Becoming a Scuba Instructor: Prologue
Life is full of pivot points. Moments where something changes: a path alters, a trail diverges, a new direction is established. Sometimes a pivot point comes as a surprise, an unexpected bump or dip or turn in the road that, upon impact, was forceful enough to change the course of your life or personality or way of thinking about things. Sometimes you can see a pivot point coming from a mile away: the approaching result of an unbalanced buildup, a combination of circumstances, a struggle against the natural deviation from your original path. These points, often excerpts from a larger plot, twisting and turning like the rungs in a roller coaster, come into our lives when change is necessary and unavoidable. The universe, rearing back its sleepy head, wakes up and springs into action.
I was in the passenger seat when the pivot point hit me. It wasn’t a car, it wasn’t like that, but we were driving, and he said to me
I just don’t think we’re right for each other.
The words hung in my head and a ringing in my ears grew louder, muting the sounds around me. Sometimes you can try to ignore a pivot point and continue along your current track, resistant and reluctant to change, dodging signs and taking shortcuts. But you can’t outrun the turn, the change can’t be ignored forever, and the path, steadfast in its looming inevitability, pivots.
So the breakup happened, as they often do, and there I was, mid-trail, watching him continue and disappear down what I thought was to be ours, watching the path before me evaporate into the dust clouds left in his wake.
The period that followed was dark; I was immersed in extremes. 2017 was a year of highs and lows, mountains and trenches, kissing the sky and scraping the ocean floor.
On the high end, I graduated college, traveled to Israel, spent time with my parents, ran a half-marathon, backpacked in Greece, Croatia, and Switzerland, watched my cousins get married and start families, and moved to a little Caribbean island where I became a scuba instructor and met someone I now love deeply. On the low end, I graduated college (the best and worst thing), went through a pretty rough breakup or two, moved away from my friends back to a secluded small town, had a brief stint in the hospital, and went through a tearful, secretive sort of depressive stage that I think many people in this phase of life experience.
But here’s the thing with pivot points: they’re tirelessly trying to teach you something. If you don’t learn from them the first time around, the next turn will be even more sharp, the next pivot even more painful.
And that’s what happened. I made the same mistakes. Once, twice, countless times. I sank deeper and deeper into that lonely despair, thrashing about, clawing helplessly at something to cling
I was sitting, staring at my computer screen, finger hovering over the mouse, pressing gently at first, then harder, and that’s when the next pivot point hit me.
Your ticket has been confirmed.
I was going to Honduras on December 2nd, two months earlier than I had originally planned. I couldn’t take it anymore and I didn’t know what to do. I held my breath and took a leap of faith. I knew it was either hop on a plane, escape from the world that was trying to drown me, move to the sea and learn how to breath underwater, or continue down a path that would’ve led me further into that isolated darkness.
It wasn’t an easy decision, don’t let those words fool you. The anxiety ebbed and flowed as consistently as the tides. I found an excerpt I had written from that time:
“I’m scared for Utila. What if the sadness follows me there? What if it’s not what I’m hoping it will be? What if I find that scuba diving isn’t as amazing as I remember it? What if the people hate me, what if I’m bad at being an instructor, what if what if what if? I know it’s going to be okay, it always is. Well, maybe it’s not always okay. Maybe it’s not okay but we have to say it is anyway because the world’s not going to stop.”
And there’s a lot of truth to that. Maybe it’s not always okay but we have to say it is, we have to wholeheartedly believe it, otherwise, how are we going to make it out of here still sane?
So there I was, a month shy of 23, uprooting my entire life to move to a tiny island in the Caribbean that’d I’d only heard about from some travel-friends I’d since lost touch with. My home-friends thought I was crazy. But what had led me to that decision was a twisting, turning, tumultuous trail that had ultimately ended with a monster staring me straight in the face. It had been a wake up call. A chance to look in the mirror and ask myself what the hell I was doing. A second chance, really.
You see, I had plans. When the breakup happened, I, amidst the initial shock, sat in that passenger seat and felt, what was it? A small, growing, glowing feeling – warm and fizzy and light beginning to bubble up inside me. A chain breaking. A crack widening, stretching and snapping and fracturing, allowing a small piece of something to escape. Relief? Excitement? Hope for the new possibilities. The ability to go anywhere and see everything. The world, this big beautiful world, at my fingertips. Because my plans no longer had to accommodate him and I no longer had to keep telling myself to fight for something that had simply finished serving its purpose in my life. I could let the book close and start fresh with any new book I wanted. I could complete the ones that I had started and never finished. I could write my own.
But limitless plans soon turned into an absence of plans, and the gnawing feeling inside me grew. I couldn’t really figure out what I wanted. I was too hesitant to do the things I had always dreamed of. I got stuck. I started planting new seeds in all the wrong places. I began a new relationship, making the same mistakes, allowing myself to be too accommodating. I didn’t put myself first. I suppose I was reluctant to be alone.
It all started to build up, overwhelmingly so, rising and swelling until the wave crested and whitecaps, frothing and foaming, came crashing down. One morning in early October I went to get a procedure for back pain done called dry-needling, one of the needles punctured my lung, and my lung collapsed.
My path had pivoted.
Before you read any further, you have to know that I have two great passions in this world; two things that, woven into the fibers of my being, are such a part of me that I know I could spend the rest of my life doing them. One is writing and the other is scuba diving.
