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Overcoming my Fear of Diving in Koh Tao Thailand

To be honest: I never even considered to dive again. Nope. There was no intention whatsoever. My last experience was horrendous and I thought I had forever banished the possibility of ever trying it again. Let me tell you what happened, back then when I did my Open Water course in 2002 in Cairns, Australia:

I was 17, curious and very brave. In hindsight, I would have probably left it a few more years before trying it out. I do know now, that having a positive mindset and the ability to rationalise your fears, play a big part in how you will experience your first diving attempt. I was a teenager full of anxieties and somehow I have the impression I almost attracted the situation I was in – nevertheless, I was probably also really unlucky with the diving instructor I was assigned to. To put it simply: Breathing under water is scary. And you can easily psyche yourself up to panic. Especially when things go wrong. But never would I have imagined that things can go this wrong.

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So these quite important...

So these are quite important…

Basically, after practising the mask removal exercise in the pool (scary, but manageable), we headed straight out to the sea the next day, where we practised it under water at nearly 10m depth. Now I know that this is rather unusual. Apparently, you are supposed to practise it in shallow sea water first, as removing your mask in sea water is a very different experience and can leave people react very differently.

Long story short, removing my mask 10 metres deep and not being able to blow out the water, knowing that I could not simply ascend as easy as that (safety stop recommended), left me panicking. I managed to blow out a little bit, but had psyched myself up so badly, that I simply wanted to ascend. I signalled to the dive instructor that I wanted to go up. A rather short-tempered person, showed his annoyance visibly as he frantically shook his head pointing to the floor as if he was saying ‘you stay here!’.

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Mariana explaining the weight belt

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I panicked even more, and while trying to ascend, vomited through my mouth piece. Classy, I know. Needless to say, I swallowed a lot of vomit, a lot of water. It was terrifying. The instructor swam upwards and asked me if I wanted to end the dive for today. Well yes, of course. There was however no apology from his side – nothing. He in fact proceeded in the afternoon to make fun out of me with his diving pals. In short – it was a traumatising experience, that could have potentially had a more serious outcome. So, that was it. I swore never to dive again.

Then, I got older and I arrived in Koh Tao – a diver’s heaven. After snorkelling for a few days and thoroughly enjoying it, I played with the thought of giving diving another go. One day I stumbled upon Oceansound Dive & Yoga on our way to find a nice restaurant. They do Yoga & Diving? Seems like the perfect place for me! Serendipity struck again!

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Oceansound’s office

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As I enquired about my options and some e-mail conversations back and forth later (mainly about my health condition and suitability for diving, as I have Factor V Leiden – a blood clotting disorder which does not allow me to dive deeper than 18m – please contact your Dr. if you have the same condition – whether you are allowed to dive or not, depends on your individual case), I booked a refresher course. I wanted to face my fears and had a good gut feeling about these guys (***by the way, this post is not sponsored – I paid the full price for my refresher course – but loved the experience so much, that I decided to incorporate a little review into this post).

Having read a lot over the years about how to conquer your fears and transform a negative mindset into a positive one and how to reduce anxiety (at this point, this book is my favourite as it talks a lot about it – it is also a classic), I felt I could use some of the techniques learnt for my dive. I knew the mask removal exercise was going to happen. And this time, I would be better prepared. This time, I was going to enjoy diving as much as I enjoy snorkelling!

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Looking slightly hideous in my attire

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A few days before the dive, I was given a manual and questionnaire to refresh my memory. Some questions were quite nifty – but after spending a few hours reading through the sections, I remembered a lot (surprisingly) and felt confident to know what to do once we are out there in the sea. Mariana, briefed me on what exercises we would be doing and how it is done. I felt extremely comfortable with her – she explained everything thoroughly, answered all questions and put me at ease whenever I felt a bit wary about doing certain exercises.

Everything that was required for a successful dive set-up was explained in a step-by-step fashion – from theory, of why we do safety stops, to the practical aspects, of how to secure the weight belt etc. As we hopped into the water and swam to the shallow waters to practise the exercises, I could feel the tension rising. How much of the last incident was I going to remember? Am I going to chicken out?

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Last checks before hopping into the sea

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And to be honest: I hated it. I did not want to do it. But, I pushed through and yes, I needed a few attempts to calm myself down – especially when I had to flood my mask entirely. It’s interesting how a bad experience is stuck in your brain for so long. Your immediate reflex is to run – survival mode kicks in. It wasn’t pleasant to have salt water in my eyes and I blew the water out more than once just to be sure – even though it was probably not necessary. But I was fine! Mariana, with her quirkiness and her very understanding nature, helped me through it! I did it! I conquered my fears of doing the mask removal exercise!

So off we went diving – and it was quite scary in the beginning – which is only natural after not having been under water for nearly 13 years. I was especially worried about not being able to equalise the pressure in my ears and sometimes worried that I would not breathe continuously (which you must do at all times). But, all my fears were quickly forgotten, when I was swimming around the most beautiful fish and in an amazing under water world.

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Floating and chilling in the water

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I completely forgot about time. It was amazing! After a good while, we swam back to the boat and had a break of about an hour while we headed off to the next dive site. This time we would explore an artificial dive site! We were swimming under arches, next to an abandoned car, saw plenty of fish – it was pretty cool!

If it wasn’t for trying to keep the budget in check (we splurged in Koh Tao – how can you not with all these cool things to do on the Island…), I would have probably booked a fun dive for the following day – I could not get enough of this diving experience! Fact is, and what I learnt from this: facing your fears is important. If you let your fears consume you, you can miss out on a lot of fun in life. Only because you had a bad experience once, does not mean it will be repeated. In fact, I made it my agenda for this year to conquer all of my fears.

As for diving: I’m no longer afraid.

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A happy diver!

 

heart-blueHave you ever had bad experiences on an adventure? How did you overcome your fears? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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