True story… I almost drowned. Imagine a gorgeous day in Cancun. My first time ever in the Caribbean Ocean. We had literally been in the water less than 30 minutes. We hadn’t even been in the country a full day yet. This was our first day of the vacation…we had arrived, checked into our hotel, put on our swimsuits, and hit the beach. So here I am in the crystal blue water for the first time. Now, I had lived in Southern Florida for a few years in my pre-teens, but due to my asthma I have never been what anyone would call a strong swimmer. I have survival skills, but I just don’t enjoy any activity that involves holding my breath. So I figured the Caribbean Ocean would be like the other beaches I had been to before. Well, it was a little different. I got caught in a rip tide that was sweeping me further and further out so that before long I could no longer touch the bottom. I didn’t know that when this happens you are supposed to swim or walk sideways to get out of it; instead of trying to fight it and get back to shore head-on. So now I’m in panic mode because I realize that I’m in trouble and I’m getting tired of fighting the tide. My poor boyfriend (now husband) didn’t know, at the time, that when I am panicked or in pain, I laugh hysterically; so he assumed I was playing in the waves having fun. He didn’t try to save me because to him it looked like I was having a blast. Y’all I was in serious trouble. I guess finally he saw the panic in my eyes and realized that I wasn’t really having fun at all. Once he was close enough, I was able to tell him that I was really in trouble. Meanwhile the lifeguard is yelling at us to go sideways because we are too far out (Yeah, thanks buddy). After I was safely on the beach and could catch my breath again, he was able to tell me why he didn’t think I needed him. He was actually kind of upset with me for laughing when the situation was so serious. He was like, “You could have died, and you just kept laughing!” Until that day, I never really realized how dangerous my defense mechanisms could be. I had relied on them for so long to help get me through difficult situations, but I had never stopped to consider how that was really affecting me.
So now I make a point of telling people, and so does my husband, that I laugh when I am really hurt. Just because I’m laughing doesn’t mean I’m not hurt…sometimes the harder I laugh, the deeper the pain. Isn’t this kind of true for all of us though? Aren’t we all a little guilty of this? When someone hurts us, isn’t it sometimes easier to laugh instead of telling them that we are hurt? Then, just like me, you go and tend to your wounds when no one else is around to see how badly you are really hurting. Sometimes it isn’t another person that inflicts the pain, sometimes pain just comes and we laugh because we don’t know what else to do and everyone else is laughing. We don’t want to spoil the party with our pain; so we laugh, and then we go and catch our breath alone. Sometimes we cause the pain; so we laugh because that is what we do when we are in pain. We hurt others when we laugh at the pain that we caused them. I’d wager that we all have pain that we have tried to laugh off at one time or another.
I have learned some valuable lessons through the years. When I was a teenager growing up in church, I always thought people with tragic testimonies had a direct link to God that I just couldn’t understand. They would say things like, “Until you’ve walked this path you can’t know” or “I thought I knew God before this happened, but I had no idea” or “I had a spiritual awakening”. I wanted all of those things. I thought, good grief why does something bad have to happen to me for me to really know God?!? Then my young teenage, hungry for God, mind would kick in and I’d pray for something to happen so that I could have my testimony. Was I COMPLETELY insane?!?!? The answer is YES. Yes, I was. I was a teenager. I was too young, and too in the forest to fully understand that I was already living my testimony. My home life wasn’t uber stable and I didn’t handle that in healthy ways at all. My brother went to war when I was 14, and I was being sharpened for what was to come. I won’t lie, when my mom died a few years later, I seriously questioned whether or not my silly teenage prayers for a stronger testimony had finally been answered. I seriously screamed out to God that this was not what I meant. I never wanted a testimony this big… But guess what, this is the story that I have to live; how I live it is up to me. Y’all I can’t laugh my way through this. I just can’t. Don’t y’all get tired of laughing when all you want to do is be honest and say it hurts? Or that you are tired? Or that you are just okay? Sometimes it is okay to not be okay. You don’t have to laugh or cry…just be. Some days that is a feat in and of itself…am I right?
My man literally saved me from drowning that day in Mexico. He has continued to save me in so many ways over the years. The thing is, as close as we are, he still doesn’t always know when I’m sinking. Sometimes he hears me laughing and doesn’t know that I’m really hurting. I am surrounded by friends and family that love and support me, yet sometimes I don’t know how to start that conversation. How do you just stop laughing and tell them that something hurts? How do you look them in the eyes and tell them that you aren’t really laughing, you’re drowning? …tell them that you need help? …that you need them to reach out and grab you, pull you back in because you are tired of swimming and fighting the tide? It is so much easier to keep laughing, but sooner or later you’ll go under. You won’t be able to touch anymore, and you can’t keep swimming and laughing forever. No one is that strong. Eventually the tide wins. Friends we have to figure out a way to stop laughing at our pain. Understand that no one ever expected that. No one ever asked for that level of self-sacrifice; and if they did, they need to move along.
Now don’t misunderstand me here… I certainly am not one to believe that we should wallow in our misery and wear it like our favorite pj’s. I’m not talking about when we are in a bad mood and just want to stew for a minute. In those cases, perhaps we all need to figure out a way to pull up our own britches and get a move on. There is a distinct difference between being in a mood, and drowning…if you don’t know the difference, then you’ve probably never almost drowned before. It honestly isn’t a feeling you’ll forget.
I have lost too many friends in the past several years to suicide, and depression related diseases. One is too many. My heart aches when I think of how many times they might have been laughing, but they were really drowning. They felt broken and tired, but all I heard was their laughter. I saw what they wanted me to see, not what they needed me to see. When I remember back to times that I might have been able to help, or to reach out to them had I only known they needed me to… my heart breaks. I just wish we could all be better about asking for help when we need it. Ask for help before we need it. Establish those lines of communication so that they are open and ready when we really need them. Don’t wait until you’re drowning to try to get someone’s attention. Ask for a hand, a shoulder, someone to talk to when you just don’t want to be alone. Look around, are people drowning around you? Do you realize they’re drowning, but you don’t want to get involved? I’ve never lost sleep at night over the people I’ve offered to help that might not have needed me…
Find your person, your community, your boat…be those things for others. We are all in this together. No one should ever feel truly alone. Be bold, reach out.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255