I have never been much of a water baby. Well at least not as an adult. I tend to avoid swimming or activities such as cliff jumping – and when it comes to the sea, I don’t venture into water that is deeper than waist height. I also do not like to deal with the headache that comes from unplanned hair wetting!
But I knew that I wanted to dive. Even though the thought of it terrified me. So when I decided to leave Melbourne and head up to the north of Australia to Cairns for the winter, I put diving on my list of things that I wanted to achieve whilst I was there. After all, I couldn’t really live in the city that is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and not try diving…right…?
Having an anti-social job (with awkward sleep patterns) meant that I had to wait until my time in Cairns was almost over (and I had quit my job) before I could fully enjoy the city and the surrounding areas. As the time drew closer to actually booking the diving trip, I started to research diving companies and spoke to friends about which companies they had used. I had also read that certain medical conditions may prevent a person from diving so as I am slightly asthmatic, I decided to visit a doctor for a dive medical as I wanted nothing to stand in my way.
After a headache at the Dr’s surgery, which involved confusion over a pre-booked appointment and two consultations including one at 7am after a very busy night shift, I finally had my certificate stating that I was medically fit to dive.
Now it was FINALLY time to book the trip!
I decided to book the trip through my hostel and I also rented an underwater camera.
It was finally happening….
I was excited but the fear was beginning to build.
On the morning of the trip, being my usual last minute self, I ended up practically running to the Reef Fleet Terminal…but thankfully I made it onto the boat in time.
I had heard that people sometimes panic when they get into in the water on their first attempt at diving which leads them to get out of the water completely and not go through with the dive.
However, for me, the panic started as soon as I got onto the boat and saw the diving equipment.
During the boat trip to the reef, I sat quietly, filled in the forms and listened to the different talks about diving photos, lunch and safety on the boat. Then it came time for the special safety talk for introductory divers. This should’ve reassured me and made me relax a little but instead it added to the tension. How on earth was I going to remember all of the hand signals that we had just learnt? And what about the safety skills that we had to demonstrate whilst at the surface and again under the water? And what if I couldn’t equalise my ears properly?
Yep, the panic had well and truly set in.
Then came the time to get into our wetsuits. I smiled and acted as though I was excited but inside my stomach was churning and I was petrified.
But I couldn’t back out now…could I?
I made my way down the stairs to the dive deck and joined my group of novice divers. One by one, each group entered the water…and then it was the turn of my group.
I sat on the edge of the boat wandering what on earth I was doing. WHY had I decided that diving was a good idea when I generally avoid water-based activities? What on earth was I thinking?
And then we were instructed to roll forward into the water.
This was my absolute LAST CHANCE to back out.
It was now or never.
Take this chance and possibly get to experience the world below the water and achieve one of the things that I really wanted to do in Australia…or let this moment pass and probably not have another chance like this for a very long time…
I put the regulator in my mouth and gripped it firmly with my teeth.
Fighting ALL of my natural instincts to turn around and run back into the boat, I leaned forward and FORCED myself to roll forward into the water.
And then I REALLY panicked.
I tried to breathe through the regulator with my head above the water and I felt like I was using every last ounce of energy just to inhale! Each breath took a large amount of effort.
The diving instructor told everyone to “Put your face in the water and try to breathe”.
I could barely breathe with my head ABOVE the water, how on Earth would I be able to breathe with my face IN the water?
One couple decided that diving was not for them at this stage. They wanted to try snorkelling first. So they got out of the water and went back onto the boat. And truth be told, I wanted to follow them.
But then I thought back to the first time I tried snorkelling. I struggled to breathe through the snorkel mask and then I panicked and jumped back onto the boat. After a few deep breaths, I had decided to try again and so I re-entered the water. Then I slowly practised breathing through the snorkel mask with my head above the water and once I was comfortable with that, I put my face into the water and continued breathing in the same manner and once that became comfortable, I floated on my front and enjoyed the snorkelling experience….and went snorkelling again later in the day!
I knew that I needed to apply the same method here.
So I slowly took a deep breath with the regulator in my mouth and with my head above the water. And then another. And then another…until I could breath comfortably.
Whilst continuing my breathing rhythm, I slowly put my face in the water and continued to breathe in the same manner. Thankfully it worked and I became comfortable breathing with my face in the water.
But then it was time for the safety skills.
The first one involved clearing water from the snorkel mask. This wasn’t so bad.
However, the second one involved throwing the regulator out of our mouths into the water, finding it again, putting it back into our mouths and pressing the button or breathing out harshly to clear the water from it. This was a little more scary.
