Scuba Diving Fears and Coping with Age and Birthdays when you Travel alone

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Scuba Diving Fears and Coping with Age and Birthdays when you Travel

The water was flooding panic into my goggles and stinging my eyes. I blew out sharply to clear my mask.

We were pulling ourselves down by the anchor rope,  descending to the ocean floor. I was at the head of the group and the second in line. Going back up was not an option.

Was there a leak in my mask? 

My throat was dry. I swallowed hard on the spit in my mouth, while continuing to evacuate my mask of incoming water.

We lowered another foot. 

Everything around me felt foreign. The water pushed in, tightening around my body like a snug liquid suit. It required more effort to breathe.  My breath drew in harder. My ears, like an empty plastic bottle, getting compressed of its air, wanted to Pop! The pressure was now causing a splitting pain…

Clear mask, swallow spit, pop ears and remember to breathe.

Clear mask, swallow spit, pop ears and remember to breathe.

Clear mask, swallow spit, pop ears and remember to breathe.

It was a multi-tasking effort.

Panic grew as I attempted to keep my alarm rate down. I gulped… hard. My ears went Pop!

Ahhh, momentary relief.

dive hand signals

Some dive hand signals

Kevin, my PADI dive instructor swam to me, signalling underwater (example of dive signals here):

Everything okay?

“Okay”, I signaled back. A total lie. I was freaking out. I’d been having troubles with my mask at the surface earlier; this snowballed into a pre-dive freak out which only heightened with each foot we took down. Was the water in my mask a normal trickle or a flood? Were my fears and worries exaggerating my reality?

I couldn’t tell the difference.

Happy fucking birthday, Chris!


What does getting older mean and how do you celebrate it traveling alone?

What is age and why do I have to act like a number?

It was my first birthday on the road, it was my big 4-0 and I was spending it alone. Ugh. Spending my birthday by myself? Wasn’t sure if I could handle it. Happy 40? Still wasn’t sure I could handle it. When you pass your mid 30s, you feel like you’re pretty much over-the-hill. Numbers begin to feel like they lie, so you stop counting and avoid the friends who’ll remind you of it!

I’d love to say getting my PADI diving certification was something I’ve wanted to do all my life. It wasn’t. It was my last-minute resort to do something racy, adventurous and symbolic for an age I didn’t feel. Perhaps like how middle-aged men get a 20-year-old girlfriend or new sports car!

Living “older” was never in my equation. Never in my body or my life.

Marriage, children, mortgage, lifelong career, following a path of responsible “shoulds”… None of the above.

I’d been taking my time, marching to my own whimsical tunes in life, not congnizant of the fact my age was marching faster than me. Now here it was, staring me in the face. The grand number.

Was this something I should freak out about ? Perhaps,… yeah.


Diving into FEAR and embracing it.

Me, scuba diving?

As a Hawaiian Cancerian, I was born to love the ocean. Only one problem: I can’t swim. As a child, I remember lying on the bed as my mother squeezed ear drops into my ear, after each swim class.

Drip, drip, drip…. fizzzz

Alas, swimming lessons (along with children, white picket fence and a 401K) weren’t in my cards.

Now, floating in my scuba panic, I questioned the lunacy of my scuba decision, when it dawned on me…

Given a second chance, my outcome would be the same. Just as same, as it would be if I replayed my life and its choices. I’d be exactly where I was at that moment– holding onto an anchor rope, a single jobless traveler seeking herself, while clearing her mask of water and trying not to whimp out on life, scuba diving and solo traveling.

A reassuring calm set in. The calm of realizing you can only work with what you’re given in instances and if you life your moments- your fears, joys, struggles, etc…- fully, there can be no regrets.

No regrets.

This was my destiny.


‘Foreign’ is what we say, when we forget the ‘Familiar’

I remembered dreams I’ve had of exploring the depths of the sea and breathing underwater. I’d had these dreams since childhood and they never felt foreign or scary. As a matter of fact, the sea has always felt familiar to me …like home. Perhaps it’s having been raised on an island surrounded by water or remembering the comfort of the womb. ‘Foreign’ felt like ‘home’.  The ocean was no more foreign, frightening or familiar than any city or country I’ve traveled.

So what was I freaking out about?

This was just another journey in a life of rolling adventures and change.

Trust yourself and you’ll be able to trust your surroundings better

Trust,”  my instinct whispered.

As a one-size-fits-all word, trust seeped into me as certain and solid as a safety net, melting away the muddiness of my panic and opening my eyes to the beauty around me.

If anyone tells you that there’s nothing like diving, there’s good reason.


Submerged, all the sea is tranquil, silent, mysterious and awakened… like a slow-motion dream or fairytale.

