Overcoming Scuba Diving Phobias: From Scaredy Cat to Rescue Diver
Scuba diving phobias are not uncommon nor are they unbeatable. And frankly, we should all have a healthy dose of fear. It ensures we’re paying attention to important details and taking best practices, like a pre-dive safety check, seriously. But what do you do when your fears are more phobias preventing you from doing something you know deep down inside you would love to do? This is the tale of one woman who came to Sun Divers a self-proclaimed ‘scaredy cat’ but overcame her own phobias of water to become a real-deal rescue diver. There are more than a few four-letter words that Mekela uses to describe her experience, but we think her candid story can inspire others who are on the fence about scuba diving, to jump in and give it a try.
This blog is adapted and shared with permission from Mekela Busbee of WanderwithMekela.com. This is NOT a sponsored post.
Meet Mekela a former SCUBA ‘scaredy cat’
Hi, my name is Mekela, and this is my story of how I went from a complete scaredy cat of the water to a rescue diver.
How my scuba diving phobia started
When I was a kid, I LOVED the water!! I loved being in pools, lakes, and rivers. I was always the first one in and the last one out…usually being dragged out LOL. Growing up in California, I didn’t go in the ocean too much. The water is very cold and just gross with seaweed. As I got older, for some reason, I stopped liking it. That included even pools. I developed this fear of the water. I could deal with being in a pool when others were in it too but no other bodies of water.
You are probably wondering, “Then why move to an island that is surrounded by water?”
Well, for starters, who wouldn’t want to live in the Caribbean? Before I even moved, I joined scuba diving groups on Facebook hoping this would help with my fear. I loved seeing all these beautiful pictures from dives all over the world. But would I really take the plunge when I had the opportunity?
Taking baby steps in to the water
Fast forward to May 2021. I bought a one-way ticket to Roatan. I made friends within my first week here. One friend and I did an island boat tour. On the tour, the captain stops and gives you time to snorkel. Yep, I kept my scaredy cat ass on the boat while my friend and the captain snorkeled. My friend even told me how beautiful it was and how I was missing out. I finally sat on the boat ladder and that was a big thing for me. The next week, my friend left, and I became determined to overcome this!
Finding a supportive dive shop
As suggested, I walked around talking to different dive shops to see which one I wanted to go with. I selected Sun Divers after talking to Natalie. She was very helpful and listened to my fears, no matter how ridiculous they might have sounded to her. She offered to let me use gear to snorkel right there in the bay. I came back a few days later and got some gear. Natalie gave me tips on the best way to ease into breathing through a snorkel. I followed her advice and very slowly eased my way into it. After what felt like 10 minutes, I felt ready to try and actually snorkel. I did it!! I was snorkeling. Then…..
“Oh shit!!! SEAGRASS!!!! What could possibly be in there????”
Yes, that is literally what I thought. I couldn’t bring myself to come within six feet of the seagrass. It completely freaked me out. I kept trying, but I just couldn’t. I walked back to the dive shop feeling completely defeated and like the biggest dumb ass. When I walked in, Natalie’s face lit up and then quickly dimmed when she saw the look on my face. I told her what happened (still feeling like a dumb ass). She assured me that it would be ok. Natalie offered to snorkel with me to try and talk me through anything that may come up. And plenty of things DID come up!
The following week, we were finally able to snorkel together. After getting the gear on in the water, Natalie assured me that there was nothing in the seagrass that would hurt me. I got close and popped up. Nope, not gonna happen. She talked me through it and back in I went. This continued many times until she got me all the way out to the reef (it comes into the bay some). Once out there, I told her that I have never swam that far in the ocean before…literally ever in my life!
On the swim back to shore, I was thinking about the DSD class. DSD stands for Discover Scuba Diving. It’s the introduction to scuba course. By the time we got back, I decided to try it. What’s the worst that can happen? More freak-outs? That is pretty much guaranteed! I told Natalie I wanted to give it a go. She was genuinely excited for me to take this leap. I got scheduled for June 1 to take my DSD with Ana, one of the instructors at the shop. Before leaving the shop, I got my booklet to read before the course.
Taking the plunge
I showed up June 1 ready to go and still extremely scared and nervous. Ana was so sweet and completely understanding of my feelings. I found out later that Ana was given a complete rundown of my issues, hesitations, and overall feelings about the water. This helped her prepare to help me with it all. I did my confined skills in the bay. That was huge for me! Then we went out on a dive in the afternoon. I learned how to roll off the boat into the water. It only took me a few minutes to actually do the task though. Ana finally got me under the water, and we swam around for a while. I didn’t know anything about fish at the time, so not sure what all I saw. However, we did see two turtles. A baby and a larger one. I saw the first one and got super excited!! Once back at the dive shop, Natalie asked how it was. I am told that my smile said it all.
I left the next day to head back to California for a trip to Disneyland. By the time I got back to the island, my fears settled back in. I asked Natalie if I could do a non-certified dive to see if I really liked it before moving on. I did a dive with Ricky, another instructor at the shop. Yep, I liked it! When I got back to the shop, I asked when I could sign up for my PADI Open Water course.
June 26 and 27 were the dates I did my OW (Open Water) with Ana. Now this almost broke me. Some of the skills you are required to do I absolutely HATE with a passion!!! I hate getting water in my nose and especially salt water. I had to fill up my mask entirely and clear it. I also had to take my mask off completely and put it back on. I didn’t do that just once. Oh no, that would be too easy. I did it three times that I can remember. Once in the confined water (the bay), once to swim without my mask, and then on the dive.
