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.
For once I was grateful for the rain that the 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.
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.
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.
Last but not least of in divemaster series I’ll be telling you all about the hazing ritual every DMT goes through to celebrate completing the course. Readers, please contact me if you are looking for a recommendation on where to do your DMT in Gili Trawangan.
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.