Managing anxiety when there’s no choice.
Murderous-looking lightning bolts illuminated the night sky.
Slickly geared in a black wetsuit, I sat in the back of a diving boat with six others as the small Colombian fishing village we departed from faded into lights shimmering off the pitch-black Caribbean Sea.
Although I had spent the last two days diving these waters, this felt bone-jaringly different. The turquoise sea and baby blue sky I had grown fond of were replaced with inky black water that met an equally dark sky.
Our boat roared to an abrupt stop as the captain impatiently announced in Spanish that we’d arrived at the dive spot. Like a poorly trained Navy SEAL preparing to infiltrate enemy waters, anxious tension jumped from my stomach to my throat as I rushed to gear up, fearing I would be the last one in the water.
Having prepped and checked my gear on the ride, I hopped up and sat on the edge of the boat with my feet on the bench.
Flashlight in hand.
The captain irritably held up my tank to prevent it from prematurely tipping me backwards into the water as I rapidly fastened and inflated my buoyancy vest and popped my regulator into my mouth.
Holding my mask and regulator in place, I rolled backwards into the ominous pitch-black sea. Once the rest of the crew hit the water, our Dive Master gave the signal to descend.
Air hissed out of my buoyancy vest and, as the top of my skull slipped below the surface, I tightened my grip around my flashlight. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of my face and could become completely disoriented with no sense of up or down.
With only three meters of visibility, I struggled to find a balance between calm and alertness. Between staying relaxed enough to curiously explore and enjoy the alien environment I was floating through and not losing the rest of the group.
To lose the group is to be stranded in a vast sea, wishing upon a murderous lightning bolt to be found while only focusing on staying with the group is to miss out on savouring an incredible experience.
My body’s response to this unfamiliar situation, being submerged under 20 meters of water in the middle of the night with a group of strangers, was to produce overwhelming anxiety.
But with forty underwater minutes ahead of me, I knew I had to reign in my emotions and refuse to let the primitive, what are we doing down here pal?, part of my brain take over.
I slowed my breathing and extended my breath cycles. Long slow calm inhales followed by long slow calm exhales. The breath informs the body of your mental state.
I focused intensely on the details of my surroundings, narrowing my vision on colourful fish darting around for a late-night snack, a baby octopus hanging out on the sea floor, and bioluminescent algae exploding in dark water like so many welding sparks. The texture of the coral, the way the sand kicks up and swirls around when a startled fish darts away, the unnatural sensation of weightlessly floating through water.
But in my head exists an ugly monster. A prehistoric old thing.
He helped keep my ancestors alive but now spends his days trying to convince me to skip runs and reminding me of all the ways I could be publicly humiliated, face rejection, or fail.
He wants to predict and control the future.
But like a vampire exposed to blinding light, he shrivels and retreats when I bring myself back to where I am and what I’m doing right now.
What I’ve been up to:
After spending 6 nights in Da Nang, Vietnam, I arrived in Dalat yesterday morning. It feels like a living and working city. Not as much to see or do which provides a perfect break to do whatever I want without FOMO. My hostel has a gym so I’ll spend the next few days working out, writing and reading more, and enjoying some downtime.
I hiked 35 km (45,000+ steps) in one day to the top of Monkey Mountain, seeing wild goats and two species of wild monkeys, one of which I had to shout at to prevent from attacking me. It was a peaceful day of relaxed walking and I got beautiful views of the sea and city from the top.
I’m at peace with my decision to cap this SE Asia trip at seven weeks. International travel takes a toll. And I’ve spent 25% and 40%, respectively, outside of Canada in the last two years.
Photo of the week:
A 67-meter-tall Lady Buddha looks over and protects the fishermen of Da Nang, Vietnam.
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