The sun was sinking in the sky, throwing gold glitter across the lake we’d been swimming in all afternoon. I was in it to my ankles while Phoebe played at my side and Julia made one last swim for the floating dock. Dave was back at the blanket with Lucy and Jack and the rest of our group getting dry and packed up for the day. The last of the thinned-out crowd were heading for their cars. Per usual, we were the ones closing the place down.
I shielded my eyes from the glare off the water and watched Julia swim. She slowed to a stop part way to the dock and turned around.
I waved and shouted, “Change your mind?”
She lingered there, bobbing.
“Julia? You okay?”
Her face slipped under the water and reappeared for a second before going under again.
I screamed. “SHE’S DROWNING! OH MY GOD, SHE’S DROWNING!”
A life guard was in the water before I’d gotten all the words out. I was still screaming as they brought her back on the beach and when she fell into my arms, coughing and crying. Only then did everyone else realize something was wrong. It happened so fast, they didn’t see it and they hadn’t heard me shouting.
Though Julia seemed alright physically, I took her to the emergency room. They did a chest x-ray and made her run up and down the hallway and listened to her lungs, which were clear and healthy. We got home late that night and after everyone else went to bed, we cuddled up on the couch, just the two of us, and watched movies. I wrapped my arms around her and relished the feeling of the rise and fall of her chest and her breath on my cheek.
I’ve spent a lot of time soothing myself with the sound of my children’s breath. It’s what kept my heart beating when Jack was in the NICU. And in the two years that followed, sitting in their bedroom in the dark after they fell asleep, listening to their breath was what kept me breathing when my room was too quiet and I was overwhelmed by the the thought that breath is all that separates us from death.
You can’t always tell when someone is drowning. Julia didn’t really look like she was in trouble at that lake two years ago. She didn’t flail or scream like she was fighting for her life. She was silent and still, pleading wordlessly for me to realize she needed help. I watched every excruciating second of her struggle in the water without realizing for most of it that it was a struggle.
The same is true with depression.
After Jack was born, I struggled with it. I had panic attacks that left me fighting for my breath almost daily. I kept reliving the experience of nearly losing him. And I found it hard to live with the thought that I could lose any of my children, and I thought about that all the time. So I was silent and still and careful and fearful and miserable, until I asked for help. I took antidepressants for a while. I leaned on Dave more than I ever thought I could. I had some dark days, but things are much better now. They are getting better every day.
When I sat down to write today, my intention was to tell you about Phoebe’s fifth birthday. Then I realized I had never written about her fourth. I’d wanted to. I had started a draft and uploaded the pictures. But I was too afraid of inviting judgment I didn’t feel strong enough to handle, which seems sort of silly now. I know I can still write about it and I will. It feels like poking a bruise when I think of all the memories I didn’t keep here during that tough time. Even when things were difficult, there was still joy to be found.
There is always joy to be found.
It’s so much easier to remember that when you have a place to keep evidence of it.