When Depression Strands You at Sea

By Becca GaleOctober 5, 2016

When depression stranded me at sea, I thought it was the end of everything good in my life. No one could seem to make things better, not my family, not my counselor, not my psychiatrist, not my friends, not my God. I felt myself slipping beneath the waves of emotional turmoil, hopelessness, disappointment, self-hatred, and unspeakable hurt. And no one could throw a life vest my way. Every time I spotted help on the horizon and swam to it, I found it was only a mirage. The ship I was cast from, the friends I thought I could count on to dive in and swim after me, had long disappeared into the distance. As I struggled, the roar of the waves that surrounded me silenced my cries for help.

Finally, I gave up trying to find rescue. I realized that all I could do was tread water until something—anything—came along. There were times I wanted to give in, just fall beneath the waves and let them carry my body to shore where everyone would regret how they neglected me. But I remembered that I had a responsibility to myself—to my younger self who dreamed about the great things she would one day accomplish. So I kept swimming even though those dreams were nowhere to be seen.

I eventually made it to shore, but I found myself in a new country. Although this was not my homeland, I realized I could never go back—not after what happened. I had to make shelter where I landed. So I dropped out of school and accepted the surprisingly difficult purgatory of Rest and Recovery. I quickly found that although I might be safely ashore again, things were not as easy as I thought they would be. I thought that I had closed my story, put the final period on that dramatic chapter of my life at sea, but the memories kept coming back.

It was then that I thought I had come to the end of myself, that there was no hope for me. So I poured out my shattered dreams and watched them get whisked away like grains of sand in the wind. I was stuck. Stuck at home. Stuck in a mire of being too healthy to be hospitalized but too sick to function normally. Stuck in a cycle of old emotions that kept coming back to torment me. Stuck reprimanding myself for being stuck.

But gradually the tides began to change. The poisons that had been destroying me both physically and emotionally with fatigue, apathy, and hopelessness slowly drained from my system. New support systems and treatment were thrown into my path to help me regain my grip on life. I severed ties with those who had shown their true colors as fair-weather friends on my journey and learned to stand on my own two feet. I found a new school that fit my new set of needs and was amazed to find it was an even better place for me than where I had been before. Exciting opportunities have come into view on my horizon, and now I am building my own boat to sail off in this new direction. My crew is still sparse and I still feel a bit jealous when I see the headway others my age have already made while I’m stuck ashore still building my ship, but mostly I am hopeful. Because I know that a mere six months ago I was stranded, fully convinced there was no hope for me.

When I hear news of old friends getting married, getting jobs, and getting pregnant, I think back to the sculpture I made in one of my first art therapy sessions after dropping out of school: an oyster reef. The new organisms make their home on the shells of the departed ones, the living and the dead intertwined. To me, the sculpture represented rebirth: The old, dead dreams and hopes of my past life remained in my heart, but they would now serve as a foundation for the new life I was building. That is where I find myself now: being reborn in so many ways. I am still struggling, but I am also rising from the ashes I thought would be my grave. Now I am stronger, freer, wiser, more grateful, and more intentional about living my life and loving others.

Sometimes the waves start to rise again and lap dangerously at the base of my new boat, and I become afraid that I will go under again. But when I’m tempted to give up hope and sink beneath those waves, I remember that little girl who used to dream of what she would be, and I grab the ropes to begin the journey to safety and recovery once again.

For her.

For me.

Leave a Reply

Comments (12)

  1. Pingback: Wildcat Thunder : National Depression Screening Day

  2. Bellla

    Proud of you!
    I remember a while back thinking that I didn’t need to tread water to get by, I could lay back, float, enjoy the sky and let the waves take me to where I need to be, until I can swim again.
    Your sculpture sounds great. Do you still create?
    Thanks again for writing this and sharing it.
    You’re in my prayers.
    God bless

    Reply  |  
  3. Quinn

    I am feeling how you felt right now. It’s so awful and loud. Thank you for this and sharing your hope. I grateful l.

