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Recently I explained what the Divemaster course is, why I decided to sign up, and how I chose where and when to do so. I hope this will be helpful to those looking into doing their DMT and searching for a first hand account of someone who has been there, as well as interesting to those simply looking for a peek into a different industry! I broke the course down into theory, skills, and practical application, and now I’m sharing a more personal peek into what was the most emotional moment of the course for me.

Night Diving Phobia

For once I was grateful for the rain that had been customers had been complaining of all week – it disguised the stream of hot tears streaming down my face. Between the rain, the darkness, and my wet eyes I could barely make out the shore as the boat pulled up to the harbor. I tried to pull myself together as I lifted an aluminum tank on my back to carry back to the shop, but it was futile. I had spent the last hour psyching myself up to quit my divemaster course.

I have always disliked night diving. Actually, allow me to be more specific – I have always had a deep seated, diagnosed anxiety disorder for which darkness and isolation is a trigger. At seven, my family had to walk out of mood-lit restaurants if I deemed them too dark – my mom still can rattle off a list of local joints that were off limits. By thirteen, my symptoms were so severe that the psychologists my parents enlisted started me on a medication routine that I stuck with for nearly a decade. At twenty three, a year after deciding to try more natural methods of treating anxiety, I found myself driving down US-9 at midnight, trying to stave off an oncoming episode of anxiety with the calming high beams of other cars. Apparently I can travel the world, often alone, with enthusiasm and fearlessness – but not spend a dark night alone in my isolated childhood home in the suburbs.

Night Diving Phobia

So it’s not much of a surprise that I’m no fan of plunging into the vast, black ocean at night with nothing more than a pen light to illuminate my eerie surroundings. Yet part of the divemaster program requires assisting on an advanced course, and when the Open Water students I had been assisting signed on for their Advanced Open Water, it was only natural that I join them. When I saw a night dive on the board, I felt a mild wave of skittishness rise up in my throat, but I was surprisingly calm.

The presence of others makes my darkness phobia somewhat bearable, which I have learned to use to my advantage in both travel and diving. I love hostels, hotels, large apartment buildings and high beams on the highway – I feel great comfort knowing I am not alone. In the past year, I had been able to complete night dives by diving with buddies who I trust deeply and who are well aware of my limitations. By maintaining constant contact, often holding hands, and being the last in the water and the first out, I had started to feel a little more control.

On the boat ride out on the first night dive of my Divemaster training, I actually laughed at our two students’ jokes and marveled to Victor that it was the most beautiful sunset I had seen thus far on Gili. I felt calm – all the way until the boat stopped. As Victor gave the briefing, it dawned on me that I would be alone in the back of group – Victor would lead, the students would buddy up, and I would follow behind. Alone, and — laughably — as a “chaperone” to the divers ahead of me. I stared into the black, choppy waters I was about to jump into, and tried to repeat my usual mantra to myself — the greatest fear is of fear itself.

Night Diving Phobia

I spent the next fifty minutes in such a heightened state of angst, panic and stress that the hours of tears that came later seemed like my body’s only physical way of reducing my psyche’s built up pressure, and I ended up taking prescribed medication in order to sleep that night.

From the moment that the boat dropped Victor and the students off at Gili Meno and I could finally collapsed in a heap of frayed nerves privately, I had been also mourning my dream of finishing my Divemaster course. How could I possibly work in the diving industry if I could barely go on a night dive as a customer, let alone a professional? How could I sell something to students that for me was an exercise in mental torture?

Becs was the only instructor left at the dive shop that night when I got back to rinse my gear. Despite the rain, she could tell that I’d been crying, and it only took one compassionate arm around my shoulder for me to weepily confess everything. She brought me back down to earth — with that night’s dive I had completed the Continuing Education portion of my Practical Assessments, and technically I need not do a single night dive more. And really, she assured me, even working as a professional Divemaster I would rarely if ever need to do them. Night dives are most commonly conducted by Instructors, and it would be rare that an employer would force me to do something if I expressed a preference not to, as typically there are a handful of work-hungry Instructors and DMs for every diver or student.

