I come up for air and my head breaks the water. I’m nine years old and I wipe the salty sea out of my eyes as I stand up, feet sinking into the muddy bottom of the Mississippi Sound. I squint into the sun, looking out to Cat Island in the distance. The water comes up to my belly and I sink back under the water, unimpeded by the gentle waves of the Sound. You’re not supposed to open your eyes under water, but I do anyway. In this moment I break the rules and open my eyes under the warm brown water. You can’t tell from the beach, but under the water I see that it is brown, like the mud mixed with the sand at the bottom, but lighter. The sun makes it in through the surface, illuminating the brown gulf. There’s not much to see under there. I look down to the bottom, which I am afraid to touch. It is a mix of sand and Mississippi mud, encrusted with broken shells and bits of sea grass drifting through with the tide.
I come up for air.
The water is in my blood and has been with me since my birth. These last few weeks have been rough. Hardest in my life? Too soon to tell. But slowly, my days have been getting easier and my nights less lonely. I’m no longer drowning. I’m swimming up towards to the light. I’ve come up for air.
I’ve had to learn some lessons I never wanted to learn. I believed in the tolerance of my friends, in their loyalty to me, in their goodness. I believed that my friends would be impervious to the stigma attached to mental illness; I believed they were loyal; I believed they were my allies.
But I’ve had to learn that I’m not always right. A hard lesson to learn, especially for me in all my self righteous vanity. Friends really can vanish. They really can leave you. It doesn’t matter how many times you were there for them, how many times you’ve listened to them cry, how many times you’ve checked on them to make sure they were ok. It doesn’t matter, not in the end, because no matter how unfair it seems, you can’t make people like you; you can’t reason with friends who don’t want to hear the truth; you can’t change a mind that’s stubbornly been made up.
I’ve been sinking. But lately I’ve found the strength to swim. The outpouring of support from all you of you who are kind enough to follow my blog has not gone unnoticed and has not left me unaffected.
Water is in my blood and maybe I was born to swim. And swimming is what I’ve started to do. Although the emptiness of my apartment still reminds me of a friend lost, I’ve begun to accept the silence and grow in spite of it. You see, each night that I survive, each day that I fight off my loneliness and keep living, is a stroke upwards. These strokes add up and slowly but surely they are bringing me up from the depths.
The support of the few friends that have stood by me, the love of and acceptance of newly found friends, and the help of my family has increased my buoyancy. I’m no longer sinking. I’m no longer crying myself to sleep. The listlessness has slunk away, taking with it pieces of my depression. The support of true friends is beginning to chip away at my loneliness. I’m beginning to fight the undertow, the pull of my illness which wants me to drown in the depths.
I’ve come up for air. My head is above the water and the world around me is no longer so empty. Graduation is looming, and the stress of finals with it. But I am no longer afraid. My fight to swim from the depths into the light has strengthened me. I have energy again. And day by day I’m getting closer to the shore.
I’m still in the water. But I’m no longer sinking– I’m swimming, I’m fighting, I’m coming up for air. The shore is in sight and water is in my blood. I will weather the storm, the same storm that, days earlier, I wasn’t sure I would survive. But the water is in my blood and I still have the will to live. Every new found friend and source of support puts force behind my strokes and keeps my head above the water. Looking down into the depths, I see the ones who’ve left me behind. The ones that left me alone. The ones I burdened. The ones that betrayed me. They’re still at the bottom of the depths. But with each stroke I get closer to the shore and farther from the obstacles and undertow of failed friendships, each one trying to keep me underwater, away from the light. With each stroke and with each passing day, the scars begin to fade. And with each day, less painful than the one that preceded it, my strokes grow stronger.
I’ve come up for air. And I’m not going back down to the depths. I have the strength I need behind me and soon enough I’ll make it to shore. Having water in your blood doesn’t protect you from the dangers that water brings. But, when you want to, it does help you stay a float. And, when you’re ready, it does help you find the shore.
I’ve finally come up for air. And this time I’m not going back down.