A peaceful, soul healing day at Lake Jocassee.

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Lake Jocassee, Devils Fork State Park, Salem, SC

Nature is the best therapist, and is so much cheaper.

First, the backstory (and why I needed this day and others like it).

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I haven’t really discussed it much on this blog, but since her marriage in January, my daughter and her husband have been struggling with opioid/opiate addiction (at the moment, they are both in recovery),  but for my daughter, her addiction is complicated by out of control mood swings.  She has no official diagnosis, but her rapid and intense mood swings that range from deep and debilitating depressions that make her sleep for days, to manic episodes where she can’t sleep at all and flies into rages easily seems to indicate bipolar disorder (which does run in my family, and my son has it too, but his is more under control because of coping skills he’s learned, and his may be less severe than hers).

She lost her Medicaid when she turned twenty six in April, and now has no insurance until she can get on her husband’s insurance through his job.  As a result, the only mental “help” she has been able to receive is awful, really almost worse than getting no help at all.  Her current doctor is impatient with her, charges her way more than she can afford (forcing her to ration her psychiatric medications) and makes her come in every week for her scripts, even though that costs her more than if she came every two weeks, which would make so much more sense.  It’s also hard for her to get to the doctor because she has no car.    She hasn’t seen a talk therapist yet because of the money/car issue, and also because she has an aversion to talk therapy for some reason.  Even the prospect of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) puts her off.   Her husband is trying to get her to give it a chance, since it has helped him.

She was attending a 12 step meeting, but the man who was driving her to the meeting (also a member) started to take advantage of her sexually, so she stopped going.   I don’t blame her.  I would have too.

As for me, this year has been extremely stressful, and my daughter’s mental illness and addiction is breaking my heart.    I love my daughter dearly but since she started taking opioids, it’s as if something in her brain broke, and even though she is clean now, she seems to have lost any ability she once had had to regulate her emotions, and has become paranoid about her environment and the people around her.  Her episodes of rage seem always directed at me, although I know it’s not really about me at all.  Still, it’s hard not to take the attacks personally.

I know with the opioids, the recovery process takes a long time, but patience isn’t my strong point, and I’ve realized I have no choice but to distance myself from her.  I need to take care of myself.    There’s really nothing I can do for her except pray for her healing and I can’t be of any help to her at all if I’m crazy myself — and between her issues and the awful political situation (which hopefully may be nearing its end but I’m not holding my breath), I am almost there.

I’ve gone on longer about that than I intended about my daughter, but that’s the main reason I haven’t been blogging very much this year, in case any of you wondered.    I’m just preoccupied and worried to the point where it’s not healthy.   I’ve been attending Al Anon meetings when I can, although I haven’t found a group I really feel at home in yet.  I’ve been spending less time at home, because frankly, I never know what I’m coming home to (my daughter and hubby currently live with me).   I’m looking into downsizing and moving to a smaller apartment or even a room in someone else’s home.  I need to escape.  They are adults and can take care of themselves here.   I’m not going to kick them out.  I prefer to move out myself, but the prospect of a move is causing me a lot of stress too.  It all just seems overwhelming.

Get to the point already!  You said this was about your day trip to the Lake!  

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Oh, yes.  Of course.  Sorry I took so long to get to the point!

No matter what’s going on at home or in my personal life, I can always escape, and natural places always have a healing effect on me.   Bodies of water, in particular, soothe my soul and put me at peace, making it easier to cope with life for a while.

Back in June, I became interested in Scuba diving and had been researching places where I might go to get certification, and that’s how I found out about Lake Jocassee, which is located in Salem, South Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It’s the main attraction of Devils Fork State Park.  Jocassee is formed by the confluence of four rivers that flow into it from the Appalachians.   The lake actually has a fascinating history, which you can read about here. 

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Jocassee Valley in the early 1970s, before it was flooded by the State of South Carolina and Duke Energy to create Lake Jocassee

The reason Lake Jocassee is so popular with Scuba divers is because of its clarity and depth.  It’s a large lake, which goes as deep as 300 feet and is not dark and murky like most lakes.  It also lacks that funky, swampy “lake” smell.

The day couldn’t have been more perfect.  It may be early fall, but the day felt like the middle of July: hot, sunny, and perfect for swimming.   The lake water was every bit as clear as I’d been told and had seen in pictures.   I was definitely not disappointed!

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You can get a good idea of the water’s clarity here.

The drive was very pleasant, only a little over one hour from my home, and it was just a short walk down to the small sandy beach.  When I waded out into the water, I was delighted that the bottom remained sandy, and wasn’t at all gunky with mud and the usual slimy stuff that’s usually found at the bottom of lakes. There were a few twigs, small rocks, and a little plant matter here and there, but it was definitely mostly sand, which I could dig my toes into and almost feel like I was at the ocean.   I could also still see the bottom even when I waded out so far the water was above my head!

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…and here.

There were also small waves!  The lake is pretty large (not so large you can’t see across it though), but I don’t think it’s large enough to have any real wave or tidal action like the Great Lakes do; the waves might have been caused by the breeze or the boats in the distance.  In any case, it was relaxing listening to them lap rhythmically onto the sand.