I still had to get over my shame at being so paralyzed by something that other divers do for fun — our society’s taboos over anxiety disorders, depression, phobias and other invisible diseases certainly didn’t help. But I’m so pleased to say that my desire to become a Divemaster trumped my embarrassment over the area in which I wasn’t quite up to par. My anxiety and managing it is a part of my life, and as much as I’d like to I can’t leave it at home when I’m packing my bags for my next adventure. I don’t think I believe that old adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but at least in this case I do believe this — what didn’t kill me did make me a Divemaster.

Night Diving Phobia

Note: Clearly, I’m no doctor, and I’ve shied away from writing about my struggles with clinical anxiety in the past because I’ve worried about using the wrong terminology, offending someone, or just generally looking like an idiot (clearly not typical concerns of mine). Do feel free to be constructively critical as always, but please be appropriately sensitive considering the topic.

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55 Comments...
  • Dave
    July 22 2013

    I avoided and generally put off scuba diving for years because of my own anxieties about it.

    When I finally did do an introductory dive as part of a 3-day sailing trip in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands, I was equally anxious underwater. And that was during the day, in 10 meters of water!

    Needless to say, I haven’t done it since. I’m sure if I did a dive course, and got more comfortable with the whole experience, I might feel different.

    I can’t imagine doing a night dive. It’s good to hear that won’t stand in your way of becoming a divemaster though.
    Dave recently posted..Top 5 Places to Go Skiing in New Zealand

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Dave, I’m sure you know what is best for you. But I do agree wholeheartedly with your suspicion that a course would be more comfortable. While the intro dives can be great in some ways, I agree that they can be a bad choice for some people, putting them under too much pressure and making diving into a negative experience!

      That said, it’s not for everyone. I was talking to a friend of mine who is an instructor about this experience and she said she thinks it makes me a better divemaster as it gives me empathy for people with their own anxieties about diving. I like that perspective.

  • Amanda
    July 22 2013

    Unfortunately I have struggled with anxiety as well but for me it’s usually much worse at home and much better when I’m traveling (weird I guess!). I’m glad you didn’t let it affect your whole course as it sounds like you’ll be able to work around it easily. I’ve really enjoyed this series and I’m looking forward to all the juicy hazing details haha!
    Amanda recently posted..A Guide to Bangkok’s Rooftop Bars

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Hey Amanda, I actually can relate. While I have had boughts of anxiety and depression both at home and abroad, In general my anxiety tends to flare up much more at home. I think it’s for the reasons I hinted at here — when I’m on the road I tend to be surrounded by people and activity at all times while at home I spend a lot of time alone (I think our lifestyles in the US is very isolating at times compared to say, Asia!)

  • Kristen Noelle
    July 22 2013

    What an informative series, Alex! I’ve never dove before and know very little about the subject, but it’s interesting to learn about from your perspective, and I’m sure it will be extremely helpful to other divers.
    You being able to face your fears and then go on to share them speaks volumes. What a journey!

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Thanks Kristen, I appreciate your support <3

  • Theresa
    July 22 2013

    I’m a long time reader/lurker who has never commented before this, but I felt compelled to do so on this post. My boyfriend experiences intense anxiety that was brought about pretty recently as a result of trauma in his life. We’ve put our plans to travel the world on hold because of our fear that his anxiety may not be able to handle a trip of such magnitude. We have finally decided to start moving forward with our plans and this post gave me hope that even though there will be challenges, travel will still be a wonderful experience for him and for us as a couple.

    I commend you for taking the time to write this post; I know it must have been difficult to talk about something so personal, especially since some still see these sorts of disorders as taboo. I will encourage my boyfriend to read this post and hopefully, it inspires him to still live his life to the fullest, despite his anxiety. Thanks Alex!

