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Hit By a Wave of Depression: It’s Sink or Swim

sinkswimThe blue tidal wave crests, pummeling you with dreaded hypotheticals and faulty, circuitous logic. It is unrelenting, plunging you into a numbing despair. The resolve to fight is shelved; you are searching for any elixir to latch onto.

Dramatic? Sure. Accurate? Yes. Besieged by depression, the numbing pain hollows you. Hours turn into days and days turn into months. Some grimly press on; for others, the blue wave is incapacitating.

Reeling from an unexpected job loss, the sinking blue feeling consumed me. A transplant in a sprawling metropolis, I withdrew from family and friends. Someone — a mocking, lecherous soul — swallowed my gregarious, extroverted personality. My existence turned inward.

Paralyzed with searing self-doubt, I questioned my self-worth, judgment, and abilities. Magnifying every prospective job interview and social interaction, my rigid mind demanded perfection: the perfect cover letter, the wittiest comment. The standards were unattainable; the slumping body language and glum countenance signaled my inner turmoil.

Under an overly cheerful visage, I concealed the emotional heartache from friends and acquaintances. Loved ones knew. And, worst, so did I.

The blue wave is as imposing as our vivid imagination. When we succumb to our fears, the mischievous mind distorts and circumscribes our identity.

In a depressed state, our objectivity vanishes. Self-defeating language, the “shoulds” and “coulds,” perpetuate a sense of inadequacy. We obsess about our feelings: maybe this is the day I will feel better. Our healthy habits — waking up at a respectable hour or exercising regularly — erode.

Fatigue and fear alternate with weariness and worry. Time sputters to a halt and alternately races past you. “Depression will consume me for the rest of my life,” you lament. “I have to finish this (taxes, washing dishes, writing a paper) task right now.” Overwhelmed and indecisive, last year’s W-4 documents sit in a disorganized heap, a rank smell invades your apartment, and instructors prod you relentlessly about last week’s draft.

Depression’s brain tricks (the self-loathing language, the all-or-nothing thinking, the debilitating fatigue) are more spiteful than the cruelest ex-girlfriend. I am challenging their biting tone and derisive wit. Agreeing with the relentless internal critic, yes, I am a mental health consumer and an attorney admitted to the bar in two states, a polished writer published in national publications, a fearless traveler yearning for mischief and adventure, and a compassionate friend, brother, and nephew.

For years, reconciling these two identities riddled me. How could I be a standout student and perfectionistic soul, a vivacious personality and angst-riddled headcase, a trusted confidante and ashamed patient. This duality extended to relationships. Part of me deserved my romantic interest’s love and affection; another part fled at the first sign of emotional turmoil. A panic-stricken look etched on my face, I would whisper to a girlfriend, “I have these horrific thoughts; they berate and taunt me.” The thoughts, and my instinctual reaction (hesitate! retreat!), sabotaged once-promising relationships.

Now with medication and a gifted counselor, I have reached a wary détente with the tormentors. Some days the thoughts are harmless, amusing intruders, fluttering into my stream of consciousness before floating away. Their creativity startles and amuses me in a wry, knowing way. Other days, the thoughts ensnare me, and that is 100 percent permissible. When I catch myself spiraling downward, I gently remind myself that thoughts are just thoughts. They are neither good nor bad. The rigid duality has been a Matt-made invention; life viewed through a grey, not black and white, prism is more colorful anyway.

Slowly untangling my own web, I am uniquely qualified to speak of the successes and stumbles mental health consumers (and lawyers and police officers and janitors and pilots) meet with grit and determination every day. When you are paddling feverishly as the blue wave barrels and topples you, put down the oar and glide with the onrushing waves. That crest? It doesn’t look so daunting anymore.

Sink, Swim, or Float Away image via Shutterstock.

Hit By a Wave of Depression: It’s Sink or Swim

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). Hit By a Wave of Depression: It’s Sink or Swim. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 Apr 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.