Laying my anxiety to rest
Scuba diving had never been something that I found alluring. The thought of submerging myself under 18 meters of water actually made me a little uneasy. I’ve suffered from various forms of anxiety throughout my life and diving was just another activity on a list of many that I considered ‘panic inducing’.
Yet there I was, 12 meters down the anchor line and clinging to the thick woven rope for dear life. Adrenaline coursing through my veins and fear tightening its grip around my chest.
It’s such a primal sensation: an evolutionary tool, a mechanism to cope with situations of extreme stress. A cold hit of adrenaline that surges through our veins as our bodies switch to high alert in a bid to combat the dangers we face.
During my teens I suffered from crippling panic attacks. I was terrified of large crowds and small spaces, the passenger seat of cars and sitting at the front of my maths class. Yet none of these activities could ever be construed as exceptionally dangerous, so how did I come to associate them with feelings of anxiety?
Of what was I so afraid?
Throughout my life fear has restricted me, it has eaten away at my mind to the point at which I had given up any hope of ever beating it into submission. So how did I manage to find myself with 40ft of water above my head and another 40 below?
Three months earlier I had done something I never thought possible. Something that had terrified me since the idea was initially conceived, and which continued to do so even after I had made the decision to commit.
I had boarded a plane – FYI I’m terrified of flying – and left the life I knew, the life I had thought I wanted, for one of perpetual travel.
Having read my introduction you may now be wondering how on earth I managed to achieve this seemingly impossible feat. When I started writing this I promised myself I wouldn’t get all lovey dovey on you so I’ll just say this. It was love. L O V E love.
At the height of my anxiety ridden teens I had met a boy, and unbeknown to me this boy was to offer the one drug that could control the self-perpetuating merry-go-round of fear on which I found myself.
He is very scientifically minded and has just told me that I cured myself, he was just a placebo.
A vitamin tablet masquerading as a cure.
As we flew out of normality and into a nomadic existence I found myself facing challenges on a daily basis. I crossed rope bridges and zip lined across canyons, refrained from crying when I boarded aircraft and stifled feelings of vertigo atop tall buildings. Albeit with a little pep talk before hand, but still, I got through my first 3 months of travel without incident.
Now there I was, clinging to that anchor rope, paralyzed with fear.
Ironically I had already completed the majority of my Divemaster training. I’d enjoyed over 40 dives, sampled the delights of nitrogen narcosis at depth and learnt how to competently rescue an unresponsive diver on the sea bed.
So why had my anxiety chosen this particular moment to make a guest appearance?
The truth is I’ve no idea.
Had my recent bout of courage taken a momentary coffee break? Or had my wonder drug called love finally worn off?
Either way I had a decision to make. Swamped with adrenaline my mind turned to mush but one thought remained.
‘If I fall down now, I’ll never get back up.’
Travel had offered me the opportunity to challenge myself, to work through my fears and ultimately break through the boundaries of my anxiety. I couldn’t let myself wither away into the wallflower I once was.
The anxious teenager within me had finally found enough strength to overcome her fears.
As I struggled to control my breathing my buddy came into view, his bubbles racing past my mask as they escaped towards the surface. Racing towards freedom, to where I longed to be.
My heart was pounding in my ears and my vision was tunneled. As each second past I was fighting the urge to kick for the apparent safety of the surface.
Grabbing me by the shoulders my buddy let out an audible grunt and stared deep into my eyes. He signaled for me to slow my breathing and take his hand.
I found comfort in the familiar bluey hue of his eyes and the concerned look on his face. My wonder drug was back and I’d just taken another hit.
To have accomplished my previous diver training and overcome my anxiety while engaging in an activity that I would have once avoided without a second thought, was a huge achievement, and one that marked the beginning of a new era of my life.
Those first three months of travel had instilled within me the realization that perhaps I was more capable than I gave myself credit. That I was in fact able to control my anxieties and actually relish the opportunity to challenge myself.
