I have recently seen a rash of articles shared online about a condition that some people are calling secondary drowning. This is a situation where (typically) a young child inhales water and then is seemingly fine immediately afterwards, but later exhibits signs of low oxygen like lethargy, coughing, or a change in breathing. This is due to the lungs having fluid in them and can happen as late as 24 hours after the initial incident. This is a dangerous and sometimes tragic (although thankfully rare) event. And not to make light of what is a very serious ailment, but the phrase "secondary drowning" has stuck with me ever since I read the first news story.
Life is hard. Sometimes really hard. I came to work one day a couple weeks ago and with no prior warning found that tears were just pouring down my face. Nothing in particular had happened that morning to cause such a breakdown. I suddenly just found myself hyperventilating and sobbing for no apparent reason. I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm super stressed right now...there's reasons aplenty, but there was nothing to instigate that specific meltdown. Luckily no customers came into the store while I was attempting to pull myself together and eventually it passed. Call it an anxiety or panic attack, call it depression, but I like the term secondary drowning. It is what happens when you are dealing with something sad or confusing or traumatic or especially difficult (or any combination of the 4 all rolled into one colossal mess.) And just when you think you are over the worst of it and you are getting on with your life BOOM, you're a total wreck. A basket case. A completely neurotic walking disaster. Secondary drowning.
It happened again just a few days ago. I had to make a last minute trip to California with my parents for a funeral. Funeral: Sad. Seeing People I Hadn't Seen in a Really Long Time: Great. Day at the Beach: Fantastic. Then suddenly it was time to come back home. Cue the breakdown. I could barely hold back tears and felt like I couldn't catch my breath at just the thought of coming home and dealing with real life again. Disability paperwork, doctors appointments, unemployment appeal, bills, college registrations, financial aid applications, job search, car problems, grocery shopping, having 5 other people depend on me to NOT be a total catastrophe...it was just too much to stomach. (This isn't the first time this has happened when returning from being out of town actually. Maybe I should just circumvent the whole issue by changing my identity and moving to sunny Mexico?? Curse you, metric system!) It was all I could do not to have a full-out tantrum and refuse to go. Fortunately the thought of a somewhat self-respecting 40 year old woman grabbing onto the porch column and making her parents drag her kicking and screaming into the car was ludicrous enough that I was able to once again pull myself together. Which is not to say that it wasn't a tempting proposition for a time. Secondary drowning.
The symptoms of secondary drowning can include, but are not limited to: confusion, fear, short-temperedness, extreme sensitivity, shortness of breath, anger, sadness, general orneriness, and let's not forget the completely unwarranted crying fit. The good news? Well, I don't know that "good" is really the best word to describe it, but maybe the comforting news is that all of us experience it at one time or another. Life is hard. And life is not just hard for me. It's probably not even particularly hard for me (it just feels that way sometimes.) All of us are broken to one extent or another. All of us have dealt with difficult and challenging times. All of us are vulnerable. All of us are prone to secondary drowning.
The treatment? Obviously a quick trip to the ER for oxygenation and monitoring is not going to work in these situations. But just as in the real cases, it may be of some help to watch closely for signs and indicators. Observe the people around you. Especially your loved ones. They are all victims of life and susceptible to secondary drowning. Treat them with an extra measure of patience and love. Observe yourself. Give yourself a little latitude. Indulge a breakdown or two. Or ten. Be patient. Life can feel like a series of near drowning experiences. That doesn't mean we give up. We press on. We go forward. We fall down. We get up. It's what we do.