IÂ spent the past 3 days taking a beginner SCUBA diving class. Back in April, for his birthday, I got my husband SCUBA classes and we decided to do the certification together. I had taken the class about 15 years ago and remembered it being a piece of cake. I wasn’t at all worried about it.
Then I got under the water.
We got in the SHALLOW end of the pool (we’re talking four feet), let ourselves sink to the bottom and do some basic skills, like removing our regulators (the device that pumps air into your mouth), clearing them and breathing again, filling our masks with water and clearing them and retrieving a regulator that had gone astray.
Everytime I tried to take my regulator out and put it back in, I would (as I figured out later) not recreate the seal around the mouthpiece appropriately, so water would get in and I would choke and panic.
I made it through 3 of the basic skills, but I got more and more panicked. The fact that I was breathing underwater, the stream of bubbles rising in front of my face, plus choking several times completely freaked me out. I told the instructor I had to surface (i.e stand up) and told her I was not comfortable. She was very nice to spastoid newbie — that’s what happens when you don’t pay for the lessons until after class — and told me to watch and we’d do the rest the next day.
I got through the day and did ok. By the end of the day, I was stillÂ not having fun, but was more comfortable in the water and with my breathing. I went home, the adrenaline from the panic still making me a little shaky.
This morning, when it was time to go back to class, the panic moved in again. I didn’t want to deal with it.Â For the first time since since I went to my husband’s family reunion, I was just plain scared.Â I wanted to quit.Â I wanted to spend the day sleeping and not thinking about drowning in a swimming pool wearing a working SCUBA tank while dozens of swimming adolescents watched.
My husband was very understanding about the whole thing. He told me it was entirely up to me, although I could tell he was disappointed (we’ve been planning to go diving in Hawaii in October, once we get certified — if I wasn’t on the dive, he might get paired up with some nubile 20-something, and I would never do that to him).Â I was upset, in tears, worried and freaking out.
Then I stopped and took a step out of it all for a minute.Â I had been to Skeptics in the Pub the night before so skepticism and critical thinking was on the mind.Â (We had a blast, by the way.Â Discussion ran from Depeche Mode to women who don’t want to have children to taking a whiz into the mouth of a volcano.Â Awesome.)
So there were several components to this fear:
1.Â The basic physical issues – water up my nose, not being able to breathe, fear of drowning. You know, girly stuff.
2.Â I was doing this in front of a group of other trainees and I was going to make a fool of myself, and traumatize a bunch of kids if I drowned. *I* think of the children.
3.Â In doing this wrong or quitting, I would end up disappointing my husband and the instructors who had been so nice, and were waiting for their payment, which they would almost certainly not get if I were dead.
So I looked at this critically. Item 1 was really the biggest issue — my husband would get over it, and the kids need trauma to toughen them up. But I didn’t want to drown or blow snot everywhere. I got past it by focussing on that this class was only for 1 day and that I was only going to be in the pool.Â It would be highly unlikely that I would be injured in 12 feet (at the most) of water, particularly with three instructors and eight other students around me at all time.
I also realized that a lot of my breathing issues had to do with how to breathe with SCUBA gear.Â I’ve spent many years doing yoga, which teaches you to breathe only through your nose.Â SCUBA is the opposite – you have to only breathe through your mouth and it does not come naturally to me.Â I had to focus on this and think about how I was breathing and go somewhat against my instincts.
I also realized that although I certainly had the option of not going today and trying again another day, the fear would get worse. I decided not to think about the 80-foot open water dives.Â I was just going to get through today, in the pool.
So I went to class.Â During the lecture, the instructor walked us through what we would do, including demonstrating lifesaving techniques, towing your buddy, breathing from each others suits. I was also going to have one of the instructors work with me individually, to help me with mask clearing and the other stuff I didn’t do the day before. Right on cue, there was my old friend, Mr. Panic.
Again with the focusing – just today, just the pool.Â What’s the worst that could happen?
I got to the pool today and did it all.Â It took me a while but I kept using the same methodology.Â I examined the problem, broke it into pieces and solved it at an intellectual level, instead of letting the panic get to me.Â Mask clearing was really bothering me. I realized it was because I hated having water around my nose and that when I got water up my nose, it would panic me.
So, I spent about 15 minutes just standing in the shallow end, breathing from the regulator, with my face submerged without a mask.Â The first couple of times, I could only do it for a couple of seconds.Â Within half an hour, I was able to sit on the bottom of the pool, take my mask off, put it back on and clear it.Â By the end of the day, I was able to swim maskless for 25 ft, put the mask on and clear it.
I also managed to do all the other tasks, including the rescue skills, with minimal problems. I even dealt with unexpected problems.Â When we were practicing sharing the spare regulator on someone else’s suit, my husband’s big broad shoulders caused it to get pulled out of my mouth before we got to the surface.Â I grabbed it back, but couldn’t insert it, and drowned right there from terminal Spousus Doofititis.
No, seriously, I cleared it and continued to breathe through the exercise.
I am not sure if I’ll complete the SCUBA certification process. I am going to go back to the pool at least once to make sure I’m completely comfortable before we do our open water dives.Â Those of you who are already SCUBA certified are probably thinking that I am a giant chicken.Â Those of you who haven’t ever experienced it are probably wondering why I would go in for a hobby that scares the crap out of me.Â To those people I can only say “am not” and “just ’cause.”
But it’s really not about that.Â Whether or not I get certified, my point that critical thinking is a pretty strong tool in overcoming fear.Â We have fears for a reason, there are evolutionary reasons that fear is a good thing.Â There’s a reason we instinctively recoil from opportunities to drown, and those reasons aren’t hard to understand. But one thing about that three pounds of grey matter (noticeably more for Skepchicks) on top of your spine is that it can help you overcome irrational, unnecessary fear. Knowing I can do that makes me confident that if I *am* 60 ft underwater and a real problem occurs, I’ll handle it.
Either that, or I’ll just sexily drown :) But what a way to go.Â Ya’ll can use this post as an obituary :)Â Glug, glug, baby.