You and me and water

In retrospect, every burnout can be explained, but despite all the signs, she was completely taken by surprise.

You and me and water

It couldn’t be, didn’t work out, plus a whole bunch of arguments she had ready, but the body was unrelenting.

After the first phase and the well-intentioned advice from her environment, she had made a plan that she strictly adhered to. After consultation with her parents, she moved in with them again. Tranquility, cleanliness, and regularity, their unbreakable trinity, she had accepted them with mild reluctance as healers, and after initial bumps of insomnia, negative feelings, and lack of appetite, she had allowed the soothing effect of living in a natural rhythm. Then clean up her phone; that meant a terrifying loss of contacts on top of her broken relationship. But a mountain of unrest disappeared with it. The relaxation technique course brought the necessary balance and space to her head; she recognized the negative circles more quickly now. And luckily, she also had enough strength to move when she felt the urge to listless negativity rising. When she felt her familiar energy return, she had enrolled in a new study, this time English language and literature. One could go anywhere with that language. And it also gave her the opportunity to make new friends.

During that period, contact with her best friend had also come under high pressure. Just before the burnout, she’d let her know that she’d like to take a break from contact—all the troubled  stories about the friend’s relationship had become too much for her; she didn’t have the energy anymore to listen. Her friend had reacted furiously. A friendship like the one they had together had to withstand that little bit of pressure. What else had you friends for, had been her angry reaction. This strange, unexpected conflict had thrown her off balance, and although she could rationalize it away reasonably well during the day, the one question kept presenting itself to her: why? What was the reason for this conflict with her girlfriend, for her wrong study choice, for her relationship that had ended, for her burnout, what was all this for? No matter how she analyzed each issue, she couldn’t figure it out and the only result was her thoughts going in circles.

The English study was disappointing. She had expected her level to be high enough, but she soon discovered that she had to use the dictionary much more often than expected. Sometimes so often that it was difficult for her to follow a text properly, let alone enjoy reading it. But she was not the only one in this situation and so she quickly made nice contacts through working groups, a few of which grew into friendships. These increased her confidence in her possibilities and in life. After a while she even became popular, classmates sought her company, although she was sometimes teased with nicknames such as ‘the analyst’ or ‘the flutter’. ‘You always keep asking questions, don’t you, you really want to know everything,’ one of the teachers once remarked during a lecture. She herself did not see this as negative, but rather as a compliment, as a confirmation of her person as a deep-digger.

To her surprise, at that time, she began to see strange images during daily relaxation exercises. At unexpected moments, an image of an opaque water surface was projected before her mind’s eye. The first time it was a small lake, rippled by a breeze, reflecting a beautiful, almost half-full moon, a small boat. But immediately she realized that she couldn’t see down to the bottom because of that rocking boat. Why this image? And why wasn’t she allowed to see the bottom? In addition to these why questions, other questions began to arise. Had her relationship been one of equality or had she herself created an ideal image of her boyfriend? Had she become so ill when he called it quits, because she hadn’t seen a single sign? And her best friend, was she a real friend, or did she want to see her as a friend? Hadn’t it been a one-way street all along? And was she sad because of the loss of this friendship or because of the lack of recognition from her friend? Or just because of the fear of being alone after her relationship broke up? That’s how she experienced cleaning her phone, like being shut down, as if she’d been pushed over the edge of a steep slope, falling deep into loneliness. But that had only been an appearance, she now had new friendships. But were they really friends? At times like that, she became dizzy. The only thing that helped was a brisk walk, followed by a meditation practice. And at set times she was presented with an image, always water surfaces. And they all had in common that it was always twilight or dark and she could never see the bottom.

With the choir they had started a new song, which had moved her deeply. She had been ashamed of the sudden tears when listening to the recording, she had attributed them to her burnout, but it turned out that more choir members were affected by it. Was it perhaps the repeated because it was you, because it was me? At the request of some choir members, they had discussed the cryptic text, but that had hardly led to any clarity. According to the conductor, it was a poem by a young poetess, written as an ode to friendship. And there was no point in analyzing a poem in depth, it was the power of a good poem if you had to let it sink in and if there were several levels of interpretation in it. He hadn’t wanted to say more about it and so it remained a text full of vagueness.

The water surfaces continued to present themselves at regular intervals. Ever different ones, bigger or smaller, wilder or calmer. But there was always something that obstructed the view of the bottom. A sheet of ice, or the reflection of the rising full moon through a tree crown, a layer of fallen leaves on the water’s surface or the splashes of a fountain, then again the strong reflection of trees, once the waves caused by a storm; the bottom always remained hermetically sealed. It started to intrigue her more and more. Why couldn’t she get to the bottom? And where did those images come from?