While previously I had shut myself off from anxiety inducing situations, it was facing my fears head on that proved to be a cure. Travel had opened the lid of the box in which I had lived for a number of years and offered me the chance to break down the walls that had once prevented me from exploring the world.
Descending further down the anchor rope and reaching the sea bed was the first step in breaking down those walls and the following two years of my nomadic existence have proved to be the nail in my coffin of anxiety.
It is currently laid to rest in the back of my mind, and although occasionally I pay it a visit when I find myself setting out on another leg of my journey, so far it has remained buried deep underground.
May it continue to rest in peace.
BIO // Charli Moore is a freelance writer and travel addict with a penchant for dark chocolate. In 2011 she and her other half Ben waved ‘Adios’ to the corporate world and jumped head first into a life of perpetual travel. You can follow the adventures of this writer/photographer team over at Wanderlusters or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
thank you for this article…. I too suffer from anxiety/fear most of my life… I recently got married to wonderful man and now at 53 he has introduced me to scuba diving. We bought some gear and started the process. I was fine in the pool and we went to test our open water dive. I did all but three skills and just went into panic mode. Everything seemed wrong, bc/weights, mask (fogging up) fins not fitting in new long boots.. So I just said enough and didn’t finish. I was so disappointed in myself that I let the fear take over…
I have recently changed bc from aqua lung pearl (which was to small ) to a aqua lung axiom i3, and talked with my dive shop about doing some extra pool time before I go back to open water to finish my skills. I want so bad to do this and be a wonderful hobby that myself and hubby can share. i do have to say my husband has been wonderful, kind and patient …. Thanks again for the article
Wow, I can only imagine how scary this is! I had a drowning scare when I was 9 and unfortunately I never got past it. I’m still afraid of getting in the water so I wasn’t able to learn how to swim. Seeing these pictures relaxes me but I know for sure I won’t go scuba diving. My husband is the complete opposite; he and our son loves to swim and go scuba diving together whenever they have the chance to.
I feel you. No matter how many good stories I heard about scuba diving, I just cannot get myself to do it. But this summer, I did it and I was amazed on how beautiful the world is underwater. You will not regret it.
That’s incredible! It’s like a whole other world underneath the water 🙂
Hi. I came here while perusing the web for cures for anxiety when diving. I too have lived a life with varying degrees of, but always too much anxiety, and never really recognized it as what it was. I just coped by opting out of things that, somewhere deep inside, I knew would cause undue worry or fear and convincing myself I really didn’t “want” to do them anyway… Things like diving, in fact. My cure? Well, I haven’t found a complete one yet, but I will say that similar and yet quite different from your experience a ‘new love’ in my mid-life helped me do some things out of my comfort zone, but more recently a new and different love has helped even more.
I had a child, a son, 13 years ago and came to realize that I could not pass on my ways, my regret-filled “tradition” of avoidance; It was NOT how he needed to grow up. I have done things that put me well out of my comfort zone specifically due to my love for this bright blue-eyed wonder that came into my life at age 41 (yeah, I’m an ‘old’ Dad). And now the piece de resistance for someone with anxiety, anxiety that centers on feeling trapped or closed in, whether it be by people, space, or… gulp… water. Amazing, isn’t it, how we can find new confidence and strength thru others? Well, I will be going for the open water part of my diving instruction in a few days. I may be doing it to keep my son from living a “wish I had done that” life, but I will tell you I am still more than just nervous about being in fully open and very deep water while relying on equipment and my own wits, which leads me to…
My other “cure”? Drugs. Okay, don’t yet judge. I’m referring to a very small dose of something usually prescribed for anxiety. The benzodiazepine family (valium, ativan, etc…) I was given for a sleep problem brought me, at a very late time in life, some much needed relief to know that I could have a last-ditch solution to internal panic if desperately needed. What a life-changer that would have been when I was young! (I have to acknowledge I probably would have become dependent on or relied too heavily on meds rather than my own wits over that many years – or maybe never faced fears I needed to??). Anyhoo – – it was not prescribed to me for anxiety initially, but oh how it works on those rare occasions when I just know I am going to have more difficulty than I am even remotely comfortable with – the triggers all in place, like a crowded church and seats in the middle of a pew, or God forbid, being in front of a large group (I DO NOT want to be the guy who passes out at a wedding – almost did once!). Even today I just can’t seem to get through certain things. So now I am wondering about slipping myself a Mickie before the big day on (or should I say in) the water. Oddly enough, just KNOWING I have the ‘crutch’ to lean on is usually enough that I don’t actually need to take it. Placebo effect indeed!
