On Fear and Scuba Diving

I’m not sure how I got here.

As a kid, I refused any activity that could hurt me. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was nine. I refused to leave the steps of our backyard pool until my big sister essentially insisted that I learn to swim before she’d let me out of the water. At the time I was convinced that she didn’t grasp the concept of drowning. Why couldn’t I just go read on the patio? No one ever died of reading. This might also be true of kickball, but even as an adult I remain dubious.

The first time I tried snorkeling, I hated it. Nothing like inhaling salt water unexpectedly while 300 fish crowd around your face mask and your legs are shredded by coral! Hey sharks, I hear you can smell a drop of blood in the water from a zillion miles away! Come and get it while I’m blinded by these tropical fish!

The second time I snorkeled, I was on the Great Barrier Reef, where I hated snorkeling for eight hours straight. When I turned thirty, I went to Belize and thought I’d finally gotten the hang of it. It was amazing, until our guide unexpectedly chummed the water for sharks. That was one of the first times I decided my overactive risk-o-meter wasn’t useful anymore. As I watched everyone leave the boat for a front-row view of the feeding frenzy, I realized it was time to jump.

Since then, I’ve learned to roll in a kayak, jumped off the top of a redwood tree, and went on a surprisingly adrenal dog sledding adventure. And last week, I got my open water scuba certification.

The more I do these things, the more I realize I just have to shut my eyes and jump. We’re afraid of the unknown, and once it becomes rote it isn’t scary anymore. The process of turning fear into comfort is all about familiarity. This is true of adventures, of travel, and of each other.

Tomorrow, let’s talk about scuba diving. I think you should try it.

22 thoughts on “On Fear and Scuba Diving

  1. My husband and I learned to scuba dive while on our honeymoon in Thailand. Our instructor, Daniel, was Swedish and kept calling my husband, “Yer-emy.”

    Learning to scuba was amazing and I’m so glad we did it. It was the first time in my life that I could be brave.


  2. My friend sent me the link to this because I’m going ziplining tomorrrow (I really long and high one) and I’m a little nervous. I’m trying not to think about it too much. I’m more of a jump first and think about it second person…if I think too much I’m not going to do it.
    I’m jumping tomorrow. No backing out!


  3. Oh, you brave soul, you. I was also risk averse as a kid but am at a similar place in my life right now where I’m more willing to take risks (I learned to ride a bike at 27, I’m contemplating moving to India for a while). Scuba diving, however, terrifies the crap out of me, and this irrational fear stems entirely from the movie, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” No one has ever been able to convince me that the GIANT SQUID does not live in the deep end of every swimming pool.


  4. This is exactly what happened to me with roller coasters. It took me until twenty three to ride anything that went upside down, and it turned out that once I leaned into the fear, I loved it. Thanks for inspiring me to put “Ride a roller coaster that goes upside down” on my life list!


  5. There should be more photos on the internet where the viewer can scroll down a photo of a lady looking elegant, only to discover she’s wearing big flippers on her feet.


  6. When I was a kid I too refused any activity that was even remotely dangerous. Glad to see there’s hope for me yet. I’m excited to hear more about your adventure.


  7. Getting my open water certification scared the bejeezus out of me. It was also the most satisfying thing I have ever done. There’s nothing quite like facing a massive fear and conquering it!


  8. Scuba rocks! Everyone should try it. Very liberating. It is way safer than all the movies portray it. Very zen like actually.

    Glad to hear that you are overcoming this big fear.


  9. I agree with the other person who said “It was the first time in my life that I could be brave” (which means we have both lived a charmed life). the first time I did an open water dive I nearly had a panic attack, and I was fairly terrified the next many times I went diving in hawaii (my husband is decidly fearless underwater, which didn’t help my anxiety). I think the most interesting part about overcoming that panic is that I had to do it in utter silence and totally independently because even though I was in a group, it’s totally silent under water and everyone else was looking around enjoying the scene, which left me to figure out I just needed to breathe deep and get over it. now I find diving to be one of the most relaxing parts of a vacation


  10. I am still afraid every single time I put my face in the water for the first time (for some reason, scuba brings out my claustrophobia and I am *convinced* I will drown), but once I get distracted by all the pretty, pretty fish – I’m good.

    And I could not agree more about just forcing yourself to jump in and do things.


  11. I used to dive a fair bit (and was even an editor for a series of guidebooks about diving) and found it pretty amazing. I have NEVER enjoyed snorkeling. Not just after diving in comparison, but before as well.


  12. I am terrified of, well, almost everything: bike riding, skating, skiing, climbing things, jumping from things….escalators.

    It’s inconvenient.

    I’m very proud of you.


  13. I have, in recent years, decided that living a life where I wasn’t scaring myself fairly regularly probably wasn’t a life fully lived. And so I’ve begun to impart that same ‘mantra’ to my kids (11- and 15-years-old) encouraging them to, as often as possible, do something that they don’t think they can do or that generally scares them. I want us all to get to a place where we start our stories with, “You’ll never believe how amazing this was…” We are only here a short time– being safe is a waste of that time! Cheers to you, Maggie!


  14. You? Fearful? Really? Wow, Maggie. That’s amazing. If I were to describe you, the word “fearless” comes to mind.

    Just had to comment about the fear/familiarity balance. YES. I, too, was a fearful child (swimming, roller coasters, the dark, shots, many movies, failure, looking silly, disappointing people). As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to see fear as a signal that I need to try something. And I have. Nothing too dramatic, but enough to make me realize that I’m a lot tougher than I thought. And that many things that seem scary are really fun. Feels good.

    Congrats on the dive certification! And on taking an impromptu trip. And Lesta. Dang!

    Counting the days till camp.


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