    P.S. I think your writing is just impeccable and so captivating… I hope you never stop writing! You certainly have a gift 🙂

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Hey Theresa, I’m so glad this post brought you out of lurkdom 🙂

      I know how you feel and I know that this was a concern of mine and of my loved ones when I started to travel extensively. There are absolutely mental health challenges in being out of your comfort zone and safety net. But I do think it is possible and in fact I think it helped me. Best of luck with your plans, I’m rooting for you!

  • Lindsey
    July 22 2013

    Oh love, I have nothing but the deepest compassion for you. Having similar anxieties relating to darkness and isolation, and with someone close to me dealing with severe clinical depression and anxiety, I really, really feel for you. You know what though, you did it. You went on that night dive, you got in that water. That is such an amazing and inspiring thing – you fought it head on for something you cared about and I’m fairly certain you just became my hero :P. It’s really awesome that you’re sharing it too 🙂

    Sorry that turned into such a pep talk… I’d be really interested in talking to you more about the natural methods you use some time.
    Lindsey recently posted..Photography Showcase & Travel Plans

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Hey Lindsey, thank you so much for this heartfelt comment. I really appreciate it. And I have had the post you mention on my mental to do list for about a year… hopefully this will be the kick in the butt that I need!

  • Oh, Alex!!! You’re so brave for facing your fear and doing it anyway, even if you were a jumbly bit of nerves. Well done.

    And now, from an instructor: I HATE NIGHT DIVES. No, more accurately, I hate leading night dives. There is nothing more terrifying to me than taking people around underwater at night who can’t understand the simple concepts of “stay together, follow the leader, and keep your lights on so I can count you”. I used to pawn them all off on my coworkers at my old job – all the wanted was the free hamburger and extra $15 they got. Nooooooooo thank you.

    You can come work with me anytime at my new shop – we don’t do night dives here 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..10 things to do in Vancouver, BC if you’re kind of broke but really awesome.

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Comforting to hear from a professional diver who hates night dives as well 🙂 I’m glad you found a place to work where you don’t have to worry about if you’ll be able to pawn them off. That would cause me a lot of stress.

  • Oh Alex I was practically in tears from reading this! Well done for bravely facing your fears. Also, I think it’s okay to accept your weaknesses for what they are sometimes. There are so many things which you are good at, not liking night dives is really okay I think! An inspiring story 🙂
    Michelle | lights camera travel recently posted..Gettin’ My Tourist on in KL

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Thank you Michelle, I really appreciate those kind words. I love your sentiments.

  • Shaun
    July 23 2013

    All and all, I heard absolutely nothing to be embarassed about. You’ve found your own way to deal with it and more to that point, your divemaster aspirations proved you own the anxiety.

    In fact, its very admirable to even put yourself out there in this post. It takes a great amount of strength and the way I see it, you chin can be held a little higher. You’ve accomplished two major steps in your life with one swing of the bat!

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Thank you Shaun. I’m not really embarrassed — at least anymore — about my night diving anxiety. It’s more that I feel frustrated because so many people’s responses is “Oh, suck it up!” or “No one really likes night dives!” or “You just need to do more of them!” or other things that kind of belittle how serious a problem this is for me. I appreciate your comment though, thank you for the perspective!

      • Shaun
        July 24 2013

        No problem. People lack empathy when they don’t understand the depth (no pun intended) of someone’s anxiety.

  • memographer
    July 23 2013

    I really enjoyed the series, Alex! Thanks! There is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural to “do not like” darkness and isolation. After I almost drown in Caribbean a few years ago I can’t snorkel in daylight 🙂
    memographer recently posted..Stranger Portraits: Behind the Artist’s Shoulder

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Yikes with the Caribbean, sounds like a traumatic story! For me it really goes a bit beyond “not liking” the dark, as I tried my best to explain here. It’s really a clinical anxiety that runs through all facets of my life. But I agree, nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Heather
    July 23 2013

    I read you series on becoming a Divemaster (awesome btw) and I was wondering if everything was all sunshine and roses! I’m actually really glad to know that there will be crappy days and good days, and if I have a crappy one it’s not because I’m a failure but because it seriously happens to *everybody*. Congratulations for standing up to your fear, and even more for drawing the line where *you* want to. Way to go!
    Heather recently posted..A Little Bit Zombie in Cochrane, Alberta

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Thanks Heather! Yup, there were highs and lows just as with any facet of life. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to present too rosy a picture, methinks 🙂

  • Ron Frank
    July 23 2013

    We were night diving and the AOW class diving in the same location almost lost two divers who freaked out, and sank to the bottom. They crouched in the silt on the bottom at 75′, paralyzed, running out of air. They were not suppose to go deeper than 30 feet.

