Of Shifting Sands and Undertows…


You know that singular feeling of standing on the beach as the waves come in, just enough to cover your feet? As the wave goes back out to sea, it creates a sensation of the earth literally shifting beneath your feet. While it can be disconcerting, depending on the pull of the wave, it’s not unpleasant.

Then there’s another kind of wave entirely. The kind of wave looks normal, but when you step into it, it sucks at your feet like death, jerking them out from under you pulling you under with sudden and terrifying power. An undertow is treacherous, unexpected and all too often undetectable… until it has you. As you become more familiar with the shore, the pattern of the waves and the weather, you can sometimes sense an undertow, but that doesn’t mean you can avoid it.

tricky tide Depression is my undertow. Like many Americans – 0ne of 10, 80 percent who are un-diagnosed or untreated, according to Heathline –  I never know when I awaken, what kind of day it will be. It’s never a solid-ground day.

If it’s a gentle shifting sand day, I can usually accomplish a few tasks – grocery shopping, talking with a friend on the phone, maybe even cooking a meal – but I still have to be careful to pace myself.gentle shifting

If it’s an undertow day – and it is, more often than not – I can know it before I even I swing my legs over the side of the bed and my toes touch the floor. Even as I lie there, prone on my mattress, I can feel the weight of the day, the force of the pull drawing me under. On those days, I do my best to accomplish two things: feed my cats and – eventually – write something on Facebook so my friends who worry about me know I’m still here. In the past, I was able to accomplish the former; not always the latter. The Richard Armitage US Facebook page I manage has changed that. Many days, the only reason I leave my bed is to find out what our members are talking about, or which posts are getting the most/best/worst/ reactions.

Undertow day

I’m not trudging along this beach alone and unaided. In fact, for the last seven years – since my clinical depression was finally diagnosed – I’ve worked with several doctors, therapists and countless medications. While my sessions with my doctors make me feel less like a freak, the meds they’ve prescribed have had a negligible or short-lived impact. I also have friends – thank you, Diane – who listen and empathize and, ultimately, have helped me keep my head above the deadly waves.

It’s a struggle.

Today is a shifting sand day, so I fed the cats and read for a bit. These thoughts about my depression have been swirling around in my head for a while. So, since it’s a day I can write a little, I’m trying to put them down to share. If you suffer from this illness, maybe knowing that someone else has these thoughts and these struggles will help you feel less alone. Or maybe you can show this to someone who loves you, but doesn’t understand the disease.

Today is a day that I might even be able to post bon mots on Facebook, which is where I can pretend to be well. I can log on, keep up with close friends and the interesting people I know, share a couple of interesting news items, make pithy – sometimes even witty or funny – comments, and log off. No emotional energy or capital required. On most shifting sand days, I can be a pretty good pretender…lots of people with depression are skilled actors, and would rather put on a cheerful face than see that dread “You have so much. What’s wrong with you?” expression in others’ eyes.

5 on undertow days

On undertow days, I still try to log on. I do this because if I don’t, my phone will be ringing within a day or so from friends who demand a response to ensure that I’m all right. On undertow days, I try to avoid status updates since “Today my depression is overwhelming” isn’t exactly the kind of pretend-positive personality I’m trying to project. Instead, I find something interesting from NPR or on the web from the New York Times or The Hollywood Reporter, or new photos of Richard Armitage to share. My introductory comments don’t require what would be obviously false cheeriness. I can be as dark as I want based on the gravity of the item.

On any day and every day, though, I avoid real people as much as possible. Email and Facebook are my guards. I find that personal interactions require far too much emotional and physical energy, and usually the undertow has me in its paralyzing embrace for days afterward.

This is why my friends and acquaintances learn that I’ll often agree that it would be lovely to get together for lunch or a movie, or a reunion of beloved colleagues, but then I rarely speak of it again, and never show up at the parties. This is a major change for me, considering my former profession, a change made solely as a self-protective measure; I worked  in special events, media and community relations, and was very involved community and neighborhood life. But at one point, I realized that these activities were doing me more harm than good. With the first whisper of disagreement or conflict, I heard the waves rising and could tell that the undertow was already tugging at my legs. Isolation, I’ve found,  protects me from that particular trigger.

So is this it? Is this how I’ll spend the rest of my life? I truly can’t imagine another 20-30 years of this kind of existence. Instead, on shifting-sand days, I continue to hope that the next medication will be the one that gives me daily shifting sands (of course, I’m realistic enough to not to expect solid ground).  We have found one med that helps with my panic attacks, so I’m hopeful that we’ll find one someday that works with the undertow.

1 Morning View South2

Depression unpredictable, but daily possibility and frequent presence of that dark, insistent undertow is no way to live. So I will pray that each of us finds the meds and counselor that will deliver those gentle eddies, and diminish, perhaps even eliminate, the suffocating darkness.

Last undertow

All photos taken by RA US at Edisto Island, South Carolina.


