Not Waving but Drowning

“Not Waving but Drowning”

-Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

This poem came to mind today on my drive home from work. I’ve been thinking lately about writing the entry I’m sending out now, and trying to figure out a way to explain my thoughts with as little cliche as possible; and, this poem captured the essence of what I’ve been living with for some time now.

I feel uncomfortable saying I am living with depression because I have not had a medical professional examine or speak with me and give me his/her diagnosis. But that’s not to say that I don’t completely feel it in me.

I know that many people use this term so very flippantly. Depressed is often used in place of sad, or bummed, or even in jest at some some slight. But I know what untreated depression can be like. My grandmother suffered from depression that I don’t think even she wanted to recognize, and she also suffered feelings of paranoia and rage. Her one sister was bipolar and attempted suicide more than once. Her other sister was institutionalized. So I know that depression is a real and serious thing. Nothing to say causally or without great reason. And so when I say that I believe I am living with depression, I don’t mean stress or sadness or anger or apathy. I mean all of these things in an overwhelming combination and intensity. And trust me, this is not something I’ve wanted to admit to myself, let alone others. But it is something that I have just come to accept very recently.

Imagine being at the beach enjoying yourself in the water and sunshine when you notice something in the distance. It’s small and fuzzy, but you can almost make out that it’s coming near. You look up and see an almost imperceptible change in the color of the sky and the intensity of the breeze. You have this unshakable feeling that something bad is coming. You look around to see if anyone notices and is worried, but everyone around you continues to have a good time. They don’t see what you see. They don’t feel the dread in the pit of your stomach. And so you think you’re imagining it. Maybe it really is nothing. Maybe it will go away. So you keep on doing what you were doing, but keeping the darkness in your peripheral. But even though you try to pretend nothing is happening, it is. The dark spot in the distance becomes bigger and comes clearer into focus. You watch it advance with detached curiosity. What is it this time? Is there a way out? You always wonder if there is a way out. But as always, you find that your legs have become lead. The sand is sucking at your limbs, pulling you down. You can now see that this darkness is a full-blown tidal wave and it’s drawing nearer and nearer without any stopping. You look around again to see if anyone else notices, but you find that there’s no one there. Where did everyone go? Why am I alone stuck here? But stuck you are. And you know with absolute certainty that no matter what you do or how much you fight, you will lose. And soon the wave washes over you. It doesn’t crash into you or knock you down; it swallows you whole. It pulls you under to the deepest depths of the sea and rocks you gently. And much to your surprise, you find yourself not even trying to get loose. You accept it, embrace it. It’s just so much easier to give in. It’s dark here, quiet, secret. And even though you think your lungs should burst from the pain, you really just feel nothing at all. An absolute blankness consumes you. No light, no joy, but no pain either. Just absolute void of all feeling. You just want to sleep. Just sleep it all away. But you can’t. Your eyes ache with fatigue, but your body remains alert. Alert, but inert. Here, but not really. And you remain here for some time. Days, weeks, it all varies. Until at last, and with no apparent provocation, you are slowly pushed to the surface again. You look around and notice that everything looks different, even though nothing has really changed. And then you notice that even though you were alone when the wave hit, everyone is back in their places again. And they look at you with careful eyes, but say nothing. They don’t ask where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, or anything else that would indicate they’ve noticed your absence. So you think maybe you’ve made it all up in your head. And you do your best to go back to enjoying the sun and the water while it lasts. Before another wave comes through again.

This is what the last year or so has felt for me pretty much without much ease. It always begins with this feeling in my chest, these jitters that give me a sense of unease. It always progresses into a whole-body consummation. And as much as I want to drag myself out of it, I just can’t. I wait and ride it out, and inevitably it settles down and dissipates. Sometimes after a few days, sometimes after a few weeks. In the past, a few months. But always I could find a way out. Something to grab on to and heave myself back into the land of the fully living. But the longer I live with this, the longer these moments last. And I’m starting to worry that they’re going to become more of my norm. And that’s not the way I want to live.

