For me, an underwater experience is any situation that asks you to die before your death. You are fully alive but no longer sure you want to be. They are the life-changing moments, the impossible moments, the "I can't believe this is happening" moments, and they teach us how to live and breathe underwater. For some, the underwater experience may be brief, even if it feels like an eternity. For others, it is an ongoing experience that will last until the final closing of their eyes.
To me, it feels like drowning.
From the waters of the womb to the water of tears falling from the sky of my grieving mother, I came into this world. From one underwater space to another, I was born. A perfect little human that would, over time, become mermaid-like. With each visit to the depths of the sea, I come back with the impression that I am less and less human and more and more … merwoman—a being of some sort that swims between dimensions.
The list of my darkly aquatic experiences has grown so long that I often feel more and more like a fish out of water. I won't count or share all of my tragic, heartbreaking, impossible, inconceivable, and soul-altering experiences with you. We all have our horror stories. But I will tell you that many years ago, I was in a dreadful situation that seemed so impossible that I almost walked out into the Pacific Ocean to end my life. Instead, I walked home and painstakingly found my way forward, one tiny step at a time. These experiences have transformed me from the woman I was into who I continue to become.
When your feelings are bigger than you are
The most essential thing to acknowledge is that enduring is part of being human. No matter how often you find yourself diving (or drowning) into the dark abyss of impossible situations, shattered dreams, loss of loved ones, and grief in all its forms, learning to breathe underwater is the key to survival. It can be unspeakably, overwhelmingly complex. You try to keep moving when various aspects of your world have crumbled to nothing. Your existence seems frozen, full stop. You are groping your way forward and too scattered to guide you on which way to take. During these situations, it feels out of the question to keep breathing, let alone attempt anything else.
My song Under Water came from my current experience of being in what seems like an impossible situation. The ongoing pull and tug that takes me into the depths and asks me to dive deeper and deeper each day. The only option for survival is learning to do the impossible: breathe underwater. Something I have learned to do as the mother, friend, and primary caregiver of my daughter, who is on the autism spectrum. I wrote this song as a raw expression of what it feels like to be the mother of an autistic child and also from what I imagine her perspective might be as a person who experiences autism. It often feels as if my daughter and I are awkwardly stumbling towards each other from different realms; she is a mermaid learning to be a human, and I am a human learning to be a mermaid. Both of us are challenged to the core by the process, yet we courageously do our best to meet somewhere in the middle and progress.
There are no perfect answers about how one can or should navigate the deepest, most troublesome waters. It is a personal journey for each of us to find our way forward. I can only share what helps me while plunging into those terrifying, treacherous waves.
In the most challenging moments, I feel what I feel without judgment. I pay attention to my body and focus on my breathing. We can tend to hold our breath when stressed unconsciously. I spend time alone in recovery mode, praying and meditating to access "the mermaid within who believes she can breathe underwater." Even when I want to pack it all in, meditation and prayer give me enough headspace to feel a sense of calm and a glimmer of hope. I take walks or little mini breaks outside to look at the sky. Just a moment or two in nature reminds me that love and grace are always around me. Tender mercies. The act of grounding and connecting to my higher self helps me to carry on physically and psychologically. These little things help me cope in a big way.
From one ocean dweller to another, I hope that when you listen to my song Under Water and read this post (...the story behind the song), you might feel seen and less alone in your underwater moments, hours, seasons, etc. May you find some measure of comfort in knowing you've got a fellow merfriend here who understands and cares.
(Special thanks to Saven.tv and my dear sister, Tricia Gibbons Reynolds for graciously proofreading and editing this blog post.)