Scuba diving is a surreal experience. It evokes the same soothing feeling of being sung a lullaby or waking up from a pleasant dream; it’s lucid and abstract simultaneously. Imagine swimming through the clear water. A fairy basslet with its magenta head and yellowtail shimmy past your mask, a stingray idly dances 60 feet to your right, a nurse shark rests on its stomach beneath a rock. The sheer magnificence astounds you but at the same time, a sinking feeling of vulnerability invades your cells, keeping your brain on high alert for whatever might be lurking behind you. It’s a mystifying, humbling activity— one of the only things we can do as humans that truly takes us to a different world. Like the 7 stages of a break-up, here are the feelings that arise during your first dive:
Stage one is, of course, panic. At first the equipment feels like it’s suffocating you. The regulator is jammed too tightly in your mouth, your weight belt feels too heavy and is squeezing your muffin tops down in a dangerous way, your mask already seems to be filling up with water and your wet-suit is threatening to cut off the circulation in your neck. Like a wasted sorority sister, you stumble through your first couple minutes of descent into the deep blue.
After your initial bewilderment, your breathing starts to slow down to a calm, easy pace. You look around you and see an aquatic Matisse painting. Bold colors of every shade. Shapes you haven’t set eyes on ever before in your life. You realize there’s no pressure to tell anyone else these thoughts right now. You are alone with them and you can process these stunning corals on your own time. No snapchat or Instagram, just you. And you feel relief.
During this phase you start to really look at and explore your environment. You poke at marine worms that shutter and fold into themselves at your touch. You look closely at an anemone’s gelatin surface. You observe a blue tang feeding on the reef.
A pervasive feeling of happiness moves like a silky ribbon through your body. Like a sip of warm tea emanating through your chest. You have the urge to touch everything—to collect it all with one sweep of your arms and keep the beauty close to your chest.
5. Utter Calm
At this point you can hardly remember fumbling with your gear. You don’t even realize it’s on your body now. You’re an astronaut on a nautical moon.
There comes a point when it just feels right or correct in some strange way to be on this new planet. You feel like Mr. Rogers from “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”— all the fish are waving to you, tipping their hats off in your presence and flashing you a smile.
The final stage is confusion as to why you haven’t tried this before. You’re a little frustrated at yourself for being uneasy to try it. You start to think about all of the other things in life that you are ambivalent to try and find yourself in an inner monologue to try them. Your thoughts start to sound like a self-help book and you hate yourself a little for it.
Pro- tip: My favorite thing to do when I dive is look up at the surface of the water. I fell in love with the cerulean ceiling on one of my first dives. I was rocking back and forth, testing out my new gravity, flipping my fins and flailing my body around, finally fulfilling my childhood dream of being a mermaid. I looked up at the surface for a long time. I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was physically inhabiting the ocean. For the first time, I was seeing the sky through a different lens: one that was even more glittering and brilliant. I wanted to express this to my fellow divers around me. How wild!? I wanted to say. How absolutely weird is it to be here?! I felt like I was trespassing, like someone from the heavens might just step in like your dad catching you at a college party while you were in high school saying “Woah, woah, woah, you’re not supposed to be here!” But we really were! I knew it because I could still pinch my fingers and toes. I could breathe.