That Time I Had a Scuba Diving Panic Attack

Scuba diving is one of those things people from all over think about as a wonderful activity where you can breathe effortlessly under the sea as you glide along, hanging out with the beautiful fish and the sea turtles as you float along weightlessly and full of bliss. For a lot of people, that’s probably true. For me, on the other hand, it is a panic-inducing anxiety generator.

I just shouldn’t scuba dive.


This is not the face of somebody who is happy about her situation.

I’ve always been a little claustrophobic but it doesn’t really impact my life too much other than that occasional panic when I find myself in a particularly large and dense crowd, or perhaps when I get stuck in an elevator. Other than that, life pretty much marches on as normal. I’ve always enjoyed swimming and snorkeling and traveling to tropical destinations that have reefs, so scuba diving sounded like something I should probably try at some point. Of course, I emphasize the at some point in this case, and had always thought when I did it, I would take a class spanning several weeks where an instructor gently guided me through the process starting in a pool somewhere and eased me into it, eventually going on a guided ocean dive.


That’s not how it happened.

It was on a trip to Kauai in 2010 where I got my introduction to the world of scuba diving. My husband and I had been talking about going on a boat cruise up the Na Pali Coastline and upon doing a little research, we discovered there was one that also included a day of snorkeling off the coast of Ni’ihau. Since I had been obsessed with catching a glimpse of Ni’ihau for basically the entire trip, and I’m always up for a good day of snorkeling, I told him to go ahead and book it.


He loved it.

About ten minutes later, my husband comes back to me and proudly announces, “I booked our day out on the boat. Oh! And it was only $25 more to add an introductory scuba dive, so I signed us both up for it.”

That was the moment I began to panic.

“Wait…what? I’m going scuba diving?”

“Yeah, it’s an intro dive so you don’t need to be certified to do it. They will teach you!”

No. No. No. No. No! I thought I was going to ease into this. I’m going scuba diving…tomorrow? Aaaaaahhh! I’m not ready for this. Panic. Panic. Panic!

That is what was going through my head. I didn’t sleep much that night.


At least somebody had a good time.

I don’t think my husband expected me to panic so much over it. He had meant well and thought it would be a fun thing to do, and I know that he had been looking forward to scuba diving, so I attempted to be supportive and go along with it.

The next day when we arrived on our boat, we met the scuba instructor. It was just going to be the two of us since we were the only ones who had signed up, so we had all the attention of the instructor, which was good, I suppose.


My husband, jumping in the water like a champ.

We did our boat cruise up the Na Pali coast and after that was over, it was time to head over to Ni’ihau for our scuba dive. The instructor pulled the two of us aside and started going over all the basics of scuba diving, giving an equipment and safety demonstration, and telling us about all the things we would need to remember while down there. You know, things like don’t hold your breath or it could kill you, and make sure to come up slowly or you could get the bends and die.

I continued to panic, silently.


Look at him…cool as a cucumber.

It wasn’t until the boat had stopped and it was time to jump into the water that everything I was feeling came bubbling over. She gave me the tank, which was a really heavy backpack that strapped onto me. As soon as those heavy weights were strapped onto me and I was faced with jumping into the ocean while weighted down, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I sat there, paralyzed with fear, with tears streaming down my face. I tried to speak but it mostly came out as an incoherent mumbling.

I wasn’t jumping in that water.

When somebody said the words, “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to”, I ripped that equipment off so fast you could have missed it had you blinked. I started breathing again. The tears kept streaming down my face, however.

My husband of course went on the dive and came back happy, describing the fabulous time he had. I spent the entire time with a snorkel mask on, checking on him to make sure he wasn’t ascending too quickly and getting the bends.

All in all I wouldn’t say it was my finest moment.

Later, on a trip to Australia when we visited the Great Barrier Reef and I was offered yet another chance to go on an introductory scuba dive, my answer was a resounding NO.

It’s just not for everybody.


I may be attempting to smile, but there is nothing but fear in those eyes.

Have you ever been scuba diving? What was your experience?


8 replies »

  1. Yes I have and now I’m thinking I’ll blog about it! For a huge overthinker I really didn’t think enough about it; just jumped in flippers first! Once I got some… ahem… rookie mistakes it of the way I absolutely LOVED it. I’m a big fan of snorkelling too though – it’s underrated!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this. It’s so important to show other people that you can travel with anxiety issues and that you shouldn’t have to feel bad about yourself when you decided something is just too far out of your comfort zone. Sometimes people get the impression that only fearless daredevils and ultra extroverted individuals can be world travelers or in other cases bloggers end up sugar coating their experiences and leave out the less pleasant aspects of their trips. It’s refreshing to see such a raw and honest account of travel. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awww, thanks! I was terrified at the time, but looking back on the experience, I’m mostly amused with myself. Hopefully this does show that we travelers are just people with out own anxieties and fears, just like anybody else. I sometimes get told I’m soooo brave for traveling, but I’m not really…I’m just scared of different things.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Omigosh. You must have been terrified! However, you were strong enough to say “No!”

    Have I ever been diving or scuba diving? Nope!
    Have I ever had the opportunity? Lots of times! And the last one was in the Philippines last year. I was with a bunch of lovely bloggers on a FAM trip and they had organised a private boat for us to go diving and scuba-diving. Everybody went in except for myself. And why? I love water. but I have a fear of the open sea. They tried their best to convince me that it would be “alright,” but I know my own mind, it won’t be.

    I had a lovely time day-dreaming on the catamaran, and trying not to get too brown! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes you just have to go with what feels right to you. I’m sure scuba is amazing for those without the fear, but for me? Nope nope! You chose wisely…and who doesn’t like a leisurely afternoon on a catamaran? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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