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:
- If I were to die right now and I hadn’t done “it”, how would I feel?
- If I did it, would I feel more excited about myself and life?
- If I knew I couldn’t fail and wouldn’t die in the process, would I give it a go?
- Do I believe I have the strength and courage to do it?
- 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