Sometimes the wave takes me by surprise. Maybe I had my back to the water while watching my family playing on the sand. In the next moment, I’m knocked down, my source of oxygen removed. My mind and body tumble like rocks in the tumultuous surf. Fight or flight systems engage with a thrust into survival mode.

Other times, I am watching the water when it appears on the horizon. In the distance, it grows, seemingly innocuous without the white cap. Still, it gains strength, rising upon approach. I feel the swell as a steady dampening.

A helpless witness, I continue to gather rocks along the shore, and my load becomes more cumbersome. The weight affects my energy level, attention, and desire. Soon it will be oppressive. My mind tells me to shed the rocks as the tide continues to roll toward me. But I haven’t the self-control to do so. Logic tells me to move further inland to escape. But I remain sinking, ankle-deep in the soft, wet quicksand.

With a wide-eyed waiting posture, I scan for buoys. My wife and daughter are set back at a safe distance on the beach, yet I know they aren’t removed from what’s to come. My daughter buries her legs in the sand to create a mermaid tail. I want her to stay there in innocent joy. I can’t let this wave wash her tail away.

My wife, a fierce family protector, has her eyes trained on this scene. She witnesses the changes in the sea levels as well as my affect. Brow furrowed and caught in her own urgency, she calls to me in anticipation of the crash. As the curl threatens to swallow me, I brace myself in search of the air pocket. I have been here before, tossed about with the sediment.

Eventually, I find release in the seaweed swirls of the backrush. My wife wraps me in her comfort like a warm towel. Approaching my baseline, I can feel how the currents of depression have eroded my edges. Then, it occurs to me: the smoothest rocks are the best for skipping. With that in mind, I decide it’s time to learn to surf.

The swells of depression hit everyone differently. What can you do to help? Start by removing the stigma that prevents people from sharing or seeking help. If you suspect that someone is struggling, don’t be afraid to ask the question – “Are you okay?” You don’t need to offer a solution, simply be an authentic listener. Let’s have real conversations about wellbeing. Mental health is health.