There are countless travellers and bloggers out there that will tell you to ‘live your life’ and ‘just go for it’. But as I’m sure you’re aware, that isn’t such an easy road for all of us. I truly believe those people want others to feel the joys that they feel on a daily basis, traveling the world. But when I see someone diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa, telling me to ‘just go for it’ I am a little less inclined to do so.
For those of us battling anxiety and other mental disorders, the road to freedom has a lot more road blocks and huge gaping pot holes. I’m not saying that it is easy for everyone else, because it’s not, just that we have different types of challenges ahead of us. I highly doubt you’ll ever see me diving with great whites telling you to ‘go for it’, because scuba diving, for me, is pretty uncomfortable. I wish I could just do it, just go for it, but I have to train myself a lot harder to do so.
The first and only time I tried scuba diving was on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and I very nearly didn’t do it. We had a briefing session on our tour boat out on the ocean, and my boyfriend was outside being sea sick the entire time. Because he missed the briefing session, he then wasn’t allowed to dive until he had heard it, and apparently, I was to dive first. FIRST, in between two 6ft men that I’d never met, before linking arms with them and jumping into the ocean. I asked to stay behind and dive with my boyfriend later on, but apparently, that wasn’t allowed. So I had one of those anxiety talks with myself:
“Okay Alysha, this is no big deal. Your parents love scuba diving, everyone bloody loves scuba diving. You know what to do, just put all the gear on and jump in. You can snorkel…how hard can this be? Sometimes you have to do things on your own, you can’t rely on your boyfriend. These guys seem friendly enough, surely they will help you out. All good. Just put the gear on.
Go ahead…put the gear on… PUT THE GEAR ON”
I snuck off back upstairs in the hopes my boyfriend was released from the scuba briefing and could jump on in with me. This was a holiday we were on, and I wanted to do the activities with him, not these random men. He was red faced and dazed, definitely not done throwing his guts up into one of Australia’s world heritage sites. I went back downstairs, because I really didn’t want to miss this opportunity just because I was anxious.
The instructors helped me into the scuba kit, complete with a huge oxygen tank that was pulling me down backwards. I was helped down the edge of the boat and onto the platform from where our lesson would begin, and my entire body was rejecting the idea of plunging down into the deep blue. We slid into the lapping waves and an instructor held my shoulder straps, so I would stay afloat, while he chat to me. Panic had started to seep into the walls of my mind like a thin gas, softly leaking from every opening. I tried to breathe through what I was feeling, but the scuba tank sort of dictates how long and slow your breaths should be; I already felt like I couldn’t breathe.
I was going to do this. I was determined because I cannot stand being around myself when anxiety wins, it’s the most degrading battle for me. So I took a few deep breaths into the tube, while waves slapped across my head, then sunk to find the rest of my team. We were two meters down, holding a silver bar that was attached to the boat, staring at our instructor. The silence under the water compared to the seeming chaos above was daunting. My eyes must have been wider than the ocean itself because my instructor was giving me plenty of ‘are you okay’ signals.
The feeling of being completely submerged in water and still being able to breathe is very unnatural for me. Beautiful, for sure, but extraordinarily strange. I gave a few shoulder shrugs to my instructor, forgetting all the signals we had learnt on the boat. So she then pushed an inflate button and sent me straight back to the surface again. Spitting and spluttering I was greeted by the same instructor that had held my shoulder straps before. His words of encouragement were muffled by the sounds of waves yet again slapping me in the face.
“The water is a bit rough up here, so you’ll be less stressed back down there. It’s a lot calmer! Are you ready to go back down and join your team?”
His giant smile persuaded me to try again, so I shoved the mouth piece back in and sunk back down to the bars. The pressure the ocean created made my mask tighten to my face and my ears feel as if they were getting closer to my brain. I finally steadied myself and had a look around, but there was no one in sight. Terrified, yet again, I pushed to swim right back up to the surface, where he caught my shoulder straps again. Laughing, he told me he had forgotten that my team had already left. And with that, hoisted me out of the ocean.
I could have tried again. I could have strapped back into the gear and carried that giant, spine bending tank again. But I didn’t. I decided that I got in the water, and I gave it a go, and that was enough for me. I grabbed my all familiar snorkel and went out into the ocean alone, waiting for the chance to watch my boyfriend in his scuba group. And you know what? He was pretty terrified too. I watched him bob on top of the ocean, descend, then come back up. Because scuba diving is a pretty big deal when you do it for the first time. And that’s okay.
Even though scuba diving that day scared me, at least I got in and I did it. I tried something that terrified me from start to finish and now I know what to expect if I try it again. I felt a little defeated because I didn’t get to swim on the bottom of the ocean, but that’s not for everyone.
I honestly encourage you to try scuba diving, even just once. And swimming with great whites in South Africa, and bungee jumping and sky diving and anything else you think you might be afraid of. Because really, you never know until you try it. I was apprehensive about scuba diving when we booked it, and I really didn’t think I’d ever even get in. But I did. And that’s a win for me.
Putting a little trust in yourself can work out better than you had imagined. So think about it, research it if you have to, book it, and then give it your best damn shot.