Staying Afloat: Mental Illness, Surfing, and Wondering

Dazed and Confused

The worst thing about mental illness is the confusion. The wondering, the answer-seeking and pervasive self-analysis: “is this me or my medications? am I doing enough, what did I do differently last week that triggered this, why am I feeling like this?”

Confusion about the highs of life, as much as the lows. The feelings of inexplicable connectedness and possibility interwoven with the devastating and razor-sharp lows of doubt and hopelessness. My last several days have been tumultuous, chaotic, and utterly confusing, in the most internal sense of the word.

Bent on not being sick for the upcoming move this past week, I stayed in bed for 4 days straight. I kept myself at home, willing my body to heal as quickly as possible. Because I am the kind of person who dislikes spending time at home alone, I of course had to make being sick into something productive. I blended hours of my latest binge-worthy HBO series with hours of SEO research, blog post writing, and my other business endeavor’s online program videos, asking questions, and taking notes.

Did I Get Anywhere?

I feel as though I got absolutely nowhere. My posts are still not optimized properly, my other business program is feeling stagnated and challenging, and I don’t believe there is any task I find more mind-numbingly annoying as the perpetual seeking of an Instagram-worthy post. I am finding myself questioning how the hell I will ever make a living on the Internet, when I am exhausted by the tedium and self-centered valuation of my “image” that is a non-stop whisper-reel in the back of my skull. As someone who came into all this so late, I can’t help but wonder if I’m just not cut out for it.

Surfing, the activity that causes me more frustration and joy than any other thus far, has been devastatingly unappealing. My lack of drive to get in the water, combined with a post-computer-screen-bonanza, combined with 5 1/2 weeks without meds, followed by the last 1 1/2 weeks back on them, has left me utterly depleted and confused.


How do you find your center when it seems you’ve got nothing to hold onto? When there is seemingly nothing to get you back into reality? The confusion, about my life and my career and jobs and who I am and whether I will ever be someone, crystallize in the water.

Who are You?

In the ocean, I can either become wholly the person I aspire to be, the person my Instagram claims I am, the person I would like to think I am. Or, I can become the opposition of that person, the jagged mirror self I know I also partly am. Dealer’s choice.

Today, I paddled out to surf. I went through more emotional ups and downs in the 3 hours I spent out in the water than I had for the previous week. I was so completely in my body, yet so distant from it. I wanted to fight, tear my skin apart, smile for joy, paddle in circles, scream.

Coming off my medication seemed like the best decision at the time. I’ve had a tenuous relationship with medication from the age of 14, when I was first put onto an anti-depressant, then I went off it, then I tried a different one, then went off, then on with a much higher dose, then off, then a different medication, then off, then a different one, then back onto the original one, then off…back to now. As I write this it’ll have been about 2 weeks since getting back onto 20 mg of Prozac, taken once daily in the morning.

Me and My Happy Pills (?)

I wanted to write a post about getting off my medication, about the freedom of knowing what my brain chemistry truly is and the affirmation that, regardless of what it is, it is mine. I wanted to write that post, but then I started feeling the ache, the distress, and I had to get back on them. So then I wanted to write about self-love and taking care of myself and choosing to go back on Prozac, but instead I am writing this.

Sick and Sad

Mental illness has a way of creeping in when you are doing your best, to pull you from the space you never want to leave, or making its way in when you are already lowest, dragging you down further. The former describes self-sabotage and fear, the latter describes experiences like PMDD, yet both are poisonous and disruptive.

Confusion, about who I am and what I am doing and what any of it means, is one of the most unbearable thought spirals I get into. I experience imposter syndrome, wondering who I really am if not the person practicing self-love and mindfulness. Am I a phony and a fake, a liar and a cheat? Or am I a self-interested pseudo-advocate for these things, hoping one day enough people will read my thoughts and opinions to publish or believe them for themselves?

Who am I?

Or I really am this person, who believes that surfing can be transcendent, that life is best lived without should and that words have power that I can use for good? Or am I all of the above? Or I am nothing at all, except a tiny speck on the planet grappling with the meaning of the universe while simultaneously melting my brain with endless scrolling through my feed.

I am most likely all of the above, and then some.

But the thing about something like depression is it warps you. It twists you inside out and makes you a seething ball of white-hot nerves or a catatonic zombie unable to feel/ think/ hope/ write/ love/ laugh/ cry.

What I hate most about struggling with mental illnesses is being my own worst enemy, and knowing that I am manifesting what is happening inside my own head, and being utterly confused by my own twists and turns and irrationalities. From an external perspective, my last 2 weeks wouldn’t be very shocking or upsetting.

Frustrated and Tired

From an internal perspective, it has been a non-stop self-emanating s**t storm of self-doubt and confusion and hopelessness and fear. I haven’t wanted to write, or do anything related to pursuing adulting in any substantial way. I’ve been craving television, purely for the sake of its dissociative promise of numbing.

I went surfing today, and I could not enjoy the beauty of the water, the sun on my hair, the pleasure of knowing I’d overcome the common cold with high doses of Vitamin C and relative restfulness.

