On Drowning

Three pictures of yours truly at three different times in my young adult life. The first photo was a headshot taken during a college production of The Nina Variations, which I co-directed fall semester of my junior year. I’m still proud of that production. The next photo is of me towards the end of my first year teaching abroad. I’m smiling in the midst of an exhibition showcasing my host school’s (and its two sister schools’) many projects from the year. I felt professional and proud of what I’d contributed to the student body (and oh so impressed by my students’ talents). In the last photo, I’m smiling at my firstborn’s sweet face while waiting for church to start. Three smiling faces, three sets of dimples, three different years. The common thread between these pictures is that I was depressed and suicidal in all three of them.

Experts say that drowning doesn’t look like drowning. We have this cinematic idea that drowning is dramatic arm flailing, excessive splashing, screaming, etc., but in reality, a drowning person doesn’t look anything like that, which is why lay people don’t notice when someone is drowning next to them but a lifeguard will spot it across a crowded swimming pool. According to Wikipedia, this is what drowning is actually like:

While distress and panic may sometimes take place beforehand, drowning itself is quick and often silent. A person close to the point of drowning is unable to keep their mouth above water long enough to breathe properly and is unable to shout. Lacking air, their body cannot perform the voluntary efforts involved in waving or seeking attention. Involuntary actions operated by the autonomic nervous system involve lateral flapping or paddling with the arms to press them down into the water in the effort to raise the mouth long enough to breathe, and tilting the head back. As an instinctive reaction, this is not consciously mediated nor under conscious control.

The lack of leg movement, upright position, inability to talk or keep the mouth consistently above water, and (upon attempting to reach the victim) the absence of expected rescue-directed actions, are evidence of the condition.

So what we can gather is that distress is different than drowning. I’ve been in distress in water, and I’ve come close to drowning once as a very young child, and the experiences were quite different. I don’t remember the near-drowning, although I remember the fear of being in trouble in water. The fear was paralyzing, and I couldn’t think of what to do to get out of trouble. Fortunately, in both situations, I’ve been near people who realized what was happening quickly enough to intervene and rescue me.

Let’s circle back around to the point of this post. Depression and drowning are awfully similar, and it’s common enough to see writers describe depression as drowning. You feel helpless in the midst of that kind of depression. You know something’s wrong, but you can’t get outside of your own fear, sadness, or panic to know what to do about it. It’s hard to ask for help when you can’t figure out what’s wrong, and sometimes, you get to the point where trying to tread water is too much and you’re willing to drown just to catch a break.

The first picture of me was taken during my hardest semester of undergrad. I had a full academic load with some especially challenging classes, I was co-director to a student theater production, I worked a part-time job, I was in a floundering dating relationship, and I was in weekly counseling sessions to deal with childhood trauma. So many things came to a head that semester, and I stopped taking care of my physical body (little sleep, too much caffeine, minimal nutritional intake), which contributed to my already crumbling emotional and mental health. I cried. A lot. I listened to depressing music. I withdrew a lot. I started cutting. I thought about how much better life would be if I were no longer in it. I was lucky that my roommate and boyfriend intervened and helped me get the help I needed.

The second picture was taken the spring of my first year teaching abroad. Towards the end of my first semester, my spouse and I discovered that I was pregnant. We made it through the first trimester, announced the pregnancy to all, and found out at 18 weeks that although the baby had died approximately a month before, my body hadn’t miscarried naturally. Needless to say, this was traumatic, as was the subsequent D&C and week-long hospital stay to clear up the infections in my body. Initially, God gave me a lot of peace over the whole situation, but then I questioned everything. Why did this happen? What did I do that caused this? I loathed my body for this betrayal and felt deep guilt and grief. I withdrew again. Nearly all of my free time I spent in some kind of fantasy: books, Netflix binges, writing for my Master’s program. Once again, I debated ending my life, but I knew I couldn’t do that to my husband while in a foreign country. Bizarre logic, perhaps, but that kept me going.

A year and a half later, we had our rainbow baby boy, and I couldn’t have been more overwhelmed. I knew I was at risk for postpartum depression because of the previous pregnancy loss, but I couldn’t have predicted how it came about for me–several months after delivery, and with fits of irrational rage coupled with dark intrusive thoughts. I never wanted to hurt my baby or myself (and I didn’t, thank God!), but I would often have a scene play out in my head of throwing my baby against the concrete wall of our fifth floor apartment then go to the window and jump because who throws their baby at a wall?! In this third example, I reached out to someone in our organization who began meeting with me in person weekly and checking in on me via text throughout the rest of the week until I could see a professional for talk therapy and medication. I’ve been on Zoloft ever since and don’t anticipate weaning myself off the antidepressants anytime soon.

Why do I share this with the internet? Well I suppose the first reason is to explain some of my absence from this blog over recent years, and some of it is to let others who struggle with depression and anxiety to know that they aren’t alone and that help is out there, but I think the biggest reason I want to post this is to let people who’ve never struggled with their own mental health to know that often, a mental health disorder doesn’t look like how you think it looks. Whenever a celebrity dies from what appears to be suicide, I see the same sorts of sentiment circulate on social media: check up on your friends who are struggling. And yes, if you see that your friends and family are struggling, step in and help as they allow. BUT ALSO check in on your friends and family who look like they have it all together. I could argue that I looked like everything was fine in each of those photos above, but I was really drowning and it’s by God’s grace and human intervention that I am still here today.

