How I Didn’t Drown

Welcome to another #GruesomeFriday! As you might have learned before, I thought I was having a terminal cancer for the better part of 2017 (while in reality, I was going batshit crazy). When I ran out of illnesses that could have explained why I felt like I was about to die soon, my sick brain was quick to invent another ghastly pastime. Fatal accidents. I started to dream about them day and night. It usually started pretty innocent. The deaths liked to come while I was doing something that used to make me feel very alive indeed.

Freediving is a nice example to start with. I do it to keep my body and mind in shape (not very successfully at least in terms of the latter part, as one might say when reading these posts). Lately I’ve been much less rigorous about the training regime than before the kids came, but I still manage to do at least a pool session every now and then.

One morning, I think it was in the end of May 2017, I went for one such “maintenance” training. There were about two people in the pool when I was warming up, and I was completely alone by the time I started to zoom there and back underwater in a series of 50m sprints with monofin. The sun was out behind the big glass wall, making the ripples on the surface paint the bottom with hundreds of tiny liquid rainbows.

It felt like the best training in a long while. The problem came when I started to breathe up for the longer distance routine. Anything up to 100m is no big deal even in my current sorry shape, but that day I felt like I was going for a personal best. Which means very nervous. Even anxious, one might say. The fact that the life guard was lost in his phone didn’t make my mood any better. I already had one blackout in that pool when pushing my limits. The dear buddy of my wife brought me back to senses before the life guard on duty even noticed anything was amiss.

I tried to go through all the relaxation exercises I could remember but I couldn’t calm down. I was sure that if I take that last big breath and push off the wall, there will be no more breaths for me, ever. I literally saw my body, motionless at the bottom of the pool after a blackout no one had noticed. I trembled in the sunlit pool for another minute, then I got out of my monofin and left, feeling more beaten than ever for reasons I couldn’t puzzle out.

Other than the freediving, I also used to surf a bit, though surfing may not be the best word for my rendition of that sport. More fitting description would be flailing about on waves in ungainly attempts to stay put on the board while trying to do all those things the real surfers do with way more grace and confidence.

One day I caught a wave of my life (it’s not that difficult when you’re starting out, pretty much any wave that doesn’t shake you off straight into a wipe out is likely to become the best you ever rode). I remember my excited screams when I felt the wave rising just beyond my back, when I saw that tall green wall in the corner of my eye, a liquid, moving slope that kept pushing me, faster and faster, for twenty seconds that felt like all my life till then.

Yeah, if was great, there is no doubt about that. But when I paddled back out, hungry for more, something went terribly wrong. I was watching the kelp-covered reef pass under my board when I saw my disembodied head there, crushed on a submerged rock. The skull was caved in, letting my life dissolve in the ocean. Halo of quickly cooling blood was all that had remained of me. I never made it back into the line up that day. I was scared to even try and stand up on the whitewater rollers I took to the shore.

You think dying while doing stuff I loved was bad? Well, it was, but worse things were still to come. I started to see accidents where other people were dying, too, and those dreams were vivid like memories of things that actually happened.

The following is one of the worse nightmares of this particular type. Some time in spring of 2017, my best friend convinced me that it might be a good idea to try open water swimming. Why not, I thought, might be interesting. I’ve always loved being in water (as you might have noticed by now) so I was eager to expand my waterman portfolio.

We were having great fun. Pretty much every week we swam in the river by our office, happy to be out after busy days of hacking into our keyboards. And then I woke up in the middle of the night after one session, seeing my buddy sucked into rumbling rapids that somehow appeared out of the blue in the calm river we knew so well. I dragged my friend out. His body was all limp, his eyes closed, face ashen. His ribs were showing through red and yellow pulp of deep lacerations. I was hopelessly trying to fall asleep till the morning, doubting I ever will be able to step into that river again.

I think three examples of what haunted me after I shook off those imagined cancers are enough. There were many more deaths like that, though perhaps not in such cool watery settings. Some days even the most mundane activities like spreading butter on a slice of bread somehow went terribly wrong in my head. But I’ll tell you about that later. Now I’d better conclude this post and be off.

Some time in early summer of 2017, I finally admitted to myself that something was rather wrong with my mind. It was as if my brain was going through great pains to turn everything I really enjoyed into quite physically appalling activity. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that it took me so long to realise my body was not to blame for the way I felt. I suppose I kind of knew already since the first panic attack, but it took months to acknowledge that the problem most likely really was “just” in my head.

Great progress, one would think. Knowing your enemy is the first step to winning the battle. Only I didn’t make it all the way there. I still didn’t dare to admit what the name of the beast was, though I had all the clues I could wish for. The depression theory was an obvious one, but I discarded it right away back then. I was such a happy-go-lucky guy after all. How could I possibly have contracted that weird mental bug? It must be something else, I thought, reassured, but no less sick than before.

The way I see it now, such thinking may very well be part of the disease mechanics itself. At least it has worked that way in my case. Sure, there is this social stigma thing that might be fueling such denials, but I don’t think it’s only about that. My personal specimen of this madness felt as if it had built a cozy life-support system for itself, quite like most solid cancers do. Whenever I came with something that had the power to wash away the grime that was smothering my mind, the madness ebbed away. But it was always just a feigned maneuver to regroup and adapt, and come back in different shape, stronger than before.

I could only beat such a thing if I saw through those evolutionary tricks. That was to happen eventually, but much much later than it could have if I did that simple thing and asked someone to help me out.

Anyway, if you think I went through some pretty shitty time by the events described in this post, you’d be right. Yet it got worse. Much worse. Before we get to that, though, we’ll have a little break. From next week on, I want to dig into possible reasons of my obsession with death and dying in a sort of series within a series. So stay tuned for a deeper trip into my past and unconscious!

7 thoughts on “How I Didn’t Drown

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