All around me I am hearing of people who have drowned or nearly drowned, from a dear friend’s cousin to Merav’s story which is published in this week’s GoodWeekend (The Age), and can be read online here. I even had my own experience in January at Point Leo where death brushed over me on an outward bound trip gone-wrong. No longer was it about stepping out of my comfort zone, but fighting for my life. The impact of these experiences are huge on every level, affecting us not only physically but emotionally and also spiritually. It can make us question the existence of God and I find it really quite amazing how things happen when they do, as illustrated in Merav’s story. Coming close to death can also bring us a new appreciation for life. It can make us re-evaluate how we are living our lives as we realise our own fragility and how we never know when our lives could be taken away from us. Death and life are inseparable. Our relationship with death affects our relationship with life. Likewise, our relationship with life, I suspect, affects our relationship with death and our dying experience. While I would describe myself as spiritual, I know I have a lot of hang ups about death which manifests in nightmares, an obsession with healthiness and restricting my diet to avoid anything synthetic (which is perhaps, ironically, now making me unhealthy), a “thing” for loss where I am deeply saddened for the muffin I eat or the bath water I drain, and my panic attacks where at the flick of a switch I feel like I’m dying. There is a little voice in me that’s now asking me whether beneath my fear of death actually lies a fear of life given the two are intrinsically connected. And indeed, water is life. Water is flow, water is what makes up most of our body and water is what sustains us, so what an obscure thing drowning is where the very life-giving substance that water is turns into a terrifying, life-destroying monster, a perfect demonstration of the complex duel nature of such things.
I am not quite sure where I am heading with this post, but I would like to write more about what happened to me at Point Leo. It would benefit me and it might benefit anyone else who’s gone through something similar just to know you are not alone, because that is certainly what you feel in the water I know. As much as I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone and felt nervous reading other people’s experiences , I also found some comfort in knowing there’s someone else who understands. I’m hoping this post may benefit everyone else as well, even just by encouraging you to think twice before jumping into a surf beach because you don’t want to find yourself in this situation, you really don’t. Often we can’t see how dangerous the waves are until we’re out there amongst them.
I will start by saying I never thought that I might be someone who’d die from drowning. I don’t tend to go to surf beaches and was far more concerned about being poisoned by artificial chemicals in our food and getting cancer than dying at the mercy of Nature. Drowning was merely something that was happening around me, something I’d hear on the news.
I am part of an outward bound group for youth and each Friday we go rock climbing, caving, hiking, river rafting, snorkelling in the bay, that kind of thing. One day my instructor came up with the [rather absurd] idea of taking the blow-up, two-person rafts we use on the river out to Point Leo and using them to “surf” the waves. I thought I’d be safe with the group and on the raft. The waves didn’t look that big from the shore anyway, but the wind and rain picked up when we were out there and things started to get out of hand. We were all struggling to steer the rafts, even my instructor which was a scary realisation. I was getting so fatigued and I just wanted to go back to shore but I was stuck out there. We ended up joining boats with my instructor’s, but even this wasn’t enough to keep us safe, and before I knew it a massive wave crashed over us, flipping my boat and I found myself underwater with the boat above my head. It is terrifying even writing about this. When I came up, I was on the other side of my instructor’s boat but it was out of reach. I have no idea where my boat ended up. The last I saw was him helping my partner onto his boat and then I was dunked by another wave. I went all the way under even though I was wearing a lifejacket. I held my breath and hung onto my jacket for dear life which the water was trying to rip off me. I would come up just in time for another wave. I don’t know how long this went on for as seconds felt like hours. I started to realise I was in real trouble. I was already so exhausted before getting into the water from my insomnia and I couldn’t keep this up. I couldn’t even stand where I was. I was stuck there being pounded by waves and completely dependent on other people to come to me. There was no time to spare thinking about my dignity and I started waving and calling out for help. But while there were people around me including surfers, it dawned on me that nobody would be able to hear me over the drone of the ocean, and my head and hand above the surface of the water was but a speck soon to disappear again into the underworld. Even if someone did see my waving hand, it would be easy for them to dismiss it as a friendly wave because they couldn’t see my face. I hope anyone reading this will never, ever look the other way upon seeing a waving hand in the water… it’s not worth it. At this point I realised just how easy it is to drown even with people around. It was then this anger/sadness came over me. I felt completely alone. I read Chris Broughton’s drowning experience and he too spoke of this acute sense of loneliness and isolation.
I caught a glimpse of my instructor’s boat just ahead before I went under again. This time I lost my brand new glasses which he had tied around my head with rope before we went in. The whole experience became doubly awful given I couldn’t see.
Obviously there’s a happy end to the story as I am still here to tell the tale. My instructor and his partner eventually managed to reach me and I flopped onto the raft again like a thrashing fish. I was screaming and begging them to take me back to shore. I was petrified of being tossed back into the water again. I remained completely dependent on them and it was even more terrifying as I couldn’t see the oncoming waves properly because I had lost my glasses. I had to put all trust in these people who, really, had also lost control and got me into this situation in the first place. I am very fortunate they managed to get back without the boat capsizing again. When I got out it all felt very surreal.
It was bad but it could have been a lot worse. We hear of schools taking groups on trips and then having to tell parents that their son/daughter died in their care. That could have been this group. My instructor has never admitted he lost control out there but I am sure he has learnt his lesson and we won’t be going back to Point Leo again.
I don’t know how to finish up this post, but I do find it interesting how symbolic it all was of how overwhelmed I was feeling in general at that point in my life. That sense of total helplessness, of being barely able to keep going and of suffering in silence was sadly all too familiar. It all beared remarkable similarity to the depression I’ve been going through internally and I am reminded of this quote as I write this.
It is amazing how our outside world often follows suit with what’s going on within.
I still don’t feel on top of life and I’m sick of my procrastinating, self-destructive ways. I don’t want to live my life like this, if you can even call it living. It is not living, it is merely surviving. I can’t even reap the benefits of being highly sensitive like this as I am often so overwhelmed my environment is a blur. I cannot help but feel something is trying to get me to wake up through these experiences I’ve been having where death is shoved in my face like this. My experience at Point Leo helped me see what is important. It reminded me that we are all going to die, to be born means to die, so I should stop spending my life trying to avoid the unavoidable. The tragedy of life is not death, but getting to the end of life without having really lived. It is the quality of my life I should be focusing on now. I am inspired to use whatever resources there are to move from a state of surviving to thriving, including resources I had previously dismissed because they weren’t totally “natural” and therefore, in my eyes, good for me. The ocean is natural and it almost killed me, so I figure my logic was a bit askew. So, that is what I make of my experience at Point Leo.
I will finish my post up now with a question a friend once asked me. I find it a deeply intriguing question philosophically and most relevant. Please share with me your thoughts!
Would it be better for us to know the exact timing of our death or not?