This past weekend, I had the chance to go to a conference with other women from my church. It lasted all day Saturday, and not only was it a needed "day off" from mommy-ing (thanks, Dallin!), but it was also a great chance to think, feel, learn, and plan.
One of the speakers shared a thought that made me think of something, and I haven't been able to get that "something" out of my head, so I'm going to share it here.
This speaker told the story of how she, as a teenager, was struggling with depression—really heavy depression. She felt alone and helpless. She wanted to take her own life.
While she was telling us about this, there was a picture of her at that age up on the projector screen. It showed a very normal-looking older teenage girl. She was smiling. She looked happy. And the words next to this picture said, "She was drowning, and no one could see the struggle."
For some reason, seeing those words up on the screen led me to a connection I'd never made before.
I thought about actual drowning—like in water.
When we think of drowning, we think of someone thrashing about wildly, screaming for help, keeping their head above water as best they can, waving frantically. They do whatever they can to get attention, because that's what will save them, right?
Actually, wrong. In the past few years as I've learned about water safety for my kids, I've learned the same thing many of you have probably learned: that drowning is often quiet. (See this article or this video for more info.)
Drowning happens while other people watch. It happens when they look away just for a moment. It can happen while they sit on the beach and think, "Oh, they're fine. They'll swim back in no time!" (And yes, people who can swim can also drown.)
You see where I'm going with this?
I think the same thing is true for people who are drowning in other ways: mentally and emotionally. There were many—many—times during the talks and discussions I heard on Saturday when women referred to their state as a state of "drowning."
And yet, we don't see it.
"Drowning happens while other people watch. It happens when they look away just for a moment."
We see someone smiling and putting on a good face. She tells us she's "fine" when we ask how she is, and we believe her (why shouldn't we?).
We don't see her waving her arms frantically, yelling for help and gasping for air.
And so we think "She's strong. She's smart. She's happy. I see her laughing all the time. She's my friend. She's good."
"She can swim."
And in reality, she might BE fine. But she might also be fighting to keep her head above water. She might be too busy trying to stay alive to stop and ask for help.
She might be drowning, because drowning is quiet.
I can find two major takeaways from this.
1) Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open so that you can potentially spot people who are drowning. In fact, it's probably a safe strategy to treat everyone like they're drowning, because to some extent, they probably are. Be a safe space, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a smiling face. Just be a friend—a real, non-judgmental, loving, listening kind of friend—who's watching for signs of drowning and ready to help when you're needed.
Also, be open to feelings/inklings/impressions/ideas —whatever you want to call them— that encourage you to reach out to someone. Even if you just randomly have the idea to text someone and say you love them, or to drop some cookies off at their door, or whatever. Be open to it. Don't suppress it. It could help more than you know.
2) If you feel like you're drowning, do your best to make a noise. I know it's not your natural instinct. I know it might be really hard. I know you might feel embarrassed, or guilty, or ashamed, or just plain sad. I know, because I've been there.
But there are people that love you. They want to help you. They would be devastated to find out that you had been drowning all this time and they didn't know it.
So tell someone. Tell a friend or a family member or a spouse or a therapist or a complete stranger on the other end of a crisis hotline. Heck, tell me.
Just don't drown.
Thanks for reading, friends. You guys are the best.