I’ve been in therapy consistently since I was a kid, and I’m a way better person for it. I’ve been on medication since I was fourteen. The pills I take have saved my life more than once because I’ve had seasons where suicidal ideations were as common as trees outside my window, and I’m still here. Over the years, I’ve shed my shame about living with significant mental health fluctuations, and since my early twenties, I’ve been vocal and public about my realities on my blog, Illness to Wellness. Though these days my mental health conditions are much better managed than they were in the past and I’m doing better in life than I could have dared to dream as a teenager, I still have painful chapters. I happen to be in one of them right now. Here are my reflections on living in the messy middle and getting out of survival mode – again.

The past five and a half months of my life, to put it lightly, have been a series of misadventures, readjustments, and such quick growth that I sometimes feel like I’m walking on stilts. Things that I thought were certain were ripped out from under me, and I have much less clarity about the circumstances of my future than I would like. I have had to be far more resilient than usual, and I am existentially exhausted. (Not to mention that we’re all still living in the hell of a pandemic that requires wild levels of resilience of everyone, especially people like me who work in healthcare settings.) I have been trying to take one step after the other, and I realized recently that I have been living in survival mode long past it was absolutely necessary to my ability to keep on keeping on after my engagement ended and much in my life needed to shape-shift in response.

I name my reality: I have been in survival mode. I name more of it: Even though my fear tells me that things are scarce and scary, I don’t have to believe my fear fully. I can cradle it and care for it until it is – and I am – back to health, back to my baseline, one that is more complicated and unpredictable than the average person, but one that I know well.

But I need to do something terrifying in order to get out of survival mode and be able to breathe deeply again – I need to say that I’ve been drowning, despite all the love and blessings I have in my life. That I’ve put anchors on my neck – my fear of disappointing other people, my fear of uncertainty, my fear that murmurs it will always be this hard from this point forward. Nanea Hoffman, the incredible founder of the blanket fort that is Sweatpants & Coffee, said something that truly resonated with me after I garnered the courage to ask for help – “You have to touch the bottom of the pool to get to the surface again.”

I hate admitting how low I feel. I hate worrying people I love. I hate realizing how close I am to the bottom. And yet it is only in putting my hands down that I can get some of the momentum I need to beat the anchors I’ve put on my neck.

To get to the surface.

To be able to breathe a sigh of relief once I realize that air is scarce no longer.

To do this in spite of not knowing what will be above the water.

Though there is much that I don’t know during this season, what I do know is that being able to name rock bottom is the best way to propel upward and see the hands of loved ones that will reach out in response.

My rise from this particular rock bottom likely will be scary at times, and I may even get decompression sickness like a scuba diver along the way. It’s impossible for me to know right now. But this World Mental Health Day, I am thankful that I’ve risen before and I know I will rise once again.

Emmie Arnold

Emmie Arnold (she/her/hers) is a palliative care and intensive care hospital chaplain at a children’s hospital in New York; a candidate for ordination in the PC(USA); avid cook; traveler (on hiatus); friend and family member to many; writer; and musician.

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