Scuba Diving … With Anxiety … Really?

 

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I’m sitting here with a large fresh juice, on a ridiculously comfortable sun bed on a ridiculously beautiful beach feeling as though I’ve simultaneously conquered Everest, become the next JK Rowling and saved the human race from drowning in a sea of plastic. In a nutshell, I’m feeling a teensy bit pleased with myself.

I have scuba dived, or is it dove … frankly I don’t give a hoot.

I was a mermaid. I was a mermaid for forty minutes on a coral covered reef surrounded by every imaginable and remarkably-coloured, shaped and sized species of fish, darting here and there, feeding, playing, whatever it is that fish do, whilst they were apparently oblivious to the presence of a couple of visitors in their habitat.

I knew it would test me. Suffering from anxiety, I knew there was a strong possibility of a panic attack or six. I knew that a panic attack under water would most probably be the end of my career as a mermaid. However, on a more positive note, if I was able to control this, I would indeed have conquered my very own Everest, to say nothing of being a superhero.

A video, a lengthy instruction in the pool, lots of information later and before I know it, I am perched on the side of the pitching boat, and being expected to just drop backwards into the sea. I understand that I am safe. I know the logic, I know the drill. But dear God!

It’s like that horrendous game where someone stands behind you and you have to fall backwards into their arms with the belief and trust that they will catch you. I’ve never done it and never will do it, trust not really being my forte. However, I am now having to believe in the knowledge I have been given, the experience of having done it in the swimming pool and I simply have to have faith in myself. Flippin’ marvellous.

Ordinarily, this would have been the perfect situation for a minor meltdown. However my instructor ‘buddy’ was waiting in the sea, my husband (aka the Colonel) was watching with a look of delighted anticipation and the other group of divers were waiting for me before they could go. No pressure then. I took one final look of unadulterated terror at the man helping me, and closing my eyes, holding my breath, (both completely unnecessarily of course) and dropped backwards into the heaving dark water.

Its quite a surprise really when you think you should be dead and in fact you’re most definitely alive. Kevin, my French (and alarmingly good looking) instructor was there, as promised, and I was apparently unharmed, also as promised. Quite extraordinary.

Together French Kevin and I made our way slowly down the line into the depths, with much stopping, starting, squeezing noses (well, really just mine) and sorting out of ears refusing to equalise, alongside trying to keep the emotion under wraps. Despite the multitude of shells with goodness knows what creepy crawlies living inside them and some rather slimy seaweed all attached to the line, I was not letting go. I was beyond getting squeamish over a few beasties … I was so out of my comfort zone I’d need a train, a plane and a bicycle to get me back, for I had bigger fish to fry … I had Betty the Demon to contend with.

Finally we reached the bottom where Kevin had previously explained that we would just sit for ten minutes to adjust. Without the task of equalising to focus on, the panic started almost immediately, roaring around in my brain wanting to take over. Betty the demon is screaming with laughter, heart racing, fear taking over, fear winning. I need to escape. I need to get up, get out. I am afraid. I am desperate. Panic has successfully gripped me by the throat and my shallow, fast breathing is making me nauseous, faint, hot …

Kevin’s hand touches my arm. I hold onto it tightly. He understands. He holds me and with his free arm indicates for me to look into his eyes and mimic his breathing. It is slow, it is controlled. In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly, repeat.

His unwavering stare is reassuring, but odd because it’s not the Colonel’s and he’s awfully close, but hell, right now he’s lucky I’m not sitting on his lap and clinging to his neck like a limpet (thank God for small mercies). My breathing is copying his rhythm, the panic is subsiding, Betty is stomping off, muttering obscenities at a lost opportunity to come back into my world and my head is starting to nod that all is getting better and I finally manage the O.K. signal.

I start to look around, I start to see the wonderful underwater world around me. And the more I look, the more I relax, and the more the breathing becomes normal. We head off, everything is slow and peaceful. Together, we point out the weird, the wonderful, the unutterably beautiful. We share the experience and though this is a normal event in his day to day life, he clearly expresses delight in showing me the glory of this unexplored world.

The corals, the constant movement, the peeping of eyes from deep within a crevice, the darting movements of the fish alongside an overall slow waving motion of the current moving everything in its path and of which one has no control, during which all you can hear is your breathing.

In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly.

This is mindfulness, this is real breathing, this is living in the moment.

The grinning Colonel was waiting for me. In truth, I don’t know which of us was the more exhilarated, the proudest.

And now the sun is dipping down over the horizon, the light is changing and the fishermen are moving slowly across the water in their narrow boats. What a day. Yes, what a day.

