Back in September, Nick and I signed up for scuba lessons. Scuba always seemed like this pretty cool activity that other people did; I figured I would just stick with snorkeling. However, it was one of those “Why not?” moments, so Nick and I decided to take the plunge (too early for puns?). Classes in Tonawanda, NY met two days a week for three weeks and included an in-class portion and a skills portion in the pool. Our instructor prefaced the first pool session by saying: “A third of you will get the skills immediately. A third will master the skills relatively quickly, and a third will struggle and take a little longer to do the skills.” I think his intent was to try to make us feel better about being at different levels from our classmates, but those weren’t the words of comfort I was looking for.
After our first class I knew which third Nick was in (the first group) and which group I got to lay my claim: the last third. My way of learning is very different from Nick’s way of learning. My preferred style involves step-by-step instructions, no more than five steps explicitly explained to me, and having less than 15 people bump up against me while I’m in the deep end of a pool. Basically I needed a private tutor and the pool to myself. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out that way so I came to look at all of our pool classes with the same dread that I get before a big presentation. Before every drive up to Tonawanda, I’d down relaxing teas or CBD oil (sometimes both), and do the whole positive self-talk thing (“You’ve got this, Caitlin. You are awesome and you love scuba.”).
In my second-to-last class my anxiety decided it was going to be the lead actor for the night. A lot of minor things started to go wrong, like my mask kept filling up with water, I didn’t have enough weight on to keep me on the bottom of the pool, and I kept knocking into other people. So when they asked us to do our next skill where we take off all our gear underwater and turn off our tanks, I cried. A pretty hard-core cry. Like splotchy face, snots everywhere cry. It’s a good thing I had my mask on although it wasn’t pleasant when it came off. I didn’t think I would be able to do the skill without shooting to the surface when I inevitably snorted water up my nose. It took some help from one of the dive masters to calm me down. (Turns out by crying you can get a private instructor; future tip for anyone looking to scuba.) Jenny was extremely patient with me and with her help, I was able to complete the pool skills by the next class. Now I was cleared for our open-water dive to be completed in a quarry in Canada, which would be at the end of October. Oh and the water would be 45 degrees.
Luckily I think my body knew what I was about to do to it, so it rebelled with a nasty cold a few days before our final certification. This was a blessing in a red-eyed, stuffy-nosed disguise because it meant we had to schedule our dives down in Key Largo. I have never been happier to have a cold.
A few weeks and 1,400 miles later, house in tow, it was time to dive.
On our boat ride out to the reef, my old anxiety friend decided to hop aboard as well. I started doubting if I was actually ready for this and if I would be able to complete our skills. Thankfully, our dive instructor, Jeremy, could see my fear all over my face. He came over, kneeled down, and talked through what was going on in my head. He was so patient and reassuring. And when I did my giant stride into the water, the first thing he had me do was put my face in the water to just take in the scene below me. And honestly, it was really cool. The water was a beautiful aqua color and I could see fish and coral all the way to the sea floor. It was stunning and I felt lucky to be able to experience it.
I am now scuba-certified (thank you, Jeremy! And thank you Nick for staying by my side through it all. Although this was your idea so you had no choice). This was not an easy course for me and it’s still humbling and a little scary to be breathing underwater. But a part of our safety video that has stuck with me said: “For every kind of fulfilling and adventurous activity in life, there is no guarantee of safety. All we can do is manage the risk.” Thanks for the life lesson, scuba.