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Posts Tagged ‘drowning’

Night Falls FastThe “wondrous tunneling” into the sun and subsequent falling back into the sea conjure an image of the dangerous relationship between exploration and recklessness.  Mania…is an aggressive and volatile state, but it is generative as well, an influential condition of contagious enthusiasms and energies.  The elements that in part define mania—fearlessness, a fast and broad scattering of thoughts, an expansiveness of moods and ideas, utter certainty, the taking of inadvisable risks—often carry with them the power to both destroy and to create.”   “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

Even though it’s June in Maui, the water is cold and dark, the beach all but deserted.  And while it’s a little late in the day for snorkeling, the sun having made its way west and begun its descent, I put on a pair of fins (but fail to tighten them after the last user) and place the mask over my face (the blue plastic air tube facing the wrong direction) and ease into the wet blackness.

Maui Four Seasons

Even though I’m a capable swimmer, the Darth Vader quality that my breath assumes as I inhale, exhale through the snorkel makes me anxious.  It is one of those rare times that I am completely aware of the connection between life and breath.  Floating there for a moment before heading off towards the reef, it is evident to me that this in-and-out of oxygen is the only thing keeping me alive.  It is as if “life” is something I can see as separate from myself, something borrowed, something on loan.  It is tangible, yet transient.

After swimming for a brief time I find myself levitating above a patch of uninhabited dark coral.  Well, maybe there’s an occasional Long Nose Butterfly or an Achilles Tang wandering past, muted by a lack of sunlight, but that’s all.  The lack of marine life in the area leaves me with only my heavy breathing and an eerie stillness to concentrate on.

In addition to my earlier mistakes in judgment (fins and snorkel,) I remove my mask because it is starting to make me claustrophobic and because it’s taken on some water.  There are two problems with this act.  First, I am in over my head, and second, I am unable to put the mask back on.  My repeated attempts to reinsert the mouthpiece only result in my ingesting large quantities of salt water.

As I struggle to reapply the mask, I take in more and more water.  I am gasping for air and as I do so I mange to inhale what seems like more fluid than oxygen.  It is then that one of my fins comes off.  Foolishly I reach for it, grasping it in my right hand, clutching it like a life preserver.  It occurs to me (rightly or wrongly) that no fin is better than one fin, so I remove the other and hold that one in the same hand with its mate.

By now I am hyperventilating, flailing, taking in more and more gulps of foul tasting seawater, which makes me even more anxious.  And heavier.  I go under once.  Twice.  I look off to the shore and spy my partner, virtually alone on the beach, reading in a deck chair, oblivious to my struggle.  He seems very far away.  And even though he was on the varsity swim team in high school, (if anyone can save me he can) that was years ago, and now he’s miles away, so I don’t hold out much hope for rescue.

I am in trouble.  I know that.  I am at death’s door.  I have never been more certain of anything in my life.   But I am resourceful.  Independent.  I try to float on my back while “swimming” backwards towards shore.  But I am in a riptide and no matter how much I move my arms and legs, I stay in the same spot.  No matter what I do I make no progress.  All my efforts simply result in my getting more and more exhausted and more and more anxious.  One more error in judgment that could prove to be fatal: I hang on to the fins in my right hand, seriously hindering my ability to swim in any direction.  I take in yet more water as my feet flail below me searching for something solid to light on.

At this moment things begin to slow down.  I am panicked, yet I am calm.  Death is near, I can feel it.  I know that I have gotten in over my head, this time quite literally.  Being bipolar, I am always doing that; spending too much, driving too fast, jumping out of planes, skiing faster than I should given my skill level.  But never before have I been so acutely aware of the consequences.

I am conscious that my mind is merely assessing the situation, not judging it.  “Okay, so this is happening.”

Having experienced suicidal thoughts as recently as six months ago, there is a part of me that wants to let go.  It’s quiet.  Peaceful.  The water gently rocks me, back and forth, back and forth.  I am anxious, panicked, but not especially frightened.  I could very easily take in a few more gulps of salty liquid and disappear below the surface.  When my partner looks up from his book and doesn’t see me he will not be surprised.  He will think I’m on other side of the reef, or that my profile, flat on the surface as I observe aquatic life, is just not visible from his spot on the beach.

I can’t say it was a conscious decision.  I can’t take responsibility for saving my own life.  But something, somehow, some force beyond my comprehension, caused me to cry out: HELP!

And again, HELP!  Off in the distance my partner looks in my direction, but makes no effort to get up.

HELP!  I can’t stop saying it now.  And yet it feels like a lost cause.

But there is a cost to crying out for help.  I have conceded.  I have given up.  I will be saved by someone else, or I will drown.  I know this.  At this point I am incapable of saving myself.  Once I committed my efforts to that option, all others came off the table.   There is not enough time for alternatives.

My partner slowly drifts towards the water, unsure if he hears me correctly, unsure if I am joking or not (we manic depressives inherently have a good sense of humor.)

As he dives into the water, my big toe briefly lights on a small outcropping of coral, just long enough for me to take in a breath or two of oxygen instead of saltwater.  I try to hover there but the gentle waves keep rocking me away from any safe footing.

My partner is on his way, but I am too far out and I have taken in too much water.  He’ll never make it.  And yet he does.  “Take my hand,” he says.  And I do.  And with only a few of my fingers curled around a few of his, he is able to swim backwards to shore, taking me with him.

And that was all there was to it.  That night at dinner at the Four Seasons, our table overlooking the very spot this all took place only a few hours earlier, we barely spoke of it.

And a month later I am not a changed person.  I had no epiphany.  No mad desire to live life to the fullest.  And I don’t know what that means.  Lately I’ve been reading a lot of blogs by writers questioning the meaning of life.  And I have never been more certain, because of this experience, that there is no meaning to life.  Any meaning we try to apply to it is merely our own ego trying to rationalize its own existence.  That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it, or do good while we’re here.  But searching for a reason for our own existence is as futile as trying to swim against the current.

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