At 0112 I stood in the salon shaking; not because I was soaking wet but because I was terrified. Standing at the door I looked at the rain pouring down, watched the lighting strike all around, and jumped when thunder came so loud it shook the very door on which I was leaning. My phone in hand, I tried to calm myself by sending panicked text messages to TJ, off for work in a faraway land, trying to ground myself and rationalize what I knew were irrational thoughts. No matter how hard I tried. I could feel my breath quickening; I started to feel like things were spinning, and then the tears came.
“Write. Just do what you do best and write.”
TJ commanded me to write the first time I ever had a panic attack on a boat. Well, the first time I ever had a panic attack ever. Grabbing my computer to meet me on the floor of the salon while we were underway toward Grenada, he opened my laptop and commanded me to write to help bring me back to the present. I did. I wrote about the panic attack and how I felt about sailing. That was the first time the words, “I can’t do this. I can’t go offshore sailing. I can’t live on a boat.” came out of my mouth. The first time I realized that maybe this dream wasn’t for me after all. TJ sat on the floor and hugged me to him as I sobbed and apologized profusely that I didn’t want to do this anymore.
A few days and one additional panic attack later, we safely arrived in Grenada. For the first time in my life I couldn’t wait to get off a boat and get to our hotel on land. I was exhausted; not just from the lengthy passage but from almost constant fear, worry, and panic for days on end.
When we returned to our own floating home, I did so with a newly attached anxiety to sailing and being on a boat constantly. The trip from Turks and Caicos to Grenada changed me, and my thoughts on sailing offshore for long passages away from land. I returned knowing it wasn’t something I wanted to do. The idea of sailing from Charleston to the Bahamas, a three-day offshore passage, seemed impossible and I no longer had any desire to even try. I felt defeated and ashamed that I couldn’t “hack it” in the offshore sailing world. It only took 1,001 nautical miles and two panic attacks to figure it out.
The next month, while TJ was away on a yacht steaming toward France, a storm blew into the marina. High winds, heavy rain, and lots of lightning surrounded the boat and I nervously kept looking out the windows. My mom was staying with me and was sleeping down below, while I perched myself on the settee couch. All the things that could possibly go wrong flooded my head. We could take on water and, without bilge pumps, (the French, or at least the makers of Fountaine Pajot catamarans, don’t believe in them) we would sink. What if a line snaps and we break loose? Will all the lines snap if one snaps? Will we float away? The cascade of anxious thoughts started to drown me when I felt the release of tension followed by a thump.
I was already on the edge of my seat so I jumped up and ran outside. The sugar scoop of our starboard hull was laying against the dock behind us and the bow was far out from the dock. Our line had snapped. In my pajamas I ran out and leaned as far as I could to grab the remnants of the dock line still attached to the cleat on the bow. Lightning flashed around me and the rain soaked through my thin pajamas as I put my body weight into pulling the bow back toward the dock, against the outgoing tide. Adrenaline rushed as I slammed my hand on my neighbor’s hull. He rushed out into the storm with a dock line to help me. It wasn’t until after our boat was securely tied to the dock that I fully realized what happened.
I haven’t been the same since.
Just like tonight, when the rain started and the wind howled through the rigging of sailboat masts around me; I was jolted awake from my sleep and instantly found myself in “fight” mode. I tried to relax and stay in my bed but I couldn’t; I had to see what was happening outside. Grabbing my phone I began sending texts to TJ, firing off my “what ifs” and telling him “I can’t do this.” Watching the rain pour down and the wind rip at our bimini cover, I thought I heard the same thump I heard in March. Once again, I found myself running outside in the rain and the storm with tears in my eyes and shallow breathing to check dock lines and make sure we hadn’t hit the dock.
I returned moments later, soaking and still anxious even though I knew we hadn’t hit the dock. With each sway of the boat, sound of water slapping against the hull, or bolt of lightning, I became less grounded than I had been moments before. My dog sat at my feet, shaking alongside me because she, too, struggles with anxiety.
My brain usually responds well to logic and reasoning. Show me the statistics and facts to back up your argument, and I’ll usually agree. TJ tried appealing to my logic and reasoning with statistics on dock lines breaking, but it wasn’t working. Instead, I found myself getting angry at the statistics because I feel like nothing has gone right for us on this boat. I never struggled with panic attacks until I went offshore sailing; now, I start to get anxious and panicky at every storm that enters the marina.
This is what I don’t want Vivienne to see.
Vivienne so innocently sleeps through every storm that comes our way, much like I did at her age. While I prayed God would keep us safe, I also prayed He would let her sleep; I didn’t want her to see me soaking wet and shaking in the salon, unable to pry my eyes away from the storm outside. I started to feel the first inklings of a panic attack coming when TJ’s words popped in my head.
“Write. Just do what you do best and write.”
I ran down to my bed, grabbed my computer from its nighttime resting place, and walked back up to the salon. Turning on a light in an otherwise dark boat, I opened my computer and started to write; taking my mind away from what was happening outside and immersing myself in the words flowing from my fingers.
In the time it took to write this piece, the storm passed and it is now 0200. TJ’s words held true. Writing took my mind from “fight-or-flight” and brought me back to reality. Our boat is fine. Our lines held, our bilges are dry, and I’m only damp now instead of soaking wet. I’m also exhausted. Very exhausted. While I’m sure part of my exhaustion is the time, anxiety and being in “flight-or-fight” mode for long periods of time is draining. Standing in the doorway, panicked about the storm, takes a toll on me physically and emotionally.
While it is true, writing this piece has been a good distraction, it also has further depleted what mental energy I had left; however, nothing can compare to what has been written in the moment. This is my reality while living on a boat. I try my hardest to make the best out of the situations with which I’ve been faced, but it is still anxiety-provoking.
Looking around the marina I see dark boats. Sailboats and motor yachts where the owners are still sleeping, unfazed by the storms passing through. Then there’s me, sitting on the settee with the lights on; mouth dry from how I’ve been breathing and the fear that has been living in my throat. I’m unable to attempt sleep until I check outside one more time and look at the radar to make sure we are in the clear for the rest of the night.
This is my reality. I’m not the liveaboard who happily sleeps to the sound of the rain, waves, and swaying of the boat. I get anxious, panicked, and terrified; sitting wide awake and praying for God to put my mind at rest while keeping us safe through the storms. Then thinking I should pray more specifically, I pray to keep our boat safe and keep us from breaking loose. It is now 0212 and the rain and wind have started again, as I prepare to close down my computer and lay down on the settee for a night of fitful sleep.
This is my liveaboard reality.
~~ “All things are possible for those who believe.” -Mark 9:23 ~~