Three Things to Remember When it Feels Like You’re Drowning in Life

Sometimes life just feels relentless. It feels like an endless sea of suffering, and you fight and fight the current to no avail. Maybe you finally learn to relax and surrender to the flow. Maybe you break the surface. Maybe you think the worst is over, just for a clean-up set to wash through and knock you flat again. 

You feel like the lessons have been learned, like you’ve squeezed the lemons and made the lemonade. You don’t understand. Why now? Why more?

First – whether you believe there is a why or not, you don’t need to figure it all out now. You may look back and realize how you’ve grown or how it served you, or the knowing may never reveal itself. Right now, it is okay if it just sucks. Let yourself acknowledge that it is hard. Don’t diminish it or make excuses for yourself. 

“Many parallels can be drawn between our existence and the sea.”

"Many parallels can be drawn between our existence and the sea."
A surfer walks along the rocky shoreline of Northern California, silhouetted by the setting sun.

Then – think of the ocean. We describe ourselves as feeling like we’re drowning for a reason. Metaphors run deep with the ocean because we are so connected to it as humans. Many parallels can be drawn between our existence and the sea. 

Waves are formed from wind in far off places. The energy of that wind builds into swell as it crosses whole oceans, the memory of a breeze crashing on our shores. Waves come in sets. Sometimes there is a lull between sets. Sometimes the period is long and we have ample time to catch our breath between waves. Sometimes there is chop and we can’t catch a break. Sometimes we know what weather system brings the biggest waves, and sometimes the cause and direction remain a mystery. We’re all just trying to keep our heads above water. 

We all have different breaking points. We have different beaches and sandbars and reefs and rocks that change how waves affect each one of us. Our different circumstances determine how hollow the waves are that hit us, how dangerous they are, and how much havoc they can wreak.  

"We're all just trying to keep our heads above water."
Surfers sit in the Pacific Ocean as golden light hits the rocks behind them and a wave crashes unridden.

“We’re all just trying to keep our heads above water.”

Luckily, no matter how waves hit us, there are things we can all do.


We can learn how to surf. It takes time, and blood, and sweat, and tears, but we can learn how to ride the waves of our minds. We will fall and there will still be times when we feel like we are drowning. But we can lessen the impact of waves with healthy coping strategies, therapy, meditation and more. 


When a big set washes through and we get pushed under the surface, we can remember to stay calm. When a surfer gets held under, staying calm and relaxed is the most important thing they can do. In a literal sense, it conserves oxygen, and allows your buoyancy to bring you back up to the surface. It works similarly in the metaphorical. Stay calm, breathe deeply, and the wave will pass. Trust that you will be okay. Trust that you will survive it.


Never give up and never lose hope. No matter how long you’ve been battling storms, you never know what is on the horizon. The ocean is ever-changing. Dozens of conditions are always in flux. And all it takes is a tiny shift of the wind, a few degrees, thousands of miles away, to change everything. A new ripple, compounded energy traveling across the expanse, gaining momentum to create new swell headed elsewhere, bringing you crystal clear waters and a lull to float on your back, sun on your face, smile, and take a deep, ease-full breath.

“All it takes is a tiny shift of the wind… thousands of miles away…”

"All it takes is a tiny shift of the wind... thousands of miles away..."
A crayon drawing of a naked woman lying on her back, floating in ripples of water, golden hair suspended around her head.

Dear Ocean,

My dad used to ask me, “If you could choose either the mountains or the ocean, which would it be?”

I knew his choice was you, ocean, but at first, mine was mountains. Mountains meant skiing, and as a ski racer, mountains were, and still are, a part of my identity, a chunk of who I am. But as I grew older and my fascination with you expanded, I found my answer coming in closer to a tie. When visiting you, it took me more and more time to say goodbye each time I left. 

The more I get to know you, the more I wanted to spend my life getting to know you. I want to discover the secrets you hold, the life you breathe into this planet. I want to live out there, just you and me and the breeze filling my sails in a big, blue, endless world of our own. 

“Just you and me and the breeze filling my sails in a big, blue, endless world of our own.”

A sailboat sails off into the sunset on the Pacific Ocean.

I go to you when I lose myself in order to find my way. You sing me your song, again and again, crashing against the rocks, wave after wave, until your message is pounded into my head:

Let go.

Let go.

Let go.

Let go of the negativity. Let go of the future. Let go of what you do not have control over. Let go of the weight you carry with you, and the duty you feel to appease others. Let go. Let go. Let go. You remind me that I am free. You remind me that I am alive. 

A pencil drawing of a wave crashing powerfully, letting go of all that it cannot control.

“Let go.”

There are days when you are calm and there are days when you are angry, but you are always beautiful. True beauty is not dependent on showing up the way others want you to, but showing up exactly as you are. 

The mountains may be a part of who I am, but you remind me of who I am. You take me exactly as I am, in whatever state I go to you in. When I get too proud, you knock me down. You keep me honest and on my toes. It makes every one of my cells sing just looking at the power building beneath your churning depths, your muscles rippling under foamy crests as you curl the weight of the world.

And then you let it go, releasing your hold and need for control just as you are teaching me to do. Only you can enrapture me so intensely, the mystery that you are, the sorcery that you seem to conduct. Only you can be at once so dangerous and comforting. 

You calm, lapping gently at my feet, caressing my ankles as you swallow my broken tears in the dark. When I dive into you, you accept me willingly, wrapping your arms around me and stealing my breath away. And for one weightless, shocking second, you are all that was, all that is, and all that will be.

“You are all that was, all that is, and all that will be.”

The sun setting on the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean.

And when I shatter, you heal me,







“The tides are in our veins.”

~ Robinson jeffers
A photograph of the setting sun over the Pacific Ocean and a rock with a tiny figure perched on it, transfixed by the ocean.
A tiny me on my non-thinking rock.