On the dive when Ana signaled to me to take it off, I shook my head no. She gave me the “come on just do it” look. I finally did it and immediately wanted to surface to clear my sinuses. She wouldn’t let me. She reminded me to breath slowly in and out. This helped calm my heartbeat and ease my desire to flee.
On that dive, we saw a large Spotted Eagle Ray. IT WAS SO COOL!!!! Ana said it was the oceans way of welcoming me. To complete the OW course, you learn skills in the confined water and then do four dives. You show you can do these skills while out in the open water (hence the name of the course). I was so ridiculously excited when I finished! I also had this immense sense of accomplishment. Holy cow! I am Open Water Certified!!! Something I hoped would happen but never thought it actually would.
I greatly enjoyed doing the fun dives. Occasionally, divers in the group would go to a depth that I couldn’t go to. I would literally be told to stay where I was while they explored deeper in the ocean. What the heck? Why couldn’t I go down the additional 15 or so feet?
Remember Ricky? Well, from day one, he has asked me every time he saw me, “Hey, you wanna do a night dive?” My response was always some variation of “HELL TO THE NO!”
Taking it to the next level
On Sunday, July 25, I stopped in the dive shop that morning. I asked Shannon about the night dive and if there was still room. He looked at me funny and then asked if this was for me. I said yes. I am confident that he was stunned with that answer. He gave me the rundown on it and gave me some homework to prepare for a Night Adventure Dive. He told me to be back at 4:30 for my knowledge review and to get ready for the dive.
I showed up and pretty much shocked everyone that I was there. Nick was the instructor for the night dive. Yes, Ricky was the one bugging me about it, and he missed out on it. I enjoyed seeing the really cool things that come out at night. Octopus, squid, urchins, lion fish, and more. We even saw a turtle swimming around which is not common. The highlight for me was the bioluminescent and the string of pearls. I have been wanting to see that since I heard about it in 2013.
The next day, I was at the shop to do a fun dive. Shannon mentions to me that since I started my Night Adventure dive counts toward my PADI Advanced Open Water certification that I should just keep going with it. I met Scott on the night dive, and he wanted to continue with getting his AOW. Shannon mentioned it would be good to do together. Since I only needed to do four more Adventure Dives, I agreed. Scott and I talked about what dives to do beside Navigation and Deep which are required. Our additional three were Night, Wreck, and Peak Performance Buoyancy. By the end of the week, we were done with them all and were AOW certified!!! WOO-HOO!!!! Also, now when everyone else goes down below 60 feet to look at something, I can too.
And then the next level…
Now that AOW is complete, I would get to enjoy my last few days of fun dives before flying back to the States. During that time, Natalie mentioned in passing how she thinks I would be a good Rescue Diver. I had to ask why she thought that. She tells me that I have no issues taking charge in a situation. No, that does not mean I am bossy. It means I have great leadership skills. Also, I am absolutely not shy, so that helps too. She also mentioned she noticed how caring and concerned I was for a fellow diver I had just met on a dive we did in mid-July. Since I was going to be in the States for 7 weeks, Natalie lets me know that I am able to do one of the requisites there. At the end of those 7 weeks, I take my Emergency First Response (EFR) class. This is comprised of CPR and first-aid and some specifics for diving.
Back on the island finally!! Man, I missed this place. I did my first dive back exactly two months after my last dive. I am grateful that it was just me and Natalie. I knew I would need to reacclimate to diving, and I didn’t want to hold up a group with my freak outs. Thankfully, it was just one minor freak out in the beginning. After that, it was just like riding a bike.
During my first week back, Natalie mentions that someone else is planning to do the PADI Rescue Diver course the following week and suggested I join. It is easier with 2 people apparently. I reluctantly agree. I knew I needed to get this over with and would probably drag my feet without the push. I picked up my book over the weekend. HOLY READING!!! There is a lot to read and learn. While I was preparing for my course, I kept having a lot of uncertainty creep in. Why? Yes, this course is hard as well as rewarding. However, I had friends who recently did this course tell me things like, “It was the most difficult three days of my life.” “Man, you might regret signing up because its crazy hard.” While I appreciate the honesty, people need to keep their opinions to themselves. One comment like that could easily persuade someone to not do something. Thankfully, I was able to push that doubt aside and finished the reading and knowledge reviews before the Wednesday start.
October 13 was the first day. I also finally met my fellow Rescue Diver trainee. It was absolutely better with 2 students. This allowed our instructor Nick to observe and critique what we were doing to assure we were doing it correctly. This course was very hard. When I said there was a lot to learn, it was so much. I am grateful that we get hands-on training too. While it is a simulation, it helped me learn and retain more. After day one of training, I was exhausted! I felt like I had run a half marathon. I could not wait to get home and go to bed. Day two was just as tiring. But, after two very hard days, we were done. That Rescue Diver certification is all mine!!
How I went from zero to Rescue Diver hero
So, how did I ultimately overcome what was an almost crippling fear? By having the support and encouragement of an awesome team. Natalie could have easily laughed at my ridiculousness in the beginning, but she didn’t. I feel like other people would have very quickly lost their patience with me. That never happened in any of my courses. The staff at Sun Divers know just how far to push and when. If you aren’t ready for it yet, that is okay. They are here to support you however far you want to go on your diving journey.
Interested in learning to dive, but not sure if you’re ready to take the plunge? We’re here to help. Contact us to schedule a time to chat with a Sun Divers team member to learn more about how we can help you follow in Mekela’s courageous fin kicks and experience scuba diving safely and confidently.