You’ve felt it. The pressure, the burden, the stress of work, family, and life weighing you down. But you took action. You’re a go-getter! You searched for ways to de-stress and take care of yourself before life’s demands overwhelmed you. And you found it – that hobby that helps you relax and mitigate burnout, which was suggested to you from a previous blog, ahem. Congratulations! You’re well on your way to protecting yourself from being the next resident of a non-furnished, white room with fully padded walls. But self-care comes with a warning: Being too relaxed can be dangerous.
It was 9:00 in the evening. We were about twenty miles offshore on the forty-five-foot charter vessel weighed down by air tanks, weight belts, and other gear. The absence of clouds revealed more stars than were thought humanly possible. We cruised across the glassy water effortless like a figure skater on a newly resurfaced ice rink. There was no wind, no waves, and little light. It was the perfect environment to relax and enjoy the present. But there was no time to sit still. Duty called.
Once we anchored, I donned my SCUBA gear, walked to the edge of the boat and jumped off. The water was warm and calm. I looked down underneath the surface and saw only darkness. Nothing was visible. I could not see the ocean floor, my fins, or even my legs, just the black abyss which forces many to fear diving at night. Once my dive buddy entered the water, we turned on our dive lights, swam to the front of the boat, and followed the anchor down to the ocean floor. Destination: twenty-five feet to the coral reef below.
The Black Abyss
Diving was a hobby of mine, an immediate relaxation relief to the stress of daily life. I enjoyed it so much I pursued making it a career. But before that could happen, I had to earn that coveted instructor license and accrue more “bottom time.” That meant more training, more challenges, and probably more stress. My buddy and I descended quickly and reached the ocean floor within sixty seconds. Once settled, we shined our lights up and down, to the left and the right searching for anything exciting to see. Night diving brought out unique nocturnal creatures and activities few get to experience during the day. One of which was to hold the dive light near a piece of coral. The luminescence of the light attracted small creatures which the coral consumed. “Feeding the coral,” was a favorite pastime for any night dive. But this night brought little activity. After several minutes of searching, my buddy and I became discouraged at the scarcity of wildlife. Up to this point, we had only seen the same fish and other animals we usually see during the day. But just before we lost hope, we remembered a technique that may attract more abundance of critters.
Some animals are attracted to light. But many, especially nocturnal creatures, are deterred by any light. Therefore, turning off your dive lights for brief periods of time, draw out the animals once discouraged by brightness. But there’s a catch. When the lights are out, you cannot see anything. Nothing is visible, not fish, not your hand, and certainly not your dive buddy. The closest thing is being on a cave tour when the guide turns out all the light to help participants appreciate the concept of total darkness. It’s a daunting moment when you couple the experience of complete blindness with the understanding there is twenty-five feet of ocean between you and the surface.
What Was That?
To prepare, my buddy and I decided to kneel on our knees back-to-back and remain stationary while our lights were out. After a few minutes, we would turn our lights back on and hopefully see an underwater party of new creatures. We each gave the “ok” sign, turned off our lights, and waited. After only a few seconds, I sensed movement. The wake of a small fish was just to my left, I thought. Something just kicked up the sand in front of me, I deduced. The sensations of little movements were captivating. Then suddenly my head moved uncontrollably from right to the left, like a lateral underwater whiplash. “That was the wake of a huge fish,” I thought. “I wonder what it was? Maybe it was best I didn’t know.”
“This is a great moment,” I thought. Hanging out underwater surrounded by fish, friends, and a bevy of other wildlife. It was like being in a billion-gallon waterbed. But a few short minutes later I had another sensation. I felt like I was flying through the water. I had the feeling that I was a fish. I had no cares, no worries, just aquatic peace. My hobby had brought me to complete relaxation. I was in that proverbial “zone.” The feeling seemed to persist for almost half an hour when I suddenly realized something shocking. I was asleep!
A Huge Error
I was not a fish. I was not flying. I had fallen asleep, underwater! I could have drowned! Once I realized my horrible error, I immediately turned my light on and checked my watch. “Twenty minutes!” I thought. “I was asleep for twenty minutes!” “How much air do I have left?” I wondered. A quick checked assuaged my fear. I had plenty of air left. “That’s a relief,” I said to myself. As the anxiety of the event started to dissipate, a more important question came to mind, “Where in the heck is my dive buddy?” “How could he let me fall asleep?” I thought in utter disgust.
Grabbing my light, I turned to my left and shined the lantern where I thought my dive buddy should be. And there he was. His dive lantern was off, and he was almost entirely still. His only movement was his torso which raised every few seconds then sank back down while bubbles streamed out of his regulator. He was asleep too.
I took my hand and slapped my buddy over the head. His sequence of awakening mimicked mine. Light on – check. Watch – check. Pressure gauge – check. Then he gave me this look of bewilderment as if to say, what just happened? We motioned to each other to surface. This dive was over. Once on the surface, we discussed the turn of events and laughed. In our defense, it was our third dive of the day. We were tired and probably shouldn’t have made the dive. But it did give us some much-needed relaxation to our stressful training.
Diving was an essential part of my self-care. In your own life, you too are probably looking for ways to escape the stressors of work or home. Taking time to refuel and relax are important for preventing burnout, but you need to be intentional. Devote scheduled time for your hobbies. But be warned: If diving is one of your self-care hobbies, make sure it assists your moments of relaxation and does not make them permanent.