    Fortunately their instructor Louise found them and brought them to the surface doing an air share with both as they were almost OOA when she located them. We ran into Louise looking for the couple at 40′ but we were going up, and she could not explain quickly what had happened when UW. The incident freaked her out, and Louise did not dive or teach for six months. The couple involved quit diving all together which is a shame.

    Night dives can be very dangerous as many people have various issues with the dark, or confined spaces which night can trigger. Scuba is already a sport that can make folks feel confined, trapped, or claustrophobic even in the daylight. IMO night dives should not be required in any training.

    Personally, I LOVE night dives, but more incidents happen at night when the scary monsters come out! I have many scuba stories and the lions share occurred at night when inexperience can become dangerous. As night dives are maybe 5% of my total dives they definitely result in more problems. We do not breath well UW, and things can and do happen.

    Remember, an emergency ascent beats the heck out of drowning. There is no shame in aborting a dive for any reason. I am very Glad you survived your training.

    • Alex
      July 23 2013

      Sounds like you’ve had some experience with this, Ron. I can imagine how the instructor would feel — that would be very traumatizing as an instructor. Interesting to hear your perspective, thank you for sharing.

  • Wow! I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to be in the ocean at night. Good for you for sticking with it. My mom always says “no one can take away your degree once you have it,” so remember that! You earned it!
    Kaitie @ The Smiling Sightseer recently posted..Travel To-Do List: Elephant Nature Park

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      That is such an awesome attitude Kaitie. I love it! However I guess technically PADI can take your status away if you violate standards 😛

  • John Bourke
    July 24 2013

    Alex,You’re a GEM.Anxiety is an unbearable feeling,and after living many years w/anxiety/depression.I try to fight it with a sense of humor; which is often mis-understood by many.I wear it on my cuff,and have found opportunities to help many others as a result.Fact that you,such an accomplished young lady have made your”followers” aware of some anxiety issues,is a good thing,and evidence of your humility,which is really the greatest quality a person can have.you are a true treasure,destined for greatness.Good luck along the way;and ALWAYS trust YOUR judgments.

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thanks for the support John and good luck with your own battle, sounds like humor is a good tool!

  • Diane
    July 25 2013

    Part of the reason I always come back to your blog, Alex, is because it’s real. Your voice always comes through and unlike other blogs where everything is always perfect, you let the chinks in your armor come to life through your writing. So I salute you for your courage and grace to publicly talk about something that many people would shy away from. I can relate to you and I’m sure others have the same sentiments, so bravo!
    Diane recently posted..The strange noises French people make

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thank you Diane. I really appreciate that so much. I always want to be genuine in my writing — I don’t want to sell any false promises about this life I’m leading 🙂 Thanks for coming back!

  • Alex, I just wanted to say that I thought this post demonstrated incredible bravery, not just because of what you faced and went through, but because of the courage it took to share your personal struggle so candidly. You are absolutely right that anxiety disorders and other similar afflictions are nothing to be ashamed of, but unfortunately in our culture, there is generally a belief that those of us who suffer from them are weak-willed or lacking in some way. Sharing your story must not have been easy, but you did so with real grace and dignity and I think you will offer many others comfort as a result.