This would probably be a good time to mention that I am not in any single way suicidal. Don’t worry about that. Despite all, I love living so damn much. But I love living so much that I want to go back to living without this weight. And it frustrates me to no end that I can’t get rid of it by sheer force of will. For the ultimate control freak, this lack of control is infuriating.

I imagine that for many people who know me well, reading these thoughts will no doubt cause some surprise. I know. I think all in all, I do a pretty good job of hiding it. I’m so concerned with not inconveniencing anyone or showing weakness that I pass it off as a bad day or being unusually tired. I want to be the ultimate super mom: working full-time, coming home to make dinner, raise my babies, have hobbies, and go to sleep with a smile on my face. I don’t want my kids to see me sob for seemingly no reason. I don’t want to snap at them for no fault of their own. I want everyone to not worry. I’ll be fine. I always am.

But even though I am proud of my acting skills, my resolve is starting to deteriorate. I just want to withdraw as soon as I get home. I don’t want to hear any stories, or answer any questions. I want to be left alone in silence. I want to escape into a book where I can pretend I’m somewhere, someone else. I can’t be bothered to show any intimacy to my husband. I’m grappling with holding myself together. That if I give anything at all of myself, my facade with crumble to dust. And then what? What will we all do?

So I try to tell myself it’s all nothing.The school year will be over soon. Oh, maybe it’s just vitamin D deficiency. Maybe I’m overreacting. Even though I know I’m not. But maybe if I can convince myself otherwise, I’m not too far gone.

And as much as I want someone to say to me that they get it, they understand how I’m feeling, that they worry about me, that they recognize I’m barely above water most days; I really don’t want anyone to think I’m out of control, that I’m crazy. I also don’t want anyone to think I’m just full of shit or making things up. I guess I’m just so tired to feeling like I’m bearing this burden alone. But what kind of person would I be to ask the people I love most to help carry some of this weight that isn’t theirs to deal with? Why wouldn’t I want to spare them of this?

Usually I have an ending in mind for each of these posts. But this time I can’t figure out how to wrap it up. It’s been a struggle just to get this much done. In the hour I’ve spent working on this, I’ve vacillated between wanting to shut down and wanting to break down and cry. Instead I’ve pushed forward and continued to get whatever I could out of me. Even though I’m currently underwater, I still want to struggle my way out. I want to be better.

I just stopped writing because Lily asked what I was writing about. She asked if I was writing about my stress and sadness. I was shocked that she knew. I asked her to tell me how she felt having a mom that felt this way everyday–stressed, sad, short-tempered. And she told me she feels sad and wants to help, but doesn’t know how, but hopes I can help myself because I’m an adult and adults can solve anything.

Fucking broke me.


4 thoughts on “Not Waving but Drowning

  1. I can relate. I wrote this at the height of my Depression. I share it with you in solidarity.

    The Dance

    Broken and weeping,
    Sadness and anger in the
    Same tired dance–
    Entwined together
    More and more tightly–
    No escape for the weary

    Days and nights endlessly
    Running together
    A union in darkness,
    Then blindingly bright–
    But the sun never rises

    Eyes open widely yet seeing nothing
    But shadowy figures
    Restless and anxious
    Clinging to the walls
    Yet afraid to climb

    Deserted and alone
    Yet surrounded by people
    Well meaning and attentive
    But missing the obvious
    Misery well shrouded
    Yet glaringly apparent to those
    Also trapped in the same
    Morbid dance


    1. Thank you for sharing this with me. Also, thank you for taking the time to read my post. It really wasn’t easy putting it all out there, so it’s reassuring to find others who not only don’t see what I’m experiencing as a joke, but whom can also relate.
      I know it’s going to be a process of learning how to deal with these complicated emotions, but I am hopeful that like so many others, I will also find a way out.
      Again, thanks for your comment. 🙂


  2. Jennifer, one thing I do know is how awesome your kids are and in return how wonderful a mother you are. Please try and find a new job. Your writing is excellent, moving, and just plain amazing.


    1. Thank you, as always, for supporting my writing. I’m always on the lookout for a new job, but you know teaching positions are scarce around here. I just have to hope that someday I will be able to focus more of myself on my writing.


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