I’ve written an article about this for Verge, but it’ll be a while until they actually get it up, so I’ll give all of you bloggers a sneak-peek for now.
Basically, I’ve been terrified of fish since I was a kid and experienced an unfortunate snorkeling experience in Disneyland (its a scarring place, I know).
Basically, I got in the water, looked down, saw a catfish, came to the conclusion that cats should be soft, fluffy, live on land and breath air (not slippy, creepy, non-blinking water-breathers) and promptly began screaming.
This reaction to fish continued for over a decade, but after I realized that I jumped out of an airplane and tobogganed down a volcano barely batting an eye, surely I’d be able to handle tiny guppies! So with this mentality, I booked some scuba certification lessons with Big Blue Diving on Koh Tao (Turtle Island) and was on my way to conquer my fear!
After 2 days of classroom videos about how not to die underwater (don’t try to come back up at a rate faster than 9m/minute, or you’ll need to be sent to a decompression chamber), it was finally time to hop (James Bond style) into the ocean. I began my first underwater descent clinging to my buoyancy compensator scuba gear for dear life, hoping desperately that I didn’t encounter that fish in the trench from Finding Nemo.
I was focused so hard on trying not to be afraid, that for the first 10m of our descent, I had forgotten to equalize the pressure in my ears. at this 10m point, I started getting a sharp pain in my ears, but for some reason, wasn’t able to equalize the pressure properly. By now, the pain was getting bigger and I had realized that if I had come too far to go back up and relieve the pressure, but that if I stayed where I was, my head was probably going to explode. I frantically waived over the instructor, hoping he could magically save my life with some type of scuba-instructor magic.
Fortunately, this WAS the case, as he calmly demonstrated the PROPER technique for equalizing ear pressure. (Turns out I didn’t listen well enough in class, but in my defence, I was on recess week from school!) After a couple attempts, I heard a satisfying “POP” and felt the threat of a head-explosion fading – I WASN’T GOING TO DIE!!
Even better than just not-dying, I also came to the startling conclusion that, despite the fact that fish are creepy, don’t blink or breath air, are basically 2D and flop around awkwardly on land, they also can’t make my head explode. On the grand scale of things, I rank head-explosions as worse than a lack of eyelids (only just), so nothing a fish could do by being in the water with me would be worse than the inability to equalize ear pressure I just lived though!
With this frame of mind, I was able to let go of my fear and let the fish surround me. I swam up to the reef, got over some lingering off-putting feelings and was soon able to appreciate these strange little creatures.
In the zen-like underwater world, their movements flowed smoothly and their scales reflected a full spectrum of colour. They wove in and out of the reefs in perfect harmony and I realized that they weren’t so creepy, they were actually kind of beautiful My fear had officially been replaced with a new-found awe.
Getting over my fear had further rewards, as I was able to swim through a ship wreck – Sattakut, and get officially certified as an Advanced Adventurer, basically the coolest accomplish EVER!!