It’s Free! Or Is It ?

 

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Underwater can be a magical place.

Building a bucket list is a rip snorting way to remind you to step out of your comfort zone. It tears your focus away from what is and leads you into the possibilities of what could be. It can bring an energizing reflection of where you’d like your life to go. Creating my own bucket list proved an elusive creature on my radar. However, my hubby, Rick nailed one down a while back and he had scuba diving listed as one of his targets. So while it wasn’t a prominent idea in my thoughts, the idea of pretending to be a fish and swimming along the bottom of the Caribbean waters did hold some appeal for me.

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Pictures from snorkelling in the Riviera Maya, my camera is only good for shallow water. These are two different types of grunt fish.

Sometimes opportunities pop up that can’t be ignored, an occasion such as this happened to crop up on a weeklong holiday in the Dominican. There we were skipping along, well maybe not skipping because Rick tends to look quite silly when he skips along. We were strolling along the tiled pool area and noticed a sign for a free introductory scuba diving lesson. The key word here is Free. It’s like a magnet for my Scottish blood, Aye Laddie, I’m cheaper than a two bit taco on Tuesday. It was like a sign from God, maybe not God, but I think his name was Jesus. Anyway we trotted down to the scuba shack, well, maybe we didn’t trot because Rick looks silly doing that too, we ambled down to the beach area to sign up for our FREE lesson. At this point I’m still feeling excited about our underwater adventure. I still think I can be as graceful as a fish gliding about the coral. I was about to realize I was a fish afraid of drowning.

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An absolutely stunning parrotfish.

Upon our arrival at the scuba shack the sales pitch began, and before we knew it we had committed to a four-day Open Water scuba diving Padi course. This was far from Free. Our actions automatically kicked my Scottish blood into internalized dialogue, “What are you doing you couple of bawheeds, now you’ve gotten yourself into a scunner, and for quite a pretty penny ya pair of numpties.”

“Hush up you cheap bastard. It’s a bargain for a notch in the bucket list belt.”  I defend replying to my Scottish side.

Check! There goes one item off of Rick’s list. After all, life is full of opportunities and shouldn’t we jump in with both feet and give it a go whenever possible? Side note- If you’re jumping in with your scuba gear on make sure to hold your mask and regulator on your face.

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A bluehead wrasse, simply gorgeous.

It shouldn’t have been such a trial for me, I do love the ocean and I enjoy snorkelling. But it was a trial. The first thing I learned during our pool dive is that I was freaking terrified. I had no faintheartedness about seeing sharks, stingrays, or puffer fish, or any of the other amazing underwater creatures that could potentially kill. I was terrified of not being able to breathe when I wanted to breathe. The cause of my excessive trepidation originated from my childhood, where all good fears tend to spring forth. As a childhood survivor of chronic bronchitis and pillow smothering, I was quite concerned about not being able to get my air. I love to inhale and exhale at will. I enjoy breathing through my nose. I am not a mouth breather and I do consider that a good thing. On the other hand it is a necessity to scuba dive.

Rick breezed through the scuba course like he was a fish disguised as a human. As for me, it proved trying at the best of times and on my final dive before certification I had a meltdown. Throughout the course I had continually shoved my fears into a little corner of my mind. It had been no easy task to keep myself in the Zen state of mind while diving in the deep blue yonder where oxygen does not exist as air. And although I admit to enjoying the magnificent undersea, there was never a second when I didn’t feel like the petrified prude of the diving world. I was forever counting down the seconds left to surface and having the freedom to pull the regulator from my mouth and breathe like a human.

On our last dive the instructor and ourselves followed the tag line downwards towards the ocean floor. Rick quickly equalized and arrived at the bottom. He took a knee in the sand observing his dawdling wife and impatient instructor through the crystalline water.

I recall following the dive line downwards and suddenly noticing the water pressure on my body feeling uncomfortably constrictive. I pause on the rope. My breath becomes shallow and rapid. I know I need to slow down my breathing, but I can’t seem to relax. My Zen space is gone and I am tossed into my fears. I stare at my instructor with wide eyes and give him the signal I’m going to the surface.

He snatches my arm and glares at me, giving me the slow down motion with his hand.

I shake my head in a negative way. His grip on my arm increases as does my feeling of being trapped. Panic sets in and masses of bubbles are released from my increasingly rapid breath. I break free of his grasp and head up to the open air. No worries about equalizing, I wasn’t far down.

As I pop to the surface I keep my mask and regulator on trying to find the calm I had achieved on previous dives.

The instructor arrives at the top and gives me his death glare. It was the one I had gotten used to seeing because he wasn’t the most patient instructor in the world.

He gave me the thumbs down motion indicating I should follow him back towards the bottom.

I shake my head vigorously making the hand tilting motion to indicate something is wrong. My heart is still squeezing out terrified beats and they reverberate inside my chest. I inhale with focused breath wrestling with my alarm.

My instructor tugs on my jacket style BCD (buoyancy control device) insistently trying to bring me down beneath the surface of the water.

Panic absconds with my thoughts; they are a troop of monkeys leaping through the trees running wild with fear. I can’t do this. I hate the water pressure squeezing my body— I hate the thin dry air through my regulator— I hate breathing through my mouth. I’m a nose breather goddammit! I feel like I’m suffocating. I could die.

I smack his grappling hand off of my BCD jacket. I bob with the waves. I stare at him through my mask with immense eyes meeting his daunting gaze. I pull the regulator from my mouth, “No. I’m not going down. I can’t do this. I can’t breathe.” I gasp. I know it seems ridiculous to him. I’d already done three dives, four including the pool training. I was almost done my certification. He could see I was going to quit on him. He saw a skinnier wallet. All I saw was a potential watery grave, and yes I’m being dramatic, but fear tends to exacerbate emotions.

He pulls his regulator out and said, “But it’s so beautiful down there, you have to see it.” He grabs my arm again.

I growl, “Let go of me. Stop frickin grabbing me. Just give me one second, and I’ll try again. But don’t grab me again.”

He raises both hands to surrender.

It takes a couple minutes but I manage to recollect myself. We drop down to join Rick on the dive. It is a paradise below indeed.

We both got our certification, (mine questionably) and Rick checked an item off his bucket list. We’ve done more diving since, and I really have come to relax into it and enjoy it. But there are moments, times when it’s been too long since my last dive and my anxiety displays it’s dreadful grip. It’s one of those life choices where you just have to calm down and kick fear in the face.

I think it’s my turn to check something off my bucket list. What are you terrified of doing dear husband?

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