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Every Second I Hold my Breath

by Leah Harris 2 months ago in ptsd

Learning to overcome fear, when you're afraid of the thing you love the most.

I never thought I could fear the water. To be touched by it, to taste it, to be engulfed by it. My whole life has been in water.

From before I was born, I was a swimmer. Mom always said I never sat still when she was pregnant with me, always on the go, swimming circles. I joined every swim team, lived on the beach, took long baths at night.

I've never had a fear of water. Until the day I nearly drowned.


I snapped back to reality. My eyes were so tired.

"Yes?" I asked Dr. Larson.

"How long has it been since you were in the water, Chloe?"

I looked away. My therapist waited.

"Eight months."

She wrote something down. "Eight months since you've been in the ocean?" she asked rhetorically. She knew the answer.

"Eight months since I've taken a bath, or been in a pool. It's been eight months since... the incident." I wrung my hands together, pushing away the thought of it.

Dr. Larson noticed.

She sat her notebook down across her lap. "Chloe, I want you to do something that will make you very uncomfortable. Are you okay with hearing my suggestion?"

I breathed in. I nodded.

"I believe you will never come to terms with your fear if you don't embrace it. Thinking of the incident triggers your anxiety and PTSD so badly, and I know you still have nightmares.

The only way to get through it is by slowly reintegrating water into your life. I want you to start by getting in the bath a few times a week. Have Kellen there if you need him."

I nodded again.

"Can I go now?" I asked, standing up.

She sighed, probably in frustration. These sessions were mandated by my job, and I couldn't come back to work until Dr. Larson said I was ready. I knew I wasn't making it easy for her.

"Yes. I'll see you next week." she said with a sigh, taking her glasses off and touching her forehead.

At home, I unlocked the door and threw my bag on the floor in the entryway. Kellen was waiting for me at home. He worked from home now, I wish I could too.

"Hey beautiful," He said as he came over and kissed my head. "How was it today?"

"Hey." I gave him a hug. "Not great. Dr. Larson does want us to try something though."

"Yeah? Well that's good, right?" his tone hopeful.

I pursed my lips. I felt my heart speed up. "She suggested taking a bath."


May 14th, 2016. My name is Chloe Anderson, and this may be my last entry in this journal. Because I don't want to spend my last days writing.

It's been eighteen days since the Utopia sank, and my mind is as adrift as we are. We ran out of food two days ago and will run out of water tomorrow. I keep thinking that someone will find us, but they never do and I am running out of ideas. Ideas, and hope.

Kellen keeps telling me to press forward, that giving up hope is what will really kill us. Not this raft, not the tides. Not even starvation.


Kellen spoke gently, nudging my leg with the last bottle of water. "You need to take a few sips. It's been two hours."

I put down my journal and pen, taking the water. "Thanks."

We curled up together under our tarp for warmth and to hide from the wind. The days were warm but the nights came cold. It was that part of Spring that you could still feel the Winter in it.

I wanted to have more Winters.

If I could only take back that ticket... tear it up and throw it away.

That stupid raffle I won at work put us on this raft. I should have never entered. Not that I could have known this would be the outcome.

People from my work, and our families at least where we were supposed to be headed, but now Kellen and I were adrift somewhere in the Atlantic, separated from the other survivors, hoping a search party would show up before it was too late.


The hot water steamed up our small bathroom. Kellen thought maybe since the water was hot, it would help my brain disassociate it from what happened before. I could feel my heart pounding. I missed being able to relax in a bath, soak my muscles after a long day at work. The thought of being submerged in water terrified me now.

"You want to break free from this, right?" Kellen asked, holding my hand in his. His dark eyes looked into mine, hoping with everything he had inside him that this would work. He tried so hard to help me through my PTSD and anxiety, and he wasn't about to give up on me.

I nodded. "So badly." My eyes squeezed shut. I clung to him, breathing in his scent, feeling the warmth of him and the room. I tried to relax my mind.