So I have done the pool training and confronted things I NEVER would have thought imaginable for me and why I never even dreamed of diving before (well, I DID, but quickly wrote it off when pangs of anxiety permeated my thoughts). Cutting off my air, de-masking and taking off scuba gear under water, having to grab someone else’s regulator, all that training stuff that felt more like hazing than training. Wow, I can do this – right?! But I have to tell you Charli, I am kinda freakin’ out about the open water dives I’ll be making this weekend. Although it will be with my blue-eyed offspring, the prospect of doing this where the bottom is not concrete and just ten feet down and the “edge” may be a half-mile away, I am kinda nervous – – okay, a LOT nervous, even though I now know a lot of the tricks of the diving trade, so to speak.
Well, this was probably more therapeutic than entertaining or adding to the conversation, so I’ll end and just say that your story of “recovery” from a life that I too have lived (even harder as a male, I can tell you) has been inspirational. Indeed, diving has GOT to be one of the biggest fear-facing-down activities anyone with anxiety can partake in. If my son wasn’t aching to do it, I would have never ever EVER even given it more than a passing thought – and yet here I am planning a weekend around my our) first-ever open dives and getting certified!
Someone deathly afraid of flying and now a huge traveler and diver is inspiring. Thank you for the story. Oh yes, and great pics! I hope to share some like this myself one day – – soon!
I don’t know if anyone reads these comments anymore but my husband took me for an into to diving class last night. I had always wanted to try it. He took to diving like he was an old pro. Me I was scared to death! We were in a pool, I couldn’t stay under the water. I kept feeling the need to be safe at the surface. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t go any deeper than 6′. My instructor was very kind and patient, he helped keep me calm by reminding me to take slow deep breaths, he even played games with me underwater to help me be more comfortable. I was exhausted and shaky after. The thought of doing this in the ocean frightens me. I plan on going back for the intro class again but I get nervous and sick to my stomach when I think about it. I don’t want to feel this way, I want this to be enjoyable but so far it’s only frightening. How in the world did you overcome this?
You do not know how reasuring it is for me to read this.
I just went to my first PADI certification class today, the day was really windy and my dry suit was so just so tight.
Iv been swimming my entire life, and I should have no reason to be afraid or anything, I even volunteered to go first!
When I first tried to breath through my regulator under shallow water, I just panicked, I couldnt get enough oxygen. I feel so badly about it now, but when I was in the water I couldnt help but question if scuba was something I wouldnt be able to handle. All I could think of was being stuck under 18meters of water and no way to really breathe.
Im going to go back and try get used to it before I go do any open dives.
But Im still so shaky at the thought of it, what if I freak out mid dive and cant manage my self. The adrenaline alone would kill me.
I can totally sympathise. I never thought I would be scared of diving but my first time was terrifying. I think it was because I’m a bit claustrophobic and in the back of my mind I was telling myself that if anything happened underwater I was trapped.
I once freaked out so bad doing my PADI course that I pulled my regulator out of my mouth. I had read of people doing that before and thought “what bloody idiots”, but something in my head told me that I’d be able to breathe easier without something in my mouth so out it came. Luckily I had the presence of mind to immediately clear it and shove it back in!
