Thursday, January 29, 2015

Anxiety, Fear, Panic, and Dread

My family took a trip to Grand Cayman Island over Christmas.  It was a fun, meaningful, and memorable trip.  On this vacation, we all went through training to become scuba certified deep-water divers.  For various reasons this brought out anxiety and fears in me.  Amidst my worries and apprehension about scuba diving, I told myself that I was sharing in this adventure with my family and in the memory of my Dad, who was an avid diver.  I also would get to see another part of God’s creation in the ocean.  I reminded myself that I grew up in southern California and am a good swimmer and comfortable in water.

Our instructor, Matt, was from England and had a lovely accent.  During our certification process, he would teach, demonstrate, and make us perform various scuba skills.  The one skill, which many people struggle with, is clearing your face mask of water.  Me too. 

Before our trip, I decided that if someone got sick, I would stay back with him or her.  At one point, I hoped that I would get sick and not have to go out again and perform scuba skills for Matt.  I worried about what Matt was going to ask us to do the next day.  One night, I had difficulty sleeping because of anxiety.  I talked to God that morning about how I was feeling.  I told Matt I was feeling a little anxious.  God’s peace came once I stepped out off the cement dock and into the rolling ocean.  I enjoyed that morning and was beginning to get the hang of diving.  I could relax more and enjoy watching our family experience this together.

On our last day of training I worried again about the skills that Matt was going to ask us to complete.  That day, one of the skills was to take our mask off under 40-60 feet of water, put it back on, and clear the water from our mask.   I had done this in steps and various ways before.   Feeling anxious, I asked Matt to explain and demonstrate again how to clear my mask.  After accomplishing some other scuba skills, it was my turn to clear my mask in deep water.  I took the mask off and struggled to get it back on.  It was too tight.  I finally got it on and tried the clearing mask trick and the water kept coming in and not clearing out.  I panicked and breathed in through my nose getting water up my nose.  Then I tried pushing on my regulator (a breathing device) to clear the water, forgetting that the regulator is for breathing.  Pushing on it can clear water that may get in my mouth, but it does nothing to eliminate the water in a mask covering my eyes and nose.  I felt like I was drowning.  I felt fear and panic.  I gave Matt the thumbs up signal indicating that I needed to surface.  We went up, I took my mask off, and coughed from the water I breathed in through my nose, gasping for air.  Matt, unruffled, instructed me to take deep breaths until I could calm down.  After I gained some composure, Matt said that I could continue the dive and clear my mask again at the end.  I felt out of sorts and a sense of dread at the thought that I had to clear my mask again.  We finished the dive.  Thankfully and wisely Matt said that I would redo the mask clearing skill on the next dive.  I wasn’t ready to do it again.  Not much had changed.

I felt like crying.  I did not feel ashamed or like a failure.  I felt shaken and was dreading that I had to face my fear after what I had just experienced.  Matt and I talked about what happened.  My mask was too tight.  When I tried to put it on underwater there was a part folded in against my face, so the water kept coming in as I tried to clear it out.  I was too out of control to figure that out.  We loosened my mask.  I also knew to breathe out through my nose when in water, but panicked when I felt like I was drowning.  I was trying anything to get rid of the water.  All along I was breathing with the regulator.

At the beginning of our last dive, Matt signaled for me to clear my mask.  I paused a few moments gathering up my courage to try again.  It took me a couple of tries to clear all of the water out, but I did it and I was done.  I felt relieved and thankful.

After reflecting about this experience, this is what I learned: going to Jesus with my worries and fears really does help and I did experience God’s peace during part of my scuba training.  Anxiety and worry can escalate, lead to panic, and compound problems.  I need to think about what is true in worrisome, fear producing situations in spite of how I feel or how strong my feelings seem.  I felt like I was drowning, but the truth is I really wasn’t—I was breathing just fine.  When in fearful situations, I need to do what I’ve practiced and know to do, like breathing out through my nose when in water and making necessary adjustments, like when my mask was too tight. I must remain humble and teachable, listening to correction about where I am wrong, and then make changes. 

I wish that I could say that when I thought and felt like I was drowning, I cried out to Jesus.  I didn’t.  I tried my own ways of coping, which weren’t working and made the situation worse.  Yet the whole time Matt was right there, watching me struggle, but not rescuing me.  He was not going to let me drown.  Jesus was right there with me too, watching me struggle, not rescuing me, but present.  I was okay.  I had a mask full of water that I couldn’t clear out.   I wonder how this would have turned out if I had cried out to Jesus.  I don’t really want to have this happen again to find out, but when life happens and I feel anxious, fearful, and panicked, I hope that I remember that Jesus is right there with me.  He will make all the difference.  He brings peace.

Janet Wineman is a scuba-certified recreational diver, certified to dive in up to 100 feet of water, where God is also.

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