It was during this period that unexpected events occurred that seemed to bring a different view to her perspective. She turned out to have failed an exam, started with confidence and concluded with a good feeling, while she passed another exam, despite a very pessimistic impression afterwards. How could this be? Another event she hadn’t foreseen was that the choir conductor had moved her from the altos to the sopranos. She had resisted, convinced that she didn’t have that height, but during rehearsals her voice appeared to have no problem with it, much to her surprise. The understaffed soprano section was happy, and the conductor had nodded encouragingly and noted that the balance in the choir was much better now. But she didn’t understand. What was wrong with her judgment, which had always seemed so constant and reliable? What was her self-image like? Suddenly she began to doubt everything.

Then her mother broke her shoulder and she was suddenly much more housebound. But thanks to the quickly available auxiliary teams, the care schedule could be arranged in such a way that she did not have to miss choral rehearsals or lectures and also hardly had to give up study time. The relationship with her mother changed, became more transparent and in a way more equal and that led to pleasant conversations. One of the visitors had given her mother a book about the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard and she had given it to her; she wasn’t so much interested in philosophy. One evening, while reading, she came across some passages that made her think about her own life and her view of her responsibilities. She had always seen herself as someone with a great sense of responsibility, but she wasn’t so sure anymore. Suddenly she gained insight into her own role in some unpleasant events, which she had always thought were not her own fault. Those insights weren’t exactly flattering to her person. When she discovered that, more memories surfaced of situations in which she had not played such a nice part. In retrospect, she had assigned herself a strong mother role in her relationship with her boyfriend, sometimes to the point of grumpiness. And had she ever listened to him? And what had happened to her friend, to whom she had explained so many times what to do? As if her view was the only right one. What an arrogance to treat someone like that. She then spent some time trying to change this habit, but was shocked to find that she fell back into her old behavior oh so easily, as if they were all ingrained habits. Slowly a feeling of defeat came over her.

Whether it was due to the relaxation exercises or the surfaces of the water, or something else, who knows, but at an unexpected moment came a flash of resignation, of a certainty that good, meaningful things could happen independently of her own will. That there was something she had no control over and that she could rely on. Hadn’t enough beautiful things happened without her having a hand in it herself? Those were perhaps the best things: new friends, the changed relationship with her mother, the book she had given her, a better position in the choir, the beautiful new song. And suddenly she saw the layering of the lyrics and the reason, yes necessity of the things that had happened to her.

One morning she awoke early, feeling as if she had slept for days and woke up on the other side of the world. She knew immediately what had caused her awakening. A water surface, mirror-smooth under a fading starry sky. The soft morning light had shone through the surface to the bottom, she’d seen fish, aquatic plants, and softly gleaming rocks. It suddenly became clear to her what the function of all those water surfaces had been. They had mirrored her strong will, and the realisation that she had to get to know and control it. And there was also the unshakable inner certainty that they had been prompted by an internal friend. It was the last water image she saw.


Because it was you

A bright moonlit pool,

we chart love’s depth in heartbeats.

Diverging and converging

our ripples rebound endlessly.

Because it was you, because it was me.


An inky black pebble,

we cup friendship in crinkled palms.

Raising our pens across sundered seas

we trace our life’s calligraphy.

Because it was you, because it was me.


A tangled intertwining vine

we feel brotherhood’s pulse.

Clasping the light in our finger-fronds

we create one tender blossom.

Because it was you, because it was me.


The miles echo between us,

our tongues trip to different tunes.

But our counterpoint has its constancy

etched in the staccato stipple of the stars.

Because it was you, because it was me, it was you.


Delphine Chalmers (b. 1998)

Composer Bob Chilcott



[1] Because it was you – Bob Chilcott conducting Hong Kong Youth Choir, January 2020


[2] Not being yourself because of self-doubt

When we become aware of the fact that the despair we experience in the face of disappointment or loss is not so much caused by what we have lost or been disappointed in, but by something within ourselves, we have taken an important step forward. By no longer rejecting ourselves and placing the cause of our suffering with something or someone else, we become aware of our own part in it. We no longer stand with our backs to the real cause, but turn around and gain a better view of ourselves.

Where we first saw ourselves – passively – as victims of something from the outside that caused us suffering, we now seem to be able to take more responsibility for how we live our lives. But of course it is not that we do that. Each step on the road to becoming a true self involves yet another deep, fundamental choice. Do we dare to continue towards transparency and trust, or do we again take the turn towards a desperate alternative?

From: Blanken, Geert Jan,  Kierkegaard, een inleiding in zijn leven en werk, [Kierkegaard, an introduction to his life and work], p. 103 Ambo/Anthos, Amsterdam 2012


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Date: November 21, 2022
Author: Winnie Geurtsen (Netherlands)
Photo: Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash CCO

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