I did my open water diving course while in Koh Tao, Thailand. It was one of my biggest challenges and achievements. It was stressful and I wanted to quit several times. Each day.
I was born in a city by the ocean and from early on I was taught not to fear but to respect the ocean. And so I did. I never had issues with water and to this day, being 31 years of age I sometimes pretend I’m a mermaid every time I’m in the ocean. Furthermore, I believe I developed a kind of spiritual relationship with the ocean; its vastness, the immensity. I believe it cleanses every soul that needs something washed away.
But the breathing underwater thing scared me. I knew I would have equipment and instruction, but it just sounded weird, unnatural. I was lucky to have an amazing and crazy instructor who just wouldn’t let me quit and basically pulled me down the water the first time I jumped in and immediately freaked out.
This was 3 months and a half ago. I knew I had to get back in the water, fast, or all my previous fears would come to get me again. So, Nusa Lembongan sounded like the perfect place to go and dive again. I’ve heard amazing things about it: you can see turtles, manta rays and incredibly colorful ocean flora (I’m not sure it’s said this way but it sounds science-y). So off I went.
I travelled with my housemate, Christie. She arranged for us to stay at the diving resort where she did her open water course. She was going to do her advance course. I just wanted to do some fun dives. We gathered Saturday morning, 8 am to get our equipment ready. I was a little anxious, but nothing major. After 30 minutes, we got to our first diving point. We could see the different currents in the ocean but didn’t make much of it. I got all my gear on and went in the water by sitting on the side of the boat and letting go backwards, first time for me, had done it jumping forward or backwards but never from a sitting position. So far so good, I put the regulator (the breathing thingy) in my mouth and started deflating my BC (floating device) so that I could go under water. Nothing happened, I couldn’t get down! The other divers along with the instructor were way down and I was still there, floating, trying to get their attention. I didn’t have enough weights on my belt so I just floated there. The dive master guiding the dive urged me to make a decision, “up or down?” The situation made me panic and I decided to sit this diving out. Got back on the boat and waited for everyone to come up. Turns out the currents where crazy down there and I was better off not being there being I only had 5 dives under my belt.
So off to the next diving site we go. I put my gear back on, definitely sure I would get it right that time with the correct weights and all. Back on the water, I started going down and as soon as my head is under water I started hyperventilating and breathing like a maniac. As Dr Gonzo very accurately puts it in Fear and Loathing in Vegas:
“I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the fear.”
I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. Again, time was against me, “coming or staying?” Panic was back. Are you, my dear reader, hoping for a sudden courageous epiphany? Not gonna happen. I chickened out and got back on the boat, frustrated and disappointed at myself. Sad, just sad.
I snorkeled and was happy to see purple starfishes for the first time ever. But the feeling of failure still haunted me. It took me a couple of days to let go of that feeling and actually appreciate the fact that despite the fear I went back in the water to try again after the first time didn’t quite work out.
I’m gonna have to get my little panicky lungs back to Thailand and do some dives there in the pool-like oceans and with a patient instructor to take me step by step again. I am not giving up, not yet, at least!
If anyone out there has any diving stories of overcoming fear, or not, I’d love to not feel so alone!