Let me share with you the most terrifying experience of my life and how I managed to overcome the mother of all fears.

And at the end of this blog I am going to ask you 5 empowering questions to help you through whatever fears YOU'RE facing…

For 32 years I was terrified of water.

This included any swimming pool that was over my head in depth, plus all forms of lakes, rivers and the sea. I can float and swim to save myself, but I can't really swim like a normal person. I look like a drowning rat. I also could not comfortably put my head under the water, let alone breathe underwater or open my eyes down there.

When I went to Thailand on an adventure to discover my true self, and to write my way into an understanding of my life situation and how to move forward with more personal power, I decided it was also time to kick this fear of water once and for all.

Aaron (my husband) is a Dive Master and loves the water. My entire life I had resigned myself to the fact I would never go scuba diving. To me that seemed like the most terrifying experience, but it also intrigued me. The way people float around down there, able to see all the magic of the underwater world. Aaron regaled me with tales of his diving adventures and while my fear roared, a little voice inside said, “I wish I could do that”.

I figured that if I was going to face my fear, I may as well GO BIG or GO HOME! So I chose scuba diving as my first water adventure (note – this even comes before having a basic swimming lesson!) This whole fear-facing project was partially to prove to myself that I had the will power to stand up to what I am most afraid of in this life. If I could face this, I knew I could face anything. Plus, diving could prove to be something Aaron and I could do together in the future if I was able to kick this ridiculously paralyzing anxiety.

So there we were in Koh Samui. I had been diligently reviewing my dive course manual, becoming familiar with the theory, absorbing the number one rule: don’t forget to breathe. Sounds simple to the average reader, but when you're in full blown fear, often the natural reaction is to hold your breath! I was then perturbed to read, under the ‘Aquatic Life’ section of my manual, what one should do if one comes across a dangerous or aggressive animal. I was thinking shark. I would rather actually die before facing a shark in the water. Like many people of my generation, I was ruined for life as child by watching the movie Jaws.

The diving manual reassuringly said, “Remain calm, and lie on the bottom.” ARRRGGH! Remain calm? Okay, that in itself would be an issue. At least I knew how to lie on the bottom, surely that couldn’t be too hard? Look like sand. Become the sand. I am the sand. Most importantly, I decided that perhaps I wouldn’t wear a wetsuit. I figured that if I were to wear a black wetsuit, I would look like a seal with arms and legs. If I didn’t wear a wetsuit, my white, white skin would ensure that any said sharks or other dangerous animals wouldn’t mistake me for a seal.

So, my game plan was: Breathe. Look very white. Make like sand. Remain calm! I was told that if we were lucky enough to see a shark (I’m sorry did you say lucky?), it would probably just swim right past me. If that were to happen, I was sure to pee myself. Are they attracted to other bodily fluid or just blood?

I was about to break a lifetime of water trauma. I remember getting swimming lessons when I was six. The teacher instructed me to hold the edge of the pool and put my face in the water. It was seemingly not too much of a problem, despite the water going into my eyes and up my nostrils. Some basic instruction on blowing out one’s nose could have been quite useful. The most interesting teaching technique (I question her training in retrospect) was when she held my head in the water and turned it left and right for me, controlling my breathing—an excellent way to instil fear of water in any child: not allowing them to breathe of their own accord.

Day One of my diving instruction was to survive the pool—also known as confined water dives. Even the word “confined” freaked me out. The photo at the top is me sitting poolside just before donning my gears to get my first instruction. Nervous smile! As the session commenced, there were multiple attempts at simple scuba steps which my entire body and mind wanted to reject, including an attempt to put my mask on while underwater while simultaneously trying my hardest to stop water going up my nose and in my eyes. I will admit, on more than one occasion I popped up from below the surface, shoved my mask off, felt my face flush red with stress, embarrassment and frustration. There were tears.

There was water going in all directions. Snorting, sniffing, coughing – I was not at all cool. But, I survived! I feel it is of little importance that I took 3 hours to complete the pool based instruction which normally takes 1.5 hours. Some people just take a little longer to learn than others – nothing wrong with that!

The dives on Day Two in the open ocean (aka deep water filled with many unknown creatures who could pounce at any moment) admittedly were terrifying, but they were also freaking mind-blowing. My heart was racing. My mouth was dry. I felt like screaming the entire time, from exhilaration that I was doing it and from fear whenever I saw anything move in the water!

It was challenging to remember what to do at each moment and what I had been taught in the pool. My heart was pounding so fast, I could hear it beating loudly in my ears. BUT… my will power kicked in, from a pure survival instinct, and I was able to master the requirements and to pass my certification! HOORAY!

Here's a photo of the Dive Instructor who took me on the open ocean dive and, most importantly… me with my dive card (below). Proof I smashed fear in the face and came out the conqueror!  

What do you fear that you think you could or never would do?  And What might it feel like to face that fear, to thank it for coming, and then to show it the door?

5 Questions to Challenge Any Excuses That Keep YOU Stuck

Think about something you're afraid to do, something you wish you weren't afraid of… and ask yourself:

  1. If I were to die right now and I hadn’t done “it”, how would I feel?
  2. If I did it, would I feel more excited about myself and life?
  3. If I knew I couldn’t fail and wouldn’t die in the process, would I give it a go?
  4. Do I believe I have the strength and courage to do it?
  5. Do I think mastering this would help me in other areas of my life?

Review your answers, and make a choice. CHOOSE to use your fear as a fuel, or succumb to it. The choice you make will define the type of life you live.

