There have been many searches about open water swimming into LoneSwimmer over the years, from the humourous to the technically inquisitive to the cryptic. I have in the past written articles based on some of those searches. But Goggle started encrypting searches in 2013 in response to the out-of-control NSA revelations by Edward Snowden that Google’s search had been compromised. One result of those revelations and subsequent encryption is that visible searches have become greatly reduced and I can only see a handful of the hundreds that occur each day. But this article is not about privacy or encryption or Snowden or civil rights or SEO optimisation or long tail search terms.
It’s about one question, by one person, on one day.
That particularly resonant and awful search term, only received once, was “suicide by swimming as deep as you can“.
Someone, amongst many out there was desperate, and in considering a way to alleviate their pain ended up on loneswimmer. And I don’t know if they found a better answer than the one that brought them here, so I can only hope that maybe they found this post I wrote for last year’s World Suicide Prevention day, or this one about the intersection of swimming and my own struggles.
If you are the one person reading that asked this question, then I am only writing this for you and for me. (Though I know that more of you understand the question but the detail may have been different).
I have not asked this question. So you wonder how I understand?
For two reasons:
The first reason is that I have thought (not asked) about something similar, except for me it has always been the horizon. I have wondered about swimming to the horizon and getting myself so far out I will never be found, and will never get back.
The second is that I have been briefly trapped under a boat. In other circumstances I sometimes make a mildly funny story of that. Today it’s not funny, and it wasn’t funny when it happened and it’s not funny when I am talking to you. It was scary. And even though it only lasted less than ten seconds, I thought I might die, and I didn’t want to die, that day.
Maybe there are other reasons. Maybe they are the same reason. I know the darkness of the sea underneath me. I’ve stared into it for a significant amount of time over the years. I’ve done it so much that I can sometimes do it when I am not swimming or even near the sea.
If you have wondered if that darkness of the deep is the way out for you, I have wondered if the horizon is the way out for me.
People will say that society accepts these problems, but they are in general wrong, at least in my experience on this World Suicide Prevention Day, because if they weren’t wrong, then more people would be able to get help, or at least be able to explain. It is not true that our experience or condition is accepted. It is not true that there isn’t a stigma attached to mental illness. It is not true that society or employers or doctors or friends or insurance companies understand. Fuck, who even likes or wants to use the term mental illness?
You know what word I use? The same word you, my potential friend, understand and use. It’s pain.
I can’t extrapolate my experience. I don’t know anything else about what you are suffering or why or where or how you are in pain. I don’t know how comparing types or degrees of suffering would help anyone anyway. I only know this: Pain is involved. I know the reason you ask that question is to get away from the pain, and no-one else understands that the pain can get so extreme that the depth of the ocean, which you imagine is a welcoming encompassing cold darkness, is the entrance to a greater numbness that will silence that pain.
Swimming has worked for me. I’m sure by now you have heard that exercise is a vital remediation for depression. But when swimming alone doesn’t work, or I simply can’t bring myself to swim, then I have dreamt of the horizon as you have dreamed of the depths. I have also actually swam to and beyond the horizon. Each time I dreamt of the horizon, I have always recognised one thing. While almost everyone I know would want me to keep away from the ocean and from swimming if they realised what I thought, they would be wrong if they convinced me to so do.
What they haven’t understood is that it is swimming and the ocean, the very place that is lethal by its nature and more so by what I do in it, and even more so because it could so easily facilitate my dark dreams, is also the one thing that actually protects me. For me, it takes the ocean not to break. Luckily I have one person who trusts me and understands and if you don’t have that person, I don’t say that to hurt you, but I couldn’t in honesty write this article without acknowledging that person. Who knows that when I go to the sea, that it is a good thing. With the sea, I become lime the fictional character, the leper Thomas Covenant, shaving himself with hands with no feeling or fine control and a razor-sharp cut-throat blade. Because using the thing that he shouldn’t use is the very act that enables him to survive.
But I know the sea also. I don’t mythologise it. I know those black depths of ocean for me, my friend, is not the tool or the last lonely way. Its enticement is hollow. I see behind its dark dream for what it is, and turn it to my advantage. It is my razor blade, though not every day or even most days are a test of will. Most days I simply love the sea, so the hollow imaginary enticements fade at the merest touch of brine or whiff of salt air.
I can’t tell you how to do that. I don’t know how I did it. I can guess this: You have something similar. I have no idea what. You may not realise what it is. Something that is your ocean, your sea. Something that fills you more than you pour yourself into it. So instead of pouring yourself into the depth, let that something or someone else pour itself into you. Just today. Tomorrow doesn’t matter for now.
My friend, there is no comfort in the ocean depths. But every day you swim back from the horizon or back to the surface, you bring back something that neither of us can articulate, but has more value that we credit. You bring back strength or the ability to find that strength.
I also know something else. That by admitting this, even in however roundabout or obtuse or hidden from people I know, I momentarily loosed the bonds of pain that bound me. What I gain from this admission is more that what I lose or give away and you have given me that.
If you feel like diving deep, and you have no-one watching your bubbles, contact me and I’ll do my best to share the darkness with you and maybe we can loosen our bonds together.
But I am not a professional or trained, so here are some other people who want to help and who will help.
Aware (Ireland) 1800-80-48-48
Samaritans Ireland & United Kingdom 116 123
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, United States, in English & Spanish 1 (800) 273-8255