Facing My Fears at the Great Barrier Reef

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If there is one thing I am afraid of, it is swimming in the ocean. I love the ocean, but the idea of something lurking beneath me in an environment where I have zero control over what could happen is pretty terrifying.  My husband, Derek, is a major adventure seeker and has wanted to go scuba diving together ever since we met 12 years ago. He is a certified diver and has always been convinced that I would love to be submerged with a limited amount of oxygen in the ocean with sharks swimming around me. We have been on countless adventures together, and I know that is one of the reasons why our relationship is so strong.

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Recently, I took a trip to Sydney, Australia with a study abroad program through the University of Nevada, Reno. I have been on a quest this year to conquer as many of my fears as possible and going on the trip itself along with traveling alone were some of those fears. When my classes ended, Derek met me in Sydney to spend a week-long vacation together in Australia. I was in charge of planning our week together, so I arranged for us to fly to Cairns where we could scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.  Before I knew it we were suited up with our gear and (before I had a chance to back out), we were jumping off of the back of the boat into the open ocean. Everything about it felt so wrong to me, especially breathing underwater. I experienced my first panic attack about two feet below the surface of the water, which looking back now is maybe a little funny but at the time I was certain that I was dying. There are no words to describe the overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety that I felt trying to hold it together under the water that day. I wanted to quit, to give up, and more so than I have ever wanted to quit anything because of the panic. Somehow, eventually, I persevered through my anxiety, pulled myself down the rope deeper into the water, and had the most unreal, beautiful, and terrifying experience that I have ever had.

“Maybe your will is strong enough to clear emotional hurdles without flinching; but odds are, you’re at least a little familiar with that nagging inner voice that says, “Go back. It’s too hard. It’s not worth it.” – Lori Deschene

It was so worth it! It was never comfortable for me, not for one second, but I am so happy that I didn’t give up and I am immensely grateful for having the opportunity to even have this experience.  We swam amongst some of the most picturesque coral reefs, saw fish and sea life that I have never even seen before, and yes, there were sharks. The one thing that sticks out to me is that there were colors that I have never even seen before. It was just so unexpected because I feel like I have seen them all and then we see these coral reefs that look like nothing I could compare them to, the whole place looked photoshopped, and I would have never experienced any of that if I had played it safe.

I had all of the power to avoid the whole scuba diving option. I wouldn’t have had to worry about all of the “what-if” scenarios, would have avoided a panic attack, and would have been comfortable doing something else where I knew I was safe. “What’s comfortable might feel safe, but I’ve found that, when I know change is needed, it’s a bigger risk to stay put than it is to make a change.” I had faced so many fears up until this point, and I didn’t want to look back and always regret not taking the chance. Every new experience, especially involving fear, creates feelings of discomfort. It is pushing through the discomfort that brings real change.

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This one event had such a profound impact on my personal development journey. It wasn’t about scuba diving, or the ocean; it was about being afraid of something and going out of my way to overcome it. That accomplishment makes you stronger and the more you put yourself in those situations, you build character and become resilient. Great stories almost always come from experiences when you faced your fears, not when you played it safe. Do something today that scares you. Make the phone call, sign up for the class, jump out of the plane, whatever it is…You can do it!

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