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About Richard Armitage US

Richard Armitage US is a respectful blog with a sense of humor (and a point of view) for fans of British-born actor Richard Crispin Armitage. Armitage is star of – among other productions – North & South, The Vicar of Dibley two-part series finale, Robin Hood, Spooks (MI-5 in the US), Chris Ryan’s Strike Back (Strike Back: Origins in the States),and his chilling portrayal of Francis Dolarhyde in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. Most recently, he has been seen in the popularly and critically acclaimed series Berlin Station, the third season of which is currently being shot in Budapest and Berlin, and will air in the States on EPIX later this year, with a slight delay in other international territories. His film appearances include starring roles in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, as Thorin Oakenshield; Into the Storm, as tornado-beleaguered Gary Fuller; and other films, including Urban and the Shed Crew (awaiting release), Sleepwalker (available on iTunes and Amazon Video in the States); Pilgrimage (available on DVD in the US and the UK); and Brain on Fire, based on Susannah Cahalan’s best-selling memoir now streaming on Netflix; and Urban and the Shed Crew, coming soon on DVD. He was nominated for the 2015 Best Actor Olivier Award for his portrayal of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible, directed by Yael Farber at The Old Vic/London in-the-round. In 2016, he starred in Mike Bartlett's Love, Love, Love, directed by Michael Mayer, at New York's Roundabout Theatre. His current film project is Julie Delpy’s My Zoe, in which he co-stars with Ms. Delpy, who also directs, and Daniel Brühl. It has been shooting in Berlin and Moscow. His voice-performances of audiobooks are numerous, and range from Georgette Heyer to Charles Dickens, and characters ranging from Hamlet to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... to name just a few. See Audible.com for more. Although this page is US-based, we welcome RA’s fans from across the globe to join us here, and on Facebook and Twitter.

11 responses to “Of Shifting Sands and Undertows…”

  1. Marie Astra says :

    Thanks so much for your honesty. So many of us suffer in silence. So so sad.

  2. June says :

    Thank you for sharing your experience and for making the effort in the fandom. So eloquently stated. It has given me a better insight into how my daughter is feeling at various times. All my best to you my dear.

  3. Richard Armitage US says :

    I confess, I was reluctant to “out” myself as a depressive. But when I read some of the comments about Robin Williams (he was so talented… he had so much to live for… he had a family… he had money) I felt I had to say something. Because when the undertow gets really bad, you can only think about how you’re feeling THEN. NOT your blessings. Breaks my heart.

  4. jazzbaby1 says :

    It’s so important for there to be safe space to share stories like yours. Thank you for your bravery in posting this.

  5. crystalchandlyre says :

    Reblogged this on crystalchandlyre and commented:
    This is the best description I have seen that accurately describes what randomly happens in Depression – an often nebulously treatable disease.

    It is a good example of what to say to those consistent in the “glass-half-full” within the population of this planet who can’t seem to grasp “why” or “how” one could possibly feel so randomly low, without a reason, retorting often with the likes of “just snap out of it”, “smile and it will all be better”, or “think positive.” But this is only because they lack what to truthfully say. They are not lacking sensitivity (at least not always), but often simply lacking a full understanding.

  6. crystalchandlyre says :

    This is perfect, a very good post, and the best reason for a reblog. The clear catalyst for it cannot be denied and I still grieve. This will be very helpful for me in the future when explaining to people why sometimes I just can’t get out of bed or why attending a party can often feel like facing a firing squad.

  7. Doris M. says :

    Thank you for your candor. The sand and waves analogue is apt. I have similar days of not wanting to get out of bed and yet reveling in what tidbits I can find online. Reading about RA doings has become a fascination for me these last months, though I’ve appreciated his body of work for a long time before liking your page. The news of Robin Williams has had me in a bit of a funk all week.I drag myself to work each day, but my motivation for so many aspects of my life is at an ebb and I’m not sure what will fix it. It’s a little comfort to know there are many others out there muddling through. Thanks for what you do here; it mostly makes me smile and is a bright spot in my day.

    • Richard Armitage US says :

      So many people suffer from this disease. I was stunned by the statistic that 80% with these symptoms aren’t getting help… until I remembered that it took a total breakdown – after a series of personal losses – to get my family and me to realize what was going on. Bless you, Doris.

  8. Claire says :

    Your words made me cry but on the otherside they made me feel less alone. It was hard for me to see myself as depressive. I was always a strong person and suddenly all was over. I’m lucky, I had a husband who saw what happend with me and made me go and see a doctor. The diagnose was a moderate depression! I didn’t believe that. Me? Never! Well, this is two years ago, Today I’m able to work again. I’m mostly fine and I know in my husband I have someone who is watching me, searching the signs of the undertow!
    I thank you much for your words and I thank you also for your beautiful page about Richard Armitage on Facebook and on Twitter! Take care of you. Huge hugs!

    • Richard Armitage US says :

      How kind of you to write. I, too, was a strong, successful person with a terrific career and then suddenly, the undertow came.

      I’m THRILLED that your husband was sensitive enough to catch the signs and urge you to get help. Bless you both!

      (Glad you enjoy the FB page and Twitter. Both my activity there, and the responses from the members, help keep the undertow at bay.)

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