    I’ve never tried night diving, but I am thinking it is something I should try at some point (probably during our AOW certification). I’m not so worried for myself as I’ve no real fear of confined spaces or darkness, but Tony is not the most comfortable in the water at the best of times (if visibility is very low, he can panic), so I think a night dive would be a real challenge for him. Truthfully, if we never do a night dive, I think I’d be ok with it, but I suppose the only way to know if we like them or hate them is to try and see!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..The Ultimate Taiwan Bubble Tea Challenge

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      Thank you Steph, I really appreciate it. A night dive is definitely one of the typical steps in the Advanced Course. My only advice would be that you both be brutally honest with your instructor when the time comes about your comfort levels. They will be compassionate I hope but also will know to keep those who are more jittery closer, which will be a better experience for everyone. Good luck!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    July 26 2013

    I, too, have had extreme anxiety disorder since I was a small child, and it’s often triggered by being in very dark places. Thus, it was a miracle I could ever get over that fear to dive in the daylight, let alone at night… (I have done two night dives ever, and I am fine if I never complete a third.)
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Photo Friday: Charleston, South Carolina

    • Alex
      July 26 2013

      I didn’t know that Kristin. Next time we’re together we’ll have to bond over this (in a very well lit location, of course.)

  • Steven
    July 29 2013

    I enjoyed reading your post on diving in the Gilis. I earned my OW and AOW on Gili Trawongon in 2006. What a wonderful place to dive! I’ve only done one night dive and it was there, to earn my AOW Cert. Fabulous, really. Just hop off of the chimodo, walk across the beach and you are in some of the most beautiful water on the planet. I also saw a (scary) mantis shrimp on my dive. They are really freaky animals! Are those B&W’s infrared photos? Congrats!!

    • Alex
      July 31 2013

      Nope, those are just daytime photos edited into black and white… they seemed fitting for this post though 🙂

  • jadedintellect
    August 1 2013

    Extremely cool experience!! Great pictures!!And kudos for talking about your anxiety, I experience it as well.
    jadedintellect recently posted..Eating Little Ol’ Lassie For Lunch

    • Alex
      August 3 2013

      I appreciate the support… thank you!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    August 2 2013

    I can really relate to your fear of darkness. I am the same. I can’t turn out the lights before I go to bed for example, because I can’t bear the thought of walking to my bed in the dark. I always have to use the light on my bed stand to switch out the lights, once I am tucked away. I am 32 years old, so I should know better really. So don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, I think a lot of people have that fear. You have done really well for facing your fear and should be very proud of yourself.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: How not to haggle at Otavalo Market

    • Alex
      August 3 2013

      I’ve actually done a bit of research (read: Googling) on the subject and it really is amazing how many adults share that fear of the dark. It really is amazing how comforting it is to know you aren’t alone in something.

  • aaron
    May 10 2014

    Firstly, great series.

    On the topic of anxiety, the first time I tried diving I had to keep coming up. I couldn’t comprehend the whole breathing under water thing. I completely freaked out. Thanks to a very very patient teacher I overcame my difficulties and have since gone on to keep diving in many different countries. I surprised myself by doing something I was really scared of and if I can do it (I’m a wimp) anyone can.

    • Alex
      May 11 2014

      I’m so glad you found a fabulous instructor, Aaron. That makes this divemaster happy to hear! Happy diving, wherever you’re going next in the world 🙂

  • Sarah A
    December 5 2014

    Thanks Alex for being so real and open. I’ve read many other travel blogs and I have to say, you’re the one I really connected to. You are sooo brave for disclosing your personal struggles to the world, so I’d like to commend you for it! I too struggle with the bouts of anxiety and depression that you mentioned but I’m starting to own it and not be as ashamed. There is such a taboo against mental disorders. But anyways, here’s to owning our what makes us, us!

    Cheers xx

    • Alex
      December 10 2014

      Sarah, that means a lot to me! Thank you so much for saying so. I couldn’t agree with you more and am happy to do my part to start breaking down taboos x

  • I know this post is two years old, but I just had to write and say that I super-appreciate your honesty here.

    I have some mild anxiety problems which travelling for the last 9 months has helped alleviate. Now one of my friends is asking me if I believe that she could go on similar trip to mine with her own set of anxiety issues and I’ve been linking her your site and articles like this one.