All I could think about was how much of a failure I was, how I wasn’t as good as my boyfriend out there getting barreled, as the other guys, as I want to be, as I should be, as I wish I was. I thought that going surfing would be easier because I was back on my medication, it would be easier now, right?

And this is where the confusion comes in, the constant wondering about what is me or what is the Prozac, what is my reality and what is the reality of my depression, or anxiety, or OCD?

Are Thoughts Real?

Do I really believe I am worthless and unlovable? Maybe, sometimes. Do I believe I am ugly, unworthy, and hopeless? Probably not. Mostly not. But the mind has a funny way of convincing itself of the most atrocious things that we would never ever believe about anyone else except ourselves, that we wouldn’t even fathom applying to another person, but readily say in our own heads.

How do you get out of a prison you’ve created?

How do you ride that wave to shore so you can find your center enough to paddle back out?

I thought I was going to write a post about being sick and making it productive, and then I realized the fact that I needed to make being sick a productive activity in itself was ridiculous. So, then I was going to write about enjoying the serenity of reading a book all morning as the rain drizzled down, allowing my body to rest.

Performance vs. Living

Yet, the minute I began thinking about what I was going to write about the experience, I was out of the relaxation and into the performance of the relaxation. I was already undoing the experience that I wanted to portray the beauty of. I don’t think that’s mental illness, I think that’s just being a thinker, but I also believe that my predisposition to overthinking has set me up for a lot of mental and emotional turmoil.

I’m not special, but I am special, right? Or I’m believing I am special enough to write these words and think they mean something or enough of something to be worth reading?

I don’t really know, honestly.

Searching/ Forgetting

Taking medication has left me feeling more and more lost the more I try to take them. The really f**ked up thing about depression is it actually re-wires your brain. People with depression have a higher level of negative memory recollection than non-depressed people, and a worsened ability to recollect positive memories. People with depression also struggle with memory loss and forgetfulness.

So, when I am most deep into my depression, it’s that much harder to remember when I wasn’t like this, to remember there was a time when I didn’t feel this way, and to know there will be a time in the future when I do not. When I go off my meds, it’s easy to forget what it was like when I was on them (most likely I was better) and extremely hard to remember that it felt significantly better to be on them.

Conversely, it’s difficult to compare what being on medication is like with what being off it is like because I can’t remember how I felt when I was off them, either.

Negative Bias

It is the same with surfing. When I paddle out, I try my best to be there, in the moment, as much as possible. It’s like a war zone in my head most times I paddle out. (Or maybe it isn’t, and I’m just forgetting all the times when it wasn’t a war zone.) I don’t know. What I do know is that I can recall many more negative surfing experiences I’ve had, in HD-detail, than I can the good ones.

And sometimes, on days like today, when every wave I did catch was not ridden well-enough according to my exceedingly high and ever-shifting surfing standards, and I couldn’t breathe for a moment in the joy of simply standing up, of finding that kooky whole-hearted happiness, for more than a minute at a time, I couldn’t help but feel devastated.


Devastated that functioning in daily life with mental illness makes everything that much harder. Devastated by how hopeless I’ve suddenly felt in the last 12 days, compared to the hopeful excitement it seems I was feeling mere moments ago. Devastated by the sheer overwhelm of battling it out with voices in my head that are mine but do not belong to me. Devastated by the repetition of this processing and re-grouping and healing and breaking again for over 10 years.

I clasped my face in my hands, holding my temples tight to calm the aching in my chest. The water bumped me up and down as I let myself drift away from the take-off zone. The current pulled me farther, while my legs floated beneath me in the water.

(Try to) Be Here Now

I was hovering over gorgeously deadly reef on a Tuesday afternoon, with the sun in my eyes and air in my lungs, with waves breaking and a surfboard beneath me, and I felt I had all but disappeared. I felt almost nothing except the cold of saltwater seeping into my pores. I didn’t hear the crashing waves or the soft whisper of the water, all I heard was noise.

White noise, blasting and frenetic and chaotic and jumbled, centered in my forehead, and I couldn’t help but be angry that evolution hadn’t corrected this out of me genetically, that I could sustain such a chemically imbalanced system without having been ruled out by natural selection eons ago.

Bitter Much?

It seems bitter and self-defeating and a little self-pitying to talk about this. I know I am lucky in so many ways. I know I am a decent enough surfer, a good friend, a nice person. I know there is plenty to me that is good and valuable and healthy. I know that devastation over my own mind, to some (myself included on bad days) might sound indulgent. But most of me doesn’t believe that sharing my experiences like today is indulgent or self-pitying. Most of me believes it is honest, and all of me hopes it might help even just one person to know they are not alone in experiencing this by reading this.

As I sat on my board, alternately paddling ferociously for waves and sobbing in the water, I couldn’t help but feel pure anger at the confusion of my existence in this moment. Who the f**k am I to call myself a BeachBumPoet, who the heck am I to think I’m a writer, or call myself a surfer? Who the heck am I to believe I could be anything except mundane and infinitesimal in this vast world?

