“Don’t be a quitter”. “Winners never quit”. Balls to that. One life lesson I’ve picked up in these past 29 years is that sometimes, it’s absolutely ok to quit. Sometimes it’s even the best course of action.
There’s such pressure to see something through. To not give up on it. But that can sometimes mean staying in a situation for longer than you should. To the detriment of your wellbeing. And for what? So you can say you didn’t quit?
The older I get, the less I care about quitting. I’ve quit caring about quitting. That’s not to say I don’t stick at things which are worth my time. Or that I give up on things easily (far from it!). Just that learning when to say no and sack something off can be invaluable.
I’ve quit jobs, friendships, tasks, holidays I wasn’t enjoying. We even quit our own wedding. And I’ve never looked back and regretted any of it.
However, I have a long list of things I should have walked away from. Or done so sooner. One such example being the time I attempted to learn to dive.
Learning To Dive
I’m an idealistic person. I have a tendency to decide how things will be. And romanticize them. Sometimes I realise I’m doing it. And on other occasions, this fantasy becomes my idea of exactly how something will work.
I love the sea. Love travel, wildlife and all that jazz. So of course I wanted to learn to dive. I had visions of me swimming under the sea like Ariel. Surrounded by turtles. Listening to the nearby song of a humpback whale. All in that clear glittery water from Moana. Did I mention I had a mermaid tail?
So when my husband surprised me with diving lessons for Christmas, I was beyond excited. I don’t hold a driving license but I was going to be a qualified diver. Priorities. We had already started planning trips to exotic faraway seas.
The lessons began shortly after Christmas, in February. To begin with we did theory in a classroom, which I was quite good at. We learned about pressure. Being considerate to the environment. Oh and the multiple ways you could kill yourself whilst diving. Diving safety. Obviously vital, but terrifying all the same.
I had heard of the bends / decompression sickness. But what I hadn’t heard of until those lessons were the other risks. Running out of air. Getting trapped on something. Your equipment malfunctioning. Carbon monoxide poisoning. Exploding all your organs. The usual fanfare.
Our next lesson would be in a swimming pool and I was excited to try diving for the first time. The pool was 2 metres deep so I assumed it would be a bit boring if anything. I wasn’t particularly nervous. That was until I got in.
Diving is terrifying. Being underwater is terrifying. Every fibre of my being is hating this. And self preservation is telling me to get out of the pool.
You always dive in pairs, with a designated ‘diving buddy’. Mine being my husband. We had to check our equipment and suddenly with anxiety rising, I started to forget everything from the classroom. With limited time -two pool lessons- before our exam, our instructors were focused on getting us through things quickly. There was no time to paddle and get used to it, we were being put straight in the pool and straight to work.
I dipped my head under and tried breathing through the regulator. It felt weird but interesting. I thought I could get used to the sensation. But before I knew it, I was being gestured to go deeper. Properly underwater. Suddenly 2 metres looked very deep.
Completely submerged in water and very aware I was relying on the equipment not to drown, I had a realisation. Diving is terrifying. Being underwater is terrifying. Every fibre of my being is hating this. And self preservation is telling me to get out of the pool.
That was when my instructor gestured for me to take my mask off.
My mask. The airtight thing I’m breathing through. The only thing separating my nose and mouth from the water.
I shook my head. All the diving sign language gone from my brain. I just politely tried to say no. But she began to lift it gently off. I remember feeling water tickling the inside of my nose. The urge to breath in so great I felt sure I was going to drown. Whilst breathing through the regulator the water stays in just your nostrils. But with every breath I grew more anxious. My breathing more laboured. And the water flickering higher up my nose.
But not wanting to disappoint her -and not wanting to quit- I agreed to give it another go.
With one big panic I did the inevitable. I breathed in. That horrible burning feeling of chlorine stinging. And a new sensation. The feeling I was going to drown.
This all took milliseconds but I can tell you it felt like forever. The fact I had breathing apparatus in my mouth didn’t matter. My nose was full of water and I couldn’t even work out how to spit it out without spitting out my reg.
In a blind panic I began to kick. My diving instructor tried to hold me down to calm me (which had the opposite effect). And I made a bid for freedom. It felt like I were swimming the length of the pool, not two metres, but I bolted for the surface.
As my head emerged I began to sob uncontrollably. It took me a few seconds to realise I was completely alone. Everyone else was oblivious under the water.
My diving instructor soon joined me. She comforted me and tried to calm me down. I explained I couldn’t do it. But not wanting to disappoint her -and not wanting to quit- I agreed to give it another go. We tried the exercise another four times. And another four times I made a break for the surface.
I’ll Try Harder Next Time!
It didn’t matter that in deeper water this would mean certain death. That my lungs would explode like balloons. And that if I somehow survived that I would have the bends. I knew all of that. Yet nothing could stop the urge to bolt to the surface. I knew in my head that I wasn’t rationalising the depth of water and risk down there. I was blindly panicking and trying to escape. The same thing would happen in any depth of water.
You wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that this episode put an abrupt end to my diving career. That I politely explained it wasn’t for me and bowed out. However, not wanting to let my instructors down or make a scene, I mumbled something about trying harder next time and went home. Fully intending to return.
Whilst others from the class went on to do the exam, I asked for extra sessions. And it didn’t get much better. I did master the mask clearance eventually. But burst into tears in-front of a room full of people when asked to enter the pool with a giant’s stride.
Each lesson presented a new terrifying challenge. The thought of diving kept me awake at night. Yet I continued.
In a moment of absolute madness, I told my instructors I felt ready to take my open water diving exam.
Let’s think back to that mental image I had. The whales and the clear sea. The thought of diving with giant rays in the tropical water of the Maldives.
