Exhaling in the Face of Panic
I grew up with the nickname “Miss Priss.” If an activity involved strapping on special gear, sweating or otherwise messing up my hair — I happily cheered from the sidelines.
I claimed wine-drinking and sunset-watching as “hobbies.” So, when I met my husband and he conveyed his passion for “extreme sports” like sailing and scuba diving, I cringed.
Of course, given the choice between a relatively dry environment with cocktail provisions nearby or stuffing my body into a wetsuit, plastering a mask to my face, and plunging fifty feet underwater — Well, suffice to say, I quickly learned my way around a sailboat.
And while he explored his marine world, I’d idly await his tales from the safety of my beach lounger.
“It’s like being an astronaut down there. Peaceful and weightless, exploring places few will ever get to see,” he exclaimed upon his return one time, flashing a contagious smile.
I drained my Mai Tai, trying to lift the corners of my mouth, but shame enveloped me more thickly than my greasy sunblock layer.
Was I really going to let fear narrow my horizons?
And so it was that I found myself bobbing atop the Pacific Ocean several months later, after a bout of hyperventilation propelled me back to the surface. The dive instructor patiently counseled as I gagged on salt water.
“Never-ever take your regulator out of your mouth. Good. Relax. Excellent. Look at me. Now, I want you to hum ‘my-baby-does-the-hanky-panky’ as we gradually make our way…”
In no position to debate his sanity, I obliged. And, as this silly melody reverberated between my ears, something miraculous occurred: My lungs emptied at a controlled speed, and I refilled them generously in order to continue humming my new favorite tune.
And down I went.
Deeper and deeper.
Exhaling and inhaling in equal measure.
I ultimately earned my PADI certification, but knowing how to reign myself in from panic’s clutches would prove my greatest gain.
Fear shrinks lives daily — ruthlessly leaching possibility, destroying creativity, stalling momentum, and sowing endless doubt:
Have I exhausted all my good ideas?
The odds of success are as slim as being struck by lightning.
Surely I can express myself more succinctly.
Can I tweak my work — yet again — and capture the true essence THIS time?
Who cares what a flight attendant has to say?
Then I hear my dive master’s calming voice, and I fill my lungs to capacity.