What scuba diving can teach you about fear

I recently went to Egypt with my family.

Can you see my fear? (my son took this picture, so it's little off center)

Relax, swim, laze at the beach, eat, take in the sun. Comfort zone.

But my husband had something else in mind.

He wanted me to go scuba diving.
He did his Padi OWD 2 years ago and already tried to convince me back then to join him. I managed to wiggle myself out of it and had massages instead…

He pushed again this year. And I went along and registered for a Discover Scuba diving course – albeit a bit reluctantly.

In fact, my reluctance is not due to laziness or preference for massages, but pure and utter fear! :-) I am a bit claustrophobic and getting under water with lots of gear and breathe into a tube is a very scary thought. And my lizard brain simply made me want to run, fast and far.

But I also wanted to please (and impress) my husband (and myself). And I was curious. And bored to sit in the sun all day. And this is my year of REAL and conquering fears and such…

So, off I went to watch a video and start a first session in the pool. Not scary. Doable. I can come up for air if I feel uncomfortable. Taking mask off, getting air out of mask, getting breathing equipment back if lost… Lots of exercises to make me comfortable with the unknown. Less unknown yes. Less fear? No.

The next day, things got serious. Off to deep water we went. The plan: minus 12 meters in the Red Sea.

I was scared. I started huffing and puffing at breakfast. I started looking for excuses: maybe I have a cold coming, we can’t leave the kids on the boat as they will surely fall in the water and drown and I will hate myself for the rest of my life…

The kids, however, were excited to take the boat (it was very windy with high waves). The kids were also excited when the plane ride started to get bumpy. The kids are generally excited on roller-coasters, slides and anything that gets their adrenaline pumping. Kids don’t have an active lizard brain yet. They have parents. And the parents take care of their fight or flight reflex.

On the boat I got my gear on and, with a sick feeling, got into the water. Ashour, my teacher and buddy was next to me and just waved me to go down. Yeah right! No more excuses. Off I went. 1m, breathe, 2m, breathe, breathe, 3m, breathe, breathe, breathe, 4m, 5m,…..

And then I failed.

I started panicking. I started breathing too much. I started hyperventilating. I grabbed Ashour and pointed my thumb up. I wanted to go up. Up, up, up.

Up I went. Ashour asked me what went wrong. I just said I panicked and with shame climbed back onto the boat while Ashour went back down to take care of other divers. My 5 year old was happy to see me but asked:”Mom, why are you back already?” I explained what happened.

Getting back to the diving school that day, Ashour asked whether we wanted to go diving again. Every cell in my body wanted to shake my head and say no. But my husband just said: “Sure” and went on to reserve another dive.

The next day, the dive was not from a boat but a pier.
I nevertheless started panicking at breakfast again.
When I got my gear on and kissed my boys goodbye, thinking I’d never see them again – sniff sniff – my son said to me:”Breathe slowly this time mom!” and off I went.

Oh lala, it was tough. I had to quiet myself many times in order not to panic. I tried to focus. What can happen? 12 meters is not a dangerous depth yet. If anything goes wrong, I could just go up in one go quickly. But what about sharks? What if… Urgh.

Then I remembered my son saying ‘breathe slowly mom’. And that gave me focus. I wanted to succeed. I wanted to enjoy this.

And I did. I saw Nemo (or clown fish), a Moray eel, rainbow fish, a small manta ray, Scorpion and Lion fish, angel fish, a turtle,  and many other moving, floating and swimming creatures I only ever saw on television before.

I was fascinated by Tridacnas, giant clams in bright blue that seem to breathe in life. I found them very female and sexy :-)

I went on two more dives after that – still with fear in my gut, but much more focused – and although I can’t say I love diving (yet), it was a great experience.

So next time you need to conquer your fear to do something, here are a few tips:

  1. Get someone to push you.
  2. Let boredom be the excuse to do it (it’s usually a good sign that you need to get out of your comfort zone).
  3. Do it to impress someone else (it adds pressure to succeed and takes focus off yourself).
  4. Fail – and look that failure in the eye. Learn. Then do it again, and again, differently!
  5. Get a mantra! ‘Breathe slowly mom!’
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