I tend to be a melancholy person. Or maybe more angsty and intermittently filled with existential dread.
places. Here she is in May 2021 about to head out for a paddle on Rockhold Creek
in Deale, Maryland.
(If this was a text message, I’d write “LOL” after that statement. You know — like when you say something a little too heavy and want to communicate with a nervous laugh that you didn’t really mean it but you don’t want to unsay it because it’s true? That kind of LOL.)
As far as I can remember, I’ve always been like this. A teacher in high school once told me I looked like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. (It was just a really heavy backpack; I had a hard time remembering my locker combination, so it was better to take all my books and binders everywhere. LOL.)
I tried to hide the heavy feelings I had — mimicking people who looked happy, hoping I could be too. As I got older, my anxiety grew and became turmoil and loneliness. In my late 20s into my 30s, I’ve had the gift of being able to focus on my mental health.
I’m learning how to cope. And I’ve had a lot of help along the way. I’m incredibly grateful for therapy, an amazing support network, and people in my life who show me more grace and love than I ever thought possible.
I can’t remember exactly why I started paddleboarding. I like to try different activities, and at one point, paddleboarding was one of them. I drifted away from it for a time. (See what I did there? LOL, but actually.) During the pandemic, I got to get back into it.
My mom and stepdad kept a sailboat at a marina in Deale, Maryland. When I was a kid, my family had a boat at that marina, and it brought back happy memories to be there. A paddleboard and kayak rental stand had opened, so I figured I’d rent a board. I felt nervous being back on the water, but I kept going back and went as much as I could during the summer of 2020.
Last winter, I used my stimulus check to buy my own board. My excitement about the coming season helped carry me through the winter. I rented a shed to store it just steps away from the dock at my mom and stepdad’s new marina, not too far from Deale, in Shady Side. I worried for months about how I was going to get that board in and out of the water, but I clumsily figured it out, and each time I went out on the water, I got a little less nervous.
I ended up spending most of my free time last summer on Parrish Creek. I’d finish work and drive the hour out to the bay, blasting music in my car with the windows down. Usually, I’d make it just in time for a sunset paddle.
On the weekends, I’d explore the coves around the marina and paddle out to a little beach. I saw cownose rays swim, watched ospreys fly, hung out with horseshoe crabs and kept an eye out for the jellyfish. My favorite thing to do on my mom and dad’s sailboat when I was a kid was to count the jellyfish drifting by. I got up to 100 one time. To this day, I am really proud of that unscientific marine-life study. I’m not sure I have the attention span for that as an adult, but I saw a lot of them this past summer.
Being back at the bay felt like coming home. Being on the water and being in a familiar place brought peace to my soul. When I’m out on the water on my board, I agree with the people who say life is a gift. I smell muddy Chesapeake Bay water, I hear the splash of little fish when they jump, I feel the board and waves under my wobbly feet (which sometimes fall asleep; that’s normal, right? LOL), and I see the sunsets.
Paddleboarding gives me a sense of peace and safety within myself that translates to hope and gratitude. The angst, dread and loneliness, they’re still there, but with professional help, a support system and a sense that I am loved, I have these precious moments of feeling like everything is going to be OK. It’s a little hard to describe, but I know that when I get to my highway exit and see those familiar roads out to the countryside, I’ll start to feel it. It’s a lightness. My shoulders relax, I smile and I can breathe a little easier. It’s a kind of happy I didn’t think was possible — contentment, maybe? Joy? I think that’s it. It must be.
I’m looking forward to getting back on the water next spring. I sure do love that board, and I’m so glad it’s helped teach me what joy feels like.
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