So I finally worked up the courage to take a scuba lesson today. Years ago, I had filled in the health questionnaire for scuba and two things I wrote on it nixed me from participating and also made me fear ever trying scuba – my asthma and claustrophobia. The asthma I could understand, though mine is so mild it’s hardly noticeable. But the claustrophobia is the bigger issue. I have had panic attacks when stuck on the subway. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped. And i generally avoid situations that could lead to a panic attack – like taking the next train if the subway was too crowded for my comfort level. But i couldn’t understand what it was about scuba that was claustrophobic. After all, you are out in the open water.
So why did I try it? Well after snorkeling with a local dude who showed me all kinds of cool stuff underwater, he said that you can see even more cool stuff if you dive. So I started pondering it and visited the dive school next to my hotel to ask all kinds of questions. It seemed like my asthma is mild enough not to be an issue. And after trying a shallow water dive (maybe 10 feet deep) I could back out if i didn’t want to do the next dive at 12 meters.
So with great apprehension, I signed up. Even thinking as late as this morning that maybe I should back out.
We took a boat from Gili Air to Gili Meno where we had a lesson on hand signals, breathing, etc. Then we got suited up and headed into the water. My first fear of the dive suit feeling too constricting (and therefore leading to a potential panic attack) was unfounded. It fit with enough breathing room. I was worried all the gear might make me feel too weighed down. It did, but I managed not to panic because there were so many other things to focus on and we quickly got in the water anyway, where you don’t feel the weight of all the gear. The hardest part was getting used to the breathing. You can only breathe through your mouth and it feels like you are not getting enough air initially. But they taught us to breathe slow – 4 seconds breathe in, 4 seconds breathe out. The main instructor, Adrian, could very quickly see that I was a big time scaredy cat and required a lot of hand holding. Once he figured this out, he was always keeping an eye on me and making sure I wasn’t panicking. If he saw me starting to get scared, we would focus on my breathing together and then I calmed down. Once I saw that I could trust him, I would look for him every time I began to feel uncomfortable and then calm down again.
Well I survived the shallow water dive and started to even enjoy it by the end, though we couldn’t see anything but sand there. I was worried about the 12 meter dive and kept thinking that maybe I should back out. After lunch we got suited up again and headed out on the boat. Once we were in the middle of the water you had to get in the water by basically falling backwards off the boat. It looks scary and I was the last one off the boat because I couldn’t summon the courage to do it with everyone else. Finally I managed to do it with one of the instructors and discovered it actually wasn’t bad at all.
Then Adrian split up our group of 4 students in two so that me and one other girl went with him (thank god, i was thinking, but I am sure he kept me close because he knew I needed extra attention) and the other two girls went with Tina, an instructor in training.
So we started to descend slowly and after only like 2 feet I told Adrian I wanted to come up. So we came up for a minute and then went back down super slow. Every now and then I could feel the panic rising within, but did my best to keep it at bay by focusing on Adrian. He kept making eye contact underwater and asking if I was ok. And he was holding my hand while descending. I also didn’t know how to really get out of it at this point if I wanted to without spoiling the experience for the other students.
Anyway, we slowly descended and I kept looking down and then up again to see how far we were. And of course I kept checking to make sure Adrian was still there and hadn’t abandoned me on the mistaken assumption that I was ok now. Finally we reached the bottom and immediately Adrian pointed out a giant turtle eating seaweed or something. It was so cool that i stopped fixating on how I could escape if need be. Then I saw some cool fish and some coral. Every time I started to feel any sort of panic, I would focus on looking for cool fish and my breathing and check for Adrian. At one point I couldn’t see him and I started thrashing around looking for him. He saw me and quickly swam to my front so I could see him.
Before I knew it, 40 minutes had passed at 12 meters and it was time to ascend. I couldn’t believe I had survived the day without backing out or having a massive panic attack. I was so proud, though it was due in no small part to Adrian who had to handhold me (literally) the entire time.
Many people come here and get their Open Water Diver certificate. It would take 2 or 3 more days – time I actually do have. But I am happy with my progress today. Maybe in the future I will dive again, but this was perfect for me today. Plus I would need to find an Adrian at every dive school!
So after I got back, I was thinking in the shower (great place for contemplation) that if I was Carrie Bradshaw, I would draw some lesson about relationships from this experience. I did think of a good lesson, but more related to my journey so far: don’t fixate on the stuff that scares you. Focus instead on the positive.
Ok, so I need to work on my eloquence. But there you have my life lesson. I know it’s kind if a long and boring post, but I feel so proud of myself today!!