Learn what drowning looks like.



There’s been too much going on in my life for the past few months, which has led to more than a few emotional meltdowns and extended periods of anxiety-induced insomnia. There is still much work to be done, but my life is currently on a bit of a hiatus with a family getaway on the Oregon coast. Simply breaking a routine has made for less stress, but there are other things that have added to an overall sense of peace and relaxation.

The first night that we were here, I volunteered to clean up after dinner. Rather than use the dishwasher, I washed everything by hand in the kitchen sink. The window in front of me was cracked open, and through it, I could smell blackberry bushes and cool, dark green foliage. Occasionally, a car would pass on the nearby road, but other than that, the only sounds were the quiet conversations amongst our family members and the ongoing shush of the ocean surf.

Our second evening here, I walked to the beach–just a few houses away–to take pictures of the sunset. I was not let down. The sunset started out beautifully and just progressed to become increasingly breathtaking. I would take pictures, then draw back and feel awed and small by the sheer scope of the sky. I have rarely seen a sunset so beautiful. I felt revived, spiritually.

Apart from our first evening here, I’ve walked in the Pacific and along the shore every day. The water is too cold to swim in–at least for me–but feeling the waves around my ankles and calves is incredibly soothing. I love the ocean. There is something about its gigantic-ness that brings peace.

Spending time with family has also been peace-bringing. Whether it is sitting around the living room with fresh coffee in the morning, getting my baby niece to giggle, or talking about nature with my [almost] six year old nephew, I feel better for having had the time to bond with family. I feel so blessed to have come from one amazing family and to have married into another equally amazing one.

I wish you all a wonderfully relaxing weekend!


Day 2: Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Geographically, I would like to be living and working internationally. I do not have a specific country or even a particular region of the world where I have my heart set on living. However, as my undergrad degree is in English/TESL and my future grad degree will be in English/Creative Writing, it makes sense that I would be living and working somewhere in the Middle East or Asia as there is a demand for native English speaker/teachers in those areas. Again, where specifically is not something that I have worked out yet. Ten years from now, I’ll be 38 years old. That’s still a long way away and anything could happen. I do know that wherever I am living/working in 10 years, I will be learning about the people around me and living in community whether that is in Kalamazoo or Kathmandu. Continue reading

Day 1: Discuss Your Current Relationship*

In roughly five months, I will have been married for four years. For someone who never thought she would get married, this is kind of a big deal. I always pictured myself gallivanting through grand adventures all by my onesies, but I’m happily surprised that I enjoy having a partner in crime. Who else would clean the litterbox and kill all the spiders** for me? I jest–except for the spider bit.

I never joke about spiders. Continue reading

What do books mean to you?

“Books may well be the only true magic.”

Alice Hoffman

Books are my escape.

I have been an avid reader since early childhood and read everything I could get my hands on from my mother’s college mythology textbook when I was seven years old to Mange-moi, s’il te plait as an adult. In college, my reading dwindled because my brain could only handle so much, but I have begun to read more since I graduated. Depending on the engagement in my current course load, I still read for pleasure where I may. (Bus commuting is prime reading/writing time.) Continue reading

Criticism and Grace

Trigger Warning: discussion of body issues (self-esteem, eating disorders, etc.)

Way back in January of this year, one of my aunts posted on Facebook about picking a word for the year. The idea was that you pick a word that becomes, more or less, your year’s theme. Some people picked thankfulness, others picked joy, I chose the word grace. My thinking going in was that I would work on extending grace both to others and to myself. Now, as we are on the eve of the new year, I think it’s a great time to reflect back on the year and see how it went. Continue reading

Quiet on the Blogging Front

I have posts in the works, but the first couple of weeks of December ran me over a few times, so the blog fell by the wayside. On top of coming down with a cold on the first of December that only went away a day or two ago, I had to wrap up this school term, which included writing a final essay on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw using narratology for my theoretical lens. Crunch time for said final paper included pulling an all nighter, which really did not help with that nasty cold, but it’s all over now. I got my final grade for literary theory, and I am happy to say that I did much better on this round than I did when I studied the subject in undergrad. Continue reading

Shake it out, shake it out…

Four days after my last post, I had a couple of interviews for two part time, complementary jobs at my alma mater. That same day, my interviewers offered me both jobs, and tomorrow is my first day. It still feels a little surreal both because I’ll be back on the campus where I did my undergraduate studies and because it all happened so quickly. I think the timing of everything was great because I started getting bored with unemployment, and I think I will be rested enough come tomorrow morning to actually be ready to get down to business. (To defeat. The Huns.)

I should already be in bed, but I wanted to post an update before I forgot. I have the feeling that life is going to be a little hectic for a couple of weeks because I’ll be learning a ton at work and school starts back up next week. Have a great week, everyone!

Enjoy the following cover of a song that seems oddly fitting in a “here’s to better times!” sort of way:

Counting Blessings

When my husband told me that our manager wanted to have an unplanned meeting with us (after which we could leave work early), I knew something was wrong. Unplanned meetings are rarely a positive sign, right? So it came as no surprise that she had bad news for us. That news? Our contract was ending early, and we would have a month left at our current positions. Continue reading