I’m not the type that typically freaks out. Well…except maybe when it comes to bugs…and furry and/or non furry four-legged animals that can scratch, bite, or claw my eyes out…and
always every now and then the dark…and needles.
Ok, so maybe I am the type. But, whatever, that’s not the point. The point is, when it comes to things like jumping out of planes, or zipping through the jungle strapped to a harness on a line, and swimming with nurse sharks, I’m all good. No worries. No fears. So, when scuba diving in Boracay left me paralyzed with trepidation, I was quite surprised at myself. This had never happened before. I’ve never backed out of a challenge and wholly believed that I absolutely could not do it. But, that day was the day I’d met my match.
Scuba diving is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s been at the top of my Wanderlist forever. So, my friend and I decided we’d check this item off both of our lists when we met up in the Philippines. The morning after we’d arrived we met up with a couple of other friends from the interwebs, who also teach in Korea, and some newfound friends from the hostel and set off to go find Nemo and all his friends.
We went through our short briefing with one of the Dive Masters…the Do’s and Don’ts, the How’s and How To’s…all the basics. Seemed easy enough. After all, I’ve snorkeled a few times…can’t be much more different than that, right?
Before we dove deep, the Dive Masters (DM) let us practice in shallow waters. Initially, it was a lot harder than I’d imagined it would be. But, after awhile I got the hang of it. I felt good. I was ready.
We boarded the boat and they drove us out to the dive site. The nerves started to creep in. But, I said my prayers to the high heavens and tried to keep the nerves at bay. We reached the dive site, got all geared up, and the DMs did last minute prepping for us. We sat on the edge of the boat and waited to be pushed in…backwards. One of the DMs came to me first.
Ohhh…no sir! I am NOT going first! I’m ready but I’m not that ready. Somebody else has to go first.
So, my friend was the brave soul that took the plunge first. I was next. All I kept thinking was “Dear God, please don’t let this 10-ton equipment drag me straight down to the ocean floor”.
It didn’t. I survived.
My friend and I shared a DM. He went through army platoon-like hand motions (something we’d learned in the briefing) to make sure we were ok and to follow his lead and such. After all was clear it was time for the descent. He held on to our straps from behind as we made our way down into the abyss.
Further and further we went, but something didn’t feel right. They’d told us about the pressure we would feel in our ears the further down we went, and good grief were they right. It was excruciating! I tried to equalize my ears (pinch my nose and blow), which helped a bit, but something still didn’t feel right. I couldn’t breathe properly, or maybe I forgot to breathe (biggest no no), who knows, but I started to panic. When the DM hand motioned asking if I were ok. I shook my head no and motioned to go back up. He was taking too long to get me back to the top, “asking” too many questions trying to determine what the problem was. I didn’t know what the problem was; I just knew I needed to get back to the surface. By that time I’d looked up and saw how far we were from the surface so I really began to freak.
He finally got me back to the surface. He asked what was wrong. I couldn’t pinpoint it. I told him I thought my nerves were getting the best of me and I just needed a moment. He patiently coaxed me into taking deep breaths. Inhaling and exhaling slowly, and when I was ready we would descend again.
I took a few moments to gather myself and then we started our descent. The further down we went the more the panic began to rise again. This time we didn’t even get as far as the first, and I motioned to go back up.
I couldn’t do it. I just simply couldn’t. So many ‘what if’s’ were surging through my mind by this time, “What if Jaws comes and eats me? What if I lose my breathing mouthpiece and can’t get it back in my mouth in time? What if someone mistakenly hits a nozzle or pulls a plug on my equipment and screws up everything?”
But, the one thought that was blaring in my mind was, “My grandmother drowned in a creek. How in the hell am I supposed to survive an entire ocean?!”
I couldn’t shake the thought. Though I never knew my maternal grandmother (she died when my mother was merely four), she is a part of my mother; therefore, she has always been a part of me.
I just couldn’t shake it.
So, my DM brought me back to the surface once again. Internally, I was a wreck….like a screaming, panicky, wreck. But, once I was able to slow my breathing and find my words I calmly told him, “I’m sorry, sir but I can’t do this. I just can’t.”
He was adamant I could. I was even more adamant that I couldn’t. I apologized and told him I didn’t want to hold up the group, and I’ll be fine and I just wanted to get back on the boat.
He wasn’t having it. He was so kind and patient and reassuring. Even though I kept saying, “Sir! I’m telling you, I CANNOT do this!” By this time another DM had surfaced to see what the problem was.
They both convinced me to give it a try just one last time, and at least get a photo out of it. In my head I’m thinking “Dude, screw that photo! Get me back on the boat!” But, after all I had paid my money and it shouldn’t be a complete waste. So, after trading out my goggles, which ultimately helped a ton, I reluctantly agreed.
My DM inhaled and exhaled with me, helping me to get my breathing under control, and assured me that everything will be ok and to trust him. This time he lead me down with us being face to face, hand in hand, instead of him guiding me down from behind. Before going under he told me to keep my eyes on him. I told him, whatever he does, just don’t let go of me. We both agreed.
He must’ve seen the panic in my eyes because every few seconds or so he would give me some reassuring gesture; squeeze my hand, or motion for me to keep my eyes on him. Even when I tried to look up to the surface he stopped me and motioned to keep my eyes on him. My nerves began to calm a bit. At one point I was staring so intently into his eyes I swear I could see the man’s soul. I was scared to blink because I thought he might disappear, leaving me to fend for myself in the deep blue sea, and Jaws was gonna find me for sure lol. But, he didn’t go anywhere. He was right there.
We finally reached the rest of the group. Once I was finally able to peel my eyes away from my DM (actually he tapped me and motioned for me to look around lol), it was breathtaking literally. There were sooo many beautiful fish and other exotic marine life. We took photos and swam around for a good while. It was truly incredible. I have never seen anything like it. Snorkeling has NOTHING on scuba diving!
I’m so glad I pushed, or was more so coaxed, beyond my fears. It really would have been a shame to have missed such an amazing experience. I’m so thankful for the fine folks at Go Diving Studio. They were AMAZING! I wish I could remember the name of my DM. He was truly a Godsend…wouldn’t have been able to get through it without his patience, understanding, and reassurance. I gave him the biggest hug afterwards. I think it caught him by surprise lol.
When it was all over I said that I didn’t know if I’d ever do it again. But, I will. I have to. Next time, I’ll know what to expect. Next time, I won’t have to hold on to the DM for dear life. Next time, I can be present in the moment and not in my head. So, yes, I will do it again…someday. Who’s coming with?!