I almost drowned once. I was an adult too, 26 to be exact. I was snorkeling on a reef in Belize, and I had wandered from the main group following a group of fish. Unknowingly I had gotten pulled by a current into the dangerous part where these enormous waves crashed down onto the edge of the reef.

Before I realized the danger I was in, a wave crashed onto me. It engulfed my snorkel and sent a tube-full of water down my throat. I began coughing, but the salt water made my throat close. I began to panic, gasping for air and nothing was going in. When I finally felt my throat opening again, another wave hit me and flung me into the reef. I inhaled water again and was flailing around in the confusion of the waves and the rocks. When I resurfaced  I was still coughing and managed a ragged breath before another wave took me under. I was terrified; I was going to drown. I have been a swimmer since the age of 6 and a lifeguard for 4 summers in high school. Swimming has never been a problem for me, yet here I was about to die in the ocean.

I was suddenly being brought to the surface by my friend who had been close by. She saw me struggling and bravely came to my rescue at the risk of being tossed around like I was. I was still struggling to catch my breath and she held onto me and slowly swam me to safety. At this point our guide spotted us, (like hello? Where were you this entire time?!), and jumped into the water in extremely dramatic fashion, and helped me back into the boat.

Obviously, I’m very glad I didn’t drown that day, but I can’t help but think of this story as I reflect on a year ago when I almost drowned a different way.

The Perfect Storm

Last summer, my anxiety began to become uncontrollable for me. I talked about all of this in my blog here. By the end of July when I was back in Utah, it had gone from being an occasional issue to a daily issue. Pretty much as soon as I woke up, the panic would start. I would honestly dread the mornings and what the next day would hold for me. I attempted my best to hold it together but it got so bad that I eventually broke down. I’m not sure I know anyone who would not have broken down after enduring the nonstop panic. Thinking back on how fuzzy and how detached from my body I was is scary. I never felt like I was “all there”, and constantly worried about the next panic attack. I didn’t feel comfortable even in my own home and would try to escape that feeling by leaving and staying busy, but being in public also made me feel panicked because I did NOT want to make a public scene if I had another attack. I was exhausted but couldn’t shut my brain off at night, and being so sleep deprived exacerbated everything astronomically. I was literally feeling like I was losing my mind.

As scary as it may be to say, I got to the point where I understood why people with severe mental illness commit suicide. I was never contemplating it, but it was such an exhausting mental cycle I would go through every single day, that I longed for it to be over. I just wanted all of it to stop and to feel like myself again. I had a full fledged breakdown on the day when everything came to a head last summer. It was so bad that my husband drugged me so I would just go to sleep because I was so spectacularly  hysterical. I felt like I was drowning in this mental anguish.

S.O.S

I was clearly in trouble, and my ship was sinking fast. Thankfully, I had the good sense to reach out to people that I loved and trusted to help. I sought help from my doctor who prescribed me life-changing medication for my anxiety. By the next day I could feel a huge difference and that fuzzy fog-like feeling I had was lifting.

I also started going to a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders, and even after my first session with her I felt SO much better. Over a few months she helped me develop some mental tools to help me combat my anxiety when it would rear its ugly head. I finally was feeling myself again, although it was a rough road at first.

The best thing I did for myself was to ask for help. Instead of enduring this scary anxiety- filled world alone I made sure I had my people there to help me. If I had tried to go it alone, I’m not sure where I would be today, or in what mental state.

For anyone out there who feels like they are drowning in their own mental health issues, just know that you are NOT alone. Here is the number for a suicide hotline:

Suicide Prevention

1-800-273-8255

XoXo

Heather

The Raw Brunette

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A New Rhythm

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This was a juvenile male of the family who I called my handsome boy

As cliche as it might sound, pretty much as soon as we landed in Kigali the popular 80’s song, (you all know it), “Africa” by the band Toto was on repeat in my head. There was even a day I jokingly played it on my phone while we were on safari in the Akagera Game Reserve.

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you.

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.

I bless the rains down in Africa…

Don’t you lie to me, I know you’re all now singing it either in your head or out loud. It’s okay, this is a safe space; I am a huge fan of this song myself. It’s interesting that an almost comical song has become such a classic. For me, it really inspires me. It’s also one of those songs that when it comes on the radio, you turn it up and sing along! It’s really hard to be in a bad mood while this song is on.  More than anything, this song makes me want to go back to Africa very badly.

Good Vibrations

The trip to and from Rwanda was about 40 hours one way. This sounds long, which it was, but I was too excited to be tired on the way there. As I stepped off the plane in Kigali and my boots met the ground, my entire body was buzzing, almost like the energy from the Earth itself was transferring to me through my shoes. This was my first trip to the African continent, and I’m determined that it will be the first of many to come. I swear, the magic of it’s energy hummed through me on our whole trip.

