Heart, Mind, & Body

Anxiety Safe Place: Angel from Below

A few weeks ago I shared my memory of San Juan Island that I go to when I need to relax. It’s an anxiety coping strategy that my counselor recommended. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep, so I decided to look for a new memory to enjoy. I thought of a good one- a unique and colorful memory. I enjoyed pulling all the details out of my mind one by one and gradually assembling them into order. It takes time to fully recover an old memory, but I think I dredged up most of the pieces with a little help from my dive log. It served me well as a lovely safe place to relax my mind and calm my breathing. I would love to share it with you as well.

Saba, Netherlands Antilles, The Needle Dive 

I clutched the regulator to my face and stuck a flippered foot out into open air. For a brief moment I hung suspended until my heavy gear yanked me down, plunging me into the ocean. The cool water shocked my whole system, and the thrill of the unknown sent my heartrate up. I sank downwards into a blue world. It enveloped me like a cocoon, a hug I couldn’t escape. My movements felt sluggish like syrup, but that was okay since the purpose of the dive was leisurely surveillance.

Our dive revolved around a pinnacle that descended to the ocean floor. A myriad of colors danced before my eyes. There was so much to take in, so much life to witness. Everywhere fish were feeding or resting, playing tag or guarding their hideout. Squirrel fish with giant black eyes sulked under dark crevices. Tiny red shrimp skuttled back and forth waving angry antennas at us. A spotted eel poked his snout out of a hole. He gaped at us with an open mouth and lazy eyes. Fish zipped around in all directions. There was a lot of traffic in this city!

There were few noises, though. I had left behind the world that often hurt my ears with its harsh sounds to enter a softer, more peaceful realm. The dominant sound was the constant KEER, KUR, KEER, KUR as I sucked in oxygen. It was my lifeline and a loud reminder that I was a stranger in this land. I heard bubbles rush out as I exhaled. They wiggled and bent, morphing shapes as they fought their way to the surface. All the while, the fish madly chewed away at the coral, producing a click-click-click. It came from all directions. Such hungry fish!

We slowly swam in a downward spiral, mesmerized by the flashy show. I was weightless here. I had perfected my buoyancy- I could hang motionless upside down, and it felt right side up! I pulled my depth gage close to my face and read 110 feet. I was shocked! It was still so bright, and the color had not diminished at all! I didn’t feel any deeper than I did at 30 feet. Amazing! Our dive master, Kat, signaled that it was time to ascend.

Our deep dive required a rest stop on the way back up to let the nitrogen slowly filter out of our system. We didn’t want to get the bends! We took our stop right above the pinnacle. We watched a seven foot long reef shark cruise along underneath us while we paused for a few minutes.

All I could see was blue— endless, fathomless blue that went so far it began to look flat. All of a sudden a sharp metallic sound jolted my eardrums. I spun in a slow circle to search for its origin. I saw a knife in Kat’s hand. She banged it against her air tank three more times and then wildly gestured down. I even heard her screaming!

A shadow emerged from the depths. Dark wings took form as a beast soared towards us. A manta ray. It rapidly increased in size as it neared us, and our eyes grew wide in amazement. The other dive master swam down near it for perspective. He spreads his arms and was dwarfed by the behemoth. We all slowly let out our breaths as it glided away. Wow. Wow. Wow. An angel from below.

When we surfaced, everyone was shouting and cheering! Kat had never seen a manta ray before, and this one had been 16 to 18 feet in wingspan. We realized what a big deal this was as we watched them freak out and radio the other dive boats. What a noisy place it was topside! There was so much air to fall in to, so many reactions to my actions. I wobbled dangerously across the boat with my flipper feet and then plopped my air tank down with a bonk into its holder. I freely sucked fresh, crisp air into my lungs. It felt GOOD. I was thankful to be safely back on the boat, but thrilled that I went face to face with a majestic creature of the deep. 

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