It sounds like you were making huge changes and overcoming so many fears at once that something just snapped. Good on you for doing it anyway!
Awesome photos. I love scuba diving and snorkeling. Underwater sea life is amazing. I live in south florida so I can go down to the keys all the time to dive and go snorkeling. I am glad you have had the opportunity to try it. Other cool places are in the Bahamas.
I am feeling so amazing to see your underwater pictures. I am also interested in scuba diving,you are a such nice inspiration to me in scuba diving. I love your underwater pictures.
Nice story! I will definitely try scuba diving sometime next summer 🙂
Thats awesome that you were able to overcome all of these fears in your life. Anxiety disorders are something that has always fascinated me as I see them absolutely crippling people who, from my point of view, have nothing to be anxious about. Its always great to hear success stories of people overcoming these types of things. Im glad that scuba diving could play a role!
Where did you go scuba diving? There are some great places to go scuba diving in Curacao. You might not want to go scuba diving ever again, but even so, Curacao is a great island to visit and live on, and it shouldn’t be missed. Congratulations on facing your fears, only brave people can do that 🙂
Great inspirational story about conquering your fears! I’ve always been too scared to try scuba diving due to concerns about feeling claustrophobic under the water. It’s amazing how pushing through and doing something can have such a profound effect on your life and mindset generally.
So glad you did it! Scuba diving is something our family enjoyed on our RTW trip and took us to some amazing places!
It’s like a whole other world under the sea.
Funny you should write about diving and anxiety. My husband is a SCUBA diver, and has been after me to try it, but as someone prone to panic attacks, I can’t imagine anything scarier than being 40 ft below water. Good for you for fighting through the anxiety. You’ve inspired me to at least consider the idea of diving, which is more than I’ve done before. 🙂 Love your underwater photos, by the way. Just beautiful.
Sometimes facing your fears head on is really scary. For me personally, I can’t think of anything more terrifying than skydiving. Maybe I’ll try it once or maybe not 😉
Hi! I envy you for such an adventurous experience. Scuba diving is one of the activities I would want to try in the future. 🙂 Way to go!
What a wonderful feat you have accomplished! Scuba diving is something I’ve always wanted to experience but have been afraid to try, your article has encouraged me to muster up the courage and give it a try! Thanks so much!
Thanks for your comment Barbara, so pleased to hear you’ll soon be heading under the ocean to explore. Despite my fears I still think it is one of the most incredible ways to see some really diverse areas of our earth. I’ve no doubt you’ll have a blast getting certified.
I have never tried scuba diving but it seems a lot of fun!
Charli! No way. When you were talking about Coco and getting your divemaster, I had zero idea you had ever felt anxiety before or after. I am so proud of you!! Great writing… And photos. You are such a talent!
Oh thanks Abby! Yes unfortunately anxiety is something I struggled with quite a bit growing up. I think in hindsight it has actually made me a stronger and more capable person, I just have to have the confidence to tackle my fears head on! Easier said than done though right!?
Good thing neither of you narked out hey?
I think it’s almost impossible to get narked at 40ft! 40m maybe! It was a good thing Ben realized he was buddyless and came back up the line to find me, I may have been clinging to that rope for an hour otherwise!
Awesome photos. Scuba diving is something I hope to experience very soon!
Amazing Charli! Love the article, awesome pics as well.
Thanks Charlie, still trying to overcome water (drowning not drinking) dentists (pills work brilliantly) claustrophobia (everywhere, even wearing socks!!) heights, being a passenger in/on any mode of transport …….. did overcome spiders, roaches, the dark and a few minor others but this is inspirational. Perhaps I’ll try scuba diving again, did manage snorkeling off the Barrier Reef holding on with grim death to the guide rope, even threatening a young Asian Guy if he made me let go ….. thank again!
