Overcoming Fear Of The Open Water: Excerpt From My Diary


This is a page from my diary on the day I tried to overcome my fear of the open water while snorkeling almost a decade ago. Copied word for word. Don’t laugh! I am truly exposing myself here :-).
Heads up: Some thoughts may not be clear to a reader because I was writing for myself and I knew what I meant, so here it goes…

March 20, 2007
Location: The Galapagos Islands

 

After playing and looking at the sea lions, I walked along the shore.  I was thanking God for the opportunity to see these things around me.  I was grateful.  I also had a little quiet time to reflect on recent events in my life.

 

After reassuring myself that I am a wonderful person :-), I looked up and appreciated the beauty around me.  The sand was almost too white that it actually blinds you with the sun’s reflection.  Aside from sea lions, I also saw marine iguanas walking on the shore.  It was like a miniature dinosaur from ages ago.  It makes you think of evolution.

 

Sea Lions on Espanola Island
Sea lions sunbathing on the shores of Espanola Island, Galapagos

 

Then I walked back to where we dropped off our things.  I grabbed my snorkeling gear and walked to the water. I told myself I was going to brave it and swim to the rocks which are not very far from the shore.  However, I didn’t wear flippers because I thought I could swim better without them if in case I panic.  It was a mistake because the rocks on the shore were sharp and it cut the bottom of my feet, so I walked back to my things. I didn’t even get far.

Little did I know that David was watching me.  I guess he knew that I was afraid of the water, and he just want to make sure that I was fine.  He actually suggested that maybe I should swim to the other set of rocks a little further away from the shore.  I thought to myself: ‘you mean to actually swim to those rocks???’  It was quite a swim, but he said I should be able to see more stuff there.

Barry, an older man from our boat (the one with diabetes) was listening to our conversation.  He said that if I agree, he would hold my hand until we get to the rocks.  He said he would go up there with me.  I guess both of them felt bad for me the previous day that I held on to the boat the whole time.  I was really convincing myself to brave it.  I know how to swim.  I have goggles on. I have flippers on…worse thing, if I panic, I just swim back to the shore…how hard is that?…so I finally braved it (this was a HUGE deal).  I knew I had to stay really calm.

 

Espanola Island Galapagos                                       I swam to the black rocks behind me. It was a big deal!


Barry told me that I am going to see different things underneath, and I should just calm down.  Sure enough, here comes a fish (yes, one fish), and I grabbed his hand tight!!  He gave me a signal underwater that it was ok, and I need to calm down.  I could hear my own breathing through the tube…I kept telling myself  ‘relax…relax…keep breathing…keep swimming…’ Next thing I knew…I saw a whole school of fish, and we were near the rocks!  I made it!  I was so happy.  I took pictures of the fish.  There were thousands of them!  Tiny little fishies.  When you swim towards them, they clear the way.

 

school of fishPicture from a film waterproof camera back in the day

I popped my head on top of the water, and I took my goggles off  and my breathing tube to tell Barry I was enjoying it….and then I suddenly remembered and realized I could not touch the bottom of the ocean. I am out in the open water….I started flapping my arms and Barry was trying to grab them…I swam away from him because I wanted to put my goggles back on.  My tube was full of water.  I couldn’t breathe through it.  I didn’t know I was supposed to blow that out.  I accidentally swallowed some water.  I heard Barry say ’what the hell?’…again, I had to get my composure.  I signaled to Barry that I need to head back to the shore.  He swam close to me.

On our way back to the shore, when we were almost there, I suddenly felt something cold under my belly…like something was moving there, so I looked down and I saw at least 20 sting rays swimming underneath me.  I could hear my heart pounding, but from watching National Geographic, I knew some animals can sense fear or hear very well underwater.  I knew they could sense my heart pounding.  They all had long tails.  They all had at least 2 to 3 feet wingspan.  They were big.  I kept remembering the story of the croc guy who got stabbed in the heart with a tail of stingray…oh my…my mind kept switching from ‘Enjoy the moment. You are swimming with stingrays’ to ‘survival mode’.

By instinct, Barry and I just both stopped swimming to let them pass, but as David said later, they were curious animals, so they just kept swimming around us.  When I finally felt that there were not going to move away, I signaled to Barry that I was going to swim to shore.  I let out all my competitive swimming experience and swam away as if my life depended on it.

When Barry and I finally got to the shore, I gave him a hug for being there to help me overcome fear.  We both talked about the school of fish and the rays that we saw.  We were both excited.  I would never forget him.  I was grateful for his kindness.

 

Update: I am happy to say that I have snorkeled (braver) in many other places such as Hawaii, Philippines and the Great Barrier Reef since then. I’ve even done an open water triathlon. Sometimes I still wear a life jacket if the waters are not calm 🙂

 




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