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.

Quarantine Week X: Babbling

I can’t write. The words have not been flowing properly. I find myself stuck in proofing and rewriting. In fact, I spent ten minutes just now attempting to re-write the first sentence of a draft.

Apparently, the key to getting out of a rut is to juggle your hobbies. It’s an empowering thing to know that, if you’re stuck in a project, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure; you just have to take a breather.

Socialising. One of the resolutions I had this year was to reconnect with two friends per month. It has been going well, but I find that I require discipline. Sometimes, I can’t bear the thought of socialising.

This applies to many people, I guess. When you’ve used up your willpower and motivation on matters like work, there is little left for talking to people, even friends. I find myself in this situation all the time, and I always have an excuse to reschedule.

As you can tell, it’s neither sustainable nor healthy. When I know that it’s time to talk to friends, I just suck it up and do it. I ring them, and after a minute of us talking, I forget why I was so unwilling to in the first place.

Hobbies and money. I have a bad trait: I need to spend money on a thing before I could commit to it. Working out, blogging, painting: I had to pay for them before I stuck to them.

The lockdown has given me time to think about how I could enrich my life. Now, I have a few ideas in mind. I want to study, draw digitally, and learn to play the keyboard piano. None of these are cheap. And I don’t want to choose just one: I want them all.

I’m taking my time and thinking things through, and I’m also constantly reminding myself that money isn’t necessary to investing yourself to something. Perhaps desiring so much is just the effect of the poor sleep I’ve been getting lately. My bed is utterly useless, and I could feel its springs on my back whenever I lie down.

Maybe I should get a new bed…

I said I couldn’t write, yet I’ve just finished an entry… hoorah, me!

Quiet mornings are the best

I woke up alone in my bed today. It’s a first since the lockdown began. My partner has begun working again, and left early in the morning to help clean up his workplace.

I rose from bed earlier than I usually do. It was exciting, this alone time and the silence it offered. I made my coffee, washed my face, and sat on the couch of our living space.

As I sipped my coffee, I took my time enjoying the view outside my window. It was a grey day, with wet grass and sleek pavements. There was no person in sight, but occasionally, I would see the birds perching on the trees nearby. It was a peaceful sight.

Yesterday, I listened to a short clip about what one could do every day to spark their creativity. Among the suggestions was to give yourself at least 15 minutes every day of quiet time. It, they said, helps you connect dissonant ideas, and allows you to see new things and find novel solutions. I don’t know at what level these epiphanies are supposed to come to, but today, I did think of roundabout solutions to my dilemmas. Also, I got the brilliant idea of making beef noodle soup. We have leftover bean sprouts and beef stock in the fridge, and I didn’t want to throw them away.

My last post talked about wanting quiet time. Now, I have it – and my, it is so exquisite. Quiet time is great, but quiet mornings? They’re the best.

Quarantine Day X: Yearning for alone time

The quarantine has been ongoing for almost a month now, which means that I have also been staying at home with my partner for the same amount of time. There are good and bad days, yes, but there are also days when I can’t stand being with someone else.

I know I have it good. There are many people who are in quarantine by themselves and are longing for interaction. It could also be difficult living through this with another person, though. It’s not everyday that you feel glad you’re not alone.

My partner and I get along excellently most days. We share the same ideas, have intersecting interests, and are preoccupied with our own to-do’s. He works on his photography and video editing, while I write, paint, and play video games. There are days, though, when one (or, God forbid, both) of us wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. And it’s these days, when every wrong move feels like a slight, that make me want to pull my hair.

Then there are days when I yearn to just be by myself, to get some time to think. On these types of days, it won’t matter who offers themselves as company. I would refuse. These are times when I want to enjoy my solitude, to meditate, and to work on my projects silently. It’s usually at these times when I’m at my most productive.

Today, I want to be alone to think. My future is uncertain because of the coronavirus; it has stretched the timeline of my plans for much longer than I anticipated. I have to think of alternative plans to keep myself from failing. This requires silence. But as this isn’t much of an option to me, I’ll most likely go for a run instead. It will clear my head, and hopefully give me some clarity. Wish me luck.

Quarantine Day X: Feeling guilty about everything

Since the quarantine, my feelings of guilt over everything I do has increased ten-fold. I feel guilty about so many things: my productivity; my meager contribution to society; my lack of effort to check up on my friends. All of these weigh heavily on me. They make the burden I carry on my back.

My social media usage, I think, is partly to blame for this guilt. Because of the “empowering” messages I read about “making the most of the quarantine,” I’ve come to feel horrible about my lack of effort. Sure, I spend my free time writing. I’ve even gone back to painting. I regularly call my family, less so my friends, and I’ve donated to a charity back home. But it never feels like it’s enough. I feel like I should be doing something bigger and of more substance. It feels like the only way to make the most of this period is to help the disadvantaged through direct – heck, even manual – means.

I plan on making the most of my day today: write (as I am now), paint, read a good book, and scout for remote volunteering opportunities. I also plan on making cinnamon buns and looking for courses I could take in edX. Despite all these, I still feel hollow and guilty. Do you, reader, feel this sort of guilt every now and then? The guilt of not doing enough?

I wonder if this is just a spell of anxiety. It certainly is incorrect to feel this way (J.K. Rowling recently condemned life gurus who preach productivity during this period), but how does one quiet feelings of guilt? Guilt goes away through action, yes. But if the action you’ve done has proven ineffective, what is the healthiest alternative?