Katie xx

Have you scuba dived?

How did you cope? Did you find it easy or not? Any tips?

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39 thoughts on “Scuba Diving … With Anxiety … Really?”

      1. We lose a lot of heat through our heads. The hood helps retain this heat, lowering energy expenditure and thus lowering air consumption. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hoodless technical diver, even during shallow reef restoration projects. It affects air cosumption that much.

        Buoyancy courses help you to relax and move around more effortlessly. Expending less effort reduces air consumption.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Yep… me me!! I went when I was in Israel, aged about 19.. touched a ‘wild’ dolphin. Like you, I found that having a small plastic device in my mouth being my only source of oxygen, terrifying. I didn’t get a French Kev either… or a Colonel… I got a grumpy, loudmouthed, not-particularly-good-looking Geordie… I feel you won this round.

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    1. You’re totally sweet. I knew it was going to be a problem and I knew I might not be able to do it. And to be honest at one point there when I had reached the bottom, I was freaking out. I think what helped (apart from Kevin) was having practised breathing techniques back at home to help with my anxiety …. but I’d never had to put it into practice in such an extreme situation. The wonderful thing now is that I look at the paddle boarding or the kayaking and it doesn’t scare me. (I’m scared of everything). I probably now need to go and do it again …. but I’m exhausted just thinking about it!! All in all, I know exactly what you mean about panicking about just thinking about it- that’s how I spend my life. If I think about standing on a chair, my toes tingle, and anything more than that, my stomach starts twisting and turning … I’m hopeless!

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  2. High five, you glorious mermaid!
    I have not been scuba diving but I snorkelled in Maui and was terrified! I struggled to breathe and struggled to float and struggled with panic but then I saw the fish and my excitement overcame my fear. I even saw a shark! I swam with a shark and was.not.afraid!! So yeah, like you I kicked fear’s ass too.

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  3. I signed myself , the husband and teenage boys for a scuba introduction. We couldn’t go below 40 feet with this intro thing. I totally chickened out and the instructor had to drag me back to shore. I was so embarrassed. The fellas all loved it. At least I got a great picture of them! I do have to admit, the last time I truly felt relaxed is last year when we were snorkeling in St. Croix. It was the best escape from reality that I’ve ever had. Good for you for following through. Sometimes you just have to let it go!

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    1. I don’t blame you for chickening out in the least! I was so nearly at that point too … in actual fact I suspect the only reason I didn’t was because I had a one to one introduction with Kevin. The other divers had their own guys, so it was just Kevin focussing completely on me which helped enormously! Snorkelling in St. Croix sounds like you had just as much fun though but with none of the stress … brill! Katie x

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  4. I have always wanted to scuba dive!!! but I’m terrified. Bone injuries? Struggling to breathe? Sharks? Crocodiles? Can I still drown if I’m underwater? . However, I’ve been taking swimming lessons lately, so I guess it’s still progression??

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    1. Oooh you’re asking the right person!! It was my first time. I have had anxiety issues for donkeys years, and a tendency of panic attacks and claustrophobia. My husband quite cleverly organised a diving trip of his own in front of me, so I became interested; turned out that you can have “Try Dives” starting in a swimming pool and only if you want to and feel comfortable, can move on to the sea. Perfect. There were not going to be any crocodiles! Or sharks that were hungry (I did ask!). Totally scary took ages to get down to the bottom (actually only just over 10 metres) and promptly had a bit of a panic attack …. But … I overcame it …. This for me was HUGE! I overcame my fear and had the best time ever! I was so incredibly proud and now, where before I struggled with snorkelling, I can do that standing on my head! No fear of not being able to breathe. I was lucky and had one-on-one tuition with a brilliant man. Couldn’t understand why before I even got in the water he kept on talking about meditation and breathing, and then once I was in, I got it. All you can hear is your breath and to stop anxiety of course, it’s all about regulating your breathing. Keep going with the swimming lessons – invaluable! You can do it! You can scuba dive! (Oh and no bone injuries either😀!)

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    1. Well now that I’ve recovered … (!) I think next holiday when it’s somewhere nice and warm I’m definitely up for it. Not in England though … the waters are way too cold for an old wuss like me! Thanks for reading. Katie

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      1. Yes … funnily enough I used to snorkel a bit 20 years ago and the best coral and fish I ever saw were in Fiji (coral) and Vanuatu (fish) … just incredible. I do wonder however if tourism and the boats etc has killed off a lot of this since then.

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      2. I don’t know about those places. The Philippines has a way of destroying everything beautiful, which is why Boracay is currently shut down to tourism. And my area is in the process of being overdeveloped with resorts, as well.

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