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How I Finally Learned to Ride the Emotional Waves of My Depression

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When I was 11 years old, a friend’s family took me to the beach. The waves were pretty big that day. We splashed and played as the waves rolled in sets of three, coming in bigger and bigger. With every big wave, I noticed my friend would disappear under the water and come up on the other side looking so graceful and at peace.

But me? Well, I’d bluster my way through each giant capped wave, arms and legs flailing madly trying to keep afloat, trying to stop my body being dumped on the shoreline. I couldn’t even swim yet.

Then as the waves continued to get bigger and bigger, their strength began taking a toll on me. My clothes kept slipping off, and my hair would swish around like a mop finding its way into my own mouth. I’d come up after each wave spluttering and coughing, my feet screaming to find the ocean floor after each battle. I began to panic every time I saw a big wave coming; the ocean would suck me towards its big towering head, swelling in preparation to spit me out. My friend was still enjoying herself, bobbing up with wild eyes, vibrating with excitement each time she conquered a new wave.

I thought I just didn’t enjoy the same things as her. I didn’t realize I was drowning. No one would enjoy drowning.

It wasn’t until one particularly bad wave, when I was certain I was going to die, that my friend’s mother plucked me out of the ocean. She sat me down so I could catch my breath. I sat, sucking in big gulps of air while the ocean swirled around my toes.

She said to me, “Have you ever swam in waves before?”

I shook my head, ashamed that I hadn’t.

“That’s OK,” she said, “the trick is not to fight them. You either dive under them so the swell at the top doesn’t catch you, or you ride them in, letting them pull you to shore”.

She took my hand in one of hers and my friend’s hand in the other, and together they taught me how to cope with waves. They taught me how not to drown. Over and over for hours we dived beneath the raging waves, pinching our noses while we waited in the calm ocean underneath. I watched, fascinated, as each curling wave passed and crashed over us, until we resurfaced on the other side, ready to take on the next wave.

Learning how to deal with these waves was similar to learning how to process emotions.

With every big feeling, I would revert to my 11-year-old self, mouth wide with shock, limbs flailing as the waves crashed over me, just hoping I would survive until they passed.

It’s only now at 25, after being in therapy since 2010, that I have finally learned how to cope with my emotional waves. It’s funny how these things happen. I got to a point where even happiness became too big for me, and not knowing how to deal with it would lead to me becoming depressed and suicidal.

Every time I became too happy, I wanted to kill myself. All throughout the best year of my life, I was so extremely happy I had no idea how to process it. The swelling of my chest and the energy running through my blood turned into rapid heart rates, jitters, shaking. It turned into restlessness and being unable to sleep; it turned and flipped and twisted until there was nothing left but a desire to die.

Suicide, during those times, seemed the only option. Suicide became the only way to make the waves stop.

This feeling isn’t always easy to explain. But if you could just picture this:

Wave after wave comes crashing down on you and you have never learned how to dive under them or how to catch them. You have never even learned to swim.

What would you do? Fight? I’m sure you would. But then how long can you fight for? A couple of minutes? An hour? A day?

I had already been fighting for 14 long years and honestly, I was ready to let myself go.

But I held on. I kept working with my psych, I learned how to sit with emotions, I learned how to dive under the bad ones with acceptance and forgiveness and I learned how to ride with the good ones. I have learned that waves happen and you can’t always stop them, but you can change how you face them. I’ve learned that you can come up to the surface not only intact but with grace and at peace.

It has been one day since I caught a wave, literally and metaphorically, but it has been 67 days since I have thought about suicide.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

Originally published: April 17, 2018
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