    Reply  |  
  4. Michelle

    Ohhh!!! That was so BEAUTIFULLY written, it resonated so deeply with my own story, and my soul. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply  |  
  5. Khedra

    My current position: “Stuck at home. Stuck in a mire of being too healthy to be hospitalized but too sick to function normally. Stuck in a cycle of old emotions that kept coming back to torment me. Stuck reprimanding myself for being stuck”.

    Thank you for this. It was much needed. Praying to get to shore soon.

    Reply  |  
  6. Alison

    Very sorry that you have experienced such pain, especially at such a young age. How you have transformed your life and means of coping are inspirational. You are an amazing writer. You have a gift, and you are giving, as you tell your story of survival. I’m happy you are here to tell it. I hope you find writing to be therapeutic. Keep living and making your dreams come true.
    Depression is a very dark and lonely place. You are loved and that’s difficult to feel when nothing seems to help. You matter, you truly do.

    Reply  |  
  7. cathy

    Wow! This is so beautifully written! I can relate in so many ways. Thank you for the reminder that there’s always hope. God bless you and keep you always.

    Reply  |  
  8. Mark

    Beautiful. Honest. Refreshing. I resonate completely.

    Reply  |  
  9. Perla

    love this, i have always though that drowning is one of the best ways to describe depression so this really resonated with me. it reminded me of the song Swim by Jack’s Mannequin, a very inspirational song.

    Reply  |  
  10. Erin Bannerman

    I truly admire your courage and strength and determination.I have been treading water for pretty much my whole life and I actually have a true (but relatively unknown&often challenged) disease other than my true & often challenged mental illnesses. I probably should be in a hospital,but they just rush to get you out. I’m too ill to even see my personal physician on a fairly regular basis and of course he won’t come to me. Same thing with counseling, nobody is willing to come to me… and I TRY&TRY&TRY to get all the help I know I desperately need. How were you able to change it around and get the help you needed? Or anyone else that has read this and has found their way into a new&better life?

    Reply  |  
    1. Becca Gale

      That’s so tough. I really feel for you…Honestly, I think the major factor in things turning around for me was time. A lot of times I felt like nothing was changing and that the counseling wasn’t working and things would never get better. Looking back, I think that was because everything was changing so gradually and I was just inching towards better health with each counseling appointment, so it was hard to see any change happening. There were a lot of setbacks and times when things got worse, too. I never really had a breakthrough, which can be discouraging because that’s what we tend to expect in the healing process. I still get frustrated sometimes and feel like I’ve plateaued in my recovery, but I’ve learned to have faith that things are changing, if only by millimeters. But ultimately, when I look back at the last year, I realize that I learned so much in therapy and just in writing my thoughts down as I was processing through what was going on; over time my perspective changed, but I couldn’t tell you when it happened. I wish I had a more exciting answer, but I guess what I’m saying is don’t lose hope because there’s a lot happening inside of you for the better right now that you might not realize, so don’t give up hope! And trust and stick with the process of counseling and whatever other tools you’ve found that have helped you heal (art, writing, exercising, talking, etc.) even when it feels like they’re not working. And don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself in counseling (and other doctor’s appointments) and state your needs, be open if things aren’t working, or seek out a better counselor or doctor. But I can see that you have a lot of strength, wisdom, and courage and you’re already fighting hard to heal…that’s what matters. I think you’re going to do great things and have an incredible story to tell. I’m cheering you on! If it’s any encouragement, I’ve been writing a blog for the past year during my own healing process, a lot of it dealing with feeling stuck and like nothing is working for you (especially in the early posts). Here’s the link if you’re interested: thesedarkcafedays.blogspot.com

      Reply  |  
  11. irene

    sharing your story can be scary so thanks for sharing your story of your healing process. some days i feel hope and others hopeless and its always a different and new journey of recovery and healing when my anxiety or panic attacks and depression come back. They have never ceased to exist throughout different points of my life, i feel like its more like calm waters for years then hurricanes for now and it really resonated with me that everyday wont be a climb, some days feel like your falling back but we push through for that representation of our dreams and hopes and our aspirations. i strive each day for that inner me… i love you using the inner little girl in you to represent the part of you that you want to keep alive when you don’t feel like trying anymore. its a beautiful and pure part of us.

    Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.