It's been a wee while since I've written anything on the ol' blog, or felt inspired to write anything for myself at all. The truth is I haven't felt very 'me' over the last few weeks and have been zombie-ing through life a bit by going to work, coming home, hiding in my room and watching Netflix, and not feeling much like anything. There have been some really great days where the sun has shone and I've swam in the sea and all has felt well, but overall, it's been a strange time and one that doesn't spark much inspiration, writing-wise.
I've blamed it on a lot of things - the weather up here (rainy 90% of the time), not being able to see my friends, having to live in a houseshare and not having our own space, and not feeling connected to anything or anyone here. All those factors have added to the 'meh' feeling and the more I feel that way, the less likely I am to do anything about it. It's easier and more comfortable to stay in my Netflix cave and zombie out.
Over the past couple of weeks I've been trying to get myself out of it and focus on things that make me feel like myself again. I've said yes to a couple of things I would have normally avoided, and have tried to focus on positive energy instead of getting bogged down by any negativity around me.
I also came across this blog I wrote a few months ago for a writing competition. I didn't win (HOW DARE THEY) so I didn't do anything with the post. When I re-read it this week it struck me that this was from a time where I felt absolutely empowered, inspired and happy, and truly ME. So I thought 'what the heck' and have decided to post it here. Enjoy:
We were about two minutes into our ascent, and I took a moment to take a final look below me. Two more thresher sharks were gliding smoothly back into the blue and I stopped briefly to watch them, still completely in awe of their graceful movement. As we continued upward, sunlight broke through the surface and danced around us making the water sparkle.
Pausing for our safety stop I took a moment to reflect on the last four days. A week ago, the idea of diving had made my heart palpitate with fear and I’d have laughed if someone told me I’d be able to conquer it in less than a week. Yet here I was just a few days later, ascending from a 30-metre shark dive and on a complete high.
I looked across at the women I’d taken this journey with and could tell they were feeling the same joy. We played rock paper scissors while we counted down the minutes, and laughed through our regulators. It was surreal and wonderful, and it suddenly hit me that I’d never felt more alive or empowered as I did in this moment. My eyes brimmed with happy tears as I realised that facing my ultimate fear and learning to dive was the best decision I’d ever made.
I’ve always been a bit of a panicky person. The idea of running out of air in any setting gives me recurring nightmares and I can’t watch any films set in space or underwater in-case things go wrong (spoiler alert: they always do). I tried diving a few years ago and my instructor attempted to teach me a couple of skills. The moment I let my mask fill with water I panicked so much that he was forced to take me back up to the surface. The rest of the dive was a blur as I concentrated so hard on staying calm that I barely noticed any of the marine life around me. I wrote diving off after that – it clearly wasn’t for me.
Two years later and I’m travelling around South East Asia with Nick. He’s an experienced diver and would often go on dive adventures during our travels, whilst I did my own sightseeing on dry land. I enjoyed exploring on my own, but always wondered what I was missing out on underwater.
It was when we arrived in Malapascua, a small island in the Philippines, that the idea of learning to dive resurfaced. I would be spending the next few days here on my own as Nick was off to visit an old friend on another island. I was figuring out my plans and when he suggested getting my PADI open water, I decided on impulse to do it. I don’t know if it was being surrounded by the inviting turquoise Visayan sea that changed my mind or the fact that I was two Pina Coladas in, but it suddenly seemed like an excellent idea and excitement began to override the fear.
I signed up with Divelink Cebu and met my instructor who was wonderful and immediately put me at ease. Mariela encouraged me to let her know which parts frightened me (TAKING MY MASK OFF, DYING UNDERWATER, EVERYTHING!) and didn’t make me feel stupid when I panicked once again on our first dive. Instead, she invited me to put my trust in her, beautifully managed to convey her sense of humour underwater to calm me down, and by a couple of dives later I was filling my mask with water like it was the most normal part of my day.
On the boat heading out for our second dive, anxiety hit once again. I felt incredibly overwhelmed by the task, short of breath and downright terrified. As I sat on the edge of the rib and fought back tears, Mariela noticed that all was not well, and helped me get my breathing back to normal. She assured me she would be watching the whole time and that I ABSOLUTELY COULD do this. I eventually believed her, calmed myself down, and took the plunge.
By the time we had finished that second dive, something had clicked. Somehow in those 45 minutes the sensible part of my brain had taken over and restored calm, and the realisation had hit me out of the blue that this was...actually...fun?! It was all about breathing! Why had no one told me? Although there were some skills that took me a while to master, I was taking to diving like a…well…fish to water. By our fourth and final dive I had mastered my buoyancy and was finally able to relax, and in doing so, I was able to notice everything around me. Nudibranchs, huge brightly coloured coral, clownfish, pipefish, huge cushiony sea stars – it was a colourful world down there! I knew before we had even surfaced that I wanted more.
After qualifying as open water divers, my dive buddy Corinna and I immediately signed up to go on a thresher shark dive. It would be a dive down to 30 metres where the sharks hang out and we had to take another exam to be able to descend that far. We were both giddy with excitement (and nitrogen) at that point and couldn’t wait.
Malapascua is the only place in the world where you are almost guaranteed to see thresher sharks every day. Monad Shoal is a sunken island off Malapascua that drops down to 230 metres. The sharks live and hunt in the deep water but each morning before the sun comes up, will surface to 30 metres for a good old morning shower at the cleaning stations. It just so happens that there’s a natural ledge perfect for observers at this exact spot. Hence why hundreds of divers flock to Malapascua every day and usually can’t help but stay longer than they anticipated. This isn’t a dive you just want to do once.
Our shark dive was magnificent. We saw five thresher sharks in total and they were the most beautiful, graceful creatures I’d ever seen in the wild. Mariela seemed to be able to spot them appearing out of the blue way before my eyes had adjusted, and it was hard not to hold my breath as they’d silently glide past. I’ve never had a fear of sharks, and I felt so privileged to be in this proximity to them in their natural habitat. It was incredibly peaceful watching them doing their thing, uninterested in the divers watching them, just going about their daily business.
Our time at 30 metres was over way too quickly and soon we were back on the surface once again. On the boat back to Malapascua island, Corinna and I were absolutely buzzing, and the high lasted a good couple of weeks.
I'd completely recommend doing something that scares you. Facing my fear and learning to dive was the best thing I’ve ever done. The feeling of breathing underwater is addictive, freeing and totally exhilarating. I can’t wait to get back down there again.