This is a piece I wrote earlier this year that was published on October 5, 2016 on the blog of To Write Love on Her Arms, an organization that advocates for mental health awareness and treatment. You can read the original posting here.
When depression stranded me at sea, I thought it was the end of everything good in my life. No one could seem to make things better, not my family, not my counselor, not my psychiatrist, not my friends, not my God. I felt myself slipping beneath the waves of emotional turmoil, hopelessness, disappointment, self-hatred, and unspeakable hurt. And no one could throw a life vest my way. Every time I spotted help on the horizon and swam to it, I found it was only a mirage. The ship I was cast from, the friends I thought I could count on to dive in and swim after me, had long disappeared into the distance. As I struggled, the roar of the waves that surrounded me silenced my cries for help.
Finally, I gave up trying to find rescue. I realized that all I could do was tread water until something—anything—came along. There were times I wanted to give in, just fall beneath the waves and let them carry my body to shore where everyone would regret how they neglected me. But I remembered that I had a responsibility to myself—to my younger self who dreamed about the great things she would one day accomplish. So I kept swimming even though those dreams were nowhere to be seen.
I eventually made it to shore, but I found myself in a new country. Although this was not my homeland, I realized I could never go back—not after what happened. I had to make shelter where I landed. So I dropped out of school and accepted the surprisingly difficult purgatory of Rest and Recovery. I quickly found that although I might be safely ashore again, things were not as easy as I thought they would be. I thought that I had closed my story, put the final period on that dramatic chapter of my life at sea, but the memories kept coming back.
It was then that I thought I had come to the end of myself, that there was no hope for me. So I poured out my shattered dreams and watched them get whisked away like grains of sand in the wind. I was stuck. Stuck at home. Stuck in a mire of being too healthy to be hospitalized but too sick to function normally. Stuck in a cycle of old emotions that kept coming back to torment me. Stuck reprimanding myself for being stuck.
But gradually the tides began to change. The poisons that had been destroying me both physically and emotionally with fatigue, apathy, and hopelessness slowly drained from my system. New support systems and treatment were thrown into my path to help me regain my grip on life. I severed ties with those who had shown their true colors as fair-weather friends on my journey and learned to stand on my own two feet. I found a new school that fit my new set of needs and was amazed to find it was an even better place for me than where I had been before. Exciting opportunities have come into view on my horizon, and now I am building my own boat to sail off in this new direction. My crew is still sparse and I still feel a bit jealous when I see the headway others my age have already made while I’m stuck ashore still building my ship, but mostly I am hopeful. Because I know that a mere six months ago I was stranded, fully convinced there was no hope for me.
When I hear news of old friends getting married, getting jobs, and getting pregnant, I think back to the sculpture I made in one of my first art therapy sessions after dropping out of school: an oyster reef. The new organisms make their home on the shells of the departed ones, the living and the dead intertwined. To me, the sculpture represented rebirth: The old, dead dreams and hopes of my past life remained in my heart, but they would now serve as a foundation for the new life I was building. That is where I find myself now: being reborn in so many ways. I am still struggling, but I am also rising from the ashes I thought would be my grave. Now I am stronger, freer, wiser, more grateful, and more intentional about living my life and loving others.
Sometimes the waves start to rise again and lap dangerously at the base of my new boat, and I become afraid that I will go under again. But when I’m tempted to give up hope and sink beneath those waves, I remember that little girl who used to dream of what she would be, and I grab the ropes to begin the journey to safety and recovery once again.