Uncertainty can be happiness

"Security is a false god," or running around the world as an FSO

One step forward, one step back

Posted by quirksalight on July 20, 2008

This weekend was the shark dive at the Busan aquarium. With a couple of friends, we were to do a discovery dive in the shark tank at the aquarium. Of course, the most dangerous thing in the tank was us, not the nurse sharks. In the briefing, we were warned about the overly friendly green turtle who associates divers with food. And yes, turtle restraint techniques were discussed. 😛

However, I didn’t end up diving. Two weeks ago, I did a discovery dive in Osan and had a blast. So I signed up for the shark dive in Busan thinking that I wouldn’t have a problem. Unfortunately, I was wrong. We suited up and I already I felt uncomfortable. The wetsuit was too tight in my arms and I was uneasy at the constrained feeling of my upper arms. But, I was excited to do the dive and thought that it would be easier when we’re in the water and actually doing the dive.
With all our gear, we got into the shallow water to go over the basic skills, as it was a Discovery dive. I knew from my previous experience, that the mental adjustment of breathing via the regulator and not breathing through my nose took about 15-30 minutes. And that I would be uneasy during that period.

We’re in the shallow water, with the snorkel, no fins, and breathing through the regulator as we listen to the instructions given by the dive master. And all the time, warning signals are flashing in my brain, telling me that too many things were wrong. Arms constrained, improper breathing, dry mouth, thirst,…. and my fight or flight instincts were triggered. It didn’t help that we were just listening, with no physical activity to distract us. I got up, took off my mask and regulator, practiced some mental focusing exercises, and tried again. And again. The third time the flight instinct became overwhelming, I took myself out of the water, telling the group & dive master that I felt myself hyperventilating and beginning to panic, and decided to stop. When asked if I was really sure, I replied that I would be a danger to myself, others, and the fish in my current state.
I stepped out of the BCG, stepped out of the water, and put my snorkel away. The first thing I did was to pull my upper body out of the wetsuit and I immediately felt calmer. Still, it took about 15 minutes to fully calm down my flight response. Once calm, I sat down to figure out what went wrong, especially when I had a great time two weeks ago. I believe that the addition of the tight wetsuit, plus the long inactive time with the mask and regulator on were the variables that caused the flight response. The inactive time was much shorter the first time around, and I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit either. Another thing I noticed, was that the upper body constraint was the key point, as I had no problem sitting around with the wetsuit on up to my upper chest.

So now what? Waiting for me when I got home were my scuba study manual & documents from Aquatic Frontiers. I still want to learn. I believe that I can overcome the flight response. Why? Because I’ve done so before. Because I HAVE to. The next step is to have a frank discussion with my dive instructor and take each step of the scuba certification course as it comes. It’s going to be interesting.

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One Response to “One step forward, one step back”

  1. A follow up to my other reply. You’re “flight response” is quite normal in a lot of students, so no worries about it, it’s the reason we have you go into shallow water first, its a whole new experience and sometimes our brain doesn’t “get it” immediately. You also might be in a wetsuit that is a bit too tight, it does happen and it’s hard to discern what is snug and what is too tight. Try on a few, you don’t want it so loose that water is running through it and you’re getting cold, but you also don’t want that choking sensation. A good way to get used to breathing underwater is to put your mask and snorkel on and stick you face in a sinkful of cold water. I know, it sounds dorky, but it’s very effective. You can also practice taking the mask off in the sink, in order to get used to the sensation of water hitting your face.

    Don’t be hard on yourself, all divers, regardless of what some might say, all had to start from the beginning and have all had some kind of issue at one point or another. The key is trusting yourself, trusting your equipment, and, most importantly, trusting your instructor. I hope you give it another chance and have a bit of patience with yourself. There’s a ton to see underwater!

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