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My story about mental health at sea

Blog of the week by Eva Lianne Berger-Veldkamp, writing about the importance of focusing on menthal health at sea.

 

Hiding behind my radiant smile, I locked up some traumatic experiences. Not dealing with these experiences for years resulted in a life not fully engaged. Now, I want to share my story in hopes of reducing the stigma around mental health at sea.

Disaster forces us to acknowledge the unimaginable as reality. After the tsunami of 2004, I saw with my own eyes countless bodies floating in the ocean alone. They were surprised by the elements of nature and taken by the sea. An earthquake caused a huge tidal wave and wiped the land clean. My ship was sailing through an endless ocean of grief and despair.

At the time, I was a 20-year-old intern on board a large container ship making a crossing from Singapore to the Suez Canal. During this voyage, the vessel sailed through the floating remains of entire communities. Eleven days after the tsunami, I witnessed the immediate consequences of this terrible event. An endless ocean of misery, death, destruction, grief and despair.

If you know me, you know I am a child of the sea. My parents are both scuba divers. My father sometimes jokingly checked whether I had gills when I had been snorkeling in the sea all day. As I grew up, I knew I wanted to explore the world. I chose a maritime education and was trained as a maritime officer.

During my time on the water, I experienced things that are invisible to most people ashore. Beautiful sea creatures, magical starry skies, extreme weather conditions and luminous algae made me respect the ocean deeply. I saw the remarkable craftsmanship of crew members and gained experience with different types of leadership and cultural differences on board.

When my children came into this world, a new phase of my life started. The combination of a life at sea and motherhood turned out to be impossible for me. However, my skills and experience at sea allowed for a career onshore. I found several jobs in the maritime sector.

But the destruction of the tsunami never left me. I pushed a thick concrete plate over my emotions and stepped back into life with a big smile on my face. I cut myself off from the feeling that came with this experience which became a defense mechanism. This self-reliant character is recognizable to many seafarers who are taught to always be strong. We often forget that we are all just human beings.

Only now, over 15 years later, I feel safe enough to discover the mental impact my experiences at sea had on me. With the help of a specialist, I started to process my trauma. Underneath the darkness I found a lot of freedom and light that I started to share to make the world a better place.

To all seafarers out there I would like to say: please know you are not alone. There are many people who can help. Take the time to recover from what you experienced. Allow yourself to heal.

This blog of the week is shared by courtesy of Eva Lianne Berger-Veldkamp, former seafarer, maritime columnist and IMO Policy Coordinator at Commonwealth of Dominicca Maritime Registry. Read the full article here. Follow her maritime updates on LinkedIn.

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