myself. I asked Him to come after me, and He did. I’ve always struggled with being consistent in going to church, reading my Bible, having quiet times, etc., but after fully experiencing His love for me and how He’s silenced the ocean around me, for the first time in my life I actually YEARN to know more about Him. I want to know more about the heart of the Savior who has set my feet upon the waves that I was once engulfed in.
I want to reiterate, what I was experiencing didn’t have the full weight of depression. I personally know people who are afflicted by mental illness, and I never want to downplay or overgeneralize what they struggle with by comparing it to what I worked through. However, I am thankful for my moment of darkness, because it gave me a small peek behind the curtain of this major issue. The reason why I’m broadcasting this intimate part of my life is for three specific reasons:
If you’re drowning, it’s time to start making some noise. You don’t have to be super negative in every conversation or always turn the topic to yourself, but you can reach out to those closest to you to let them know the state of your heart. Don’t lose your battle because you’re too ashamed to build an army around yourself. Give people the chance to throw you a life raft.
As a friend, be ready to identify the signals of a drowning person. It’s a tough task, and not always a possible one, but keep in mind that for some, drowning is silent. Check in on people more often and in more meaningful ways. Create opportunities to have real conversations with close friends and family. Be ready to throw a life raft.
I was able to just talk about my struggles with friends and family, but if what you’re experiencing is true depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, etc., then I would highly encourage you to also seek professional help. Even if you’re skeptical, do some research and try it once. At the very least, it’s a good way to gauge just how much you’ve let yourself sink so that you can start making the right moves towards the surface again.
In the end, it is your ocean to swim out of, but I can promise you that people want to help you make it to shore. Let them.
Writing blog posts is a funny thing, because generally I write about superfluous material that requires no part of my soul. However, when I write about things like this topic, it feels like an attempt to create an intimate place to hopefully speak one on one with someone who needs to know that they aren’t alone in their struggle. I hope someone felt that today.
“…I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it.”
- Jeremiah 5:22