When I was little, I used to try to hold my breath for as long as I could. My eldest brother was always really good at it. He’d sip the air, pinch his nose, close his eyes and submerge himself in the bathtub. I remember counting out loud, fascinated by his talent. I saw him as superman; a God. And I thought to myself, that he would live forever because even if he was sinking or suffocating, he’d be okay. Because he always was. “149, 150, 151...” Minutes would pass, then eventually he’d resurface, giggle and carry on soaping his skin.
I was never quite as good. As soon as I sunk my ears below the surface, i’d instantly panic. I’d pretend to be cool and collected, but truthfully I was incapable of finding calm - I felt vulnerable and exposed. And even though I knew I could come up to breathe whenever I wanted, I felt trapped.
In retrospect, I think our reactions to that scenario says a lot about our personalities.
You see, my eldest brother has always been so relaxed, confident and easy going. Nothing ever phased him too much, nor did he ever ask for anything. He’s always been an old man stuck in a boys body. As if he aged like wine whilst in the womb. Ripe and sweet.
And my existence has always contradicted that. I was born wired, anxious, energised. I could never sit still, keep quiet or feel satisfaction. I always craved more, wanted more, needed more. I was never content; settled and happy. Then around the age of 15, it got worse. I had everything I could ask for, and yet I was so deeply unsatisfied that my soul began to singe. I could feel it burn. It was as if someone was burning a hole in my lungs with the end of a cigarette, one inch at a time. But i’d just smile, and pretend it was alright. Pretend I wasn’t drowning in my own mind or being swallowed by the ghosts that haunted my existence.
Soon I was consumed. The ocean of darkness devoured me; the ruminating thoughts, the self hatred, the emptiness, the numbness, the nothingness.
It was cold. Lonely.
Depression isn’t like holding your breath in a bath tub. It’s like being isolated in the middle of the sea. Stuck somewhere beneath the air above and the bottomless pit beneath you. It’s dark, entirely blacked out. You don’t know if you’re a couple of metres deep, or sinking like a magnet. You have no idea what’s around you. Constantly afraid of danger. Yet the thought of dying doesn’t frighten you. You’re suffocating, drowning. There is no air, no escape. And eventually, you learn not to fight back any more. You surrender. And sink deeper. You can feel the happiness leaving your body like air leaving your lips, slowly bubbling to the surface.
This place became my home for a while. I found comfort in the silence, in the solitude. I fed on my own heart and sipped on my soul. I consumed myself entirely, ate myself inside out. And when I did finally resurface, I looked the same, but there was something indescribably different about me.
I remember thinking to myself that I didn’t care if I lived or died because I was already dead. I had killed my own light, and now existed only as a body. An empty vessel. Hollowed and filled with no more than echoes from the past.
Back then, it all seemed so complicated. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to breathe unrestricted, let alone how to do it.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
I wish I knew that all I had to do was relax, and eventually i’d float. I didn’t know that instead of sinking, I could swim.
I didn’t know that it wouldn’t last forever and one day i’d feel the sunshine on my face again; one day i’d remember how to use my cheeks and smile.
Looking back now it all seems so simple.
If I didn’t want to suffocate, all I had to do was come back to the surface and breathe.
Just like when I was little and holding my breath in the bathtub.
No one was holding me under, I created the weights that sunk me all on my own. And to release them, all I had to do was let them go.
I had no reason to panic, not then, not now.
Bathtub or ocean, the water doesn’t want us to sink. It doesn’t have an agenda of its own. The water is just water. It is up to us whether we choose to let it drown us, or float through it effortlessly.
Love and light,
Pic by my brother Sam Earp (@samearp)