Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Take the Plunge (but Don’t Lose Sight of Your Lifeline)

The international sign for "Whose Idea Was This"?
 Any of you who catch up with me on Facebook may have seen that my most recent attempt to break out of my comfort zone has been to learn how to scuba dive.  Now, I’m not sure that all of you would agree that diving is an inherently scary activity, as many of my friends have been doing this seamlessly for years, but based on quite few of the comments on my Facebook posting, I can see that I am not alone in my fear of deep, wet, airless spaces.  Many of you chimed in and told me how brave I was to do this, and I appreciate the shout-outs of support.  However, while I am glad that I was able to overcome my nervousness and to, as the Nike ad proclaims, “just do it,” I don’t think I am any braver than many people I know who do all sorts of things that push them out of their routine and into an uncharted and perhaps, uncomfortable ocean. 

 Is my taking up scuba diving really any more of an accomplishment than that of my newest neighbor who, fighting the depression that often comes when leaving home and moving to a new country, forced herself to go to the gym to begin an exercise program after years of inactivity?  Or that of my friend at home who is starting a new master’s program in Folklore and Mythology while continuing her challenging work as a government lawyer?  Or that of a high school friend who finds himself laid off from his job of many years and is going to jump back into the world of job searching and interviews?  Whether by choice or necessity, these folks are also pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones, and I do not doubt that they will all be better people for having done it.
I am choosing my world-expanding activities with a particular goal in mind—to take the most advantage I can of the new environment in which I find myself.  I’d be lying if I said that Papua New Guinea was my first choice of places for us to go this time around.  In fact, I was presented with a rather egregious “bait and switch” scenario when, during the bidding process for this project, the home location for the job shifted from Fiji (“Yes, let’s go!!”) to Port Moresby (“Umm, well, ok, I guess”).  Once it was certain we would be here, I began to look for the silver lining, the lifeline to keep me afloat and challenged for the next few years.  I quite easily found the Moresby Arts Theatre and the Choral Society, but joining those could hardly qualify as broadening my horizons as they are well within my wheelhouse of competencies.  But the very thought of scuba diving made the center of my risk-adverse core begin to shake.  

 So I approached the idea of diving slowly, circling around it carefully, all the while knowing I would talk myself into it eventually.  First, I did some research on the diving opportunities in and around Papua New Guinea.  As it turns out, this area has some of the most spectacular and accessible dive sites in the world.  Not only are there coral reefs that are visible from my apartment balcony (did I mention that I look out over the Coral Sea?), but there are also numerous WWII wrecks, both ships and airplanes, that can be explored on a day trip from Port Moresby.  And unlike the Great Barrier Reef (which is also easy to get to from here), the PNG diving is not overcrowded, so you can really get to see the underwater life without interference from scores of scuba tourists.  Next, I talked to those who have done extensive diving here and heard only of the spectacular sights to be seen and the exhilaration of discovery.  It all sounded fantastic, so I signed up for a Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Diver Certification course to get me on the road to oceanic nirvana.
Equipment check--what can go wrong?

If I thought I had lost my nervousness about diving before taking the PADI course, it only took the first day of academic work to put the fear of Neptune right back in me!  I know that the course is designed to prepare you for all the possibilities, however remote, that might befall a person who knowingly and intentionally subjects themselves to aquatic pressurization, but the multiple routes to disaster in diving seemed endless—eardrum ruptures, lung over-expansion, hypothermia, dehydration (seems counter-intuitive, but a real problem) loss of air, loss of equipment, loss of mind (ok, it’s actually nitrogen narcosis, but it makes you feel kinda drunk and stupid), and decompression sickness (“the bends”).   And those are the things that presumably you can control.  There are also the unpredictable…lionfish, jellyfish and all manner of sneaky, stingy camouflaged creatures, as well as your run of the mill killer sharks and manta rays and..well, you get the picture.  I have to admit that it was the fear of the things that I was supposed to be able to control that scared me the most, not the sealife.  What if I panicked and forgot to breathe, or went up too fast or couldn’t find my regulator? I would like to say that I had nothing to fear but fear itself, but the course taught me otherwise.

Which is worse?  Lionfish or sharks?
But now I was invested.  I had purchased a prescription dive mask before arriving in PNG and had spent good money on the PADI certification class.  I had told everyone that I was going to do it.  So, with great trepidation, I went off on the boat and took the plunge.  I nearly broke the wrist of my dive instructor, Thomas, as I held on with a death grip while mentally repeating the mantra “this was a bad idea, this was a bad idea” for the first ten minutes of the dive.  Had I been willing to concede failure, I probably would have gone right back up the safety line and called it a day.  But breath, by deep, slow breath, I managed to calm down and began to look around to see exactly what all the seasoned divers had described…an amazingly beautiful, accessible, untouched world full of color, life and activity.  And isn’t that what I was looking for in my attempt to push my limits—keeping alive and active, both physically and mentally. 

My savior, Thomas, with his good remaining wrist
 I consider myself lucky on many levels because I know that I am able to push myself the way that I do because I have a number of rock solid lifelines, which I know I must always hold close.  My husband, my children, my family, my friends are all willing to support me in my risky (and not so risky) endeavors.  Just yesterday, I learned of the death of my favorite uncle who, along with my father, his brother, provided me with incredible inspiration for how to live a full and active life.  Neither of them could sit still for a minute (both probably would have been diagnosed as ADHD in today’s world) and both refused to stop doing as much as they could for as long as they could.  My father kept active until Parkinson’s disease finally won out, but my Uncle Sager was able to play tennis right up to the end at age 94.  Like they both did, when faced with the Shawshank choice to either “get busy living or get busy dying” I choose to jump right in, but remember at all times where to find my lifeline!
My real lifeline!