I was reading this blog post reminding all of us to be present, specifically during the summer months with little ones and water. The author’s son almost drowned last summer when she was right next to the pool. What got my attention the most however, was this article, Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Mario Vittone, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, writes about when someone is actually drowning it doesn’t look like most people expect. There isn’t a lot of splashing, no waving, and no yelling for help. Physiologically the body can’t do all of those things once in Instinctive Drowning Response. The body is in survival mode and is conserving the little energy and air it has for trying to stay afloat.
Reading the article was eye-opening, especially sitting here at the beginning of the summer when I know I’ll be going to the lake with little ones and others who can’t swim well. What kept the article rolling around my mind though was that so much of the truth in the article relates to people who are “drowning” in life. I’ve often heard depression described as drowning, gasping for air when you can see everyone around you breathing. As one who has struggled with depression and mentored a lot of young women who also deal with this I kept thinking how much of this article’s main points should be taken and applied in day-to-day life as well.
When a person is struggling, with depression or with other life circumstances, sometimes they will speak up, shout, wave for help, and share what’s going on. “This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble…but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.”
When a person is truly drowning they go quiet, at this point they don’t have much time left before they slip below the surface. “Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck.” Often, it is when those close to us go quiet, they are in distress. The silence makes it easy to momentarily forget about them, to assume they’re okay, perhaps just busy, or have moved on to other friendships. The truth is you can’t assume, “when they get quiet, you get to them and find out why…ask them, ‘are you alright?’”
Life circumstances and struggles are trickier to navigate than water drowning. There is a lot more mixed in – relationships, how comfortable a person feels in sharing, etc. It’s hard to ask for help, and when depression is involved it’s sometimes hard to even realize you need help. We can’t always be the one to pull a person out or help with the rescue either, this is important to remember as well.
Reading this article reminded me of the many times my friends, those I mentor, and coworkers have gone strangely quiet. In the moment I often assume it’s me, and sometimes it is –sometimes a person just needs space or has shifted friendships and that’s fine, relationships change. In my experience however, the silence is often because she is in survival mode, she is gasping for air and trying to stay afloat. I’ve learned to always ask, to always check in and see if things are okay.
Practice being present, tuning in those around you. Remember, silence is not always indicative that a person is fine. Remember to ask. Best case scenario the person is fine, or asking might lead to reconciling a relationship. Asking also might just save a life.