I can still see the flashes of light, looking up toward the sky from the bottom of the pool, the way the sun played on the ripples of water. I can still see my hair swirling around like the mermaids I often pretended to be, but surely mermaids don’t thrash and flail and reach and fight the water. Surely, mermaids don’t sink like this.
I can still see the bubbles rising to the surface where I desperately longed to be. I can still remember the slow realization that I wasn’t getting any closer to my destination, that I was running out of air, that I was drowning.
I remember watching the sky, the surface, the air my lungs needed, getting further and further away, and the sheer terror of not being able to do anything about it. I helplessly starred at the sun in the distance, praying that someone would save me, pull me out of these deep waters and into the light.
When I was five I almost drowned.
My parents thought I was a pretty good swimmer. I had taken swim lessons, and I was a smart kid. I didn’t usually take risks, but that day I was at a pool with bigger kids and I forgot my limits. I went into a deeper part of the pool than I was used to, and I panicked. I began to sink.
I remember so much about drowning. Almost 40 years later, it startles me how clear it is when I close my eyes. I can still picture the water, the bubbles, the sky, the deep, the loneliness, the fear.
It still catches in my throat, how lonely and afraid I felt. I was trying with all my might, with all my strength, to save my own life, and I was so incredibly afraid I would fail. All I had was myself. My pitiful, useless, little arms and legs that weren’t getting me anywhere. I was all alone in the deep water, in the darkness, and I was absolutely terrified.
…But my father saved me.
What I didn’t know was that my dad jumped in almost immediately. He had never taken his eyes off me and once I started going under, he dove in, with all his clothes on, shoving kids out of the way, throwing all of his strength, all of his resources into saving his child.
When I felt the most alone and the most terrified, he was already in the water with me. When I was the furthest from the light, my dad was actually closest to me. His arms were right outside my reach, heading toward me, just about to pull me up and out and into safety, at the moment I felt the most unsafe, the most abandoned, the most despair. He was already there.
In 2006, I almost drowned again.
I wasn’t myself. I had gained some weight, and I just felt out of sorts. Less interested in things I used to enjoy. Having a harder time sleeping. More and more stressed, and crying more than I ever had before. I made an appointment with my doctor thinking it was my thyroid because don’t we always want to blame everything on our thyroid, but my doctor had other ideas.
“I think you have depression.”
I didn’t know what to do. I drove home in a haze. My husband was already there waiting to ask me how it went. As I spoke that word to him, (That word. “Depression.”) I realized how deeply sad it made me that this drowning feeling had a name. A name that I had feared for so long because all I knew of mental illness was that people gave in, they succumbed, they sank, they drowned.
Depression was pulling me under. While everyone else moved through life with ease, keeping their heads above water, I was sinking. The water wouldn’t obey me. It didn’t care that I needed air. It pulled me down, deeper and deeper into the darkness. The light was getting further and further away. I felt alone and afraid all over again.
…but my Father saved me.
I know now that my Heavenly Father never took His eyes off me. I felt incredibly alone, flailing, fighting, gasping for air. I felt like I was all on my own, slipping away, sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness, but I was never out of His reach. I was never as far from Him as it felt, as it seemed. When I felt closest to death, He was closest to me. His outstretched hand and mighty arm were always there, right next to me, around me, pulling me up toward the Light.
Just like my earthly father, my Heavenly Father threw all His strength, every resource at His disposal, toward saving me. In my case, He used friends, family, therapy, medication, exercise, nutrition, prayer, Scripture, and of course, the Light of Jesus, to bring me up and out of the depths of depression. As I fought for my life in the weighted waters of mental illness, He was surrounding me with the strength and support I needed to rise to the surface again. And while I gradually made my way out of the darkness, while I waited for the medication and therapy and everything else to do its healing work, I focused intently on the Light of Jesus. Jesus was a vital point of reference as the waters swirled around me. I knew if I kept my eyes on the Son shining in the distance, even if He seemed far away and out of reach, the darkness would not win.
It’s been years now since the darkest seasons of my depression, but I still hold that image close to my heart. When I have dark days or nights, when I feel like I’m beginning to sink, I remember that I may feel alone, but I am not, in fact, all on my own. God has never left me or forsaken me. He will not allow me to slip away into the deep waters. He will not let me drown.
He is with me in the water, rescuing me from the deep waters of depression, over and over and over again.
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.”Psalm 18:16
Lord, I pray that whoever is reading this will feel Your presence and know that You are with them in whatever darkness they experience. I pray they keep their eyes on the surface of the water, on the pinprick of light in the distance, and trust that you will pull them up and out. You will fill their air with lungs. You are our rescuer, our Good and Faithful Father. You will never leave us or forsake us. You draw us out of deep waters and bring us into spacious places because you delight in us. Thank you, Lord, for Your steadfast love. Amen