To give you a bit of background information, my aunt and cousin’s lungs have, for various reasons, both collapsed. When their lungs collapsed they were told that they could never go scuba diving because their lungs, having already collapsed once, were more susceptible to collapsing again and, when you’re scuba diving, you’re putting your body under pressures sometimes five times greater than the pressure we experience at the surface. A second collapse isn’t certain, a collapse in response to the submersion isn’t inevitable, but the risk is generally too great, and there is too much about it that doctors don’t know to be able to say that scuba diving would be a wise choice for them.
That answer was okay for my aunt and my cousin. Their lives hadn’t been touched by the underwater world in the way that mine had. Mourning the loss of something you’ve never possessed is a lot easier than giving up something you were planning the rest of your life around.
At age 22 I was facing the question: can I forget about this and follow my dreams, or do I have to abandon my passion and find something else?
The monster was there staring me straight in the face, its hot breath hitting my cheeks as I, frozen and powerless, watched its sharp, bared teeth ready to rip away the possibility of the life I longed for.
To me, it was the universe’s way of slapping me, asking me, pleading with me what the hell are you doing??? I had every means of doing what I had always dreamed of, and yet I was too stagnant to seize it. I was letting it slip away. And so the universe threatened to actually take it from me. That threat, that near miss, was enough to make me realize how dire my situation really was.
The thing that saved me was the way in which our lungs, like a sad balloon, deflated in middle of our chests. My aunt and cousin experienced a pneumothorax for spontaneous reasons; a sneeze and a weakened state in the hospital after a terrible scooter accident were the unforeseeable forces. My force was predictable. You could pinpoint it. A needle that prodded too deep and popped my right lung. And so my doctor signed me off with an “I don’t see why not” and six to eight weeks of no flying or diving.
Less than two months later I was boarding a plane headed for the ocean.
Starting New, Ready to Fall
I’ve always hated the beginnings of things. The first day of school, joining a new team, even new relationships. I much prefer when things are relaxed and established and comfortable. There is a certain unavoidable anxiety that creeps into my head when I’m about to start something new, a flood of questions hiding in the crevices of my mind, popping out when they are least wanted.
Boarding that plane and leaving my small, comfortable, familiar world behind was far from the easiest thing I’ve had to do. Stepping off that plane and into a hot, foreign, unfamiliar unknown brought on a whole new array of challenges, discomforts, and emotions.
The questions and uncertainties broke through their halfhearted dam, saturating my mind with worry and uneasiness and fear.
And yet there was a particular excitement to it all. I remember sitting with my mom in our hot tub on my last night in the States. I told her I was a mixture of scared and excited and apprehensive. I knew I was diving into the unknown. I knew my path was pivoting. I wasn’t fighting it anymore; I gave way to it, adjusted my sails and let the wind blow me off course. Or, rather, blow me back onto the course I was meant to be following.
“I hate the beginnings of things,” I told her.
I knew I was going headfirst into a completely new situation, one in which I had no clue what the outcome was going to be. I wanted to get through that rocky first part of being the new girl, of having to figure everything out in a new place, of adjusting and adapting and becoming comfortable.
I knew the road ahead of me wasn’t going to be smooth and paved, its course structured and obvious. I knew there was still a lot that was up in the air. I didn’t know how I was going to react to living on an island, to diving every day, to becoming a scuba instructor in a brand new world. I wanted to fast forward, skip ahead through the previews and get a glimpse of what my life would look like a month from then.
But you can’t really do that can you? You have to go through it all, all the discomfort and questioning and uncertainty. And I knew that.
I tried to do what I always did when I was on the edge or at the start of something. I thought back to the last time I jumped from a cliff. It was bungee jumping actually, earlier that summer, swinging from a precariously placed gondola in the middle of the mountains in Switzerland, my grandparents watching from the edge of a lake hundreds of feet below.
Leading up to the jump I stayed pressed against the opposite window, avoiding looking over the edge, into the abyss. I can’t stand on the edge of anything for too long. My mind runs wild just as it does at the beginning of all things. Too many questions force their way into my head, overpowering the urge to throw myself into the air, my toes once-wiggling on the threshold remain firmly planted. I chicken out. I psyche myself out of it. When I walk up to the edge of a dock or cliff or even a hanging gondola, I can’t miss a step. Get up to the edge and go. I’ve already given myself the time to think and think and overthink it, so when I start that walk I know there’s no more time for a pause or to turn around or to look back.
My voice shakily told the operators working in the gondola “can you have my ropes ready because I’m gonna need to jump as soon as I’m on the edge.”
And they did. As I shuffled over to the wide-open gondola door I heard their muted voices counting down from five, my heartbeat in my ears, four, my breathing the only thing I could control, three, silencing all the racing thoughts, two, realizing it was almost time, one, and when I got up to that edge and stared down at that lake hundreds of feet below me I didn’t miss a beat and threw myself out into the air, arms outstretched, ready to fall.
I stepped out of that plane as soon as it landed in Roatan, not missing a beat, ready to start this new chapter with all of its anticipation and opportunity and knowing that there would inevitably be bumps and bruises along the way that I would have to overcome. I stepped out of that plane excited and anxious and a swirl of emotions I couldn’t stop from bubbling up inside of me, ready for my path to pivot, ready to fall.