Picture this – you’re a scared nervous wreck and can’t remember the last few minutes, or exactly how you got yourself into this mess. Looking around you see colours; you know it’s beautiful but you just can’t bring yourself to appreciate it. There’s a sharp stabbing pain in your ear and no matter how hard you try, you can’t make the agony go away. Nup. That’s it you think. I can’t be here. I can’t breathe. You look up thinking the surface isn’t too far away so kick your legs trying to break through to fresh air but it doesn’t seem to get any closer. That’s when the sickening feeling starts to grow – you’re trapped. You just want to yell and scream but you can’t, because you’re trapped….
Doesn’t seem like the best start to a favourite travel memory – but to tell this story right, I need to go back to before my sister Amelia and I had left Australia. At this point I still had no idea where in the world we were actually going – and to be honest, it scared me to death. It was only a few months before our trip – my dear sister had told me she was taking me on a holiday for my birthday. I assumed she meant Melbourne or Sydney – you know, somewhere normal, but then she told me I had to apply for my passport and get myself ready for my first overseas trip. what.
The next surprise Amelia hit me with was that I had to take an online PADI diving course because – you guess it, apparently we were going diving. Thinking back to how I felt about this news at this time – I was horrified. I could not image anything more frightening than strapping a snorkel mask to my face, sticking a (highly dangerous!) tank onto my back (I thought they were explosive at the time), and descending down into the depths of the open ocean – which if you actually think about, is a pretty big and scary place. The most frightening thoughts though were just thinking about how much water is around you, underneath you, and on top of you – there’s no escaping it. I felt claustrophobic just thinking about it.
So anyway, back to having to do this online course. When Amelia told me what she planned to be one of our main activities while on holiday, she was beaming with excitement…. And I was slowly dying on the inside. Like a good sister though I hid all my insecurities and pushed them back along with all the other fears I had about now knowing where we were going or what we were doing. She had paid for this holiday after all and the last thing I wanted to look like was unappreciative.
So I did the online course, taking as many notes as I could along the way – as I do being a dork and an over thinker, and once that was done didn’t really think about it again until we were actually on holiday. Didn’t think about it / supressed my fears and anxieties by ignoring them…. same, same.
The day before we were due to have our first lesson, Amelia asked me: “So how many times have you been snorkelling again?” My response: “Uhhhhhh…. Yea that’d be never.” Greaaaaaaaat. Naht.
I think we went out in the water quite late in the afternoon that day; in the back-bay just a short boat ride away from our resort – and god was that an experience. I hated it. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t know how to breathe. Amelia was busy chasing fish. And I was slowly dying on the inside. I already knew then the next day was going to be horrible. Oh, that’s right – I also got water stuck in my left ear so the resort had to give me some sort of swimmers-ear-drop-stuff to help ease the discomfort. #profromthewordgo
So the next morning, we started the first training session as per normal – float for 10 or 15 mins, swim 300 metres, etc – ergo, prove you won’t drown in shallow water; passed those tests swimmingly. (Good pun Alicia). And then came time to don a wetsuit and learn how to attach a BCD (buoyancy control device. I’m actually impressed with myself that I still remember that!)
I remember asking the instructor what to do if I needed to pee and she said “just go in the water!” and then laughed. Umm, come again?! How many other people have worn this wetsuit? AND PISSED IN IT!!?????? Off to a good start.
So we began simple, in shallow water so we could stand up if we needed to – and god we needed to. The water in the back bay was rough that day, visibility was shit and the current was quite forceful; – every time I put my head underwater I would just float off like a helium balloon snatched by the wind from the clutches of a small child. I’m picturing I looked like Uncle Vernon’s sister in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban– you know, when she blows up and bounces out the dining room and then off into the chilly London night.
Right, right, getting off track with analogies – where was I……
So anyway, we decided the current was too strong and visibility that poor that the instructor couldn’t actually see us underwater so we moved. The rest of the day was a bit of a blur to be honest but my thought process was a little something like this….
Great. Now we’re in deeper water. Kill me now.
You want me to what?! Purposely put water in my mask and then get it out. Ummm, no thanks
Now you want me to take my mask OFF! Completely! ARE YOU CRAZY!!!
Geeesuzz – how many different skills are there to learn.
Hang on, you what? I don’t know what that hand signal means?! God dammit. This is shit.
Lunch!? Thank god – yes please.
Oh, you want to go into even deeper water? Oh no, Amelia looks excited – okay, well if she thinks I’m ready….
Nope. Not ready
Not at ALL ready
And at that point is when I realised my ear hurt, I couldn’t equalize properly and that combined with all my fears and anxieties building up sent me over the edge – and by over the edge I mean scrambling for the surface trying to get the EFF out of there as fast as I could.
I told Amelia that night I wasn’t going back out in the water. She would have to continue the rest of the course by herself. It was hard because I knew how much it upset her, but I knew I just couldn’t bring myself to put myself(?) through that again. (Yea struggled to think of another word than ‘myself’ for a while. Clearly couldn’t be bothered coming up with anything else).
I remember waking up the next morning with a horrible weight on my shoulders – knowing that Amelia was going to try and convince me again, and I would just have to shut her down once more. I tried to ease her off gently though and said I was still thinking about it, even though I knew deep down in my heart there was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to try diving again.
Our instructor was sneaky though, she brought a second teacher along with her on day two – saying that she thought it would be nice if I had some company while Amelia continued with the course. God was I naïve.
“Let’s just do some skills in the shallow water Alicia – just for something to do, and if you feel uncomfortable again we can stop straight away”. Yea okay, I thought. Might as well. Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky…. We kept moving out little bit by little bit, and next thing I knew, I was diving. I can still picture the soothing eyes of the instructor each time I pointed to my ear and waved my hand, palm up, palm down, to indicate something was still wrong and it hurt. God he was patient. He just kept signalling me to keep equalising by pinching my nose and breathing out to help get my ears to ‘POP’. Just keep
swimming equalizing, just keep swimming equalizing.
It was when we began doing the emergency swimming ascent skill that I realised how deep we were. Before we initially went under, the instructor gave me a quick run-down on all the skills he was hoping we would get through (and I seem to remember he maybe had a little water-proof guide book as well, with pictures to help me remember what to do).. Anyhow, I can recall thinking we wouldn’t get through half of them and then next thing I knew we were right up to the last skill – the emergency ascent. Okay I thought, this won’t be so bad, we can’t be more than a couple of metres underwater. WRONG. I just kept swimming, and swimming…. And swimming – breathing out all the while. More swimming, and swimming – Jesus, how far down are we?! And finally – we broke through the surface.
6 metres!! 6 bloody metres! I was shocked. I remember feeling so elated swimming back to shore. Amelia was beaming. I think she knew the plan all along. (It wasn’t until we were back on shore that the instructor told us that my deepest point was 11.2 m. Jesus).
So back on shore we had our first surface interval, after our very first dive. What the hell. I couldn’t believe I had done it. This is when Amelia snapped this picture….
This moment. This was my turning point.
This is when I realised I had conquered my fears. I remember the freeing feeling rushing through me as I stared out over the water. I had done it. I didn’t think I could – and I did.
It was an amazing feeling. I can remember feeling so strong and so accomplished. And that point in time, after feeling so anxious and so lost for such a long time, I needed it.
Looking at this picture always reminds me of that euphoric feeling. It reminds to me always step outside of my comfort zone – because I never know what amazing rewards could be at the end.
And that’s why one of my worst experiences turned out to be one of my favourite travel memories.