Conquering My Greatest Fear: Why I Became a Scuba Diver
As someone who lives in a landlocked state like Oklahoma, I never imagined I would ever become a scuba diver. It was just something cool that I saw on television and YouTube videos. I had also been seriously ichthiophobic (afraid of fish) for as long as I could remember. Even a goldfish could send my heart racing, so the thought of being in unfamiliar territory surrounded by what I was most afraid of was something that came up only in my worst nightmares.
It all started when I was doing a field exercise off the coast of Los Angeles for grad school at USC's Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island. As a class, we each proposed ideas for group projects to complete during the week we were staying there. I wanted to see how well we could use Trimble GPS units to log data for items in the water and create maps from that data. After doing some quick research, I learned that the number of kelp is decreasing due to various different factors. I proposed the idea to do a small-scale survey of kelp around our portion of the island, and it surprisingly received the most votes from the class. There was no shortage of volunteers for the group, and it ended up being Alicia (an archaeologist), Benecia (a military GIS analyst), Stephen (a scuba diver/underwater archaeologist), and myself. Stephen had his scuba gear with him, and he was happy to take the role as the team member in the water while the rest of us used kayaks to keep the electronics safe. During that week, the four of us became very close and we learned a lot about each others' lives outside of school. We were spending 18 hours each day working on our project due to how time-intensive the nature of the project was, but I enjoyed every minute of it. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, and I couldn't have asked for a better team to work with. Stephen was the first scuba diver I had ever met, and I had many questions about diving. Once I disclosed my fear of fish to Stephen, he took the time to teach me all about the underwater world and the different "personalities" of each fish we encountered. He helped alleviate my discomfort and encouraged me to get my Open Water certification and join him for some dives in Mexico. I reluctantly agreed to give it a try, and thus began my journey into scuba diving.
While working on my Open Water certification in Oklahoma, there were several times when I was ready to give up because of all the fish I saw in the water. We were at a freshwater lake, and the fish are not as pretty to look at as the fish in the ocean. The little ones at the surface kept trying to nibble on my hands, and then the larger fish seemed to come out of nowhere underwater due to the poor visibility. I'm sure you can imagine my terror when I almost bumped into my first giant catfish in the water. I was fortunate to have my best friend, Cody, there to help push me and keep my nerves calmed, and we successfully completed our training dives after a long weekend in the water.
Later that year, I joined Stephen and another diver named Emery in Mexico for a week. I was still an inexperienced diver, but they both taught me their takes on diving and the biology of every organism we encountered. I slowly became more and more comfortable in the water with fish after each dive. I ended up incorporating diving into my master's thesis, and even included an entire section on the biology of cave fish. Now, as an "experienced" diver, I can proudly say that I have overcome my fear of fish and have developed a sense of compassion for them. I will do everything I can to help combat climate change and protect our underwater realm.
As I work toward my Divemaster certification here in Hawai'i, I see and interact with fish nearly every day. Each day, I learn something new and kick myself for ever being afraid of them. In retrospect, I think I was only afraid of fish because I didn't understand them. I didn't understand them because I had never interacted with them. Every scuba diver has a story, and most divers will have a great number of stories to tell. My story is a very personal one, but I believe everyone can relate to it one way or another. Conquering my biggest fear is the best thing that has ever happened to me because now my life is full of exciting stories and adventures that I get to share with everybody. I have explored parts of our world that are newly developed and parts of our world that are ancient, many of which so few people ever get the chance to see with their own eyes. I hope that my story will inspire others to try something new or overcome a fear of their own. You never know how much it may change your life.