IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Found Out I Was Claustrophobic While Sitting On The Ocean Floor

Claustrophobia is real and I found out 40 feet underwater.
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Publish date:
November 18, 2014
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Tags:
scuba diving, phobias, diving, Claustrophobia

As I sat on the sand at the bottom of the ocean and I felt the heavy weight of my scuba suit, I could feel my lungs opening and closing in my chest. The simple task of breathing just seems so trivial on the surface. But down here, the fact that this rubber mouthpiece was the difference between life and death punched me in the stomach so hard. All I could think about was how I needed to get out.

***

I’ve always been an adventurer. I’m that person who goes up to market stalls in foreign countries wanting to try all the different foods, trying to immerse myself in the culture. When my friend said, “Let’s skydive!” for our birthdays, I said "Hell yes!" and just asked when and where.

I’ve always wanted to scuba dive, but the opportunity had ever come up. I kept telling my manfriend that we needed to get certified, go to Thailand and explore the mysteries of the hidden sea.

Well, those plans came to scratching halt back in February.

We went to Hawaii after we found a crazy airfare deal. Scuba diving was the first activity I booked, before even our lodging. On our second day, we headed to one of the hotels for our scuba diving lesson in the hotel’s pool.

As I was signing the forms, one of the fields asks if you’re claustrophobic. I marked the "no" next to it, just like every checkbox before it, without a second thought. We jumped in the pool, and as we went through the different prompts and instructions, I grew more and more excited to see turtles and sea creatures at the bottom of the ocean.

We got on the boat, and the scuba instructor started telling us about her travels and diving adventures. Upon arrival at our diving site, we dove down and I felt in awe of my surroundings. The ocean is beautiful. We set up post near a reef to wait for a group of sea turtles to swim by.

We were currently 40 feet down, on the ocean floor.

As I was sitting there, thinking about all the water surrounding me, my brain quickly took me to a dark place. The water felt so heavy around my limbs, my body and my head. I started thinking about how the planet is covered in 80% water and how that same planet was just floating through space. At no point did I think about sharks or any other animal that could eat me in the ocean. All I could think about was all that water crushing my tiny body and leaving no trace of my existence.

I tried reaching out for the instructor, but she was just out of reach. I tried waving at my manfriend, but the sea turtles coming toward us distracted him, along with the other guy in our dive group.

In that moment, I felt so alone. My anxiety grew.

Within a second, I stopped breathing through my mouthpiece and felt so overwhelmed by all of my thoughts. The equipment felt heavier and I felt like it was crushing me. I tried to calm myself down, but failed miserably. All I wanted was oxygen in its original form and not from a tank.

My mouthpiece fell out of my mouth and I quickly ran out of air. As I tried to grab my mouthpiece to place it back in my mouth, my mask filled with water, and my first instinct was to swim up.

As I reached the surface, I felt relief wash over me. I took a deep breath. I was alive. The ocean did not crush me; instead I was in a beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I felt silly.

My instructor quickly followed me up and told me that I could’ve severely injured myself for swimming up so quickly. At that point, none of that mattered because I didn’t feel like the walls of water were closing in on me anymore.

I went back on the boat, and the first dive was over for our group. My manfriend tried to console me and helped me stop shaking; I didn’t even know I was. I was just glad to be out of the ocean and on the boat. (I wasn’t super glad later when I got pressure sickness.) The group planned to do a second dive, but I wanted to stay on the boat.

That’s when the instructor said, "I think you’re claustrophobic."

I’m not sure if I’ll ever scuba dive again. Just the thought of it makes my heart start beating fast and those feelings come racing back. But I’m glad I did it, despite the unforeseen outcome. The whole point of being alive is to try new experiences and enjoy every single breath our body lets us take.