A month ago today, I showed up at a scuba shop, picked up my gear, and headed with the rest of my class to a community pool. We had spent the previous day in the classroom, learning about pressure and nitrogen, jellyfish stings and buoyancy. The time had come to try out what we learned, though hopefully not the jellyfish stings. At first, things went fairly well with me. Along with my group I knelt in the shallow end, practicing breathing underwater while taking my mask off and putting it back on, switching to my back-up air supply, and other basic and safety-related skills. Though mildly uncomfortable, it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t figure it out and learn to dive.
Then, we moved to the deep end of the pool. We floated on the surface until everyone was ready, and then our instructor told us to go ahead and let the air out of our buoyancy compensators (bc’s) so we would sink to the bottom. That’s when the trouble started. I heard the gurgling of air and water as I breathed through the regulator on the surface, and somewhere my brain must have shouted, “You’re drowning!” because I started to panic. Even when I finally got under the water, and it appeared to the instructor that I was doing fine, there was a wild fear inside me and I couldn’t get it to go away. I wanted to cough, feared I’d inhale water, feared that in my panic I’d do something crazy, and so I kicked to the surface.
The instructors were very kind and patient. One stayed on the surface with me as I grabbed the edge of the pool, gasping for breath. I told him I felt like there was water in my mask. He reminded me that I had practiced breathing underwater with no mask in the shallow end. I told him I was embarrassed (in truth, ashamed) and he said there were all kinds of things I could do at work, without even thinking, with which other people would struggle. Even in my post-panic state I thought that was funny and ironic, since I commonly wade into people’s anxiety with them, reminding them of the truth and affirming them when they feel embarrassed or ashamed.
After calming down for a while, I tried again two or three times to get to the bottom of the pool and stay there. I never could get my ears to equalize the pressure, though, and each time kicked back to the surface. I chalked it up then to sinus congestion leading to the pressure and pain in my ears, but looking back I’m certain every part of me was rigid and fighting with every other part of me; if I’d been able to relax, my ears and I would have been just fine. I ended up disappointed and spent from all that effort to control my anxiety, myself, what the instructor and my classmates thought of me, and the laws of physics. Pretty ambitious, pretty silly, and pretty much what I do in non-scuba life much of the time! That was followed by being the last to complete the swimming test and then failing to swim 50 feet underwater without taking a breath. I went home that day exhausted, sunburned, and humbled. The latter was a tough mercy: a very good thing that really hurt. It’s one thing to say that trying and failing is good, or that being stripped of false and unhealthy ways of living reveals more of who God means me to be. It’s another thing to really live in those truths, in the water or out. I began to learn that day that scuba diving is pretty good therapy for a control freak! Stay tuned for the rest of the story.
To be continued…