Then let me tell you about my first -and last- proper dive.
Our diving exam would take place in a confined space of open water. Not the Indian ocean. Not even the Atlantic ocean. But a quarry. In South Wales. In February.
The temperature outside was 8°C. And the water 4°. Or more precisely, effing freezing.
The quarry is freshwater, so murky. And 80 metres deep. E-I-G-H-T-Y M-E-T-E-R-S. And there have sadly been several fatal diving accidents there. All in all, truly the stuff nightmares are made of.
Creepy stuff like planes and old cars have been submerged for divers to look at. The whole thing made me think about police divers looking for bodies. Or the lake from a horror film. My glittering waters and turtles firmly now out of the picture.
We had to go down deeper.
My Diving Exam
On the morning of my exam, it was foggy. The atmosphere was creepy. And I would have preferred be just about anywhere else.
We had to wear drysuits -for obvious reasons- which none of us owned. So we borrowed them from the school. Another one to add to the list of things I absolutely hate are drysuits. The pressure of being underwater compresses them and makes you feel like a vacuum packed piece of meat. The neckline is rubber and that grips to your neck. Making breathing feel even more in jeopardy.
With our proper equipment on for a longer dive, I could barely stand up. I think even if I were to have loved diving, it would never have been something I could take up regularly. Besides how expensive everything is. You have so much equipment to faff about with. For an hour in the water you need an hour prep and hour afterwards.
I’ll never forget the moment I stepped off the platoon and into that horrible water. Because it wasn’t that bad. In fact, as I looked around I was surprised at the clarify of the water. It was however bitterly cold. And sadly my task for the day wasn’t to sit just beneath the surface, clinging to the ladder and watching bubbles. We had to go down deeper.
As I began to descend I experienced a squeeze. Pressure in your eardrums which feels akin to having a screwdriver twisted in your head.
I can’t describe how horrible that feeling was. Being 6 metres underwater and breathing in water.
We descended down further to 6 metres. I saw a school of fish swim by and for a split second, almost began to relax. That was until we arrived at the training platform.
I was going to have to do some exercises. The dreaded mask clearance was looming.
Under 6m of water my buoyancy was a lot harder. I tried to sit on the platform but would hover up. My instructor gave me some rocks to hold -a bit like the mafia- to keep me there. But the fear had started to return.
We started our exercises off with the easy ones. Like taking your reg out and finding it again. I had done this successfully in the pool many times. You remove your breathing apparatus and blow out a steady stream of bubbles. Throw it behind you. And using a sweeping motion, retrieve it again.
When instructed, I threw my regulator behind me. However now A mass of compressed fabric in my drysuit, sweeping my arm backwards wasn’t like in the pool. I couldn’t find it. I began to scrabble around looking for it.
My breath running out and clearly panicking, my instructor helped. I managed to get the thing in my hand but it was upside down. As I tried to shove it back in my mouth it didn’t feel right. My lips were so cold from the water, my mouth wasn’t moving as it should. Either way, I had run out of air so took in a deep breath.
Not realising the reg wasn’t in my mouth properly, I got a massive mouth full of water. I can’t describe how horrible that feeling was. Being 6 metres underwater and breathing in water. I panicked more than I possibly ever have before and tried to breath. But it was too late. Taking in water, I did the only thing I could think of and bolted to the surface. Holding my breath as I went (incidentally the worst thing you can do).
Thankfully we were only in shallow water. So I survived (this being the reason for diving in a quarry and not the ocean). But I’ll never forget the sight of that green water. Kicking up to the surface with water in my throat and no way to breath.
My instructors came with me and emerged at the same time. Just in time to see me projectile vomiting weird foamy liquid everywhere. I mumbled that I was sorry but just floated there in silence. Completely shocked.
My diving instructor was lovely and consoled me. But I was truly terrified. That felt as close to drowning as I ever want to be feel.
I should have walked away at the start instead of pushing myself to do things I was never comfortable with.
Time To Quit
You’d assume my exam would be failed. And that I would have just gotten out at this point?
That’s obviously what I wanted. I knew I’d never dive anywhere again. Moana water or not. A million humpback whales holding banners couldn’t have convinced me. But I didn’t want to let my instructor down. I didn’t want to make a scene.
So literally shaking, I descended down again. The rest is a blur but I dived to 12 meters, did the rest of my exercises and finished the day.
I kept it mostly together until we got in the car, where I started to cry. The thought of going back the next day terrified me and I hardly slept that night. Remembering that horrible journey to the surface of the water.
The next day I cancelled. I stayed in bed, feeling somewhat relieved I had avoided it. But also terribly guilty. I felt like a massive failure. And at that point, had every intention of going back.
Whilst I may not have qualified as a diver. This experience taught me a lot. Besides the fact human’s can’t breath underwater. Oh and that I detest diving with every fibre of my being.
It was cool to try something new. I got to experience something not a lot of people do. And I hated it. But that’s ok. I should have walked away at the start instead of pushing myself to do things I was never comfortable with.
So many diving accidents are caused by panic. If I’d managed to kill myself and my husband diving in some beautiful ocean, I don’t imagine people would say “but she never stopped trying”. The whole thing was futile and could have been avoided. I honestly don’t know what I thought qualifying would achieve. Especially when I had no intention of ever using it.
Lots of people love diving. It’s so subjective so as with my lip injections horror story, don’t let me put you off. But I know now I should have been far quicker to realise it wasn’t for me.
It took me a long time to not feel bad. To not feel I had failed. But it wasn’t a waste of time or totally bad experience. As in the years which have passed, I’ve been confronted with many situations where I’ve opted to quit. And I’ve not wasted time feeling guilty about it.
It’s given me more energy to focus on the things which do matter.