Op-Ed
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Op-Ed

The Stupid-Ignorant Spectrum

When we first got into the open water of the gulf at Fort Pickens, I felt like I was hyperventilating a bit.

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Thoughts in my head included: “I need to just go to the surface now” “I don’t have to do this”. I anxiously awaited the moment I’d have to take off my mask for my instructor to prove I could clear it underwater. Salt water. “What if I swallow water or start coughing?” I thought. But then, as everyone else made their way down the line, the Dive Master candidate that was joining my class showed me a starfish. Despite all the silt and debris in the water, I saw it. The feeling of wonder put me at ease. At least more ease than I was feeling just moments before.

I was still nervous as we swam around because I could hardly see anyone around me. Losing my group would mean I’d have to rely on myself. I would have to remember all my training sequentially. I’d have to look for one minute, then begin an ascent. Would I need to do a safety stop? What if I surfaced and was too far away to see the group? Or the shore? Or what if I swam up on a large dark figure thinking it was a person but it turned out to be something else? So I stayed with my instructor because he had a flashlight and in my head I said things like “Breathe in through your mouth and out through your mouth ” and “You have to trust the equipment, its all you have right now”. It may not sound all that comforting, but in the moment it definitely helped.

This was a huge fear I faced by getting PADI certified for open water dives. I remember as a kid, the only limits I put on my future were that I would never want to SCUBA dive or go out to space because of claustrophobia and fear of the unknown. I had an uncomfortable thought yesterday that having an ex who used to choke me out trained me for the fear associated with being underwater without air. I noticed I felt like I had a little more courage in the real world yesterday. Kind of like when I finished my Vision Quest. Maybe even a little too cocky. But this accomplishment has not only opened an entirely new world for me, it has given me back some ability to co-create in the spaces of fear in my mind. I have made known a lot of previous unknowns about what I would do in an underwater situation. Just like my Wilderness First Responder gave me a mental road map for what to do if I walk up on an injured hiker. Or worse, if I got injured myself.

It got to the point where I was able to enjoy swimming around over the artificial reef a little more on the second dive. I saw sea urchins, a puffer fish, lots of algae and a toilet bowl that I took a picture on. There’s really no other activity I’ve ever done where I was forced to think about my breathing the entire time. Sure, there have been times where I’ve had to pace myself during running, but my mind could easily drift into trees around me or the sound of my feet hitting the ground. In the water, I sound like Darth Vader and there’s a strict rule in SCUBA that goes: “NEVER HOLD YOUR BREATH!” If you do, you risk your lungs exploding, which is a good enough reason for me to pay close attention to the breath.

I am starting to see a correlation between crisis preparedness and fear. It may be an obvious one but the more I use my time and money to learn basic skills for survival, the more I feel comfortable in this world that is inherently dangerous. I think a lot of people are under the false assumption that having a secure home makes them safe. They try to not see the ugly side of life, thinking it does not apply to them. Only during severe weather or an active war do people realize how unstable that sense of security can become. So that’s why throwing ourselves into discomfort helps to alleviate some of our fears much better than ignoring them does. Ignoring them only means we aren’t prepared for when chaos arises. There’s a word for those that can remain blissful while not being ignorant: brave. I feel that. The question is… when does bravery cross over into stupidity?

Originally written in Collective Journaling at The Stoa

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