At the age of 5 I somehow managed to squeeze into the living room when my parents were watching Jaws… That’s probably the moment that my panic of deep water was born.
I spent most of my growing up next to the Atlantic, and jumped the waves for as long as I can remember. But the subconscious fear, planted in my head like a poisonous thorn, became more and more obvious as I grew up – I felt mortified if a tiny little fish or a piece of seaweed touched my leg in the shallow waters, I developed a habit of wearing snorkel rubber slippers to avoid touching the bottom with bare feet, and I sure stayed close to the shore.
Needles to say, fear in itself, is a very strong destructive force – it seriously damages your inner self, makes you loose your emotional balance, tune into the so-called “low frequency vibrations” (if we talk about the energies that fill us and the world around us) and generates psychological blockages. Not the kind of fear that prevents you from jumping off a cliff, but the kind that is also categorized as phobias, or manias. A reasonable fear of an imminent danger is a logical reaction to a present cause. A phobic shiver is an emotional associative reaction to a past trauma, that has nothing to do with the reality of the situation in the present.
I’d lived with this “luggage” related to open water all my life, and as one gets older – the fears in our inner closets only become more twisted and in general have a tendency to grow. Like some sort of a fungus that, if not, treated, spreads onto a greater surface.
I am also known as a person who is extremely diligent about keeping things clean (not necessarily tidy, although that as well). Fungus is not something that you would find in my kitchen, behind my fridge, between the tiles in my bathroom or in any other part of my habitat. So it was just a matter of time that the “fungus” in my emotional habitat became unbearable and required immediate action. I decided to face my fear. I was 27, and I had had enough.
And the remedy came sooner than expected – on our girls’ trip to Thailand to celebrate the 8th of March, I promised myself to overcome my phobia. By learning to dive.
When I was being briefed and received my first training, and even when I was on the boat with about 50 professional divers – all men of about 40 and quite robust-looking – I thought “ok, how bad could this be, right?”
But when I was equipped with all the necessary gear, barely able to stand up because of the weight of it (the tank of air on your back is something that I still struggle to move around the boat with!), with regulator in my mouth, mask on my face, fins on my feet and a BCG jacket that felt like it was devouring the rest of me – I started to feel completely lost and frustrated.
And then with all of this on I had to make the step. The step that would change my life. The step from the open backside of the boat, into the blue abyss. Probably the most difficult step I ever had to make, so far.
That was the first level of initiation – that step. I hesitated for about 10 minutes, couldn’t quite picture myself not drowning directly with so much add-on weight! And then – splash! I was in, and floating. Euphoria filled my body as I slowly became comfortable with all the equipment in the water, suddenly it didn’t weigh anything anymore. What a relief!
But the most important, the second level of the ultimate challenge was yet to dawn on me. I had to deflate my jacket and go under. Not for a few feet, not even for a few meters, like I easily could do when snorkeling or pool-diving. I had to keep going down, where everything is a different color, where the sun is only a flicker of light that you see far up above you if you look up. Where the world changes and you find yourself surrounded by another civilization, another eco- and social system, and the inhabitants of that world swim or crawl past you with curiosity and surprise in their eyes – what are these strange creatures with legs and arms and plastic fins doing down here?
I couldn’t let go of the so-comfortable air at first. About a meter down panic gripped me and all alarms went off in my mind screaming “you can’t go any deeper – YOU ARE NOT BUILT TO BREATHE DOWN THERE!!”, and, of course, the ever-present fear creature inside me joined in with “how are you going to handle the situation when you see a big fish, a shark!! – you’ll forget all the safety norms and choke!”
So I came up and another 3 minutes of floating on the surface were necessary for me to shut up all those inner voices (that were not mine to begin with), and finally decide to let go of that “emotional luggage” that I kept carrying around all my life. I just visualized how this ugly old suitcase filled with fears and doubts sank into the deep before my eyes. It just drowned deeper and deeper becoming smaller and barely visible, until it finally vanished into the dark blue.
I took one last breath on the surface, gripped the regulator with my teeth and closed my eyes. In a couple of seconds, I felt my body shiver of doubt one last time, but as soon as I made the first breath through the octopus, and the dry and chilly air from the tank filled my lungs, I knew I was going to be ok. I grasped the rubber in my mouth stronger and made a couple of deep breaths to ensure that I was really breathing underwater. And as that wooshing sound of air rushing into me stabilized and i was breathing regularly, i felt that absolute happiness and joy filled my body along with that air – the joy of letting go of a life-long burden, the joy of discovering that your limits are the ones that you set for yourself, the joy of careless floating among the most beautiful things and creatures on the planet, the joy of a sense of freedom.
Diving is as close as a human can get to flying – suddenly you can move in all directions that you wish, 360, you can float still, or move at a speed of your choice. You can do it with almost no effort, feeling like a little mermaid, and the best thing is that for about 45 minutes you get the chance to feel part of that world full of wonders, beauty in its very raw shape and form, and share a moment in time and space with some of the oldest creatures on the face of our planet.
Years have gone by since that first step and first breath. I now am a certified diver, dive with my own equipment, and among others have enjoyed the marvels of the dive-sites around Sipadan (Borneo, Malaysia), the Banco Chinchorro in Mexico, and, of course, the Mediterranean. You can see some of my underwater footage on my photos page. I can’t imagine my life without diving now – would you imagine yours without flying, once you’ve tried it? But first you have to let go of that “suitcase”, and I recommend you do, the sooner – the better. Whatever fears your suitcase contains – drop it. And then take the step, the jump, the leap, whatever it is in your case – do it. The freedom that fills the space of that luggage will make you a better person, and definitely – a happier one.