The ocean is a place, where a child-like wonder and exploration feels infinite and eternal.  The coral reef stood like magnificent jeweled sea palaces, harboring years of solitary moments, while building a house of dynamic and enigmatic sea life within. Above, was a glassy surface emitting a etherial, mesmerizing light. Below, the sandy floor held the impermanent stretch marks of shifting time and a school of radiant yellow and white fishes.

Through diving, I could experience this dream of breathing underwater.

Wide-eyed, I felt awakened to my oceanic dreams and the unfathomable depths and mysteries of the sea; and in that moment, my sense of time, worries and future fears all dissolved into an eternity.

Growing older wasn’t the end of life. Age is just a number.

As a diver and explorer, in the sea and in life, my heart would continue to beat young.

No, time didn’t matter. But being present each moment and savoring your experiences, matters.  Plugging through your fears, matters. Living your dreams and keeping an open sense of curiosity and adventure towards life… it all matters.

Don’t you think?

 How and where to dive in Thailand ?

You can dive for fun or get your PADI certification from anywhere across the world if you check out PADI’s Dive shop locator!  With a range of beaches and islands (here’sTravel Fish‘s list of Thai islands) offering excellent dive locations, Thailand was my starter country and diving packages came with the right price. You can find cheap flights to Phuket and Ko Samui or dive packages to Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi,  Ko Pha Ngan or Krabi from tour agencies on Khao San Road in Bangkok.

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16 Comments. Leave new

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  • Avatar
    Oliver Radosav
    January 26, 2013 5:48 am


    I found your blog in the net & I really like it & I like what you are doing…
    I´m a traveler & diver by my self.

    This post here makes me wonder a bit… because ,
    It´s not possible to get a PADI Open Water certification if you can´t swim.

    Did you know that it is a obligatory standard for a PADI Open Water certification that the student has to complete a 200 metre/yard continuous surface swim or a 300 metre/yard, without using any swim aids.???

    And do you know about a distinctive specialty dive course
    named No Fear Diving ??? It´s a PADI dive course for expressly created for anxious people..

  • Hey there! My name is Stacy and I just wanted to say your site is great!

    It’s surprising simply because I use to have a web site that practically had an identical website url. Mine was only a few letters different. Anyhow, I’m a big fan of your weblog and if you at any time want a guest write-up make sure you email me personally. I absolutely adore writing!

  • I can relate to how you feel. I always consider myself a brave girl but when come to water – a big NO NO! I even pulled out last minute while everyone enjoying snorkeling, what a shame! 🙂
    Recently I caught up with a long-lost friend whose profession being diving instructor, her words instilled encouragement. Though the fear is yet to overcome, but now I would imagine diving underwater and swim with the fishes. If I ever go for a diving certification, it must be a spontaneous and without-much-thought kinda decision. 😀

    • @Mandy: I know what you mean by it being a spontaneous decision. If I think about something too much, I’ll find a way to talk myself out of it. If I’m just pushed in and forced to do it, I end up hurdling that fear. Good luck. If you want it, someday you’ll make it happen.

  • Hi Christine.
    Firstly I would like to thank you for the very nice comment that you left on our website. Much appreciated! Our dive shop manager was contacted by the PADI regional manager yesterday and was informed that your article was posted on the PADI website so thanks again. Reading the article myself has made me remember why I decided to become an instructor. I hope you have conquered the fear and kept on diving. Please send me a mail if you ever decide to come back this way.
    Kev (Your PADI Instructor)

    • @Kevin: I’m so glad you found out about it. I had such a fantastic experience (fear & all) and it’s gotten me excited about diving more. I’ll definitely give you a shout if I come back to Ko Tao for more diving! Best of luck and thank you for being a patient instructor. =-)

  • Avatar
    Laura in Cancun
    January 21, 2012 1:23 am

    Well happy belated birthday! I’ve always wanted to try diving, but I get claustrophobic underwater. Did you see any cool stuff down there?

    • @Laura: Thanks. I saw reef and fishes and stuff, but I think everything was just blown away with being underwater and so deep. Like one large aquarium tank that’s endless. I can see how it would feel claustrophobic in the suit, but the surroundings are the positive leverage against that. Hopefully you and Jose get to do that together sometime, especially as I imagine the water in Mexico must present some good sightseeing… if not, there’s always snorkeling.

  • I am not a big fan of swimming (even if sometimes I can enjoy it) but I definitly wanna tr the scuba divind. The only dive I did was the Shark Caga Diving in Australia….

  • Diving is one of those experiences that I’ve never done but would love to try – especially after reading this post!

  • A lot of familiar things here! I’m a fan of underwater swimming too. But not swimming.

    Again, I constantly question some of the things I do. After reading this I must write down on my left hand “Don’t question, just do it!”

    We’re only here once, might as well make the most of it!

    • @Dave: You’re so right– only one lifetime! And even if you did believe in karma, you’d still only “remember” this one lifetime. Questioning is good, but self-doubt not so. I guess we should all live by the Nike adage!


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