On being terrified, and utterly alone…

Today we went diving, at apparently one of the best dive sites in the world, a place called Batu Bolong, just off the shore of Komodo Island. Without a doubt, the waters around Komodo are amazing – the water is crystal clear, the sands pristine white, and the visibility unbelievable. The fish and coral are simply breathtaking, a riot of colors underwater, a diorama that doesn’t stop moving for an instant…

On the way to the dive site, a dolphin rode the bow waves off the ship, quite literally escorting us to Komodo.

But then here comes the nasty bits about Komodo – the killer currents! Its like rivers of water, flowing in torrents around small islets, rocks in the sea, and the multitude of islands… they flow with violence, bringing up corals and unsuspecting fish, and other debris… into this madness, we were asked to dive!

In fact, it was right at the junction of two major currents, slightly sheltered by the Batu Bolong. Jumping in, I had Mior and Apai as my buddies. The shock of jumping into ice cold water in the middle of the afternoon is simply numbing. I lose sensation in my limbs, and instantly my mask fogs up. The currents begin to drag me away, and with the divemaster telling me to descend, I make the fall into hell…

I quickly drop to ten meters, and grab onto a rock. The rest of the group have started going lower into the depths. I can feel my breaths, it becomes shallower and shallower with each gasps. By this time, the currents have dragged me to about twenty meters.

I feel myself struggling for air, and the dive computer starts screaming at me to breathe right. I feel an overwhelming fear enveloping me, and panic starts to edge into my consciousness. My hands tear at the regulator supplying precious air to me. I want to take deep breathes of sweet air at the surface. Cold clammy hands of panic grip my chest, and I struggle to breathe. I see a vision of myself at the surface, taking deep gulps of air. The worse thing of all, I very very nearly tear to the surface…

From a depth of nearly 24 meters, there was no way I would have survived the mad dash up to the surface. I feel utterly terrified. I look around madly for a pair of pink fins and the calm eyes of Boo. My brains scream at me, don’t do this, you have to calm down, calm down and breathe… and yet my body disobeys – short gasps of air from the regulator, my vision begins to swim, and all this while the dive computer is telling me to breathe! Breathe!!

I cannot rationalize why on earth something like this would happen to me. Even as I write this, I break out in cold clammy sweat and my heartrate is soaring.

I have never in my life lost control like this. I have never felt the raw, uncontrolled fear fuelled by panic take over the rational side of my brains. I told myself, over and over like a mantra, you won’t make it… let your brains take over… your heart cannot do the thinking… brains can’t panic, emotions can… over and over I say this, and at the same time, I try to force the automated training to take over… slowly my left hand leaves the regulator, to adjust the trim on the BC. I level off at about 27 meters, after being swept off by the mad currents.

My right hand lets go of the rocks, which I imagine to be gripping with white knuckles… checking air pressure, depth, decompression time, heading and all the rest… I force myself to think, to plan a way to go up and not panic… in all this time, my breathing is short and ragged, and I’m uncoordinated…

I’m still looking for Boo at this point, in some primitive part of my brains, I’m looking for my buddy… I suddenly realize that the panic attack was brought about by the feeling that I’m alone, and I’ve never dived well without Boo. This particularly difficult dive, I’m practically all alone… I have no one to look to for reassurance that all is well… perhaps its worse because I’m homesick…

One of the divemasters then noticed that I was having difficulties, and came out to see me… he actually had to grab me and look me in the eye, and give me the OK signal. At that point, about 12 minutes into the dive, and the big fish were beginning to come out. I felt like a small kid, hanging onto the divemaster’s hand all the way throughout the dive.

In all honesty, I don’t think I would have made it without the divemaster’s help. The seascape was amazing, but I could not completely shake off the cold, clammy feeling I had earlier. As we came up for air at the 50th minute of the dive, I feel like I cannot continue the next dive. My head is splitting because I’ve been breathing in contaminated air as I hyperventilate.

We come up onto the boat for lunch, and stop at a place where manta rays regularly congregate. The sun is shining bright, and viz is good – I can see right down to the sand 40 meters away. Suddenly the divemaster spots a school about 50 meters away… I gamely suit up, grab my mask and fins and dive in to snorkel with them. The experience is exhilarating, to be swimming with a school of rays about 4 meters wide… they make loops and whirls around me, and they playfully swim with me, close enough for me to brush their elegant ‘wings’ with my bare fingers. I laugh and giggle madly in the water, and all fears evaporate into the perfectly blue sunny skies.

The second dive of the day was much better, with schools of giant fish swimming over the reefs, and I have time to spot some interesting macro critters. The reef came alive in glorious Technicolor, and everytime cold clammy fingers threaten to start another panic attack, I bring into my mind the memory of swimming with the manta rays, and how Boo would be so disappointed if I didn’t complete the second dive with the dolphins…

Missing you Boo, and your calming eyes… you have no idea how you are a rock on which my sanity rests – Jasmine.
boatbow.jpg komodotip.jpg giantstride.jpg manta.jpeg
ps – my sayang, today my homily is dedicated to one other person who might get mentioned again on this blog… I’m missing you too, and just as badly… tomorrow we will go and see the great komodos in their lair, and wish me luck – I’m planning to drop ‘smelly man’ as an offering 😛

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