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The Dive That Never Was

I did learn from that mistake though, and made wiser choices in the future.

This is a guest post by Shelley Collett

In a previous article, I talked about a dive that I probably shouldn’t have done.  I did learn from that mistake though, and made wiser choices in the future. Adrenaline junkie though I am, I have learned how to evaluate a situation better and take calculated risks. And while I enjoy and thrive on facing my fears, sometimes the fear wins. And sometimes, that’s okay.

During the months after initially getting certified diving and moving through an advanced certification along with some specialties, my dive buddy and I were diving quite a bit in Florida.  Springs, caverns, the Keys… we were doing it all during our winter in the Sunshine State.


At some point, my dive buddy – who at the time was also my boyfriend – wanted to do a night dive in the Keys.  I had some reservations about it, but agreed to go along.  We set up a multi-dive trip on a boat in the Keys and planned on doing a night dive as our last dive of the day.  The plan was to do some reef dives in the afternoon, wait on the boat until dark and then do another night dive or 2 before heading in.  Pretty typical routine.

During the afternoon, everyone on the boat seemed extremely excited about the upcoming night dive. People were relaying previous experiences and talking about the “different world” that existed on the same reef at night.  I listened to them and asked pointed questions about what to expect, as well as casually mentioning my apprehension about the dive. I was assured, repeatedly, that there was nothing to be scared of, that I would love it, that it would be fantastic. You would think their enthusiasm would have made me feel better. It didn’t.

As the day wore on and night got closer my apprehension only grew. The looming night dive cast a cloud over my dives during the day, despite my attempts not to let it.  I had slight claustrophobia. It was something I could control, but with effort at times. Crowded elevators, buses, etc, they all caused me anxiety but I’ve always dealt with it without too much issue. I’d even gone caving and the only difficulty I had, was crawling through some tight holes. But I was able to do it. In addition to that, I had issues with unfamiliar water. That issue was actually one of the reasons I had started diving: so I could see what was under the water and help alleviate my those fears.  The thought of diving in the dark triggered both of those fears of mine. Fears that I normally could keep under control and not have any major concerns about.  But this time was different. They were combined and compounded by being underwater in an unfamiliar area.  To add to this, we were far enough out that I couldn’t see land any longer. So as far as I was concerned, we were in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight and nightfall was quickly coming upon us.

And they wanted me to jump in the water?

We all sat around waiting for the sun to be nearly set after having gotten our gear ready.  In between pacing back and forth on the boat,  I sat staring off into the distance trying to find the source of this anxiety so I could figure out how to deal with it better.  My dive buddy was no help, all he asked was “What the heck is wrong with you?” when he saw my nervousness.  Over and over again people assured me that it was going to be so much fun and that once I got in the water everything was going to be fine and I would laugh about how nervous I was.  I appreciated their efforts and their optimism, but I wasn’t so sure. The longer I sat, the quicker my heart rate and breathing got. I continually took those ‘cleansing’ deep breaths and exhaled through pursed lips like you do when you’re trying to rid yourself of unpleasant feelings. Nothing was helping, it was only getting worse.

Finally it was time. Everyone was putting on their gear and while I stood second to last in line to jump in (my dive buddy behind me), I watched everyone disappear into the darkness one by one. It made me a bit nauseous to watch them just seem to fall into oblivion. Then it was my turn.  I stood, fins hanging over the edge of the boat, looking down into that black water with a white-knuckled grip on the railing.  I couldn’t even swallow hard because my mouth was far too dry.

I took deep breaths and exhaled multiple times trying to will myself to jump into the water while my dive buddy nudged me from behind. I had faced my fears many times before and was generally excited by it, thrilled by it, had a blast doing it. But this… this was not fun at all. And I guess that’s when it finally hit me.  This was NOT fun at all.  I was a diver because I enjoyed it, and I didn’t enjoy this in the slightest.

I turned and sat down on the bench beside me while my dive buddy groaned in protest. I told him I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. Not only would I not have a good time, but I would be a danger to myself, him, and possibly anyone else on the dive. And then I proceeded to sob. I’m sure I looked pretty pathetic, sitting on a dive boat off the coast of the Florida Keys in the middle of the night, all suited up for diving and sitting and sobbing with my mask in my hands.  All of the anxiety that had been building all day was finally released, and I was also just frustrated with myself for not being able to get past my issues with the dive. Not only could I not get past them, I couldn’t even really figure out where they were stemming from.

Regardless, while fear stopped me,  I finally came to the conclusion that doing the dive would be too great a risk given my state of mind. I was only a moderately experienced diver, really still a beginner, never having done a night dive and was – quite frankly – scared to death.  Before even getting into the water I was nearly hyperventilating, my heart rate was high and adrenaline was off the charts. I would have burned through air like crazy and probably not kept a close eye on it due to being overwhelmed by fear.  My dive buddy was not happy and I had to live down some ribbing afterwards but I have always been certain that I made the right call.

Anyone else have a dive that was too far out of their comfort zone and they had to back out of? How did you handle it?  How about one that in retrospect you shouldn’t have done?