When I graduated with my masters degree almost 7 years ago, I wanted to get scuba certified as a way to celebrate. I was 33 years old and Eric and I had been married for 3 years. The week I graduated was the literally the same week Steve Irwin died from a stingray injury while diving. Talk about a buzz kill. Needless to say, fear set in and I changed my graduation celebration plans from scuba certification to learning to play golf! That was fun for a short period of time, but I was diagnosed with cancer the following year and everything changed.
Fast forward to 2014….Eric and I decided to live life to the fullest. Live without regrets. And for me, that included getting scuba certified, so we drove to Gulf Coast Divers one afternoon and paid up front for me, Eric and Ryley to get advanced certification (up to 120 feet) without any real knowledge of what that really would involve. We were certainly committed.
Classes started the next week. We had to pass 6 classes, 4 hours each. We spent about 2 hours in the classroom and 2 hours in the pool each time. I did great in the classroom portion, as I would expect, and I truly expected I would do fine in the pool. I have always been very comfortable in the water. I was in a pool the first time at 6 weeks and was on a swim team from the time I was a young girl. Water never scared me; I assumed scuba wouldn’t either….but we all know what the word assume means.
During the first class they made us do the one thing that started my scuba downfall….take our masks off underwater WHILE still breathing through the regulator. Eric and Ryley seemed to do this without much panic, but my analytical brain did NOT do well with this. It constantly told me it was not natural to breathe through my mouth underwater while having my nose exposed. It just wasn’t! I struggled. My brain told me to surface to survive and not to stay underwater, but that kept me from being able to pass the class.
During my second class, when I had to prove I could take my mask off at 15 feet and put it back on, clear the water out of it, and continue breathing, my instructor and I had a little run-in. Before going under, I specifically asked him if I could come up if I had any issues and he said yes; however, when it came my time to clear my mask, I sucked in water up my nose and began to choke. When I tried to surface so I wouldn’t DROWN, my #%*& instructor held me down until I was able to calm down and regain control. When I tell you I was panicked, that is an understatement. It was horrible. I hated him. When he finally let me up, I just wanted to cry. Eric wasn’t there – he and Ryley went ahead in class because it was taking me too long to pass – and I just wanted to crawl in a hole and be held. Eric did show up though shortly afterwards, and I told him what happened. I was so upset that the instructor didn’t honor what he told me he told me he would do. I know he was doing what he thought was best. When diving, you can’t just surface whenever because you can damage your lungs, but I specifically asked him and felt betrayed. This episode seriously scarred me and it stopped my progressed significantly.
The next week, I was diagnosed with a double ear infection and couldn’t return to the water for class for almost a month. During that time, I also was diagnosed with Menier’s Disease, an inner ear disease which causes hearing loss and severe vertigo. I was so discouraged, but I REFUSED to give up!
I chose to pay extra for private classes for my last 4 classes. I loved my instructor. I got more attention which was great. Harvey was patient and attentive, but at the same time, he required more from me than if he had 6 students to monitor. In the end, I am glad for that because I have no doubt I can do the skills!
Fast forward again a few months to my certification open water dive at Vortex Springs. I chose to do a dive with 8 others (which I wasn’t sure about, but chose to do anyway). I had to dive 3 times on a Saturday and once on a Sunday in order to receive my certification. Eric planned a great trip to Destin for the weekend – we had a beautiful room at a resort, and he planned to splurge for the weekend to celebrate. (He and Ryley had been advanced certified for almost 8 months before I was since they continued with class when I had to stop.)
The morning of the dive, I got suited up and Eric and I waded into the cold water. I felt a little out of breath from walking so far with all my heavy gear, but everyone else in the group was so geeked up to go under that I felt rushed to follow along. Harvey asked everyone if they were ready, and I felt obliged to give the thumbs up, although I already felt the panic setting in. I wasn’t under the water 2 minutes before I felt true anxiety and panic. Water started leaking in my mask (I hate that thing!), and I looked up saw I was under a dock. I was having a full-on anxiety attack. I felt as if I didn’t get out of the water at that exact minute, I was going to die! It was a horrible feeling. I motioned to Eric that I was going up…NOW!!! This was not what you are supposed to do when you are with a group, but I didn’t care. I surfaced and got my breath, and the entire group had to do the same – which made it even more stressful. I hated having to keep up with everyone when I wasn’t ready. I tried one more time to go down, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, IT WASN’T HAPPENING. I don’t care if we paid 6 million dollars that day. I couldn’t go under water that day. I felt like a failure.
I knew I wasn’t going to quit, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. Because of the temperatures, I waited almost 5 months before I rescheduled my dive again, but this time I did it as a private dive and it went much better. I felt no pressure to keep up with anyone and went at my own pace. I blew right through the skills and my instructor said I did great. I dove to 53 feet and went to the entrance of a cave. I dove again a couple of months later to do my 4th dive, and now I am officially certified!
When I say scuba certification is one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I am not kidding. It pushed me to my limit! I wanted to quit so many times, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could accomplish something if I put my mind to it. It really is fun to be underwater. It is beautiful. I just HATED the underwater test part. I hated the pressure. I hated the idea that I could fail. I hated the taking my mask off underwater part. The absolute worst part is taking your mask AND regulator off at 20 feet and having to put them back in. It’s totally a MIND game. I love being able to say I mastered it. I am more proud of this accomplishment than most everything else in my life. I let go of my fear and decided to go for it…and I am a better person for it.