Drowning Fear

Coral World SNUBA, St. Thomas

I can’t breathe. I can’t get my breath. There’s too much air; its choking me. I can’t get back to the surface. What do I do? The weights are too heavy. I’m going to drown… I’m sorry, Athena. Mommy can’t come home to you. I’m not going to make it this time. I’ve failed.

I have fears. Great ones; debilitating. People always assume that I’m not afraid because I jumped out of a few planes or I’ve tried some extreme adventures, but put me under the water with a regulator in my mouth and I have a panic attack. It’s disappointing, disheartening. I try to look at fear like a challenge. I’m capable of over-coming it but scuba diving has beaten me.

Every year, I create a bucket list of activities that I’d like to experience. I put a lot of thought into which items should make the list and if it’s humanly possible to accomplish every item in one year. Readers, friends, and family often think that I’m completely unrealistic about my goals, but I believe the more unrealistic I am with my dreams and goals the more I’m able to achieve.  Last year’s list included 50 items and I completed all but two of them – an African safari and using a regulator (scuba diving or SNUBA) under water. Two weeks ago, I visited Namibia for an African safari and made my number one bucket list item a reality. That only left using a regulator under water.

Yesterday, I visited Coral World in St. Thomas for a SNUBA experience. SNUBA is a form of diving that is a mix between snorkeling and scuba diving. A diving regulator is used but instead of air coming from tanks strapped to the diver’s back, it comes through a long hose from tanks on pontoon rafts on the surface.

Todd, my instructor, was calming, encouraging, and supportive. Even the way he looked at me gave me confidence. I was going to do it! I could do it.

We practiced on a platform first. There were three of us but I was the only one nervous. The other two guests were a newly married couple who were comfortable using a regulator and had an introductory scuba course and dive experience under their belts. I had an epic failure under mine. The last time I tried SNUBA in Aruba in 2013, I couldn’t get over the fear and I let it take hold. I gave up and left defeated. Exactly one year later, I found myself trying again here in St. Thomas.

The practice run encouraged me further. I was keeping my head in the water and I could breathe with the regulator in my mouth. Then, we headed out further and I had to actually dive down. It all went south from there.

The over-whelming sense of panic. The loss of rational thought processes. The fear… gripping me, taking hold. Did I do it? Did I swim away, defeated… again.

I’ll let you know tonight when I return to my room. Now, I’m off to try fly boarding.

Stay tuned.

39 thoughts on “Drowning Fear

  1. Even if you did swim away, you’re not letting the fear win–it does not control your life. You are still trying and you are still facing it head on…it may win the moment, but remember “courage doesn’t always roar, sometimes it whispers quietly in the night, I will try again tomorrow.”


  2. Not a strong swimmer, I tried a resort SCUBA course in the BVI only at the urging of my wife. Then we went on my first dive. All I could do was worry if everything was going to work. Well, now I had tried it and was ready to quit. We had lunch, the seas were rough, and I was getting queasy. The only calm water was below the surface, so I went on the second dive. Knowing I could do it, I began to look around and really see the coral and fish. I was hooked!


  3. I admire you. You tried again. You have to “give yourself credit” for that!!!! You’ll do it. Maybe not in St Thomas. St Thomas has a glorious amount of fish and (I just thought of something)….. Why don’t you snorkel for a very long time there? Then you’ll see the fish and WANT to go under water to see them more clearly. That will be your goal. To see the fish. Not to “withstand” the regulator.


  4. Honey I have the same fear, it took a lot to get comfortable, and there are STILL times that I feel a panic coming on. Whether you overcome it or not, you are living life to the fullest! ❤


  5. Frankly my dear Lesley, it doesn’t matter an iota whether or not you “did it”.. the point is that you dared to try again, dared to try and overcome a fear again. Whatever the outcome, you DID do it. Way to go!


  6. Lesley, this post inspires me with my own challenges. Reading about how you make your list and people in your life think they are unrealistic made me think differently about my goals. I want to do something with my writing that is against the conventional wisdom of how to succeed (writing in multiple genres, one of them non-genre/general fiction). Your post caught my eye and when I read it my mind opened. If Lesley can make her BIG list and go for it, so can I. I just have to work even harder. Thanks for sharing yourself so openly and honestly, and no matter the outcome of this effort, you are a winner.


  7. Haha so true. I have done scuba diving before, but every time I am asked to jump from the boat in the middle of an ocean with a heavy cylinder strapped to my back, my heart jumps to my throat. I have a huge panic attack under water and to top it off,I honestly don’t know how to swim!
    That being said the experience is awesome!!


  8. Hey Leslie,
    I too had great fears about water in general and swimming. I never was a strong swimmer. But when I got a much desired job working at the Indianapolis Zoo the year it opened, I was required to be SCUBA certified if I wanted to work in the Whale and Dolphin Pavillion (my dream job). It was do or die. I took a PADI course at our local indoor natatorium and for some reason, it wasn’t that bad. We got to sit on the steps and get used to breathing through the reg. We could take all the time in the world to get accustomed. I learned to slow my heart rate which was causing my fast breathing. It took time, but I learned to soften the feeling of panic and relax and got better at breathing close to normal. I’ve only been on one open water dive, but have spent hours underwater with dolphins poking their curious rostrums over my shoulder as I cleaned tanks. I highly recommend the indoor pool kind of class, because it takes time to learn to manage a fear like that.


  9. Congratulations on crossing off #1 and valiant efforts on scuba. At least you took the challenge, I do relate to the water thing. I have irrational fear and could only snorkel for a short time. Here’s hoping you crossed over!


  10. The main thing is that you tried again. My thoughts are that you ended up doing it and overcame the fear and then saw the beauty all around you. Will be waiting to see how it turned out!


  11. Being in the open water… being under the surface… terrifies me too. My claustrophobia kicks in. I get disoriented easily. I panic. I’m sure if I ever tried Scuba or snuba it wouldn’t go well for me either… Not the first time. Maybe not the second time…
    I’m betting you were able to overcome your fear though. Fingers crossed!!


  12. Good for you for still trying despite your fear!!! I have only ever snorkled off the coast of Hawaii and I did alright…but every time I looked up and at the vastness of the ocean, I got that familiar panic deep in my chest and had to swim back to shore. I kept trying to go out further and further, but the feeling never left when I would look up. Strange how water can do that!


  13. I never feel compelled to conquer my fears. I’d rather focus on doing more of the things I know I enjoy. But maybe that’s because my fears mostly involve snakes, and I’ve passed out enough times to know that’s not going to change.


  14. Arrrgh Matie, Ya learnt ta liv anudder day. No fish bait is you!
    Now doesn’t the unencumbered feel of unattached
    scuba, the feel of flying, make the most sense? That we know you’re
    good at.~All the Best.


  15. Don’t let it get to you that diving just isn’t your thing. I have epically failed at this too – at the Great Barrier Reef for a guided walk on the bottom. Finally forced to wave goodbye while hubby went on the tour and I watched from above. Sigh. Not all of us are made to handle underwater breathing – embrace the snorkeling!


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  18. I had “Learning how to dive” on my to do list. I was just thinking to take it off because I was scared but your words encouraged me and remembered me that all the fun is on the other side of Fear 🙂
    Thank you 🙂


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