Anxiety is such a funny thing, it’s only an emotive response but it can have such a hold over the way we live our daily lives. I’ve always struggled with flying and heights too. Fab to hear that you’ve overcome so many of your fears already! I know pushing through anxiety to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef would have been worth it, despite the death grip! All the best for you future adventures!
Great post and I can totally relate. I suffered/suffer from panic attacks and anxiety and at the moment this is holding me back from trying scuba diving. But I know one day I will. There’s no greater feeling than overcoming fear. It makes you feel invincible! 🙂
I couldn’t agree more! Sorry to hear about your battle with anxiety. I’ve been fighting for quite a few years now and I am firmly of the opinion that only by facing the fears that constrict you will you learn that in fact they have no hold over you. It really is all in our mind. I know one day you will find the strength to give scuba a go. My advice is to be honest with your instructor, if they are worth their qualification they will do everything they can to help you feel comfortable and you will slowly gain confidence. That and rescue remedy, I drink their tincture neat sometimes!
Very well written, This post left me with so many questions I started following your blog immediately!
It’s funny I just wrote a post about underwater fears as well! I wonder if you’re ever come across fear of heights underwater, I found it very strange.
Can’t wait to hear more about your love cure placebo. My lover has also cured me of a lot of my previous ailments.
Lovely post 🙂
Hey Jade, I’ve just been over to your blog, great post. I sympathize entirely with your fear of the coral ledge. We spent two weeks exploring the Great Barrier Reef and Osprey Reef out in the Australian Coral Sea and boy were those drop offs steep! I think it is the fear of being exposed. Whether hanging out over a ledge atop a building or above an oceanic void my anxiety alarm reaches red alert!!
whatever it is, it will be conquered. 🙂 Have a beautiful day.
OMG Charli, that must have been a really scary moment! Scuba diving is wonderful–it’s a completely new world down there. But it can also be very dangerous. Good thing you were with someone good! I guess you need to dive more often, so you can control or completely eradicate your anxiety about being underwater.
Hey Freya, I have to admit the thought of returning to that moment gives me the willies whenever I’m underwater. It is still something that haunts me but I just have to focus on the fact that I overcame that fear and completed my training. I’ve been in an out of air situation so I know that I can put everything I’ve learnt to good use in an emergency. I think you’re right regarding diving more often. The more I dive the more comfortable I become!
You did so well!!! I have never even snorkeled before so you are way ahead of me. I am still learning how to swim so the next step will be snorkel and then I will progress from there.
Yes, anxiety, may you rest in sweet peace forever!!!
Great pictures, too.
Question: Did you experience a sense of serenity in the water despite your fears?
It’s funny you should mention serenity. I recently wrote about my experience of diving with sharks off the coast of Australia. I was terrified at the thought because we wouldn’t have the safety of a cage. The sharks are baited, divers jump in the water and perch on the edge of a steep coral drop off and then watch as the sharks feed. Up until the point at which the sharks began to rip the flesh from the bait I was terrified, however as soon as the carnage began my mind went quiet and I could do nothing but stare at the scene in front of me. It was so awe inspiring and an incredibly calming experience despite the ferocious nature of the event.
Great to hear you’re on your way to becoming an aquatic adventurer too!
Amazing underwater photography!
Thanks Laura! We’ve been to some pretty incredible dive sites which helps!
Way to go Charli!
I can empathise massively with this, Scuba diving was my biggest fear! I too suffered massively with the panic, being at the bottom of the sea with no quick escape route just completely freaked me out! But how amazing is it when you realise you can do it and get to witness the unimaginable underwater world?! Amazing!
I have to agree, when you relax into the alien underwater surroundings you’re soon mesmerized by the organic architectural forms and wealth of marine life. There’s just so much to see!
I’m a couple of years late to this post, but I found it because I too have had anxiety for years, and I recently started dating someone who loves to dive and I am actually considering trying it. I thought I might be crazy so I googled scuba diving and anxiety. Good to know that someone with an anxious background was able to do it and overcome the fear.