Making a Choice

But a little part of me holds on, just as a little part of me paddled back out to catch another wave, as a big “suck it” to those other thoughts, those multitudes of fears and self-doubts and anxieties. Some tiny part of me keeps trying medications to see if I can find some respite, and some tiny part of me goes off them in the hopes that I can manage on my own.

I think they are all right. I think that deep down I am probably going through what I need to in order to come through something, or to simply continue on the path I’m supposed to be on, because it is mine. A little part of me believes it is all bull and I should just give up, but I try not to listen to that part, because listening to that voice is like choosing to drown.

I don’t chose to drown. I chose to fall, and come back up, and paddle out again. I chose to get on my surfboard, knowing I am imperfect, yet persisting because it means something to me. I chose to remember, even when the literal neurological odds are stacked against me, that joy and peace and tranquility have been accessible, and that they will be again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Who am I to be anything at all? Who are any of us, really?


Yet we keep paddling, keep losing ourselves, keep finding ourselves and trying to heal, knowing that it is unfair, knowing it is difficult, knowing that it might all be senseless anyway, but choosing to believe that somehow, in some way, it isn’t.

I don’t feel much like anything special today, but maybe that’s okay too. Maybe it’s enough that I made it through the day, that I paddled back out, that I keep trying to stand up and ride another one of life’s waves.

I guess I’ll sleep.

The Next Day

It is morning, around 6:45am, and I wake up blurry-eyed and tired, drained. I had a dream.


I went to a party. I was running late. It was a very large party. If every person in your dream is some iteration of you, then I numbered in the hundreds. Each person was one of my high-school classmates. We were all celebrating the birthday of the girl I’d been best friends with from age 2-10, until we drifted apart when we went into middle, and then high school, together.

Standing amidst the crowd of semi-recognizable faces, a light shone down on me. I was expected to give a speech; I knew I had to say a speech about this girl, who I had known since we were two years old, and I was excited to say my piece, even though I was flustered from rushing.

As I stood there, looking out to the sea of faces, I sensed the recognition of my face spreading, as a virus does, through whispers. Suddenly, I knew I should not be there.

My mom was suddenly there, standing next to me. My old classmates, still looking like their teenage selves, began jeering—they hated me, but I had no idea why—while my mom chastised them. I alternately told her I could speak for myself and tried to talk to them: where was my friend?

This was her party, but she wasn’t even there. The whispers turned to yelling, aggressive and broiling with an energy I could not decipher.

I knew I had to leave, right away. They continued, screaming at me, telling me they hated me. I didn’t know why; I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong.

Morning light was seeping into our window. I got out of bed. It was time to get to work.

Meditation in Boxes

I unpack boxes and imagine I am unpacking my depression. The rigorous emptying and rearranging, with music blasting through my headphones, is cathartic and preciously simple. Imagining that each candle, book and t-shirt is a little weight unburdened, that something as clear and definitive as this ritual will mirror my inner self.

Moving your whole life is comparable, I’ve been told, to some of life’s top stressors. Moving is effortful and engaged. It requires precision of thought and an ability to sort and consolidate your entire being into specific boxes, which are taken from point A to point B, to be unpacked and reveal your life again.

This marks the third move I’ve made within 7 months.

I want stability; I want assurance…space for myself and for Devin that is whole and ours and sustained. Moving our lives around for the third time has been difficult. Yet, there is something refreshing about the process, something malleable and textured and satisfying which I cannot put into words, about the act and the ending.

Finding Metaphors

I unpacked boxes and my depression, hung up photographs and sad thoughts on the wall. Swept out the dust and the self-judgement; scrubbed the sink and my head with the ritualism of another fresh start, another wholeness of unburdening.

Surfing cleanses my spirit when I can get to that place of unburdening, which is why I feel such confusion when it is the antithesis of a freeing experience. Surfing is much easier than moving. I wish it were so easy to unpack my ego-self into the white-wash as it is to break down my life into boxes and build it back up again on new shelves and in a clean dresser.

Empty, and filled, ebbing and stuttering, flowing.

Here. Now

It’s finally evening, and I am tired. Sitting in our new house, our next new place. I want to believe that this time will be different. Every fresh breaking apart has been an opportunity for something new to ooze in through the cracks, and still more to be washed away.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I felt wholly happy, but I also couldn’t tell you the last time I felt wholly sad, either.

I can’t remember such things, because every moment is a crashing wave or ebbing tide or blazing sun when your mind plays as many tricks and does as many dances as mine does. But it is something equally glorious and broken, demonic and holy, sacred and toxic.

Breathing Again

Something about being broken apart is also healing.

Something about the drowning is also the reminder of how beautiful each breath can taste.

If you’ve made it this far, I apologize that there’s no conclusion to this. There’s no reflection on a greater power. There’s no deeper wisdom. There’s just me, on my laptop, writing in a flurry of words and thoughts, pondering on how best to keep myself afloat in my own sea.

5 thoughts on “Staying Afloat: Mental Illness, Surfing, and Wondering”

  1. Your transparency and honesty in this was refreshing. Thank you. Keep your head above the waves girl. Trust the process. You got this.

  2. Enlightening to be able to see the world from the direct point of view of others, great for fostering understanding, empathy and hopefully the best in human nature. Thank you for sharing.

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