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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Just keep swimming

Submerged at 20-metres depth. Breathing compressed air. And a looming panic attack: what do you do? Just keep swimming, writes DEEPA GOPINATH.

Reading Time: 3 minutesSubmerged at 20-metres depth. Breathing compressed air. And a looming panic attack: what do you do? Just keep swimming, writes DEEPA GOPINATH.

I’ve been dabbling in a spot of scuba diving. A surprise to myself as well as those who know me. Being painfully un-athletic and colossally uncoordinated (who put that wall there?!), I never saw myself in a wetsuit, 20-something metres underwater, breathing from a tank and incredibly, not freaking out!
When my now husband (then boyfriend) gifted me with a scuba-diving certification course for my birthday, I tried to appear nonchalant. Inside, I thought ‘Who is this (surely crazy) man who had cleverly ignored my multiple declarations that I was not the ‘athletic type’?’ In fairness, how was he to know that I had given up all romantic dreams of being a marine zoologist, inspired by 90’s shows Ocean Girl and Seaquest DSV, because I could only swim backstroke?
That any attempt to swim any other stroke ended in me giving up, a spluttering mess, because I hated having to breathe out underwater? How was he to know that any of my athletic pursuits as an adult were negatively shaped by having been the quiet, chubby, bookish Indian kid in Penrith in the ‘90s, always the last in the class to be ‘chosen’ by a team for any sport?
That’s right, he wasn’t to know. He must have sensed something though because he did tell me he would understand if I didn’t want to do it.
Challenge accepted.
Actually, it was my ‘safety-first-call-us-when-you-get-there’ mum who further encouraged me to do the course. “Conquer your fears!” she exclaimed. “Learn a new skill!” And so I did, but I won’t pretend that I took to it like a fish to…..errr…you know. I was the worst in the class, so much so that the assistant instructor was assigned to me exclusively. After a two day intensive course, the instructor told me that he was impressed because although I had buoyancy issues, seemed terrified, and generally just wasn’t great at scuba (still waiting for the compliment….), I somehow managed to stay calm and not do anything stupid or dangerous.
Ok, I’ll take that.
Being a serial over-thinker is something I had to push aside. Because really, if I allowed myself the luxury of thinking about it…‘I am underwater, people!! Breathing from a tank!! With compressed air in my lungs!! Air that can diffuse into my bloodstream and form painful bubbles if I come to the surface too quickly! This is not natural! Humans were not supposed to breathe underwater! Also there are big scary animals with sharp teeth that can swim faster than I can!
What was I thinking? Why would I jump out of a perfectly good boat or walk off a perfectly solid shore to breathe through a tank underwater?!’
So as you can see, my usual over-thinking habit has no place in a dive. Instead, I am learning to quiet my mind and enjoy the peace and beauty of the underwater world. Once I get past the panic, the stillness and slowness and ‘floatiness’ of it all makes it a beautiful, almost a meditative experience. If I’m lucky, I’ll see something beautiful to distract me when my mind wanders to unwanted places.
A gorgeous school of fish, zebra-striped with fluorescent green dorsal fins, engaged in a perfectly coordinated dance – an underwater flash mob. Or a baby shark, hiding under a soft coral, biding its time until it is big enough to survive the big bad ocean. It is wonderful to have something that husband and I can do together on holiday. An experience we can share and chat excitedly about, or even quibble about afterwards! For me, it is the conquering of a fear. Not the fear of water or underwater creatures, but the fear that I am not ‘athletic enough’ to do anything so incredible.
Also, I must be getting the hang of it. On my last dive, I didn’t panic once, not even when we saw the huge bull-ray. We had a big friendly groper fish follow us like a puppy for most of the dive, and I didn’t crash into the fellow once! I was even told that I no longer look like I’m having a seizure underwater.
Again, I’ll take it.

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