My depression is reminiscent of the ocean. From the relative safety of the beach, I look out over the vastness of the water and think I see someone. The foamy whiteness of breaking waves confirms my suspicions and although I am afraid of drowning, I put my feet into the frigid water and step forward. Soon, my ankles are submerged, then my knees, then my thighs and the place between them. The closer I get to whoever is out there, the farther the tide pulls them away.

It’s not until I’m up to my neck that I realize how far out I am. The shore, once close enough for me to see every rock with the naked eye in spite of my impaired vision, is now miles away. Aware of my situation and the depth of the danger here, I begin to fight my way back.

The water is unkind to me. Each foot I push forward gains no ground and I feel myself slipping away from comfortable earth. The current reaches icy fingers toward me and grips my ankle, tugging me away from safe ground. Panic surges up from somewhere near my navel and I begin to fight the waves, violently throwing my arms up into the air in an attempt to signal rescue. As the water breaks around me, foaming and splashing as I begin to thrash, realization of the trick that has been played dawns on me.

Sure enough, there is a figure on the beach, straining to see me. My instincts tell me to call for help, to keep treading water and fight to get enough air, but I already know the truth.

I am on the beach. I am in the water. Each time I venture into the freezing ocean, I am attempting to save myself from drowning in the waves of my own depression. But it’s all in vain — I repeat the same mistakes, follow the same twisted, slippery paths and perpetually end up on this beach, in this water, watching myself drown. Summoning the bravery to breach the waves and be the hero, but always ending up on the other side of this illusion, swallowing brine and choking for air.

There is no real choice here, no way out of the vicious circle in which I’ve managed to trap myself. If I give up, be still, and sink under the waves, then I will be lost to the darkness forever. If I stay on the beach, I will remain frozen in place and empty, wracked with guilt for doing nothing to save the version of me clinging to life in the sea.

So each morning when I wake up, I remind myself I’m still fighting. I congratulate myself on simple things like showering and washing my dishes. On days when I can’t muster the strength to get off the couch for more than five minutes, or the thought of venturing outside and being around people fills me with anxiety, I forgive myself and resolve to do better the next day, and the cycle repeats itself.

But the current is strong and I’m getting too tired to keep my head up.

My only hope is that another version of myself will soon come along in a boat and throw me a lifeline.

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Sorting out my life by writing about it.

6 thoughts on “Lifeline.

  1. This is my first time here. You can sure write…the description of depression, from the inside, is both haunting and chilling.

    Personally, I think you ARE a hero, for getting up, showering, doing the dishes…those can be harder and more frightening than a dynamic entry into a barricaded building (which I have done, and would prefer not to repeat).

    And if i may speak freely – I don’t believe for a moment that you’ve trapped yourself, any more than someone with the flu has made themselves ill. Depression is an illness, and the actions which can be construed as self-perpetuating are manifestations thereof.

    You’re fighting hard, with intelligent self-awareness. Personally (and as someone who has ‘very severe’ PTSD), I think you’re pretty awesome.

    1. I cannot tell you how much your comment means to me. This post was a long time coming and it was incredibly frightening to write. I don’t often know how to explain what I’m feeling and that can be frustrating for the people around me. They don’t quite understand why some days I can’t bring myself to be around them or why I get so excited to have gotten my laundry done or bought groceries.

      It’s really all about the small battles when you’re living with depression or any other mental illness.

      It’s easy to believe it’s your fault when you don’t function like other people, and believe it or not, your words actually lightened the load of guilt I’ve been carrying around. I can’t thank you enough for not only reading my post, but also taking the time to comment and share some of your own story as well. I had a stint in the ol’ barricaded building too, and I can relate to not ever wanting to visit that place again.

      You’re pretty damn awesome yourself, thank you so much. You definitely brightened my day, and I appreciate that. 🙂

      1. I’m so glad I could help!

        One thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have to explain why a trip to Wal-Mart is an ordeal for me, or that a piece of cardboard by my gate will make me stop and to a slow approach (I’ve met IEDs before, and have been personally targeted). If someone doesn’t get it, there’s nothing I can do, and if that behavior makes a difference in how much they may like or respect me…I don’t need them in my life.

        Same for you, I think. You’re an incredibly talented writer, and have a degree of self-possession and self-perception of which most of us can only dream. I would guess that you are also a very good and loyal friend, and have a degree of empathy for the hurting that is quite rare.

        Someone who can’t look past the days when you just can’t bear it, or celebrate the small victories with you, may be unworthy of your company.

      2. That’s true, you really don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why certain things make you behave a certain way. It’s challenging when those people are your family and they can’t grasp the fact that you’re different from them. If I were in your shoes, I imagine I would also be wary of triggering things or anything that reminds you of IEDs or of your experiences. I, for one, am incredibly impressed that you can keep calm in the face of those PTSD moments — I imagine that’s quite hard to do and I commend you for that.

        You’re absolutely right that I don’t need people in my life who are going to dismiss my illness as trivial or laugh at me for being proud of myself for small victories. I’m happy for them that they don’t have to fight to do simple things, it’s great that they don’t have to deal with the feelings and anxieties that people like you and I have to deal with every day, but to hold that over the heads of those who suffer is wrong.

        Weeding out those kinds of people will probably help me in the long run. I’ve been lucky in that my mom and sister have been supportive, even when they don’t quite understand.

        Thank you for your support and kind words, it means the world to me to know I’m not alone.

  2. You’re not alone, and I’m sure there are many who admire your courage. More than you know.

    I’ve been very fortunate in that my wife and her family do understand – and are protective of me. That’s a bit difficult to write, since I worked with very hard individuals (men and women) who were loath to admit weakness of any sort. But it’s true. Last time I was back ‘home’ over New Years, my young nephew ushered me inside so the fireworks the neighbors set off wouldn’t spook me.

    One thing with which you may be able to identify – I can’;t stand people who dispense facile solutions like “it was a long time ago – get over it” and “just give your cares to Jesus”. Courtesy demands listening in respectful disagreement, but there’s a part of me that wants to eyeball them and say “you weren’t there, so what the f*** do you know about it?”

    It’s been a long road, to come to terms with this. Today I write and weld, and we run a refuge for abandoned dogs. I’ve seen too much casually inflicted death, and saving these innocent creatures who have so much love to give has paved the way to a measure of sanity.

    One thing that occurred to me – I would never characterize depression as a ‘mental’ illness. It’s an illness, period, caused by a chemical imbalance that is hard to identify, let alone treat effectively. It’s like diabetes, or lupus – those can affect the mind as much as clinical depression can, but the victims aren’t stigmatized.

    And I feel less alone now, too. Thank you!

    1. You’re most welcome! Sometimes I believe just knowing you’re not alone in facing these battles helps immensely.

      I’m happy to hear that you’ve got a good support system around you – I think that’s incredibly helpful when dealing with whatever life happens to throw at you. It’s important to find something that makes you happy and gives you hope so that when the dark cloud draws closer, you’re better equipped to keep it at bay.

      I think you’re also incredibly self-aware, and I know that being self-aware helps you recognize behaviors within yourself that come from your illness. I find it comforting to be able to tell when I’m having a “moment”, so I can try to calm myself down and keep my wits about me.

      You truly seem like a strong person, and I’m very glad to have connected with you!

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