This guest post is brought to us by my daughter, the crooked girl. Recently I wrote a post on my perspective of her depression, and I invited her to write her own experience. This is what she wrote:
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
I learned recently that a large number of deaths in the water take place within mere feet of the victims’ companions. Mario Vittone writes in a post on aquatic safety that “drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect…drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event.” Most people have not been trained to recognize the signs. This description struck a chord with me because, although I have never experienced such physical danger, my struggles with mental illness feel like a different sort of drowning.
I am buffeted, tossed and turned by the waves, yet locked in place. I am overwhelmed, completely and utterly overcome, standing on tiptoe trying to keep my head above the water. Failing miserably. Depression feels as though someone has chained my arms to my sides, clamped my legs together, and strapped an immeasurable weight to my feet. It is all I can do to keep breathing, and the moments I manage to stay afloat feel like near miracles—yet I am expected to do much more. My loving, well-meaning friends and family call to me—
“Swim, swim,” they say. Everything is better in the sunlight above the water. See how easy it is to thrive and to frolic. I scream inside, silently cry out the anguish and the tears and the endless frustration at my own worthlessness. What is it that I lack? I am breaking into pieces, fading slowly but surely as throngs of people pass me by without a thought, so involved in their own lives that my feeble efforts can never catch their attention. And with each passing day, the exhaustion builds. Even an able-bodied swimmer can only tread water for so long, and I am far from able-bodied, far from the ideal that hangs forever over my head.
Sometimes, I think the fatigue brought on by depression is its most dangerous symptom. Everything, absolutely everything takes incredible amounts of energy—energy that I cannot muster up. I lie in bed every morning as the alarm sounds, and each day I am held in suspense, not knowing whether I am capable of rising. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I think, and yet somehow I can and I do. But it wears at me, unraveling the frayed edges of my sanity until I am no longer sure of why I do anything at all.
The strangest things can catch my attention and subsequently become unbearable. This morning, it is the relentless ticking of our kitchen clock as I sit alone at the table, suffocating in silence while my family is out. It grows louder and louder until the only thing that can match it is the pounding within my head, and I think that I’m losing my mind to the emptiness. The passage of time is cruel, and so I turn to my numerous escapes. Sleep is the most painless retreat, but even in my dreams I hear something in the distance, mercilessly driving home the fact that there is no avoiding reality. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
I drive sometimes with no destination in mind. Somehow it’s comforting, granting the illusion of forward progression. There is no one to answer to, no expectations (beyond the rules of the road), and managing a car is just demanding enough that I can’t go into complete autopilot. I turn the music on high and sing in a way that I’m not inclined to anywhere else, and my mood can be tailored according to my playlists. I drive and I drive and then it happens–I feel the urge to stamp down on the gas, rev up the engine, and hurtle through my small town with reckless abandon, all in hopes of feeling alive again for even an instant. Failing that, I occasionally think to swerve suddenly, lose control, end an existence that feels too miserable to be worth pursuing.
Yet I’m not far enough gone for that. Fear and anxiety and a sense of responsibility for my loved ones keep me from complete apathy, and I remember that gas is expensive, my family needs the car, and I have errands to run. The real world returns and I am back in the water…quiet and still, but drowning nonetheless.