The time had come for me to deal with one of my biggest fears – deep water. My boyfriend, James is an aquatic ninja who excels at basically all water sports. I really wanted to experience the things he is so passionate about and he wanted to share those things with me, but…
For years I have had this unexplainable, unreasonable fear of deep water. I have never had a bad experience in the water; never almost drowned, got caught in a rip tide, was on a sinking ship, or attacked by a shark. But I was always unable to willingly jump off a boat into water that went over my head. If I was able to slink my way into the water, one inch at a time, it was a battle of the breath while I tried not to have a panic attack.
Enter James and his love of all things you can do in the water. Well, damn. He got me. It was time to do the work and figure why the heck I feared the water so much. I wanted to start experiencing all of these cool water sports with him.
Here is a list of the things I did, step-by-step, to help myself get over my fear of deep water.
1. Identify the root of the fear
First, I literally sat down on my couch, closed my eyes and started to just think about why I may have this fear. On the surface, I couldn’t think of any experiences I had that would cause this, but I knew there had to be something. I’m physically fit and not to toot my own horn, but despite not being a great swimmer, I realized I’m not afraid of the physical requirements of being in the water. I know how to float, I can doggy paddle better than a Portugese water dog, and I grew up on Prince Edward Island, so learning about rip tides was part of the curriculum at school. I know how to handle it.
Digging deeper, I realized I’m totes mcgoats, without a friggin doubt, terrified of sharks. This may have something to do with Shark Week’s hot fact that Great Whites like to hang out in the Northumberland Strait. Um surrey? That’s basically where I live. Anyway, after I realized that it’s not the water itself, but the sharks that live in the water that are terrifying, I actually felt relieved. Why? Because now that I had identified the fear, I could start working on getting over it.
2. Sit with it, experience it, feel the fear
Next, I’d sit with the feeling of jumping off a boat into the ocean with sharks. Ugh. Honestly, not a great feeling. Despite the fact I was on the couch in my living room, I could feel my heart literally skip a beat and leap into my throat. I felt my pulse and breath quicken. I really felt that fear. I tried to imagine what it would be like – the feeling of the cold water as I plunged in, shooting down under the surface, but not having my feet hit the ocean floor, and then having to swim to the surface and tread water, not knowing what was swimming beneath me.
3. Practice sitting with it, while maintaining a strong, steady breath
I did this a few times – just experiencing the fear. I knew that if I were in this situation, that maintaining a strong, steady breath and not panicking would be essential to my survival, so that was next on my list. I continued to visualize the experience, but when I felt that panic, I started to really shift my focus to my breath and keeping it consistent; deepening my inhales and lengthening my exhales.
4. Look up stats, educate yourself
While I worked on staying calm, I also started looking up stats on sharks, shark attacks, habits, things to do and not do, and other ways to be smart and safe in the ocean.
Turns out while estimates vary – the likelihood of getting attacked by a shark range from 1 in 3 million to 1 in 11 million. Those odds aren’t very high. The list of accidental deaths I checked out had choking, cataclysmic storm, and lightning strikes more likely to occur than a shark attack – shark attacks didn’t even make the list. You can view the list for yourself here.
5. Talk to other people who are not afraid of that ‘thing’
I talked a lot with my friends about my fear. Especially my friends who loved the ocean and did not worry about their leg being chomped off by a shark each time they went in the water. Honestly, just talking about it made me feel better too.
6. Slowly immerse yourself in/with your fear – in a safe way
So here comes the really challenging part, going in the water. Deep water. Now before you get excited, I certainly did not, will not, and will never willingly go into water if I know for sure a shark is there. However, I needed to get myself in the water not knowing if there were sharks or not, and just f*cking deal with it, ya know? I wanted to test out all my hard self-work, breathing skills, and mental game.
Well, opportunity rose with the invitation to go on a boat ride with James, his Dad, and a couple of our friends, which included the option to wakeboard. Wakeboarding was on my bucket list of things to try this year, so when I was asked if I was going to try it, I said yes.
I silently hyped myself up on the boat, while watching James and his friend go first. I noticed how quickly the boat would turn around to go back and pick them up if they went down. I noticed how calm they were in the water. I noticed how much fun they were having. I was on a boat with people I loved and that loved me too. They weren’t going to let anything bad happen to me.
After a little lesson and pep talk with James, into the water I went. Not going to lie, that initial dunk sent the feelings of panic to 110%. I felt my pulse increase, I felt my breath quicken and my chest tighten. And then I said myself, “you’re floating, you have a life jacket on, they’re not going to leave you, there are no sharks here, if anything touches me in the water, it's probably a jellyfish (thanks Ali), AND this is going to be so much MF fun.”
I’ll tell you more about wakeboarding another time, but I'll tell you this – IT WAS SO FUN. Like omg. Seriously. I was riding high from those vibes for like a week afterwards and I can’t wait to go again. Each time I went down in the water, I had to give myself a little pep talk, but it got easier and easier each time. Truly.
7. Practice, practice, practice.
I haven’t had the opportunity to get back out wake boarding again (yet), but I’m so glad I didn’t let my fear hold me back from trying something new (that I ended up LOVING). I really can’t wait to go again. I know that the more I put myself into situations that I fear, the easier it will be and the less I will fear them. I think experiencing this with people that I love and trust also helped, I mean, of course it did.
*side note about the video below - I was super stoked that I was going to go over an actual little wake. I was pumping myself up like, "girl you're going to catch air, you got this, woo!" and when I went over them I thought, "shit" and bam, bam, faceplant city.
I think that many of us overestimate the risk level of the fear that we have. I know I certainly did. And while I am still working on getting over it, it’s not preventing me from living my life, trying new things and basically having the best time ever.