Yesterday morning in my daily writing practice, before I learned of the passing of our beloved, delightful tWitch, I was pondering this artwork by Dana Schutz (Swimming, Smoking, Crying, 2009) to potentially write about in my book about my own mental health experience. I was going to write about how at one point in my life my insides were anxious, overstimulated, and scared. I didn’t believe I was likeable or loveable. I believed that I was a burden to everyone around me. But I pushed through it and “just kept swimming” to appear normal on the outside, to do what was expected of me, to be who made everyone comfortable, to not be even more of a burden to anyone.
In this painting, the figure swims in open water. Under the surface, their face melts, their eyes drop heavy tears, they comfort themself with the cigarette. Above the surface, their face is “normal,” the water is calmer, and everything appears fine. We don’t see them flail. We don’t see them cry. When I saw this painting for the first time, I gasped in recognition. I deeply know this painting.
And it reminds me again and again, that we don’t know what is under the surface of anyone. We don’t know the pain that people are hiding. tWitch was a force of pure heart energy. It radiated through him to us and made us all fall in love with him. He moved us with his powerful dancing, he made us smile just by seeing his infectious smile, and we celebrated his beautiful life of dance and love and family. But he was hurting in ways we don’t know and never will.
The figure in this painting is swimming and fighting through it, but swimming is exhausting. Without support, without dry land, or without rest, eventually it will become easier to just stop fighting and let themself sink into that luminous water underneath them.
This morning, Glennon Doyle posted a line from a poem about refugees by Warsan Shire:
“you have to understand…
no one…(leaves home)
unless the water is safer than the land.”
We need a softer world with deeper connection to make the land safer, to make it easier to be the same person above and below the surface. To allow ourselves to be truly seen and to see others without judgment or expectation. I find that safe space for myself with art, and thankfully I did mostly make it to dry land, but I mourn for those that left us into the water and the ones they left behind.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call, text, or chat 988—any time day or night—for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis.