THE NARRATIVE ARC

My Hard Times Are Like the Ocean’s Undertow

I have to move with them, even when I fall

Martha Manning, Ph.D.
The Narrative Arc
Published in
6 min readApr 18, 2024

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Picture of a woman from the back, standing stomach deep in the ocean
Photo by Nolan Marketti on Unsplash

Ever since I was a little girl, I have adored the ocean. During my New England summers, I could stay in the frigid water for hours. My goosebumps got goosebumps. My blue lips and chattering teeth betrayed my reassurances to my mother that I could stay in longer. I was fine.

I was fearless then, delighting in the unpredictability and power of the waves, the rough tide, the risk of being inundated by an incoming arc of water.

Tiptoeing into the surf was never my style. I had little respect for those who did. Instead, I screamed at the oncoming wall of water and hurled myself into the first respectable wave. I jumped and danced and ducked, always a millisecond away from a crash. It was the dancing that always saved me. As long as I moved, I was safe.

Falling into bed at night I could feel the salty tautness of my body, golden from the sun. I registered my scrapes and bruises as badges of honor. In my whole life I have never slept so well.

I am no longer a water sprite. The hardships that have marked my adult life have made me cautious, always looking out for trouble. I deprive myself of the sweet, wild pleasures of my youth. Just to be on the safe…

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Martha Manning, Ph.D.
The Narrative Arc

Dr. Martha Manning is a writer and clinical psychologist, author of Undercurrents and Chasing Grace. Depression sufferer. Mother. Growing older under protest.