Last weekend, I went to Tioman for my Open Water Diver Course. And that was when I discovered that I had a fear of diving. I was afraid, very afraid, when I first descended into the murky water and all I could were bubbles and the instructor descending in front of me. He kept signalling to me to keep breathing but I was very nervous and I ascended to the surface. After some pep talk, I descended again but I got afraid again when I did my mask clearing skills and I ascended to the surface. I said I had gastric, I said I felt like vomiting (which I did on my 3rd open water dive) and I said I might be claustrophobic. But the truth was I was afraid, I was afraid of that isolating feeling of descending into the depths of the open water.
So on the first day of the course, I only did 1 out of the 3 dives. I completed the 2nd dive as I somehow calmed myself down and mustered enough courage to do it but I couldn’t seem to do the 3rd dive. I was afraid again because this time we were going a lot deeper and I could not see the bottom as I descended. And I vomited on the 3rd time when I surfaced. Then I thought, “Maybe I can’t dive. Maybe I am not meant for diving. Maybe I am not a diver’s material. Anyhow I still have a good weekend outside of Singapore. I should not make myself miserable by forcing myself to do what I can’t.” My dive instructor came by and encouraged me (she is one encouraging lady) and told me not to give up. But deep inside my heart, I had already given up.
On the next morning, I was woken up very early by the morning prayers. And I started having a conversation with myself. I asked myself, “Am I going to leave Tioman and tell people that I have tried diving but I can’t? Is this the story that I plan on writing? Am I proud of an ending like this?” The answer is no but the question is how? I told myself I would try again, I would concentrate on breathing – exhale more than inhale to descend, inhale more than exhale to ascend. Instead of thinking how frightening it was, I have to start thinking about how cool it is to breathe underwater and how cool it is to swim among the fishes.
So on the second day, I did more dives than the other students. Thank God as well for a great dive instructor team and they gave me differentiated learning to assist me with my slower pace of learning. I was still scared of descending into the unknown sea but I focused on breathing and I tried to tell myself how cool it is to breathe underwater. Soon, the song “Whole New World” started to play in my head and I started to be comfortable underwater. A whole new world/ a dazzling place I never knew.
And that was when I started to enjoy diving. I started to admire the school of fishes and the corals. Everything is so new and so beautiful. I saw a sea turtle, a cuttlefish, a puffer fish, many clown fishes and many beautiful and colourful fishes. And I started to get the hang of how to manipulate the body’s natural buoyancy through breathing and it was so much fun. It was a shame we didn’t have a day 3 because I would love to be underwater for a longer time. This underwater “playground” that we swum through is most certainly the highlight of the dive expedition.
What I have learnt through this experience is the danger of having a fixed mindset and how easy it is to fall into the trap of having a fixed mindset. “I can’t dive. I am not cut out for diving.”
If I have allowed these thoughts to consume me and to define me to be who I am, I will not have been able to go underwater on the second day. But I chose not to. I chose to imagine the ending of this “fixed mindset” version of the story and I chose to imagine an alternative ending. I chose to try to encourage myself because I want the alternative ending.
It is true that it is all in the mind. What kind of ending do you want to write for this part of your life journey? A story of valour and courage? Or a story of quiet desperation?