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My First Scuba Diving Lesson | Travels With Carly

My First Scuba Diving Lesson

My first scuba diving lesson. The dreaded mask removal skill.

Well that didn’t go as planned.

Tonight was the first time we hit the pool in scuba diving class. We donned wetsuits, BCs (buoyancy control vests) and then strapped lead weights to our hips. Threw on fins, a mask and we were good to go. I felt confident, excited even. My friends Brian and Diane would finally be able to take me diving in East Timor. I was going to be a DIVER.

We got into the water and our dive instructor John explained the first skill. All we had to do was drop to the bottom of the pool (the shallow end, we are talking six feet max) and sit there for one minute. That was it. No skills, no swimming, nothing complicated. Just sit our butts on the bottom of the pool. So we let the air out of our BCs and started to sink. I was fine until the water was half-way up my mask. That’s when it all went to hell in a hand basket. From the first moment we went under I was an anxiety-filled mess. I sat on the bottom of that pool losing my mind, completely convinced I was going to drown then and there. My heart rate spiked through the roof and I sucked down air as fast as the regulator could give it to me, which wasn’t fast enough.

I spent the next two and a half hours calming myself down to various stages of near-panic by just focusing on breathing and nothing else. We would drop under the water and the panic would spike. I would then talk myself off the ledge and do whatever horrible task John set before me. Take the regulator out and put it back in. Clear water from my mask. Signal out of air and use my buddy’s alternative air source. The whole time I kept telling myself, “You are not going to drown. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”

That worked through most of our underwater skills until the final one. We had to take our masks off, breathe in through the regulator, out through our noses, put the mask back on and clear the water from it. When my turn came I repeated my BREATHE mantra, took a deep breath, and removed my mask.

Maybe it was the exhaustion. Maybe it was claustrophobia. Maybe I had reached my limit and couldn’t take it anymore. No matter what it was, I freaked and swallowed half the pool in a desperate attempt to get my head out of the water. For reasons I don’t fully understand I spit out my regulator (that would be my air source), didn’t inflate my BC, and tried to tread water with a metal tank and lead weights strapped to my body. Can I swim? Yes. Can I defy the laws of physics? No. I sank like a stone.

My instructor saved me. As I flailed at the bottom of the pool, he reached down, grabbed the back of my BC and hauled me out the water. It was like being saved by the hand of God, no lie (and I am not a religious person). He threw my sorry ass over to the pool ladder. I grabbed hold and held on to it for dear life. John asked if I was ok. I stared at him with huge eyes, paused and said, “I’m gonna need a minute.”

So my friends, here is what I need to know. Is this reaction normal for first-time divers? Has this happen to you or anyone you know? If I keep at it, will I eventually get comfortable underwater or is this symptomatic of a phobia I didn’t know I had? If I can get past this, do you have any advice on how to combat panic while under water? I really want to learn scuba diving, but not if it means I’ll drown in the process.

Several hours and several Guinnesses later…

After much thought I’ve decided that I will not give up. I am going back to scuba class on Tuesday, but I plan on discussing my concerns with my instructor so that we can come up with a signal that says, “I am borderline freaking out, but I am working through it, so give me a moment before you make me do anything.” I am just worried that I will be a danger to myself and others. We’ll see how it goes.

NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER SURRENDER! (If you don’t know what movie I just referenced, then ignore that line. It isn’t funny.)

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