With love, Bernadette

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Bernadette, I just read your powerful post. Your experience to face your
    fear is amazing. I too was and still afraid of water mostly because I did not
    grow up near water.

    Born and lived in firm land, water: lake, river, and ocean are mysteries for
    me. My fear has increased since I watched two awful experiences. One an old man was feeding alligators near a lake. He was captured and eaten by the same crocodiles.

    Recently, I saw a second dramatic experience where two young girls (18-20
    years old) were taking pictures near a lake. One of them was snatched up by a
    huge crocodile. It was so painful that you can see how her body and feet were
    going down the water. These experiences remain present in my mind. I just can’t
    deal with deep, mysterious, and unknown water such as lake, river, or ocean.

    My biggest fear is not really water, but snake…

    Oh as I share this I can’t really sleep tonight. Just writing that word, I
    can’t keep myself together. Being born in an equatorial country with big forests
    and trees, I killed myself some big snakes with my siblings and cousins in our
    Dad’s farms.

    My fear began more than 10 years ago. There was this funny story that one of
    our Managers at work owned a snake for spiritual practices. Each morning as I
    get closer to my office, I was feeling so uncomfortable that everything moving
    around me looks like a snake.

    The fear followed me everywhere I’m going. At work, at home, even in soccer
    field. The same fear is still present in me today.

    When I moved to the US, the first place I rent, I did not know the owner has one of these animals in his house. One day I discovered this and I couldn’t sleep anymore in my room. So I moved to another area.

    Today, from the young strong man I was growing up and killing really
    dangerous and big snakes, I live daily with this phobia that one of these big
    creatures will appear to me… I live in constant fear. It is like your fear of
    water as you described it at the beginning of your post.

    I can’t watch “them” on TV moving. I can’t look straight even at
    “their” pictures in a book, newspaper, or online. Sometimes going to my Facebook where friends post these images, when one appears, I just close my Facebook page.

    At home, sometimes I can’t sleep the whole night. I keep looking around, everywhere; just to make sure nothing is coming to me. Even taking my shower, I can’t stay there quietly. It happens that every time I see ”

    their” pictures, I dream about at night.

    I can’t share my fear with people because if some of my friends are aware of
    this fear, I won’t be able to handle the situation if most of them know about
    it. It is something which is eating my life. It has been more than ten
    years I’m dealing with this situation.

    On a daily basis, I don’t know how many times I have hunches of the presence
    of “these creatures” coming to my mind. It happens day and night,
    everywhere I’m going. To try to confront the fear, I wrote a short prayer I’m
    just keep repeating when that idea of their presence near me comes to my mind.
    I just say this short prayer: “The Lord is my Savior and Protector. In his
    Hands, I keep my life. I’m safe where I’m standing right now, and everywhere
    I’m going. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen”

    Still… the fear is not going away.

    When I saw your story, I just read it straight to the end to compare with my
    own fear. You did the right thing to confront your fear. Mine I don’t know. I
    beg, please don’t ask me to confront a ‘n…ke”. It’s not going to happen.

    Maybe those who will read your post may have some ideas to help me confront
    this phobia of “s…. ke”.

    Thank you for sharing your fear.

    1. Hi Bikibili

      Thanks for connecting, and sharing so openly what is going on for you. I really have a lot of compassion for where you are at, and how it feels to be afraid. Our minds have an astonishing capacity to either give us a sense of freedom and peace, or to torment us with intense and crippling fear, anxiety and pain. How we perceive the world around us through our mind – be it people, animals, experiences, situations – it is all just that…. a perception.

      The challenge comes in accepting that even though the fear (or full blown phobia) feels very real as our body reacts with sweating, heart racing, muscles tensing, even crying… the most powerful distinction to make is that the fear is arising NOT because of the external ‘thing’ but because of our minds. I am not by any means suggesting that recognising this makes the fear go away, because it didn’t in my case, but being able to realise that I am not my mind but I am the beautiful spirit/essence and energy beyond my mind, helped me to realise my mind is just a tool that I have at my disposal and up until at that point I hadn’t learnt how to use it properly. If we don’t learn how to use our minds, and master our own perception, then our minds use us… and that never goes well! Seeing that the mind is controlling you and recognising that you have the capacity to learn how to master your mind and begin to dissolve the fear, is the first step forward.

      Our minds make enemies of the thing we fear, and it becomes like a fight… “me against the water” or “me against the world” or “me against the animal”, depending on what you fear. But in reality, everything is connected and life flourishes when we recognise ourselves in everything and everyone around us. There is no duality and separation. Our fearful minds rely upon on us feeling separate and “up against” the thing we fear, in order for the fear to survive and grow.

      At times it really does work to reach out for professional help, as Linda did with her fear. Sometimes we have the capacity to breakthrough on our own, but at other times having a support person to lead you through it is incredibly powerful and beneficial, helping you to get clarity and progress in each moment as you face your fears, growing a little more peaceful and courageous with each step you take.

      Wishing you well as you move forward.
      B 🙂

  2. I could empathise totally with this, Bernadette.
    Once I had a snake phobia. Couldn’t even say the word or look at a picture of one… Until I took professional help and conquered it, finally handling a live snake with no fear at all. Wow! What a feeling that was!
    Not sure what to tackle next… any thoughts???

    1. Hey Linda
      Thanks for sharing, and awesome that you were able to get the help you wanted/needed to face the fear and conquer it. Powerful! What to tackle next… well when fear is removed, you can channel all that extra energy/inner capacity into passions, dreams, adventures, goals, and simply loving life in each moment! B 🙂

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