For a while now, I’ve been having a recurring dream. I’m underwater. There are traces of light that allow me to see my hands grasping at the bubbles that are floating above me towards a surface I can’t see. I know I’m drowning, and while I’m frightened – I’m also accepting. The silence is comforting. The flutters of panic that come from not being able to breathe are brief, and instead I focus on being cradled by the soothing blue water.
Then something happens. In those final moments before losing consciousness and succumbing to my fate, I take a deep breath. I can feel myself doing it in the dreams – I can feel my chest and abdomen expand, and I feel amazement as I realize… I can breathe.
I’m underwater, and I can breathe. There is always a moment of pure joy that follows this realization, as I continue to take deep, steady breaths and feel the water regenerate my strength and awareness. My body is somehow filtering the oxygen, and instead of killing me, it’s saving me. I can feel the water filling my lungs, but I just breathe it right back out again.
I don’t swim for the surface. I start to swim forward, propelling myself with a slow breast stroke. I never see anything but water. Deep, endless water. All the same, I always know everything will be fine – because I can breathe.
I’ve had this dream several times over the past year. I’ve thought it was interesting, and wondered if it was a form of subconscious wish fulfillment… Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid. I love the water. It’s my dream to live by the water someday, whether it’s the ocean, a lake, or a river – I don’t care.
It wasn’t until I had the dream again this past week that the light bulb clicked, and I understood the symbolism.
In life, I am drowning. I have been for a while, and as ashamed as I am to own it, I’ve been living in a heightened state of stress, panic, and fear. Logically, I know how unhealthy and unproductive it is to allow these feelings to overwhelm me. Emotionally, I don’t know how to make the feelings go away in the face of devastation, and while needing a divine miracle to turn the tables.
Nothing is in our control – nothing. I struggle with that truth and I want to fight it to the DEATH – but it won’t make a difference.
I spent a decade building a life based on ‘good’ decisions. I worked my way through college, graduated with honors, and worked my way up in an organization that hired me as a newbie student intern. I was never late on a single bill – ever – and I spent years building a flawless credit score.
I’ve never spent money on overly frivolous possessions – my motto has been to “live simply, so that others may simply live.”
Yes, of course there are things I splurge on, but in moderation. I’ve never paid for any TV stations or basic cable, hell – I never even had internet until a year ago.
Why am I telling you this? It’s simple. Because none of it fucking matters.
In October of 2012, I made the choice to leave Albuquerque, where I’d been living for eleven years. I was sick to death of the desert climate (heat makes me insane), I’d gone as far as I could in the job I’d been working since college, and I wanted to live someplace where my soul felt at home.
So I took a huge leap of faith, and I ‘trusted’ that everything would fall into place for me. I’d earned a change, and I deserved the dream I was chasing.
At least I thought I did.
Truth be told, ever since I left New Mexico, it’s been one life struggle after another. I’ve lived in three different states over the past four years – constantly moving and transitioning in search of permanent work that pays appropriately for my education and professional experience. With each move, my resources diminished, but I couldn’t stay where I couldn’t afford to live.
I knew the current job market and economy were a mess – I was aware of it, but I think I lived in a safe bubble in Albuquerque. I naively believed that there would always be job opportunities, as long as you worked hard and persevered.
I’m here to tell you now, this isn’t always the case.
I’ve spent a solid YEAR battling unemployment, bouncing from one temporary job assignment to the next, and being forced to watch my bills pile up and fall into delinquency. I’ve had to borrow money from generous friends and family members just to pay rent – which of course I’m grateful for, but it also adds to the stress of having even more debts to repay.
I have a private student loan that’s officially fallen into default; and I’m now playing the waiting game to see what kind of legal action they’re going to take against me, and how soon I’ll have to worry about wage garnishment.
My one credit card that ironically once contributed to my stellar credit score, is now maxed out and four payments past due. Every option that would offer me any kind of relief requires a steady income from a permanent job. Even filing for bankruptcy is expensive, and it doesn’t eliminate student loan debt. Every solution requires more money. Every hope I have for my future now seems impossible.
Please understand that I am NOT sharing this to evoke pity or sympathy – I want none of that here. This is my situation and I’m responsible for figuring out how to survive it. I’m sharing this to reiterate that none of the ‘good’ choices I’ve made, none of the work I did to ensure that I would never be in this situation… None of it matters.
Ultimately nothing is under control; and a couple of extremely challenging years can wipe away a decade of hard effort and modest, mindful living in the blink of an eye.
It’s depressing, disheartening, and it’s no wonder I’m having dreams about drowning.
Here’s the crux of these dreams though… In each and every one, I realize that I can breathe. If I stop myself from getting lost in the abyss, close my eyes and take a deep breath… I can breathe. In the depths of my own personal ocean of life struggles, at a time when clinging to even a glimmer of light seems downright ludicrous… I can breathe.
I. Can. Breathe.
Herein lies the meaning, I think. Life is unpredictable, and scary, and sometimes no matter what you do, everything falls apart.
In the midst of this – will you drown, or will you breathe?
I can’t regret my decision to leave New Mexico… the decision that began this hellish series of events. Who’s to say it wouldn’t have eventually happened there, or anywhere?
In the past few years, I’ve met some amazing people. People who have become lifelong friends, and people who have changed me at my core. I’ve grown, I’ve matured, and I’ve evolved.
I now realize that sometimes, it’s more important to be near the people who make your soul feel at home – instead of searching for the place. Certainly those places exist… I’ve found a couple. And sometimes it’s possible to carve a happy life in your own personal paradise. Sometimes, it’s just not.
For me, in this moment, I’d rather have the people.
As much as I’d like to close my eyes and let the water carry me away to a place where I no longer feel the stress, and the panic, and the fear – my subconscious mind seems to be telling me that I’m stronger than I feel. I’m strong enough to keep swimming through an ocean that seems never-ending, with no surface in sight.
I’m strong enough to keep breathing.
My message to you, friends, is simple. Continuing to breathe is often the hardest part about being human and alive. Whatever battles you’re fighting, whatever storms you’re facing, whatever ocean you’re struggling to swim through – just breathe.
I can’t tell you not to be stressed and scared. I can’t tell you life will ever get easier. As the saying goes – we’re not promised that life will be easy, only that it will be worth it.
So keep breathing, my friends.
Just relax, and breathe.