Once each novice diver had successfully demonstrated the safety skills, it was time to head under the water.
Once again, a new wave of panic set in.
The dive instructor pressed the button on each of our jackets to let the air out and the weight belts around out waists dragged us down one by one.
The ear pain kicked in almost immediately. I held my nose and blew out towards my ears in an attempt to equalise them but this didn’t work at first. Thankfully after multiple attempts, the ear pain subsided.
But then we had to demonstrate the safety skills again. Underwater.
Clearing the snorkel mask was not so bad but throwing away your only oxygen supply whilst holding your breath underwater is NOT FUN AT ALL. In fact, it was absolutely terrifying.
I don’t think I have ever retrieved anything as quickly as I retrieved that regulator…and I don’t think I have ever pressed a button so harshly in my life. Had I not been in water, I probably would’ve knocked myself over.
But the safety skills were finally done. Phew.
As we went further down into the water, the ear pain started again – but this time it was excruciating.
Some of the group members swam up a few meters towards the surface so that they could re-equalise their ears before coming back down. After getting this far, I knew that I wanted to continue so I tried to equalise my ears again. And again. And again. But no matter how many times I tried, the pain was still there.
The dive instructor could see the discomfort in my face and she pointed towards her ears with a questioning look on her face. I nodded and pointed to my ears. She gestured for me to try equalising my ears again. But I knew that it was unlikely to work. I really didn’t want to get out of the water but I couldn’t continue if my ears were in agony.
There had to be some way I could resolve this.
And suddenly I remembered what I had done in the past to resolve ear pain and the sensation of my ears popping…I had swallowed air.
With nothing to lose, I gave it a go and swallowed a gulp of air…
And almost instantly, the ear pain was gone!
I could continue with the dive!
Our dive instructor gestured for us to grab hold of her arms and then she swam (with us attached) and showed us the world beneath the water.
I had never seen or experienced anything like it in my life. Those colours. The sea creatures. It was absolutely incredible. I couldn’t believe that I was actually there! I couldn’t believe I was diving!
Our instructor took us over to the professional underwater photographer where we got a chance to hold props and take fun photos.
And then we saw even more of the world under water! By this point my ears were no longer in pain and I was enjoying the experience so much that I didn’t want it to end!
But of course it had to end. We had to come back to the surface.
I couldn’t believe what I had just done! I had gone diving! Me. Someone who normally hates water and has a tendency to panic. I was so happy and…quite proud of myself! I just couldn’t believe I had actually done it!
Back on the boat it was time to enjoy a buffet lunch. The Dive Supervisor offered each introductory diver the chance to do a second dive if they wanted to. According to him, people tended to enjoy the second dive more. As much as I had enjoyed the experience, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to repeat it so I told him that I would get back to him. In the end I decided to seize the opportunity and do a second dive as I didn’t know when an opportunity like this would present itself again.
As I sat on the dive deck waiting to start my second dive, the nerves started again. The couple who had decided to postpone their diving session to the afternoon had entered the water first to complete their safety skills. I was thankful that I didn’t have to throw the regulator out of my mouth whilst underwater again!
Once I rolled forward into the water, I felt less nervous and this second dive definitely turned out to be more enjoyable than the first. I was able to take the underwater camera that I had rented and as a group we took a whole heap of pictures – even on the sea floor!
After two amazing dives, I was exhausted and I almost fell asleep on the boat whilst travelling back to Cairns – but I was SO HAPPY that I pushed through the panic and went through with diving.
Personally, I have found that doing things that are a little bit extreme can help me to gather the courage to do the ordinary things. This has been a pattern in my life over the past 7 years. The reason that I first travelled solo was because I was facing the prospect of moving to a new town alone for work and this scared me so I decided to something a little crazy and took a five day trip to Geneva. I was terrified before this trip but for some reason, upon my return, it made the prospect of moving away seem much less scary!
Going through with the diving trip even though I was petrified gave me a new found confidence to work through the seemingly ordinary things in everyday life that I find terrifying and have wanted to do for several years. My mindset has since shifted from avoiding something because I am afraid to do it to wanting to work through the fear to be able to do the things that I want or need to do.
Fear can sometimes be a limiting factor in life but finding ways to deal with it and pursue your goals is important in order to be able to do the things you want or need to do. This looks different for each person and what works for one person may not work for another. Whether your method of dealing with fear is to do something out of the ordinary or to tackle things in smaller chunks, the important thing is to do what works for you!