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My Depression Is an Ocean, and I'm Just Trying to Stay Afloat

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My depression is an ocean — vast and wide with parts unknown and parts that are all too familiar. I spend my life on the shore, keeping a careful eye on the sinister waves. Like the tide along the beach ebbs and flows, so does my ocean. One minute I’m walking along the shore, the next I’m knee-deep in dark waters. Sometimes my ocean is calm and I find myself wading through without issue. Other times its contents are at a rolling boil — pulling me under, pushing me farther and threatening to swallow me whole.

I was in college when I first felt the waves washing over my toes. The water rose quickly and without warning, and I didn’t know how to swim.

It started slow — sleeping through an occasional class, skipping an on-campus event, missing a homework assignment or two. As the first semester continued, so did my descent into the deep, dark mystery of my ocean. Soon, the classes I actually attended were the exception to the rule and assignments were completely forgotten. My twin-sized bed became my only safe space — the only place where I felt truly protected from the rising water — and I went days without ever leaving its warm embrace.

When I did drag my worn-out body to class, teachers looked at me with contempt — another freshman blowing off class to recover from last night’s party. They didn’t notice the pool of black water that constantly surrounded me, my own version of the metaphorical black cloud that comically followed Eeyore around in his adventures with Winnie the Pooh.

My friends tried to cheer me up with catchphrases like: “Have fun!” “Be young!” “Get out of your head!” But the drinking and fake smiles just made it harder to stay afloat.

My family saw the struggle, but only as much as I let them. They noticed my tired muscles, sore and worn from constantly treading choppy waters. I didn’t show them the real pain — the deep-down in your bones and heart and stomach pain that no home remedy could ever relieve. They didn’t hear my heavy breathing, or the sobs that accompanied it, as I struggled to come up for air. They searched my face for clues, but saw only practiced smiles, well-timed laughs and made-up stories of a fun freshman year.

I don’t blame anyone for not seeing how far it had really gone. I hid it well, happily bobbing up and down in the waves whenever someone passed by, not even hinting at the undertow that constantly threatened to drag me down.

Eventually, though, pretending that I wasn’t fighting became more exhausting than the fight itself. So I gave in. I gave myself to the ocean. No more fighting the tide. No more struggling against the storm. No more effort — I had nothing left to give.

And so I disappeared below the water’s surface without sending out so much as an “S.O.S.” But I was lucky, I got rescued anyway.

After months of missed classes, ignored phone calls, declined dinner invitations, entire days spent in bed staring at the ceiling and teary splotches on my face I could no longer conceal with makeup, I found a life raft.

I sought help at the mental health clinic at my university’s on-campus student health center. I was prescribed an antidepressant, I attended regular therapy sessions and support groups and I learned the tools I needed to keep myself afloat.

I still struggle with my ocean — I’ve accepted that I probably always will. Most of the time, the waves stay where they belong and I feel safe on the shore. But there have been times when I felt myself sinking back into the terrifying depths. There are still days when it’s an accomplishment for me just to get out of bed, just to put one foot in front of the other, just to keep my head above water. But I’m becoming a better swimmer.

Life isn’t always an Olympic-level butterfly stroke. Sometimes it’s a dog paddle. And that’s OK.

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Unsplash photo via Matthew Kane

Originally published: April 5, 2018
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