Thursday, May 21, 2009
I hate diving.
“You will have great diving experiences. But you will also have bad ones,” the voice on one of the PADI videos had said. After yesterday’s experience I didn’t understand how that was possible. But I was about to find out.
We started the day with Itamar testing us on the final chapters. And when that was done, we were given our final test to complete when we got back from our dive. After our experience with Nico, Adrian and I were both struck by the difference in teaching style. Ita was cold and any attempt at encouragement actually came across as patronizing. But we were almost done so we tried to shake it off when we broke for lunch.
When it came time to get our gear together, I remembered more than I thought I would and didn’t feel as lost on the boat. We jumped into the water and began our descent with Carmel and Avishair helping Itamar off once again. But that’s where the similarities to the previous day ended.
Immediately we were instructed to perform our next task – swimming with the mask off. Ita showed us once and then told us to copy him. This time I had to go first. I got the mask off and swam, concentrating on trying to keep the bubbles from going up my nose. Ita tapped me on the shoulder to let me know I could stop and put my mask back on. No problem. Until I moved my head in the wrong direction. Suddenly I got a nose full of water that started going down my throat. Panic began to set in. I could still breathe so I spend a few minutes trying to concentrate on how to get the water out. With my mask on I would have just coughed but my mask was stuck in my hair and I couldn’t get it on. I tried to breathe out through my nose. But that seemed to make it worse. The water was now burning my nose and throat and I was definitely panicing. My throat seemed to be closing and I didn’t know what to do. I could feel my heart beating super fast and my breathing getting shallower. All I knew was that we were only in 5 metres of water and I could definitely make it to the surface safely to get the water out.
I kept motioned that something was wrong and that I wanted to go up. But when I started to move to go up Ita pushed me back down. And that’s when I essentially lost it. I shook him off and swam slowly to the top. On the surface I began coughing to get the water out. Then the stress and fear all came to head and I burst out into tears. Avishai had surfaced with me and tried to calm me down.
“What happened? You were almost done,” he asked. “Let’s go back down and finish.”
I tried to explain that I was too spooked by the incident to go back down. Just looking at the water gave me a queasy feeling I hadn’t felt since I was four and my mean cousins threw me into the swimming pool. Luckily Avishai understood and was happy to chill with me until I felt ready to go back down. I was just starting to feel more relaxed when Ita surfaced.
“What’s the problem? Why aren’t you back down,” he barked.
Notice he didn’t ask what had happened to me. I told him I didn’t feel confident enough to go back down. Without saying anything or offering any advise, he went back down. I didn’t know how I was going to prevent the same thing from happening again. And at that point I wasn’t even able to figure out how to express what the problem was – not that he asked.
Thank god for Avishai, probably 22 years old but far more mature than Ita. He helped me get back under water, step by step. We started by putting my face in the water, then I breathed through the regulator, next we swam on the surface and, when I felt ready, we went back down.
At the bottom, Adrian was in the midst of his belt test (taking the weight belt off and putting it back on) and he was struggling. As we watched him do everything but what he was supposed to do to get it back on, I wondered why Ita didn’t stop him, show him how to do it the right way and have him repeat it. Same thing when it came time to take off his bcd (the inflatable vest that also holds the tank). Adrian struggled and struggled and struggled, undoing every strap before sort of getting it back on. It took him so long, that I had plenty of time to refocus and calm down and figure out how to do the tasks. So when it was my turn I did those two skills perfectly. But then Itamar asked me to do the swim with mask off test again. And I knew I couldn’t. In fact the thought of it got me hyperventilating and I shook my head no.
Up on the surface Itamar, told me that without it I wouldn’t get my certification. At that point I didn’t care. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go out for the next dive. The thought of being asked to do that skill again terrified me, if only because I didn’t know how to stop anything bad from happening. I had hoped that Ita would talk me through it and help me correct what I had done wrong. But on the boat he sat on the bow far away from Adrian and I. Avishai and Carmel could see that I was upset and despite being only students did their best.
“What do you think you need to feel comfortable again?” Avishai asked. I wasn’t sure but suggested that maybe I had to start with the basic skills again and work my way up to it. They said they’d talk to Ita for me and told me not to worry. But first we were going to do free diving – that’s diving with just a mask, snorkel and fins. Even that was terrifying – just the thought of putting my face in the water made me weak. Knowing that we would be close to the surface helped me out. Ita showed off his skin diving skills, and didn’t even watch as we attempted our skin dives.
Then it was time to go back down. And this time we were going to go 14m deep (well, deep for a newbie like me). That was a lot different than 5m and too dangerous to come up for air like the last time if anything went wrong. I asked if it was possible to go back to a shallow area and try the skills there. Ita seemed irritated by the request and told me that the depth didn’t matter, meaning, no. And that’s when the panic started again. I managed to control it and enjoy the dive and master the last skills. I was good at all the swimming and buoyancy stuff. Actually I was better than good I was excellent. I still loved the diving part of diving. But then it was time to do the mask off swim and I was paralyzed. I couldn’t even go down 1 meter to get to the ocean floor. I felt the anxiety becoming suffocating, as suffocating as the 14m of water over my head. The memories of the throat full of saltwater came back fresh. I tried to calm down but I could feel the tears in my mask and my breathing going too fast and shallow. Then I started having problems equalizing my eardrums from the tears and stuffed up nose, which forced me up to the surface.
Now I was having a full panic attack. I tried to hold it in on the boat but I knew I was going to lose it. By the time we got back to the dock I was shaking and had tears running down my face as I put my equipment away. Carmel and Avishai tried to make me feel better but Ita didn’t come over to talk to me. Instead he told Adrian and I to meet him at the bar across the street at 7pm for a drink and a chat. I assumed this was the neutral meeting place where he’d tell me that I was through.
I told Adrian my fears and after showering and changing we headed over to Babalu for 7pm. Ita didn’t show up until 7:30 and then didn’t even have drink we us. I wasn’t being dumped but I wish I had. Instead he spent an hour critiquing our dives. He never did ask me what had happened during the mask off swim– so I never got a solution to overcome my panic. I got the impression that he didn’t care. For him it was either do it or fail. And since I felt doing it would mean death, my brain was telling me no.
I don’t know how. But I’d gone from loving diving to being scared of the water in just one day.