I wrote a blog post a while back about attacking new skills and being willing to fail. Pushing yourself to where you don't succeed is where you find your boundaries and can start to set goals to move those boundaries back. I guess one could say I did something similar to that on my trip to Belize over the Christmas and New Years holiday.
So I kind of have a discomfort, not quite a full on phobia, of being underwater. I can hold my breath, swim and splash around alright, but the last time I attempted to snorkel (about 8 years ago) was a disaster. In fact, childhood swim lessons often ended in disaster for me when the instructor tried to get me to fetch things off the pool floor.
So when ManFriend asked if I'd like to try scuba diving, I was, to put it mildly, apprehensive. I basically said, "I'll give it a shot, no guarantees." We decided that the day before I would at least attempt to snorkel again to acquaint myself with breathing while my face is underwater.
I have to say, as soon as I jumped into the water with my flippers, snorkel and mask, the anxiety started. ManFriend even commented that the look on my face gave him an "uh-oh" feeling. But after taking some time to remember how to just float, then slowly working on not panic breathing, things were underway.
That was an awesome experience. I knew what a disaster the last attempt was, and to be able to not only overcome that, but to end up enjoying it was an amazing feeling. I have to say, I felt a little smug the rest of the day. And I'm pretty sure ManFriend got tired of hear me say, "Hey, guess what? I snorkeled!"
The next day was the doozie: scuba diving. I was excited. I faced and defeated one of my fears, and since I had no precedent with this, I was feeling confident. For a while, anyway.
We get fitted for gear, jump on the boat and motor out to our beginner dive spot. Before we even suit up, the instructor is going over the skills we will go over before we can safely scuba. As she reviews how to recover and purge the regulator if it gets lost, how to purge water from your mask, and how to handle inflation and deflation of the buoyancy vest and how to come up slowly to re-pressurize your lungs and ears I feel my heart start racing and my breathing get shallow.
I put on my gear, fall backwards off the boat, and inflate my vest. Okay, so far so good, but I think ManFriend can see a thin layer of panic in my face. I put my face under the water just to get a sense of how it feels to breath through the regulator. Okay, that's fine...
Then the skills practice. It's coach, ManFriend, and me. We sink down, it's only about 5' deep, and she shows us the first regulator recovery technique. ManFriend does it fine. I, on the other hand, don't twist the regulator just so and get a face full of bubbles, and a mouth full of salt water. And I totally freak out and jet to the surface. Much hacking on the verge of ralphing ensues.
At this point my thin veil of anxiety has escalated to full on freak out. I'm gasping, choking, and shaking. Honestly, I just want out of the water. ManFriend calms me down and the coach says when I'm ready, we'll head back down and they will complete the skills and I can just look on. Maybe just being at the bottom and focusing on breathing will put me in a better place.
They go through all the maneuvers, and I'm still on emotional red alert. So rather than try to get to me do them, we just spend ~20 mins swimming along the floor around the boat. As long as I'm moving and looking at things, I'm okay, if we stop for any reason, I start thinking again about my breathing, how the regulator feels like it's going to float out, how it feels like water is getting in my mask even though it's not, and on and on. So, needless to say, I keep moving. We don't go any deeper than 10'.
When I get out of the boat, I'm shaking like a chihuahua. And it wasn't cold. We were supposed to go to a second location and do a 40' dive, but I opt out of it and let ManFriend and the coach go out. I lay out and work on my freckles.
I guess the moral here is, hell, I tried. I failed. And you know what, I'm going to try again. ManFriend and I are planning on getting PADI certified in Feb, because I think for me, being in a more controlled environment like a pool is a much better way to overcome. Baby steps are the way to take it when attacking a new skill. And no matter how athletic or intelligent you might or might not be, you might not get it right away.
And I'll be damned if the ocean is going to insult me like that and get away with it.