Impressions of a Girl Lost at Sea

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.

–Stevie Smith


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.

(See other recent posts on mental health by Lynnette here, here, and here.)


  1. The only thing that gets me out of bed sometimes is this thought:

    I feel like crap if I lay here, and I feel like crap if I get up and do something. Might as well get up and do something 🙂

  2. One more thought: I am currently on a medication that is working for me. When I first started taking it, and the molasses pain of depression sloughed away, I thought to myself, “Is this how other people feel all the time? Why aren’t they more productive?!?!?”

    Kind of funny, I thought.

  3. As a psychotherapist and as a person having suffered several depressive episodes, I find your essay so very moving. Best wishes on your healing journey, and thank you so very much for sharing. I hope you’ll post more here at ZD.

    Would you mind my sharing your essay (with ZD source and date included) with selected clients?

  4. Angie, I’ve fought that battle many times and I’ve reached the same conclusion. It’s better to be doing something than to be doing nothing, even if both feel awful. Haha, on the good days it’s amazing what can be accomplished. Just imagine if every day was like that! I guess that’s what we’re shooting for.

    E.D., I love hyperbole and a half! It’s always struck a chord with me, especially her more recent posts. She expresses things in relatable ways, and l’ve shared that exact post with friends before.

    Peppertree, thank you for the well wishing. If you think this post might help someone, go right ahead! If you can do it while maintaining your clients’ confidentiality, please let me know some of their thoughts.

  5. Wow! This is a great comparison, and an excellent post. It makes me scared to read, which I think is just a comment on how effectively you convey your experience. Very well said!

  6. Your essay gave me chills. In my worst episodes, I too have felt like drowning is the best metaphor for how I felt. That silent, slow exhaustion until you feel like you should just stop fighting and slip away.

    Many thanks, as always, to ZD and their wonderful coverage on mental health.

  7. Thanks for sharing this, Crooked Girl. I’ve never been quite as low for as long as you describe. I think the water I’m in isn’t quite as deep, so I don’t have to tread water to keep afloat. I just have to stay standing. It’s a beautiful, terrible image you paint. I know what you mean about choosing your mood with your playlist. Currently I can’t keep from bawling when I think about a song I sang for Mothers Day as a young teenager. Nuevo Tango makes me feel like someone else understood my longing to feel at rest, and DooWop and children’s songs help me feel happy.

  8. You need to learn healthy thought patterns. Thought patterns are hard to change if you have spent a life time creating them.

    ‘Depression is selfish’ this was hard to hear from my sister, at a time when I was struggling with low mood induced by low self-esteem, but she was right. Thinking about oneself so much is certainly the heart of depression.

    One must get out of one’s head, and start just living, being present. Completely immerse yourself in the life and experience of someone else, without thinking about yourself. Have you heard of mindfulness?

    Every time you have a thought, Any thought, about Anything, STOP picture a lily and think about it’s beauty, it’s smell, it’s feel. Realise that Thinking NEVER EVER helps. Without the thoughts you will FEEL better. Thoughts always precede feelings.
    The Human Givens Approach also makes a lot of sense. They talk about the tiredness, the whys and how to overcome it.

  9. Sarah, you need to learn healthy commenting patterns. I understand that your are probably coming from a place of trying to be helpful, but you mostly come across as being extremely condescending.


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