Even the word can make us start to get a little nervous.
Want to know what I’m afraid of? Or at least used to be afraid of…well, let me tell you a little story…
This summer my family took a dream vacation to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. We experienced all kinds of cool things that week, but what I want to tell you about today is my first time to go scuba diving.
I must pause here to warn you that I will likely say I was “freaking out” about 34 times in the next paragraphs. Reader – be warned!
The first day was dive training day. We spent most of the day in the diving pool. We learned about the gear, how to get it all set up and put it on. We learned how to breathe with the regulator (the thing you put in your mouth) and each of us went to the bottom of the pool for a few minutes to learn how to take the regulator out, put it back in, clear our mask if/when it filled up with water, and how to adjust our buoyancy so we were neutral in the water – neither sinking nor floating.
When it was my turn, I got all my gear on and was feeling pretty good about everything. That is, until the first time I actually had to GO UNDERWATER and BREATHE! To say that panic set in would be a massive understatement. I began to freak out (for the first of the 34 times)! I could not comprehend any thoughts other than – “breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.”
Sitting on the ledge – breathing…
Another pause – I’d like to note here that I am something of a “professional” breather. : ) I am a yoga trainer and so I teach all kinds of breathing techniques and practice them ALL THE TIME. I have spent hours upon hours focusing on my breath, breathing, and teaching other people how to teach other people how to breathe. It’s kind of my thing. That’s partly why this whole situation caught me quite off-guard. But anyway…
So, not knowing what he had gotten himself into, our trainer/friend, Ted, thought it might be a nice idea to let me sit on the ledge and just breathe for about 15 minutes. So I did. And it was a full 10 minutes before I was able to even look around the pool. I was seriously disoriented and scared out of my mind. So far, so good, right?
When it was time to go down to the bottom of the pool to practice, it took me about three tries just to get down there and stay down without hitting my jet-pack button to shoot me straight to the top! On the third try, I was able to get over it (kinda) and stay down there long enough to go through the exercises. And surprisingly, it went ok. I felt ok. I WAS ok. I think I can do this! After the rest of the fam had their turns, I had a second turn. Shoot. Same thing – freak out and panic twice, go all the way down on try number three. But this time I felt even more comfortable on the bottom. By the time we were done, I was feeling ready to give it a try the next day in the actual OCEAN.
Little did I know how much WORK it was going to be to get to the place where we would begin the actual dive! We did a beach entry and kicked out a pretty good ways (200 yards-ish) to a buoy to drop down. This was so much harder than I could have imagined! I am a very buoyant person, so I had a LOT of weights on my weight belt which made my hips feel like they weighed about 20 pounds more than they actually do. Also, those air tanks are not light! With the vest and the air tank and all the weights on my belt, I felt like I would most certainly sink if I didn’t kick like my life depended on it. By the time we got to the buoy, I was utterly exhausted! I couldn’t get on top of my breathing, I was taking in salt water like it was going out of style and this is when I started to REALLY freak out.
I had no idea it could be so beautiful!
My friend Ted was with me and he was doing an awesome job with the small talk to keep my mind off the feeling that I was about to drown. But when he stopped and asked how I was doing, I didn’t really know what to say. I wanted to take the vest off and swim to shore and forget the whole thing right then and there. I started to think I wasn’t going to be able to do this after all. But, I REALLY did want to do it! So, trying to be a big girl, I said that I was mostly ok, but having a hard time because I was feeling like I was sinking and I was taking in too much water, and also, I couldn’t breathe so well. He asked me if I had sunk to the bottom yet. Well, no. I guess not. So, you ARE floating then, right? Yes. Ok….I guess that’s true. And then he had a brilliant idea – go ahead and put the regulator in my mouth and start breathing so I could stop swallowing water and maybe calm down a bit. It worked pretty well. I was able to stop freaking out and panicking and felt somewhat better. As a last-ditch-effort to get me to follow through with the whole thing, Ted said he would hold my hand. That sealed the deal for me. I would at least try. Ok. Now to drop down. We descended. About 10-12 feet down, I started freaking out again. Up I went. I fixed my mask, adjusted my vest, regained my composure. Ok. I’m ok. Let’s try again. We went down again and I made it to the bottom, which was only about 20 feet at this point. We stayed there for awhile. I got my bearings. I looked around. I realized it was pretty down there. REALLY pretty. I calmed down. I realized I was breathing just fine. Ok. let’s swim.
I’d love to say that I fully embraced the experience and was able to let go of Ted’s hand and swim freely and…and…and. The truth of the matter is that I held Ted’s hand in a vice grip almost the entire time. I’m not sure if he has fully re-gained the feeling in that hand yet! Most of the dive I was thinking, “You’re ok. Keep breathing. Oooh that’s pretty. You’re ok. Keep breathing. Wow, look at that! Ok. You’re ok. Keep breathing. Hey, this is pretty cool!”
And before I knew it, it was time to head back in to the shore. Wow. I DID IT! I overcame panic and fear and uncertainty and DID IT! I felt so proud of myself! I felt amazing!
We went diving one more time that week. I faced the same fears, the same freaking out. the same panicky feelings, the same uncertainty. BUT, this time, I KNEW I could do it. I relaxed a bit more. I enjoyed it more. I even swam by myself (most of the time)! It truly was an amazing experience.
Here’s what I have learned since then. Facing my fears that day transformed me in ways that are still “coming to the surface.” I have more confidence in who I am and in what I can do. I now know that I can stand up to something that is hard or scary or that seems impossible for me and keep going anyway! I learned how to regain my composure even when I’m terrified and think things through and make empowering choices.
I am so glad I didn’t take the vest off and swim to shore. That would have been easier, of course. And no one would have blamed me. Diving can be scary; it’s not for everyone. But I would have missed out. I would have missed beautiful scenery for sure, but I would have missed so much more than that. I would have let fear win and wouldn’t have felt the joy and accomplishment of facing my fear and overcoming it. I would have missed the things I learned about myself down there.