    Her response was literally:

    “oh wow! omg i had no idea I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t all like, “ok whoo! Let’s go now!” hahaha this is so awesome!!!”

    So thanks for helping us adventurous-spirited anxious-minded girls out in the world. 🙂
    Danni @Two Peas in a Pack recently posted..Hungry in Hanoi- Three Days in the Capital.

    • Alex
      March 20 2015

      That’s exactly why I write posts like this, Danni 🙂 So thank you for reading them and sharing them! I think overall travel has had an extremely positive effect on my anxiety. It didn’t cure me, clearly — but it teaches you coping methods that can be applied to all areas of your life, at least I have found.

  • kayla fitzgerald
    September 17 2015

    I’m so grateful for you blogs and being able to read another female’s perspective on becoming a divemaster and certain fears to overcome. I’m currently working on my divemaster in Queensland, Australia and looking to move onto Southeast Asia to become an instructor. Any advice on good companies?

    • Alex
      September 24 2015

      Hey Kayla! I know how you feel — I wrote this series because it’s exactly what I was looking for when I was researching my own DMT! There are a few IDC programs in Gili Trawangan that are popular though I never looked into any of them so it’s hard to give a recommendation. I’d definitely give two thumbs up to the island overall, though!

  • Frank
    December 23 2015

    Thanks for sharing, Alex.

    I too have phobias that I’ve had since I was a child. One of them is of deep water (being in water over my head, or walking over it on a bridge). This is one of the reasons I became a certified Open Water diver decades ago: to face my fear. I haven’t been diving in years though. I plan on getting back into it this 2016. I will have to face my fear again, especially during the first few dives or so. Wish me luck. And Merry Christmas Eve Eve! 🙂

    Sincerely,
    Frank

    • Alex
      December 26 2015

      I started diving for the same reason! Well, it was one of them. I wish you luck indeed! Hope you had a lovely Christmas and your plans to get back into diving are underway soon 🙂

  • Cate
    March 18 2016

    I went diving in Mexico last year, my first ever dive. I had done classes in the pool and watched the dvds, so I assumed I was ready to give it a real try. More than freaked out, I took the leap into the water. I was doing okay, still holding my mothers hand and breathing a little fast. I, too, struggle with anxiety, so this was a big step for me. A little problam can seem out of control. Unfortunately, water kept getting in my mask, and I never totally learned how to solve that problem. This led to a major panic attack and me swiming to the surface as fast as I could and sitting on the boat in silence with an uncomfortable looking boat driver. I’m still scared to go diving again, but your story may have given me the tiniest bit of courage!

    • Alex
      March 21 2016

      I’m sorry to hear that, Cate! Maybe you’d feel more comfortable trying a shore dive next time? Wishing you the best of luck!

  • Scott
    April 6 2016

    I hate night dives as well Alex. I remember doing my first ever night dive in Egypt where my regular buddy has to quit the dive right at the start because of ear problems. So I decided to join another buddy pair who I didnt know. I hated it!

    I just don’t like the dark, eerie atmosphere, only being able to see what your torch shows you, and how alone you can feel. Needless to say the only other night dive I have done was on the Thistlegorm in Egypt which was quite unique as not many people get to do that at night.

    I know it’s three years too late, but I’m sending you a big reassuring hug 🙂

    • Alex
      April 6 2016

      Much appreciated! Night dives are just not for me. I’ve become a confident enough diver and traveler to fully accept that 🙂

  • Devanshi
    December 1 2016

    I recently signed up for OW course but I have claustrophobia and anxiety disorder! I finished confined water skills but going out in ocean terrifies me! Just thinking about the depth and what if I get separated from the rest of the divers worried me and doesn’t let me go into deeper waters. I tend to think more about the scary parts rather than enjoying the beauty of water and the organisms. I am a marine biologist and it’s best if I learn diving but my fears are keeping me away from it!

    • Alex
      December 5 2016

      Hey Devanshi, I’m sorry to hear that you are so anxious about completing your course! Have you spoken to your instructor about your concerns? I think being honest and communicating well are KEY to succeeding in situations like this. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

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