When we were snorkeling in Cozumel for Thanksgiving a few years we ran across a scuba diving group that just happened to be from Iowa. It was on that trip that my husband declared for certain that he would like to pursue scuba diving and would take classes when we got back home. He has always been interested in scuba diving, and me too to a lesser extent. We talked about how cool it would be to scuba in various tropical locations around the world.
As often happens, life got in the way and we didn’t get to it right away. Fast forward a bit to the point where our house was sold and we were finally ready to pursue the scuba class. While researching options I found out that the shop with the personnel we’d met in Cozumel was considered one of the best dive shops in our area and offered a variety of classes, including private classes when you sign up with 2 or more students. We decided it would be a good idea to take their intro to scuba class as a family to see if we all liked it and wanted to pursue certification. We excitedly talked about it with our son, 11 years old at the time, and all got signed up.
When we stopped in the shop for the equipment fitting and got to meet our instructor, an ex-military guy who seemed to know a lot. The instructor quickly decided that our son was not mature enough to take the class. Honestly, we had been wondering about that ourselves, but he just solidified for us the reasons why he didn’t feel our son was ready for that kind of responsibility. No big deal really, and thankfully our kiddo was not upset about it. Husband and I decided to take it anyway, and continued with the fitting and received the materials we were to read before the class.
The day for the class came a couple of weeks later. We had gotten a call that they wanted to combine our session with another group of two, and it turns out the two others happened to be a not very personable father/teen son duo. We met at the shop to go over the material in the classroom before proceeding to the pool. Once we got to the near empty pool, we got our equipment on and went in. The instructor stressed safety and mentioned that if any of us needed to come up, we ALL had to come up. We went through a few basics and all seemed to be going OK. Then we got to a mask clearing exercise, which meant letting some water in on our faces and then blowing it out, simulating a real life situation that could easily happen if our mask leaked.
When it was my turn to do this, all of a sudden I had a massive panic attack, like nothing I’ve never experienced before!!! I truly, truly felt like I was going to die. I signaled that I needed to come up and quickly did. The instructor and others besides my husband seemed annoyed, but the instructor encouraged me to relax and try again. I did try, but I just could not do it. The panic set in even worse, but then reached startling levels when the instructor reached out a hand to try and keep me under. He wanted me to fight through the panic, but at that point I was so upset that I couldn’t even handle just observing while breathing underwater, not even with a snorkel. I told him I was getting out, and did.
The rest of the class continued without me while I watched from the bleachers. Husband got through it and for the most part enjoyed it. Afterwards the instructor indicated that something must be bothering me for me to react like that and even had the audacity to ask if I might be pregnant!?! Umm, no! I fought the urge to say something snarky in return.
Unfortunately for me the experience set off my more general anxiety that had been under control to the point of almost non-existent for years. Any scuba related thing would trigger it, but non scuba things as well. On our first flight after the experience, I got a I can’t breathe sort of feeling when moving to high altitude and struggled to calm myself down. In all I’d say it impacted me negatively for months thereafter.
Sadly, as much as my husband enjoyed it, he decided not go on to take the full certification class. He concluded that it wasn’t worth the time and costs right now, especially if he wouldn’t have either of us as a dive buddy. Diving alone is not something you do, and we don’t travel with anyone else, or enjoy activities like that with strangers.
I don’t know if I’ll try again someday. I’ve since read up on scuba anxiety, including this article about a woman that only got certified on her third try. She also struggled with the mask clearing at first. Apparently it is a common stumbling block.
I mention this negative experience not to scare anyone off. However given my experience, if asked I’d say that the following to those considering scuba, and especially scuba with kids.
– If anyone in your family has anxiety, be sure it is well under control and consider the impacts it can have if it’s not. I know now that PADI actually recommends against diving with anxiety, and has multiple articles about it on their site.
– Be sure your kids are mature enough to understand just how important it is to listen to the instructor. Don’t downplay the risks; scuba diving can be a life threatening activity! Be sure they can listen well and are willing and able to follow instructions to the letter. They also need to be able to read, comprehend and study the materials.
– Find an instructor that is is a good fit for you. If your children will be taking the class, be certain they are good with kids and have experience working with them.