Note: The photo above shows Tony and me using the universal diver's sign to communicate that one is “okay.”
During our family’s two-month adventure to SE Asia this winter, I faced this thing that has terrified me for as long as I can remember.
As close to a panic attack as I’ve ever been, I was ready to turn back. Not do it and leave that experience unlived. But I worked through it with the help of an amazing, patient, skilled guide. "IT" is scuba diving.
Several of my animal rights friends are avid scuba divers who speak in romantic verse about the underwater world. I’ve listened and smiled while grimacing inside thinking, “No way is that ever gonna be me!”
Recently, I’ve been challenging long-held fears and stories I’ve believed about myself. That’s the only reason I decided to go for it. I mean, we were on the Lombok island of Gili Air, near Bali, and it seemed like this was the time and place.
My husband, David, learned to dive at age 13. Our daughter, Olivia, is now 12 and born a mermaid, complete with a deep love of seaweed, so she felt excited to try it too. It seemed like a good time for me to face this fear.
It can be easy to think of our parents as all-powerful beings who never struggle with anything. Authenticity matters to me, so I want Olivia to have a little more of a behind-the-scenes view. Sometimes. 😉 It’s no big effort to do something that comes easily, but when it’s scary? Now, that’s where courage is born.
Our wonderful dive instructor, Tony, grew up on the tiny island of Gili Air. When he was teaching us in the pool, I had my game face on. It didn’t seem so bad there in that contained and predictable space. Maybe this wasn't as big a deal as I'd thought.
Once we got to the ocean, it was a whole different experience. First things first, the dive begins with a trust fall off the boat. Why? You gotta fall backward into the water so you don’t get crushed by the weight of the oxygen tank. Yeah, that was a good jumpstart for heart palpitations!
They had dropped a line for us to use on our descent. Tony instructed us to start breathing from the regulator and deflate our vests a little. We started to walk our hands down the line to go below the surface.
It felt impossible to get enough air through that regulator. It seemed like there wouldn’t be enough oxygen for me, and I started to get scared. Maybe something was wrong. I checked and he said everything was normal.
We started to move down the line to go deeper. Just a few meters lower and the pressure and current made the mouthpiece for my regulator shift. I breathed in some water.
Yep, that freaked me out. Tony taught us hand signals to use underwater. He said that if something went wrong, we needed to stay calm. If we needed to come up, to do it slowly so we wouldn’t hurt our ears as the pressure changed. Knowing that I couldn’t burst up to the top only brought in more fear. I swam up as calmly as I could. Tony followed.
After that, I could not bring myself to go back down. David and Olivia were ready to go and wondering what was going on with me. I didn’t want my fear to influence Olivia, but I also realized that we are separate people, and I can’t always be there for her. Sometimes, the best thing I can do for her is to prioritize myself. #selfcare
So there I was, terrified and questioning why I had done this anyway. I told Tony I didn’t want to hold them back and that I’d be fine bobbing there while they all had fun and explored.
No chance he’d let me get away with that. In the most kind, gentle way, he asked what I was afraid of. Drowning, I half-chuckled. He told me everything would be okay.
We talked a bit and figured out the problem: My inhale was bigger than my exhale. I needed to fully exhale to make room before stuffing my lungs with another inhale.
It was the perfect analogy for the way so many of us live—constantly taking in and rarely releasing. This is exactly why I focus on self-care with my clients. Even though we may know what we need to do, most of us rarely do those things consistently. Having a guide to figure it out makes all the difference.
At that moment, Tony locked eyes with me and said, “You can do this. I’ve done this every day of my life for 15 years, and I’ll be with you the whole time. You’ll be okay. I’ll even hold your hand. Just keep your eyes on my eyes. Don’t look anywhere else. Okay?”
I did as I was guided to do. Tony kept checking in with me using the "okay" sign and waiting for me to give it back to him.
At one point I looked up to see where my family was and Tony brought me back to his eyes. It felt like my life depended upon my ability to focus only on myself right now. (Ah, that self-care practice!) I figured out that when the mouthpiece of the regulator shifted, I could use my hands to move it. Revelatory!
Finally, I let go of being in control and trusted in this well-chosen expert of this underwater world. It highlighted the burden I carry so much in my life of being in charge and getting things done. Allowing myself to be afraid and trust anyway was a life-altering shift for me.
We got 30 meters down by the time I was finally able to let go of Tony’s hand and look around. The sea did not disappoint. Gorgeous fish of every color rippled by. We saw Sergeant Majors, Powderblue Sturgeons, Crown of Thorns Starfish, and dozens more. My favorites were the Rainbow Parrot Fishes. We could hear a crunching sound underwater as they ate from the coral.
There were even sea turtles! At one point, I looked back at David and saw one swim right over him.
And then, the most incredible thing happened. As we watched a sea turtle resting on the seafloor, she suddenly flapped her fins and glided off. That sight will stay with me. She was so graceful and easy. In awe, I thanked her for sharing this underwater world with me.
Feeling grateful for this equipment that allows us human animals to visit a world so different from our terrestrial land, I paused to take it in. I looked over at Tony, who motioned for us to come toward him. We floated toward the top of the water and our scuba exploration was over.
I survived! I gathered every ounce of courage and rationality I could find, trusted in my expert guide, and I DID IT! Who knows? I may do it again someday. 😅
When was the last time you challenged a long-held belief?
Figuring things out alone can work but often takes much more time and effort. Working with a pro who knows the ins and out makes the journey smoother and quicker. If you’re ready to find more ease and joy in your life and are tired of slogging through it alone, I got you.
P.P.S. Schedule a quick chat with me (it’s free!), and we’ll see if we’re a good match to work together toward you living your best life.