Laughing in the face of fear

*This is a blog post from Medium dated June 2018. It remains one of my favourite posts, so I’m putting it down here.

I’ve been afraid of deep water for as long as I could remember. Seeing the vastness and depth of the ocean, its abyssal waters holding more secrets than revelations, I know how much power it possesses. It’s commanding, it’s mysterious, it’s reckless. It could seize me, swallow me whole, and keep me under its depths forever if it willed.

I was perfectly fine living with this fear; I didn’t have any intention of engaging in anything that involved deep water, after all. But then I met my partner who loved the sea — and he invited me to go diving with him.

I was eager to please. I said yes with a smile, but internally I was freaking out.

Facing the ocean

Riding the boat heading to our dive site, Halik Reef, gave me a mix of emotions. There was the fear, agitation, and nervousness, but there was also the excitement of trying something out for the first time. It helped that my partner was thrilled to explore the sea once more. It helped even more that a dive master accompanied me all throughout the dive.

Our boat stopped and our dive master stood. We were given final instructions on how to use our equipment, counted three to one, and went down the sea.

The sea was clear, so clear that we could see as far as 30 meters. Already we could see fish swimming 12 meters below us, feeding and playing on the corals. But that wasn’t what I was focused on: I found it disconcerting to breathe underwater for the first time. I had to get used to using my mouth as my sole source of oxygen, and to adjusting the pressure in my ears as we went deeper down. I was a human out of her element; my body told me it didn’t belong at sea.

I reminded myself a few times to not freak out, lest we end our diving session early.

Under the sea

The dive master, my partner, and I began exploring once we were able to go down a depth of 12 meters. The first thing I noticed was the colors: there were so many colors everywhere I looked. They were in the corals, in the fish, and in the rays of light as it danced in the sea. The colors were swirling around me, and I held a firmer grip on our dive master to make sure he stayed with me while I observed.

We went around Halik Reef in a circle, and though the sense of uneasiness never left me, I felt less anxious as we explored. I had never seen so many sea animals my whole life: there were sharks, blue tangs, lionfish, pufferfish, clownfish, butterflyfish… there were too many species for me to remember; the reef was bursting with them.

The highlight, though, was the turtles. My partner has a love affair with turtles and has been fascinated with them since he was young. We saw two in the dive: one feeding on plants in an area surrounded by corals, and the other swimming in as we were about the leave. The dive master and I excitedly motioned him to the former, and there was pure fascination in his eyes as he saw a turtle for the first time. We watched it for a longer time than most of the other sea life we saw; it was transfixing to see it eat.

We stayed in the sea for 40 minutes, wherein after we got up the boat and talked about the dive. Both the dive master and my partner told me I was incredibly lucky to have such a good first dive. As for me, I was mostly happy about not freaking out!

Facing the fear

Was there anything that I took away from the dive? Yes, two things. One was that I’d go further than I would for my partner. The second was that I’ve been in my safe zone for too long — so long that I no longer desired to go out of it.

The second was difficult to deal with. I’ve long been aware that I was no longer as curious as I was before, but to witness it in action was a hard-hitter. I knew I never would have faced my fear of the water had someone not pushed me to.

During the course of our two-week vacation, my partner and I snorkeled and dived one more time. In both instances I still felt the same magnitude of fear. The fear of the water may be something that will stay long with me.

But perhaps facing your fears isn’t about conquering them, but about being able to live with them. And perhaps it’s what separates the child-like from the rest: they are able to laugh in the face of their fears, and live the life they wish to have.

And it’s who I aspire to be: a person who faces her fears, befriends them, and moves through life with a nervous but willing heart.

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