learning to breathe again –part two…

…so up i went.

Glad to be at the surface and alive, I gulped a mouthful of air like it was the most decadent thing I had ever tasted.

After the ‘skills practice’ session, still feeling anxious and out-of-place in my claggy wetsuit, I approached the instructor with my story. Showing minimal empathy –almost  like ‘panic’ was an emotion I may have invented on the spot– he responded abruptly, “…well you will have to be able complete the skill tomorrow in the ocean, or you will not get your certificate.”  {Duh!}

The rebel in me wanted to say “you know what mate, you can shove your certificate and your skills up your regulator… I don’t neeeeeed this certificate in my life, in fact I don’t need any of this, eat seaweed mate, I’m outa here!”

But I didn’t. I coyly accepted his ‘warning’, got dressed and went home– a little less buoyant then when I had left the house that morning…

I made the most amazing dinner for Dan and me that night, I even bought ice-cream. And while we were eating I turned to Dan, and sombrely confessed,  “…this may be my last supper hon,” I continued “…I think I might die tomorrow.”

Of course he laughed it off, thought it another of my silly ‘what if’s?’ …but I was serious. And later that night, when he found me up in bed wide-eyed and researching ‘mask clearing techniques’ on youtube, he realised how deep my anxiety had set in.

Together we went through the instructional videos, Scuba blogs and numerous diving websites, until I was completely satisfied that I had enough to concentrate on underwater so not to allow my anxiety space for a cameo.

I just had to keep breathing, and stop thinking. Simple as that.     SiMpLE AS ThAT!

Actually one of the most difficult things I have had to master in my whole life.

Stop thinking? Thinking is what I do. I have a running commentary of thoughts, in at least two different tones marching through my mind always, in every moment. I think about thinking. I think more than I breathe. I would stop a breath to allow a thought in.

This is not going to work.

I was scared. I went to bed scared. The only thing that got me to sleep was my decision to tell the instructor that I would not do it.

I woke unsociably early the next morning and skulked into the bathroom. Still half asleep and still scared. The mirror painted a pale and unenthusiastic portrait.

Then suddenly, in a light-bulb moment: I saw a shower cap.  I saw a toilet roll.  And without thinking, I knew what I had to do.

Minutes later I ran into Dan with the shower cap over my eyes and nose and the toilet roll jammed firmly in my mouth. I took slow and steady breaths. I didn’t even bother to explain my theatrics. Slowly and pointedly with my eyes firmly shut and my mind on the task at hand, I went through the motions of the unaccomplishable ‘skill’ …

Removing and replacing my ‘mask’ (the shower cap) , while breathing out through my nose, and continuing my steady breaths through the ‘regulator’ (toilet roll).

Every breath rhythmically chaperoning each delicate movement. No thoughts interrupting the rhythm. Just steady breaths. In and out. And the skill – that I now knew instinctively how to do, that I had practised it in the bathroom so many times; step-by-step,  just the way I had learnt from the youtube clips – had become second nature.  Now I had to think about nothing but my breathing.

Not the dive, not the dunny roll in my mouth, not the baby-faced instructor, not my expectations.

“I’ve got it! Hon! I’ve got it!”

[Bless Dan for holding his giggles in until I returned home that evening– he took this moment as seriously as I did]

Before I knew it I was on the shore on a freakishly cold Melbourne day, shivering partly from the wind chill and partly from the idea of telling my youthfully-positive/stranger-to-panic instructor that I may not complete all of the skills today.

As I was tightening my knobs and buckles and testing my air and whistles I sucked up the courage to give instructor-boy the news.

I spat it out with credence; “Um, I probably won’t be able to do all the skills today, but I am cool with that, so…”

And with about as much empathy as he could muster the day before, he delivered another of his inspirational speeches…” What do you mean?”  His adolescent eyebrow furrowed,  “I know you can do it, I saw you do it on Monday…we don’t have time to do it later, you won’t get another chance…”, he continued, “…it’s not that deep, really, you’ll be fine.”

AAARrrrgh. Not that deep? You don’t get it do you? I don’t want to die! I cannot do it!!

Failing to draw any understanding from his seemingly underdeveloped emotional stores, I tried to put all of it out of my head; and just enjoy the moment.

Instructor-boy was actually right about one thing, I really would not get another chance. But how much did I care about all of this?

The long walk to the end of the pier in the freezing cold, in a stinky damp wetsuit, carrying a 20kg load gave me time to think.

I thought about all the times I had been traveling in strange countries, carrying backpacks heavier than the tank. I thought about all the wonderful memories I had collected from those times. I thought about the strength I had accrued from the moments spent alone; sometimes lost, sometimes scared but most of the time happy being somewhere new … I realised that I had accomplished these things in my life because I had decided that is what I wanted to do, and I did it. And no matter what deep and deathly emotions I went through at the time, I never regretted being there.

There and then when I reached the end of the pier I decided I was going to do it.

At the bottom of the ocean that day I shivered from the cold. My jaw ached from the tension I was putting on the mouthpiece. My fists clenched tightly around my regulator, reminding me of my arthritic tendencies. When the instructor gestured to us that it was time I anchored myself gracefully on the seabed and patiently awaited my turn, while the other divers went through their skills. I did not look at them, I did not think about what I was about to do. I just looked at the sand and the fish and the crabs… and I just breathed.

When it came my turn I took my time. I closed my eyes. I started that rhythm and took it all one breath at a time.

It was me, my breath and the ocean.

And when I opened my eyes the first thing I saw, through the veil of two pairs of goggles, surrounded by the clearest, blue-est calm I have ever indulged in, were the warm and gleeful eyes of my dive instructor and a clear and strong ‘ok’ sign.

I did it.