bearthinking

About recovering from depression and suicide.

Sailing

Note: there is a glossary of a few sailing terms if you need it. It is not highly technical, so if you are a sailor, please forgive slight inaccuracies.

When I was a boy, my father, a lawyer, had a client who declared bankruptcy. The man lost most of his assets, and his ability to pay my father. Eventually, they struck a deal whereby he would transfer his sailboat to Dad as the balance of his debt. For this, Dad christened the boat “Slophy”.

Initially, we did not sail often as the nearest place to sail was inconveniently far. Before long though, we moved and there was a lake close enough that we sailed more often. It was often enough to justify paying for a dock. That meant we did not have to keep putting the boat in and pulling it out of the water every-time we went.

I really liked sailing. Feeling the wind, the rush of water along the hull, even when the boat heeled over as we caught as much wind as we could and shot along at the speeds a small craft can attain. It was exhilarating.

I confess that what I enjoyed most were the easy day cruises. There would be time to watch the shore, watch the rippling of the water in the wind, watch the clouds scudding along, the birds flying, fish jumping. We would not be so hurried to make the next tack, the boat would not be heeling over quite so much or often. I could learn the feel of the sheets in my hands as the wind would catch in the sails.

My sister, though. She loved it, loved racing and cruising, and got to be very good. Then she graduated high-school, went off to college, and on to other things. Dad and I went out a few more times, but I was neither the sailor my sister was, nor interested in being. I did not enjoy racing, and was developing different interests. The sailboat languished and was eventually sold. We moved on to other things.

Until recently, the last time I went sailing was about 35 years ago. I have passed much water under the bridge since then. Sailing remained something interesting I had done, and the knowledge I acquired fitted into other pursuits. I remained interested in sailing craft of all types, but as a land-lubber, not a sailor.

Before, during, and after that time, the neuro-chemistry of depression had taken hold in me and was influencing my behaviour and thoughts. My life had taken various twists and turns, ups and downs. Although contiguous through time, experience had changed me from the teen I was.

I had attempted suicide several times, culminating a year after my ex announced she wanted a divorce in my being hospitalized. My sister took charge of me and got me to a safe haven where I can try and put my life, my heart, my mind back into some semblance of functionality in the world at large.

I had lost touch, to a degree, with her during my marriage. We became re-acquainted, renewing and confirming our bond, our trust. It developed that she had taken up sailing again. She has a boat, an Interlake (for those interested), and has become part of a local fleet, sailing as often as she can.

This was exciting to me. She was animated about her sailing and the fact that my niece is a natural sailor; she waxed lyrical about it as the saying goes. I was intrigued, stimulated by this. It struck a chord, memories of good times when she, Dad, and I would sail. I got excited by the idea of going sailing again.

So much so, in fact, that when we went to step the mast, I was almost as upset as her when we found one of the stays had frayed and was no longer safe; no sailing until that could be replaced. Two weeks, she finally got the new stays (they had to be ordered), and we went back to step the mast and sail for the first time in the season.

She, my niece, and I stepped the mast, readied the boat, got it in the water. This was going to be really cool. A nice shakedown sail to refresh my memory and skills. My niece got the rudder and tiller in place and lowered the centerboard.

My sister and I boarded the boat, and we set about raising the sails. We coasted gently from the dock, my sister and niece getting a feel for the wind and the sails. I was a little twitchy, not having been on a sailboat for all those years.

Then, we started sailing. Or rather, they started sailing. Within minutes of picking up speed – not even heeling the boat – nothing was right. I was hit by a very deep and pervasive panic.

Panting, quivering, jumping at the snap of the sails in the wind, I began trying to find ways off the boat. It got so bad, I let it take me. When I did, part of my brainthingy took over and put me into a pre-verbal, pre-rational mode

Instead of being irrational and jumping out of the boat (it would have been physically fine, I was wearing a life-vest), I cowered into the bottom of the boat by the centerboard. I put my weight where it would have the least effect on the boat and the boat’s motion would have the least effect on my perceptions. I kept my head down, my eyes away from the outside of the boat aside from occasional panic-scans of my environment.

My sister and niece were, of course, not oblivious. By the time I reached this state, we were sufficiently far enough down wind of the dock to make it a bit of a trip back. They tacked broadly into the wind, sacrificing the speed they could have gotten in order to keep the boat on as even a keel as possible.

As often as safely possible they would touch my shoulder to pat me and speak soothingly. It kept me from shattering, it allowed me to understand that they were getting me back to the shore as quickly as possible. It helped me to stay still and safe; it kept the irrational from taking over. It kept me from The Pit.

Once ashore, my sister helped me get under a tree; I collapsed there and let my mind go away. It took a while to become verbal again, not until we were well on our way back home in the car.

I have been thinking about this experience; examining it from every angle, in every mode I can. I still want to go sailing. I still want to feel the sheets as they tighten with the wind in the sails; the pull of the rudder on the tiller, the satisfaction of a smart tack into the wind, the agony of ‘being in irons’.

It is like so much in my life right now. I have lost so much in these last two years. Or, rather, I have realized how much I lost in the preceding years. How much I put on hold, or simply discarded, or let myself go blind to; somethings were better, but all too many of them got worse as my repressed depression got worse.

And why? Why? Because I convinced myself that I had to. Please note those words, I used them with care and deliberation. Because I convinced myself that I had to in order to be happy. I gave up what made me me. I felt that in order to keep the love of my ex-wife, I had to change.

I had forgotten that if someone does not love you for who you are, not who you were or could be, but who you are, then they do not love you. At best they love a shadow of you, but usually they are just fooling themselves and condemning the both of you to a dismal time, a misery. There is a corollary to that, as well: if you don’t love yourself for who you are, again, not who you could be or were, then you don’t love yourself, and you won’t truly love someone else.

My sister, her partner, and my niece accept me, love me for who I am. My sister and niece were upset that I was upset, not that they had to cut the sailing short. I accept them, I love them for who they are. The trust I have in them was strengthened, not lessened, by this experience. In deed, part of the reason I was able to cope is because I trust my sister, her partner, my niece; this merely demonstrated the worthiness of that trust. If only I could trust myself to that degree again.

When you sail, you sail in the now. You sail accepting that the wind will do as it will; you cannot change the wind, it will change of itself. You may be able to anticipate – really good sailors can – but must work with the wind in flux. You must accept the wind, just as you must accept people for who they are, not as you wish them to be.

Glossary:

Step, stepping: putting the mast up after storing the boat for the winter with it down.

Heeling: this is when the boat looks like it is about to fall over and drown every one on board. It usually does not. It happens when you are trying to sail in the direction the wind is blowing from. See Tack.

Mast: the big pole sticking up that holds the sails.

Stay: a cable or rope that helps to hold and stabilize the mast so that it does not fall off or over.

Sheet: a rope that is attached to the sail, used to control it.

Tack, Tacking: sometimes you want to go in the direction the wind is blowing from, or ‘into the wind’. You do this by turning from side to side not quite into the wind. This is also when you usually heel. The closer into the wind you are, the faster you go and the farther you heel. Broader means you go slower, and usually don’t heel as much.

Centerboard: a board that sticks down from the center of the boat, a miniature keel. It helps to stablize the boat when you heel, among other things.

Tiller, Rudder: this dynamic duo is how you steer the boat. The rudder sticks down in the water, and the tiller is the handle for moving the rudder.

In irons: term for when the wind is no longer blowing into the sails, which means you aren’t going anywhere. Now that makes sense.

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June 13, 2010 Posted by | autobio, depression, love, recovery, sailing, suicide, trust | , , , , , , | Leave a comment