A while back I wrote about the helicopter tour BrightSide and the kids enjoyed (and I use that term loosely) in Hawaii, and that was when I first mentioned the One-and-Done List. There are a number of things that have landed on this list of things I’ve tried and promised myself I’d never do again, but today we’re going to talk about scuba diving.
That one is definitely d-o-n-e.
BrightSide and I were on vacation in Grand Cayman, an island that everyone says is “the” destination for scuba divers. The water life and coral reef are incredibly beautiful, so we figured if ever there was a time to try this it was while we were there.
First we had to take a resort course to get certified to dive for the week. (Did you know you need to take a course to dive? Seriously. The fact that there’s formal instruction involved should have been the first sign that this activity might be a little hard-core for me.) In the resort course an instructor uses the hotel pool to teach a small group of people how to use the dive gear.
So one sunny morning we went down to the pool, swimsuits on and anxiety level cranked up a notch or two. There was an instructor there ready to walk us through things step by step – the air tank, the breathing regulator, how to clear your mask, and how to equalize your ear pressure. It was an awful lot of information to take in, but I just kept telling myself to breathe through it and keep trying. And it turned out I actually did pretty well in the pool. By the time we finished the lesson I felt like I had things under control.
We went out for our dive a few days later. I’m not a huge fan of boats, but it was a necessary part of the whole “head out into the deep, deep sea to swim with the fish” concept. As we were skimming along the water things started to feel a whole lot more real, and I was working hard to remember everything I’d learned in the pool. And not panic. Not panicking was an important part of my plan.
When the boat finally stopped we all geared up for the dive. Each piece of equipment brought with it a little more anxiety until the fear was sitting heavy on my shoulders. You see, I know logically that I’m a good swimmer, but for some reason the ocean makes me nervous. That whole “respect the power of nature” thing runs deep for me, so the thought of throwing myself into the middle of the ocean for recreational purposes ran counter to my instincts.
Let’s just say it was through sheer force of will that I jumped off the back of that boat.
So then we were all floating around, ready to start our descent, and I was giving myself a huge (yet silent) pep talk. I can do this, I can do this, I know I can do this. DON’T FREAK OUT.
We were using a guide rope to descend and then return to the surface. There were stopping points marked on it, places where you needed to stop and equalize the pressure in your ears before you could continue, and that was where I hit the first snag on this adventure.
If you’re blessed enough never to have experienced sinus problems or a head cold, I don’t know that I can adequately describe what I felt at that stopping point. There was sharp, searing pain that throbbed under both eyes accompanied by the feeling that my eyeballs would burst from their sockets at any moment. If this doesn’t mean much to you then just imagine stabbing an ice pick through your hand multiple times until you pass out. Pretty much the same thing.
So I was hovering at the stop point, edging closer and closer to real panic as the waves of pain washed over me. The instructor came over to guide me while I tried to equalize the pressure by pinching my nose closed and blowing air, a maneuver that I’d handled fine in the pool but wasn’t finding successful in this real-world scenario. Add in the pressure that this was a group tour, so if one of us couldn’t make it down then the whole group returned to the boat, and I was fighting hard to get things under control.
I looked up at the 10-15 feet of water above me and suddenly realized the vast difference between the certification class and the dive. I did great in the pool because I knew, if something went wrong, I could simply stand up and I’d be on solid ground again. But down there in the ocean with all that water between the surface and me, between the air and me, there was a much bigger freak-out factor that I hadn’t accounted for.
I finally managed to clear my ears so I could continue the descent, and then the real fun began.
This is where my experience and BrightSide’s diverge greatly. He loved everything about scuba diving – the quiet, the calm, the beauty of floating through the water and looking at the sea life around him. He thought it was incredible, and I’ve been encouraging him to get his permanent diver’s certification ever since.
My experience with scuba diving wasn’t quite as positive. Not that the activity itself is horrible, I just don’t think it’s a good fit for me.
For one, I’ve got that problem with being claustrophobic. You wouldn’t think that would be an issue considering you’re in the middle of the freaking ocean – you can’t get more wide open than that, right? – but there was definitely a panic factor for me in diving. Covering my face with a mask and then breathing calmly while feeling like I’m miles away from the surface was, well, challenging to say the least.
I’ve also been told that I’m jumpy, a state of being that’s not very conducive to an environment where you can’t hear what’s happening around you. The peace BrightSide found in a soundless underwater world had the opposite effect on me. Not being able to hear the world around me or sense when someone’s approaching from behind pretty much freaks me out. Which would be the opposite of peaceful serenity.
So while I saw some beautiful coral reefs and fish and such, most of what I remember from my one and only scuba dive is the relentless internal dialogue that kept me from completely losing it:
It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. Just keep breathing, in and out, nice and slow. That’s right. Oh look at the blue fish. Okay, sure, I’m deep underwater here but lots of people scuba dive. Look – pretty coral reef. Just suck it up and do this. They wouldn’t bring tourists down here to die, that would be bad for business, so just keep swimming and just keep breathing and surely AT SOME POINT this thing has to end.
Which, eventually, it did. BrightSide gushed, I gave it my usual, “Well….”, and that’s how another item landed on The One-and-Done List.