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Dog and kids having a romp in the lake.

For me, Lake Jocassee is a perfect merging of what I love about the Blue Ridge Mountains and love about the beach.   While the mountains in upstate South Carolina are not as high or impressive as the ones in North Carolina, they are less intimidating and still make for lovely views and are a perfect frame for this crystal clear lake.   But at the same time, I also got a real “beach” feel here, unlike any other lake I’ve ever been to.

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When I wasn’t in the water, I watched the view from my beach chair and just soaked in the sun, watched kids and dogs play in the water, and read.   I think I stayed about three hours, until late afternoon, when it began to cloud up a bit.  I decided then was a good time to head home.   I left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and better able to handle the challenges I’ve been dealing with.

On the way home, I passed by Table Rock, also in the upstate of South Carolina, and pulled over on the side of the road to take a few quick pictures.

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Table Rock, Table Rock State Park, Pickens, SC

 

I also got a little color.

I’ll definitely be going back to Lake Jocassee.   It’s on my growing list of “happy places.”

Enjoy the photos!

 

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Taking the plunge.

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Lake Jocassee, SC

To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world.  — Rudolf Steiner

I’ve been fascinated by diving for about a year now, but never thought I’d actually want to do it myself.    That’s changed now.   I really want to try it.   I feel like it would be great for my confidence and open doors to new adventures, making life more interesting.

Today I visited a SCUBA diving shop that I’ve always passed on my way to work and never really paid attention to before.  The store was filled with customers, but the man inside, David K, who happened to be the owner, greeted me as if he’d been waiting for me.    We talked for about 20 minutes or longer.  The store doesn’t just sell diving gear, they also offer PADI (the worldwide SCUBA diving organization)training classes, which are held on the weekends.   They’re not cheap, but not as expensive as I had feared either.   I may be able to afford them next year, after tax time.  I have some money stashed away, but I really don’t want to touch that, in case of an emergency.

David seemed eager to have me in one of his classes.  I was afraid my age might be a factor, but it isn’t.   He says he’s had students up to their 70s and even 80s.  He offers group or individual classes, but I’d probably opt for the cheaper group classes, which are small (about 8 people).  The course is in three phases: classroom learning and quizzes (you get a book, like in school); practical training in the deep end of a swimming pool at David’s home; and finally, open water experience at Lake Jocassee in northwestern South Carolina (at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains) which has exceptionally clear waters (visibility is high; it’s not dark and murky like most lakes).   It’s also exceptionally deep in the middle, at over 300 feet at its deepest, but of course we wouldn’t be diving that deep, since this is a beginning class.   We’d only go to about 25 feet for PADI certification (after passing this part of the training, you get your PADI certificate, which qualifies you to dive up to 130 feet at any diving site, not that I’d EVER go that deep!).

I’m really pumped.  I’ve decided I’m definitely doing this.  I NEED to do this. I feel like I was called to this because it’s something God wants me to do.  I have many fears.  I always have.  Because of my PTSD and general temperament, I spend a lot of time being fearful or apprehensive of things, and although I’m crazily attracted and curious about deep water and its mysteries, it also scares me (thalassophobia — fear of deep water — is probably a healthy fear).  I feel like overcoming my apprehension will change my life and make me less fearful in general.  I actually told David this, and he didn’t laugh at me or look at me like I was crazy.  Instead, he told me the story of one of his students, a veteran who was suffering from PTSD.  Taking the class helped him overcome his fears to the point that when he passed the open water test, he burst into tears of gratitude and joy, and is now working on getting advanced certification for divers who want to go deeper than 130 feet.

Jocassee Valley in the early 1970s

I’ve never been in water deeper than 12 feet,and that was in a swimming pool.   I’ve never wanted to touch the bottom of the deep end of a swimming pool, because being down that deep just seems spooky to me, but I have no fear of being in deep water and I can tread water for hours.  I even taught my children to tread water when they were very young, just three and five.  They used water wings at first.  Within a month, both could play in the deep part of a swimming pool without any kiddie contrivances (with supervision of course).  As for the ocean, as much as I love it, I have never waded out where my head was not above water.

I can’t end this article without including the story of Lake Jocassee.   I’d never heard of it until David told me about it yesterday, and its history is fascinating.  Jocassee is a large manmade lake nestled in a mountain valley, and it didn’t exist until 1973.  It was formed by merging four rivers that used to converge in the Jocassee valley, for the purpose of providing a reservoir for Duke Energy.  The town that was in that valley was evacuated before it was flooded, and all its buildings — including a graveyard! — are still there at the deepest part of the lake (almost 350 feet of water covers the town).  Oh, and it turns out parts of the movie Deliverance was filmed in the old town before it was flooded!

Advanced divers regularly explore the submerged buildings and the graveyard.  Every Halloween, there is even a special graveyard dive (you’ll never get me to go on that!).   I read a story about a woman whose childhood home was discovered by divers and was astonished to find out her house was still mostly intact, although now lying on its side.  She has become close friends with the divers who found her home. She says they have been the kindest and most compassionate people she ever met.  She can barely talk about their respect for her childhood home without choking up.

Here is a video showing divers exploring some of the town’s artifacts.