Drabble · Life · mental health


I’m drowning.

I’m constantly sinking under the incoming waves. The panicked thrumming in my chest is matched by the shaking of my hands as I try to keep myself afloat. I didn’t want to go swimming but somehow here I am, sinking in an ocean of adrenaline and distress.

I’m not a poet, and I’ll probably never be one, but how else can I explain the heavy weight on my chest, the fear, and the sense of being completely adrift? I’m isolated by my own biochemistry and even if there is someone reaching to me from a life raft, I can’t see them for the water in my eyes.

Every time I drag myself up from the depths of the darkness, I’m only more exhausted, weight down by the seaweed and debris I found at the bottom. It’s not a relief anymore to reach the surface. The air burns my scarred lungs. The blue sky is just a reminder of the work it will take to stay above.

Little white pills like water wings go down daily. But water wings in the ocean only help so much. So you try and build a raft; you try and organize your life to keep too busy to notice the water seeping into your lungs. You try to stop planning in advance to avoid the inevitable failures, but that only tires you more. You try to meditate the ocean away, a drop of a time, to drink it down and accept it. But it is just too much. Always too much until your belly swells and your body collapses.

Being lost at sea isn’t something you can FIX. You can only manage it, float half submerged in it. You can only survive it.

It makes take a deep breath of salt water seed so appealing. The air already feels thick in your lungs, how much worse could the water feel for the few fleeting moments of consciousness?

At least that would be effective.

Others try and help, but most of them are drowning too. You can gaze across the horizon and call to one another, but no one can navigate your ocean but you. Where they have an island, you might have a kraken.

But sometimes, sometimes I get up and above for long enough to feel the sunshine, and to remember what it’s like to actual live with ground firm beneath my feet. I stay above long enough to hear the encouragement from the people in their own oceans, to feel the hands reaching down to try and help me up.

Sometimes I laugh with my husband and mean it. Sometimes I play piano and feel it. Sometimes I write something and actually post it.

Sometimes it feels a little less like drowning.

Sometimes I’m strong enough to swim.

I wrote half of this while half asleep a few days ago in the depths of an extended anxiety attack. The last year’s been rough, but I’ll keep trudging through. Sometimes it’s just nice to get it out in words. (In other words, don’t panic, I’m okay.)


Dealing with Drugs: A Writers Lament

I’m on drugs! How many of you assumed they were illegal? Silly people.

Alright, serious face, guys. I am on drugs. Every morning along with my Vitamin E (Which keeps my skin clear, seriously try it), Choline, Fish Oil, and Vitamin D (which was also prescribed by my doctor), I take a little white pill. It used to be pink, when I lived in Canada, but here in the US of A, it’s white.

That little white pill is Paxil, a brand name version of Paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It tastes horrible if I don’t swallow it right away, and it’s really easy to loose in the carpet if I drop it.

Paxil can be used to treat a number of things; for me though, it’s to help with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorder. It also helps with my sporadic depressive episodes, and my chronic nightmares. Paxil takes almost two weeks to really settle into your system (it can’t be used as an emergency correction), creates pretty awful nausea and dizziness for those two weeks, as well as if you miss a dose. I took 10mg/day for almost ten years, but lately I’ve been taking 20mg/day.

So, why am I telling you this?

A few days ago I packed up a backpack at seven in the evening and drove to a hotel two hours away from my home spontaneously, on a mini-photography vacation. I talked about this in my last blog post, about trying new things. I had a lot of fun, and am currently sitting in a Starbucks caffeinating before I head home. There was only one major dark point to this outing.

I forgot my pills.

I already mentioned the nausea and dizziness that come when you miss a dose, and that part sucks. What sucks worse though, is the crippling inability to function like a normal human being. Writing this now is like pulling teeth. Each word grinds against me, each thought bumping up against the next, making everything muddled and foggy. My hands are shaky, my eyes are blurry, and I’m exhausted by a night of extensive nightmares.

And that still isn’t the worst bit. The worst bit is the guilt. The feeling of inadequacy. Why can’t I be like normal people? Why can’t I manage to go one day without medicating myself? Why can’t my brain just work-


I bet a lot of you have those thoughts too. That you aren’t normal; that you’re broken; that you’re somehow less then people who don’t deal with what you deal with. I have them all the time.

Why though? Okay, well, the obvious answer is that I have severe anxiety, so my mind latches onto any insecurity and extrapolates. The sad thing is though, I’m not the only one who thinks these things about me. The stigma against psychological issues is slowly lessening, but it is still absolutely, horrible, painfully real.

“Just deal with it.” “Everyone gets nervous.” “Stop worrying so much.”

We’ve all heard it, even from the most good meaning friends. As writers and creators, there is an addition layer of complication. There is this frustrating myth that being depressed, anxious, neurotic somehow makes you a better artist. That being broken means your work will be deeper, more original, and just better. So people suffer through it for their ‘art’.

This, my friends, is bullshit. If you have clinical depression, it is no different than having diabetes. It is biological, chemical, and unhealthy. So you go to your doctor, go through the painful process of admitting you can’t handle it alone, and they hand you some pretty little pills. You take those pills without question, and suddenly you are uncreative, blank, and boring. So you have to make a decision, be ‘happy’ without your art, or be miserable with it.

Well, you’re on the wrong dosage. Or the wrong pill! The treatment of depression and anxiety is still new in the grand scheme of things, and it’s harder to measure than other things. Most people have to go through tons of different dosages and drugs to find the right balance. And that can CHANGE, as your get older. You might need to change it again later if it stops working.

If you are on the right dosage, you shouldn’t be dull, you should be calm and focused. If you found the right drug, you shouldn’t be uncreative, you should be able to work without having a meltdown every few hours.

We as creators need to DEAL with this. The stigma of mental health issues is improving, and that’s great. But the stigma of ‘suffering for your art’ is still alive, well, and frankly ridiculous.

So here it is. I have GAD, Panic Disorder, and depression, and that is okay.  I take 20mg/day of Paxil, 1000mg/day of Vitamin D, go to therapy, meditate and control my diet in an attempt to keep my mental health stable, and THAT is okay. I want to be happy  and love myself while I create, AND THAT IS OKAY.

Chart your own path. We only get to live life once. Don’t let stigma, or old wives tales, or history dictate who you are, and what you can do.

Be brave.

I’ll be right here.


Show the world that it’s okay to be a creator AND to take care of yourself with a mug. 100% of proceeds go to the Red Cross Emergency Services. 

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S.J. Penner

Author of the upcoming series #Tyrant, artist, and inveterate dabbler. Creator of #guiltfreeswag for writers and gamers at Coffee Ink where 100% of proceeds go to Red Cross Emergency Services.

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