Drowning, gasping for breath. Sometimes my mental illness makes me feel like I'm drowning in it. It feels like the air has been sucked out of my lungs. Panic tightens my throat. The fear rushes in my ears. I am in danger. I am in danger of drowning here. Drowning in my own confusion. Drowning in a sea of emotions. Drowning in my own mental illness. It threatens to swallow me up whole. Then what will I do? Who will I become? Will I have anything left?
When I was five my mother, father, and I went to the Gulf of Mexico. We had decided to have a day at the beach. I remember the day being sunny and the sand was hot on my feet. The water was cold and refreshing. My mother and I waded in the shallow part because neither of us could swim. I was a very small framed child. Somehow the current carried me away. Before I knew what happened, I was unable to touch the ground beneath me. I would bob up and down. The water over my head was brown from my splashing and the disturbance of the sediment underneath. The sea weed was flowing in the waves. The muffling sound of water roared though my ears.When I was above the water I could see the white fluffy clouds and gorgeous blue sky, and a woman that is burned into my memory. She was a woman about my mother's age. Blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and evenly tanned skin. She was wearing a bikini and on her stomach laying on an inner-tube with her hands tucked under her chin. She had pretty sky blue eyes that blankly stared at me as I was drowning. We actually made brief eye contact. She was close enough to have plucked me up from the water or at least grabbed my hand to keep me from going back under, and yet she did nothing. She just watched me as I struggled and failed to stay above the water over and over again. I was going under and back up so quickly I only had time to take a deep breath and try to yell for my mother. (Inhale), Mo..(gurgle)...(Inhale), Mo..(gurgle), is all I could get out before being sucked back into the depths of the sea. I was sure this woman would help me and I tried to reach for her but she didn't respond. I was getting very tired but I kept struggling and trying to breath and scream at the same time. I didn't understand and I still don't. Who watches a child drown and does nothing? She was choosing to not help and instead just watch me die.
Then I was pulled one last time into the water's depths by my feet. The next thing I remember was holding on to my dad and crying. My dad had been a lifeguard when he was young. My mom had been screaming for me the whole time and pointing where I was. He swam underwater and grabbed me by my feet and pulled me out. My father saved me by swimming for me and my mother's quick thinking saved me as well.
Remembering this memory has always made me aware of certain beliefs. I have come to believe that there are two kinds of people in this world. Those that try to help you and those that do nothing and watch you drown.
When I say that mental illness can feel like drowning I don't mean just metaphorically. It can actually physically feel like drowning. It seems like it swallows you up and the more you struggle the more you go under. I think part of me recognizes that some people, like the woman on the inner-tube, do not know how to help or worse don't care enough to try. Many people have the bystander syndrome, where they assume others will help so they do not have to. Many people would rather not get involved in other's troubles, problems, or issues. What I learned from this whole ordeal, besides how to swim afterwards, is that I am a person of action. That to deny someone help or understanding is wrong. To deny someone suffering especially when you know exactly how their suffering feels, is unacceptable. I will always ask "What can I do" and "How can I help".While I can not promise that I know everything or can save anyone, I can damn sure promise that I am not going to sit back, do nothing, and watch them drown.