Breathless

I didn't have any interest in diving. Actually I never even thought about diving until I met a guy who was taking a scuba course. Even that was not enough to get me into that cold water. But the relationship with the guy became a steady thing and every weekend he and his buddy dove while I stood on the shore watching. They came back from these dives with great stories and we had meals made from the catch of the day. So after about a year of this, I signed up for the course with a friend of mine.

I took the course from a man who taught from his basement. He had built a special little room with a low ceiling and walls close to the desks. He didn't want anyone in the water or in his class who was claustrophobic. All went well. It was cold and getting the wet suit on was hell but I could do all the stuff expected. So we started diving in the ocean.

This particular Saturday, as part of the course, I was diving with my friend and a dive master. We didn't have gauges, just J valves, and mine was very sticky so I couldn't pull the rod down by myself but the dive master said I could signal him and he would pull the rod. The dive was to a local wreck. At 60 ft. my friend and I were waiting for the dive to end and freezing. The dive master was trying to point out things on the wreck just down the slope from us. I started having increasing resistance in breathing from the regulator and I went down to the dive master. I signaled three times that I was low on air and three times that I had no air but he didn't see it. He was pointing out something on the wreck. The light from the surface was behind me so maybe I was in shadow. Each time I tried to breath on the regulator my throat closed tight from the resistance and I felt like the regulator was choking me so I took it out of my mouth. The dive master did see this and he offered me his regulator. I did not see it. I put my regulator back in my mouth, he pulled the J valve and we all made a normal ascent to the surface.

I was struck by the terror of not getting air. I could feel it. Death came close to me. The thought of taking a breath off the regulator and getting nothing became my primary thought with every breath of every dive. Each breath was deep, just waiting for the air to cut out.

I passed the course and started diving each weekend but the terror would start to creep in as we drove to the dive site. I was barely able to suit up and go for the dive. Barely functioning, I was having trouble thinking about and doing the tasks of diving. My air lasted half as long as my dive buddies as I sucked hard on that regulator. I didn't see anything on the dives as my mind was totally preoccupied with thoughts of air, or thoughts of impending 'no air'.

It took about 30 dives before the terror started leaving and I could see things outside of my mask. During those 30 dives I had some bad times. On one dive, the rental gear was slightly different than I was used to, and my first stage had some leaking that was corrected before the dive. These small events pushed me over the edge. I snorkeled out, burst into tears and snorkeled back without doing the dive.

I'm not sure why I kept diving. I think it was the two guys I was diving with. They were always considerate and patiently waited for me to improve my air consumption. Today I am very comfortable in the water. I have an enormous sense of well being when I dive. I think a large part of why the fear went away was because I believed it would. The guys I dove with also believed it. The general attitude was that it is normal and alright to be afraid and that it would go away. The solution was to keep diving.

Now - hundreds of dives later - it's still hard to talk about it.

Linda S.

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