Whilst I’m writing this, hundreds of trees and cornfields are blowing past my car window and it’s so dark outside that I can barely see my keys to type (at least I’m pretty good at it). I’m heading to start a new chapter of my life in a brand new state with brand new people at a brand new university. I haven’t even had my driver’s license for a week and I turned eighteen less than a month ago, but here I am: careening down this incredibly long highway to a pretty unknown future.

Though I am quite excited to begin this journey, I don’t feel as though I’ve fulfilled everything I wanted to do from when I was in high school. Such a feeling really shouldn’t be affecting me as much as it is, but I legitimately  fear that this will carry into university. Perhaps I won’t do as much as I want to, or will lose an election I tried hard at, or will miss out on a wonderful theatre opportunity or writing job because of my mental status.

Understanding my mental health has proved to be difficult, especially this past summer. Although I wished to do many unique, fun things with the friends I wished to stay in contact with before I moved across the country, depression prevented that. I often slept until two in the afternoon, binged on unhealthy foods, and sat in my room doing nothing but waiting for my motivation to return. This sort of “seasonal depression” is something I’ve dealt with the past few years. When summer comes along, my mental health usually takes a dip. This year, it plummeted.

Now, here I am, in an SUV crammed with dorm supplies, terrified that my time at uni will result in a similar mental state. I never wanted to move, always felt sluggish, and ended up gaining over twenty pounds. Though I absolutely adore my thick thighs and round face, this excess of weight has made me feel awful and unable to do simple tasks. Feeling this way results in less motivation, which results in more eating, which circles back around to feeling awful.

I can pinpoint the moment this summer when my seasonal depression began, which was receiving the news of the PULSE shooting. No one I knew was there that night, but realizing that I would be going out into a truly hateful world as a young adult plunged me into poor mental health. What has been harder to pinpoint is when and where this trend of seasonal depression actually started.

I arrived at an answer as June ended.

Family vacay plus university orientation entailed a nice week and a half of traveling to Alabama and Disney World. On the way home, we needed to stop and get a hotel before driving the last leg of the trip. That day, the beach was the only real item on our lazy-day plan and I wasn’t hugely excited or disappointed. So, after squeezing into my new swimming costume and lotioning up, I walked to the beach with my family.

While my parents walked our puppy around the sand and my brother tried to finish his science fiction novel, I stood at the edge of the impending tide. Something hit me when the cold water slid in between my toes and the sand dampened.

I hadn’t been swimming in over two years.

One thing to know about me is that I love water. My first chapbook (based off a facet of my personality) is named Ocean Epsilon! It has been a massive part of my life. Creatures that live in water, swimming underwater, studying the water, even just sitting at the bottom of a pool: it’s all so special to me.

From an early age, maybe five or six, I learned how to swim. When I became old enough to lap swim, my parents signed me up for summer swim lessons. Graduating from level four to level five into the deep end of the community pool was my biggest middle school accomplishment, especially because I was the only swimmer with the ability to swim at that level. With this privilege came the motivation: the motivation to remain in the water and perform to the best of my abilities.

Turning sixteen at our local pool meant that you were ineligible to continue swimming lessons. Thankfully, I’d already passed to the highest level ( ten), so leaving wasn’t too horrible. Without this set time to swim, however, getting myself over to the pool became more and more difficult. And when I was able to make it there, the pool would be filled with families and I couldn’t even swim a full lap. Eventually, I gave up and stopped going.

Fast forward to this moment at eighteen, standing in the ocean and feeling saltwater lap over my feet. Nothing had ever felt more right to me in that moment than water. Plunging my body into it only made the feeling solidify further.

Water, to me, has been more than something to race in or explore. When I’m in water, I can’t feel where my body begins and ends. When I’m in water, I feel connected to something bigger than anything I could ever experience on earth. When I’m in water, everything harsh is muted and slower. When I’m in water, every frightening, intrusive thought I could feel is silenced to account for holding my breath. When I’m in water, I am both in control and completely submissive. A perfect paradox.

I’m still trucking on this highway (my parents got lost so we took a bit of a detour), but my fear of not doing anything due to mental illness isn’t as loud as before. Learning where these problems started is a good first step to understanding ways to cope. My swimming costume, goggles, and towel are all packed into one of these many suitcases, ready to be used after a stressful class at the free gym’s pool. It’s not a complete fix, but it’s a good first step to understanding myself.

So, water everywhere, prepare yourself: I’m back, and I’m ready to feel alive again.