Have you ever had that experience, where you were maybe swimming in the ocean, and you were gently pulled out a little too far and you didn’t even notice. Until you noticed. And your legs are pumping. And the waves are pulling you out further, at the same speed as before – nice and gentle – but it feels rough, fast. It feels like you might go under. The current swirling around your feet as you look toward the beach searching for someone who you could call to. But when you do cry out, they can’t hear you. Their own laughter and joy are too loud. They can’t hear you. You’re all alone.
Sometimes this is what my every day feels like. It’s not a memory, it’s not a brief scene from a movie. It’s real life. And it is terrifying.
It’s Mental Health Awareness month. I’ve written a bit before about my depression. It’s no secret. But what so many don’t realize about depression, anxiety, and mental health, is that it’s not just a quote on Instagram. It’s more than a semi colon tattoo. It’s more than a passing article in your Facebook feeds. It’s every day for us who suffer. Every minute some days.
That feeling? That fear of going under and not coming up? That’s just my experience. It’s not everyone’s. I can’t pretend to know exactly what someone else with major depressive disorder goes through, but I do understand. Because I live it too. The scariest part though, is that so many have no idea. Those who make decisions about health care might have no idea (and it currently looks like that is the case). Those who see someone on the street who might be disheveled, with dirty hair, wide eyes, and a frantic pace and think “another junkie”, actually have no idea about mental health issues. Because when I see that person, I want to hug them. I want to tell them it’s ok. I see them. I hear them. They are not alone. But I don’t do any of that. And each time I ignore them like everyone else, it hurts a little more.
To understand depression is to live it. Until you feel the feelings, until you understand the sensation of the water pulling you down, until you cry out as loud as you can only to realize those cries are silent to those around you, you cannot truly understand. I hope you never do understand it in that way. But what I also hope, is that you don’t ignore signs. I hope you really see those around you, those you love. And be able to notice patterns, signs, that they might be treading that water. That they might be out there feeling alone, unheard, unseen.
And if that is you out there? You are NOT alone. I see you. I can hear you. Keep your eyes focused on the sand and start kicking your feet. Fight. Don’t let yourself go any deeper out. You are stronger than the next wave. But you do have to fight because that ocean is a bitch. Trying hard to pull you back. You don’t have to give in. You have the power to calm the sea and get to safety. The trick? Recognizing that fact. Sometimes saying out loud “I don’t need to live like this any longer. I don’t deserve to suffer.” is all you need. Sometimes you need help. To have someone help pull you towards safety. But you might have to ask for help. Which seems scary to be vulnerable. To be seen as someone with something wrong. But I promise you, when you ask for help, you can get better.
When I started on anti-depressants, my entire world changed. My entire life changed. I no longer felt like a lost cause. I no longer felt tired from treading water. I no longer felt that every day I was slipping out to sea a little bit more. It can get better. I didn’t get better until I asked for help. Until I felt so broken I could not live like that any more. And I fought for myself. It was harder and more strenuous than treading that water for so many years, but I did it. And so can you. Just turn your body around in that deep water away from the sand, look out, and say – scream even – “You will not win. I choose to win. I am worth my fight.” Then look back at that sand, and start swimming. As hard as you fucking can.
If you are suffering, or having suicidal thoughts call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline right now: 1-800-273-8255
If you need resources on where to go for help for yourself, here is a good place to start.
If you know a loved one going through issues with Mental Health, start here.
If you want to support Mental Health Awareness month, go here.