"I'm ready." I said as I let go. He helped me into the water, one foot at a time. I was still standing. My pulse reluctantly slowed from a rapid pounding to a gentle but quick pace. The bath felt hot and silky, and I could smell the lavender from the Epsom salt we had bought a few hours before. Kellen held my hands till they stopped shaking.

Slowly, I lowered myself into the water.


"I'm sorry." I spoke under my breath. Kellen looked over at me.

"What?" He asked. His eyes were genuine and concerned.

"I'm sorry I dragged you into this mess, Kellen. We already had plans for the week when I won that ticket. I ruined our lives."

I felt my eyes welling. I didn't want to die, let alone at the age of twenty-four in the middle of the Ocean. I didn't want my boyfriend to have to die out here with me.

"Hey, it is not-" Kellen was cut off.

Outside, we felt the wind start to pick up hard. The raft began to rock, slowly at first, but then we could barely keep our balance in the small nylon lifeboat. Kellen ripped the tarp off of us and grabbed me and the side of the raft, clinging tightly to both. The motion became rougher until we were being roughly jostled back and forth by the waves.

Before I knew it, we were underwater.


That evening in the bath was the first I had felt comfortable in the water at all in over half a year. I of course showered every other day, but being emersed in water was different. Like being claustrophobic.

I missed the feeling of being whole when I was swimming.

Of being at peace in a bath.

The scent of Lavender oil was still on my body and hair, and I actually felt a bit relaxed. Still, I was more relaxed now that it was over.

I knew that bathing again was going to help and that it would be a good start. Having Kellen there beside me was the only thing keeping me together. I had to wean myself towards being in the water alone.

That night I had a specific goal in my head, and I had to reach it.

I had to swim again.


I gasped for air, trying to get a hold of our raft.

"Kellen!?" I screamed, frantically looking for my boyfriend through the thrashing waves. I couldn't see him, I couldn't see anything.

Without warning, a wave pulled me under. I barely remembered to hold my breath. I held it for what felt like an eternity. The waves swirled around me, trying to keep me under and pull me down, but I kicked my way to the surface, my lungs begging for air as I felt myself emerge from the water but for a moment.

Again, I was dragged under.

The storm had come out of nowhere, and it was going to win. I felt it was ironic that I would die beneath the ocean surface. A watery grave for the girl who always loved the water. My thoughts were beginning to fade. My lungs tightened in my chest.

I felt a hand tighten around my arm, pulling me up through the unforgiving ocean.

My eyes shot open, lungs expanded, breath filling them once again.

I kept coughed horrendously, my throat and nose burning from the saltwater. My vision slowly returned. We were somehow aboard our small raft once again. Kellen had resuscitated me on the small lifeboat we'd floated on for the last two weeks. He hugged me tighter than he ever had, tears streaming down his face.

"We are going home." Kellen said with more certainty than I imagined possible.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that ship on the horizon.


Week's passed.


I began to slowly immerse myself in water again. I was taking baths, by myself now. I could walk along the beach without my heart racing.

Our local YMCA is where Kellen and I used to go swimming on the weekends, or where I would swim laps after using the gym equipment. I decided that tonight would be the night.

The pool was big. 25-yards with a 13-foot deep end.

I stood at the edge of the pool in my white bathing suit. It felt tight from unuse. Both familiar and foreign.

The water rippled. The smell of the chlorine filled my senses. I spotted the lifeguards, present and watching the few people splashing and wading in the shallow end. This was the moment.

I held my breath. Counting five seconds in my head. I jumped in.

Tiny bubbles burst around me as my body sunk quickly into the water. I reminded myself of growing up in the pool. Diving. Being the fastest girl on the swim team. Those were the thoughts I chose to think about as I kicked off the bottom and swam to the surface.

I let myself drift upwards, letting the water gently carry me as it always had before. My body felt light, laying there in the small, man-made ocean. My arms extended, my mind relaxed.

I could feel myself letting go.

This moment in the pool was my final ship on the horizon.


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-Leah H

Leah Harris
Leah Harris
Read next: Unwanted
Leah Harris

Writer, blogger and artist. Inspirations for writing are Markus Zusak and Tyler Knott Gregson. Follow me on Instagram! @a.natural.endeavor

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