The Feeling of Drowning

By Jeanette Messano

“I feel like I am drowning. I have felt like that for a really long time.”

Many years ago, after being kicked out of my house with my young family, I was  drunk on a friend’s floor. The kind of drunk where you suddenly realize you can’t get up. I laid there, crying, telling her and her husband that I felt like I couldn’t go on. 

There was so much piled on us. I was twenty years old; my car was broken; my roommates threw us out. I worked full-time; my husband didn’t have a job. We were living with three single people because I was making minimum wage, grossing about $1400 a month. Rent was $800-$1000 a month. We were living paycheck to paycheck and I had nothing in savings. I couldn’t afford to rent a house, get my car fixed and still feed my family. 

I loved my son with every fiber of my being and worked hard to make sure he never knew the kind of stress I was feeling. He was the only thing keeping me from giving up.

With my pathetic state, my friend asked her husband to drive me home that night. I was a crying, sobbing, snotty mess. I could hardly sit up straight. He sat and listened to me cry and worry. When we stopped at my house, I didn’t want to get out of the car. I was so worried about people seeing me lose my cool.

We sat while I gathered myself, breathing deeply, calming down, drying my face.

He sighed. He looked at his steering wheel and said “I know this is hard. I want you to know, I understand. Sometimes it seems like I am drowning too.”

I suddenly realized I was not alone. 

When I finally went inside, I went to my son’s bedroom. He was 2 years old, wrapped up and sleeping sweetly. He had no idea I was struggling so hard. He didn’t understand that we would not be living in this house much longer. He trusted his parents to keep him safe and knew that everything was okay. 

Truly, everything was okay.

I have always struggled with depression. Sometimes it is just a tinge in the back of my mind. Sometimes it overtakes me. I have on a few occasions in my life been suicidal, and even to this day, often have suicidal thoughts. As I have grown and learned to live with my troubles, I have found that we are all dealing with something. Some are more obvious than others but there is not one person I have met so far that does not deal with some degree of mental troubles. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, autism, addiction and many more are common; yet, when we are in the depths of these turbulent waters we feel alone. What’s worse  is we often isolate ourselves, telling ourselves that we are a burden to our friends and our families; that the love we are given is fake or superficial. We begin to see ourselves as a lost cause.

You are far from alone. You are not lost.

At one particularly difficult time in my life I found myself drifting into thoughts of the end. Everything was “wrong”. I was such a horrible person. No one would ever care about me or want me in their lives again. I needed to wrap up some affairs and end things.

I began counter arguing that I still had so much more to do. I was in the middle of so many things! And most importantly, every time I thought of harming myself, I would remember that I had three children that made my heart swell. I thought of what would happen if I were not here for them. I put myself in their position and tried to feel what they would feel. 

What pain! What betrayal!  

I was reminded of the images that have floated around on social media for a while now of an owl

“Just give me a stick. I’m not dying out here.” In my life over and over again my kids have been my stick. They have been my meaning and my reason. They have saved my life in many ways over and over again. Such beautiful and sweet souls. Had I given in when times got tough, I would not have the honor of knowing their kindness and heart. I would not have been introduced to the amazing young adults the older two are now becoming. I would have allowed my pain to have overcome my love. The pain they would have had to endure when I decided to run when times got tough would have altered them. They would not be the same and that would have been my fault. They are so important to mee that I will bear the worst torture with a smile to ensure their health and happiness.

In the end, Love wins. 

When I finally found my meaning, I knew that not only must I stay alive, but I needed to do everything in my power to get better. I was sick. I needed help and I knew that I was not in any position to help anyone at that point, not even myself. 

Counseling or therapy is so much more than talking about your problems. As I told my friends, mental illness can feel like you are lost in the middle of a violent ocean. Like no matter how you try you, sink in–or are pulled down.

Imagine, actually being in that situation. You become exhausted. You find it more and more difficult to keep your head above the water and you start to sink. Eventually you succumb to the waters and you are pulled deeper and deeper-unable to breathe, unable to see. All you can think about is how this will be your end. It would become impossible to think about anything else. Sometimes, when people are in situations like this, they literally are so frightened they lash out at their rescuers- just as those with mental illness sometimes do to their well-meaning friends and family. When someone is drowning, they need someone that knows how to keep their head together and provide a floatation device. The lifeguard. A professional. Someone that can help you calm down, stop sinking, stop flailing. Someone that can even perform life-saving techniques such as CPR if needed.

There is no shame in needing help, nor in asking for it. We all need a professional to guide us at times. Occasionally we need a team of professionals, even hospitalization. And while accepting help can feel like defeat, it is far from it. You are arming yourself with new skills. You are being taught to swim. 

Whether your troubles are from an outside source-such as mourning a loss or losing a job-or due to a chemical imbalance, I want you to know that you are beyond worthy of help. You are loved. You matter. Keep fighting and find help. It is so important. If you or someone you love is in a situation that is no longer manageable at home, contact your local mental health provider or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. Please, never feel like you shouldn’t seek help when it all just becomes too much.

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About the Author

Jeanette Messano is a graphic designer, a writer, a business owner, a mother, and an artist. She owns and operates JEM Graphics and founded the Mind Travelers online magazine. She loves life and-of course- an interesting story.