Do you sometimes feel like you are drowning in stress? Maybe you are caring for a kid with a mental illness or an elderly parent. Or the pandemic has ripped the financial rug out from under your family. Or the pain in our communities has reduced you to tears with every news broadcast.
Are the lungs of your soul screaming for air? Does everything around you look dark and murky?
Once while playing in the ocean in rough surf, I misjudged a wave. I thought I was past the breakers, so instead of diving through, I just lifted my feet to float over it. Instead of bobbing up on the surface, I was crashed under with a force that upended me. My goggles scraped down my face and my eyes closed a moment too late. My contacts washed out to sea. I continued to turn underwater for a long breathless moment as the undertow met the wave. I wasn’t sure where the surface was. Air exhaled from my mouth and I remembered with sudden clarity: “Follow the bubbles.” Pulling and kicking in the direction of my breath bubble, I broke the surface.
The first months of the battle with my son’s mental illness were about survival. The crisis had pushed me underwater, crashing over my head. My view of the world had been knocked off and my vision was clouded. I had been ambushed when I thought the water was calm and I was safe. Instead I was roughly tumbled and I couldn’t even tell which way was up. Those first months were about trying to get my wits about me enough to find and follow the bubbles up to air and light.
My first bubble was a return to physical fitness. I was ready to surrender the easier comfort of food and escapist TV and return to the the athletic pursuits that had brought me pleasure and satisfaction in my life “before.” I downloaded a fitness app, started running again, and followed that bubble up toward the surface. The first thing about this process that made me happy was that I was defiantly pushing back, kicking my legs, refusing to stay under. James tells us “resist the devil, and he will flee.” (James 4:7) I was resisting the devil with every mile I managed to huff my way through. It didn’t matter how slow my pace was, he was fleeing every time my foot struck the ground. Sometimes standing firm looks like sweaty, breathless, determined trotting.
The next bubble was reading. To be accurate, re-reading. Healing is still a fragile state, so I turned to books I knew would engross me, but would not disturb. In that season, I self-medicated with every book and novella of James Herriot, Mary Stewart, and Jan Karon. I immersed myself in friendly literary places and chatted with quirky, lovable characters, and laughed at gentle absurdities and antics. Reading was a bubble back to soul oxygen that didn’t require kicking and struggling. It enveloped me and floated me up.
The last bubble was odd-shaped. Years ago we had told our boys that they could each choose a family trip in their senior years of high school. We love to travel and have trekked around Greece, Italy, and many places in our own awe-inspiring nation. Alex had chosen for his senior trip: Disney World. When we asked him incredulously why there, of all the places he could choose, he answered, “I want the focus to be on all of us having fun together, instead of on a place.” Who could argue with that? Fun together had been in short supply.
Planning a Disney trip became my new hobby. I discovered there are approximately three kajillion sources of information, and I took to reading forums and blogs with alacrity. I found it to be great amusement. It was also an exercise in hope. That Nicholas would be well enough to go (although I made cancelation-friendly reservations). That we would all be able to enjoy ourselves (although I kept reminding myself to keep expectations low). That depression- and medication- induced fatigue would not prevent Nicholas from being able to keep up (although I planned a slower-paced schedule with lots of downtime). Planning something fun for the future felt like a mighty dangerous bubble, possibly a deceptive one. Would it lead me not to air and light but deeper into drowning? But with cautious optimism, I followed it anyway. The Mickey-shaped bubble delivered, and at the very end of the first crisis year, we saw sun and breathed oxygen, all of us alive.
How about you? What bubbles can you follow back to light and air?