The Rwandan people, greatly added to this good energy. I liked them immediately; it was hard not to! They are such friendly and warm people, and my friend Anne, who I met on this trip, perfectly described their smiles as their entire face smiling. You cannot help but smile back, and feel the good vibes from these incredible people. They work hard, love hard, and have bravely endured some of the most harrowing events before, during, and after the Rwandan Genocide.

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We met Iman on the street and he gave us a tour of a local market in this small village we stopped at for gas

It inspired me to be a much better version of myself after meeting the Rwandan people. I have been through my own traumatic events and trials in life, but can never compare to the things they struggle with on a daily basis. I want to be a much more positive person and help spread that love and good energy to others. Keep those good vibrations going.

I Bless the Rains

Water. It’s essential for all life. Yet, it’s something that I take for granted here in the United States. I am so privileged to have clean, drinkable water available to me always. It’s not like I have never known how lucky we are here, but going to Rwanda my eyes were quickly opened when I realized I needed to have a bottle of water on me at all times so I could drink.

The kids would always wave and yell at us through our open windows of our green Land Cruiser we traveled in with our guide, Mr. Kirenga. We learned fast that “mzungu” means “white person” in Swahili. It was often squealed by the adorable masses of kiddos in the streets who saw us. When they weren’t immediately asking for money, they would be asking for our empty water bottles so they could go fill them with water from the public wells. It soon became our mission to seek out a lone kid on the side of the road that we could toss an empty bottle to. If there was more than one kid, a fight would break out, so one child was preferred. The roads were a popular hangout, so it would never take us long to see one. They always quickly dashed and grabbed that bottle, often holding it up and jumping around triumphantly. It made my heart ache a little when I thought of the things my kids say they “need” like toys, when these kids only worry about collecting water.

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These darling kids greeted us by the bamboo forest on our way to see the gorillas.

I have always loved the line in the song Africa “I bless the rains”. We often prayed and thanked God for rain (or snow) growing up in my home, but like I have said before, I grew up priveledged to never have to worry about drinkable water, and we did not live on a farm where water is needed to sustain crops.

Once I was in Rwanda, and saw with my own eyes the daily struggles many people go through to attain water for their family, it made me feel guilty for never having to worry about water where I live. Just tonight, my four-year-old son came out of his bedroom demanding his third cold drink before bed. I couldn’t help but think what some kids in Rwanda would give for even one cold drink before bed. I’m not saying I will deprive my kids of water. But I will continue to educate them and make them aware of how privileged they truly are, so that they do not take it for granted.

Music and Magic for the Soul

The magic of Africa cannot properly be described to someone who hasn’t been there. It may only be described as just that: magic. It’s a continent where many believe life first began. And today, it remains a place of majestic landscapes, people, and creatures unrivaled in most other places in the world.

I was charmed the moment I arrived. Even as I sat on a plane traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, the idea that I was going to be in a place that had long been a dream of mine to see, it didn’t feel real.

I can attest that the magic of Africa – Rwanda specifically, is in fact real. That buzzing I talked about earlier? That’s it. It comes from the earth itself, almost as if it is absorbed through your feet as they meet the ground. It is radiated by the beautiful people and their kind hearts and bright smiles. The breathtaking landscapes never ceased to amaze me, with high rolling terraced hills, and seemingly endless vibrant green tea fields. The streets lined with women and men in brightly colored native fabrics with unbelievable amounts of different items piled on their heads. I witnessed some of the world’s most incredible animals in the wild that let me tell you, is in fact NOT the same as seeing them in a zoo! I also had the extreme privilege to hike up the volcanoes and sit feet from a silverback gorilla and his family of 15 females, juvenile males, and infants. Watching them, and being so close took the literal breath from my body and is by far one of the coolest things I will ever have done. Magic.

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Our group with our guide, porters, and trackers when we tracked the Chimpanzees

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This cute little guy hopped aboard our boat hoping for food. He was disappointed

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There are 5 million fruit bats on Napoleon Island

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The handmade fabrics were unbelievable

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I was never a fan of giraffes but now I am a huge one!

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The green Land Cruiser we traveled in

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I told him he was my handsome boy and he smiled for me

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A section of the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in Kigali

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The bamboo forest

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Canopy Walk in Nyungwe National Park

To once again quote Toto:

“It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you”

Just like in the song, I feel it will be hard to take the things I felt in Africa from me. The moment we landed in the US, I longed to be going back. A piece of my heart was left behind, and a piece of Rwanda replaced it. My heart, and life for that matter, have forever been changed by it. The new piece has given my heart a new rythym, a drum beat if you will. It is forever beating onward leading me to the new and better person I want to be, and to what changes I hope to make in this world.

Xoxo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette