Insight from an Adventure Junkie- Part 4: Sink or Swim….or Panic??

nurse shark

I love the ocean.

Snorkling, swimming, floating on a raft, or sitting on the beach with a drink garnished by a fruit-filled umbrella…

But the idea of scuba diving in the murky depths below was not as appealing. 

This was primarily because I have a strong aversion to small spaces.  Elevators, heavy crowds, and aggressive blankets that your legs can tangle with in the wee hours of the night…Not a fan!  I have trouble breathing deeply in these situations.

One might question why a space as expansive as a vast ocean would cause me to associate to a ‘small space’.   I imagine it has to do with the inability to have full control over the simple action of breathing.

But after a bit of ribbing from my friends I decided to give scuba diving a try.

Between aqua aerobics and the resort pool bar, the group of us must have looked mildly silly sitting on the bottom of the pool waving at each other.  But after a short while…Voila!  I was “certified” to dive. More like certifiable…but ok. 

Mentally replaying the instructions over and over on how to equalize my ears and check the gages, I collected my tank and headed to the boat.

I listened and we headed down, down, down….

Surreal.  Beautiful.   Peaceful.  One with the colors and species I never knew existed.  Pure silence.  The kind that reaches into your soul so deeply it even quiets the inner judgments and questions.  Perfection.

And then it happened….

The guide drew everyone together motioning to stop extraneous movement.  We immediately saw why.  A 7 foot shark.

Panic.  Intense, deep, irrational, visceral…panic.

I stopped breathing, frantically searched for the fastest way to the boat above.  I tried to bolt.  All in seconds with zero mental capacity.  100% instinctual self preservation. 

Then the guide put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes- wordlessly emanating a sedative energy.  I calmed.  And followed his gaze back to the enormous creature.  We all took in the never-ending length and girth, the glint of the teeth, and surprisingly the shark’s complete lack of interest in us.

Later I learned the creature was a large nurse shark…enjoying a diet mostly of sea snakes, fish, and mollusks over humans.  (frankly this would have been important sign language to learn)

I also learned:

You can never be fully prepared for what life sends your way so you might as well travel in the direction of your dreams as consistently as possible.

You will be well served to have a calming, experienced ‘guide’…someone who can help you navigate lessons and adventures because they’ve been there before.

Panic is simply fear on steroids.  And is often based on an illusion.  Before allowing fear to control you, learn ways to master it. 

I am thrilled that I overcame the initial concerns as well as the intense panic and experienced a beautiful moment.

What was my next adventure?  Flying? Swimming? Diving? No…

…it was the journey of caring for the life of another.


Any comments and questions?  Contact me at or visit the website at



About FindYourFire

Writer, speaker, and life coach Heather O'Neill is president of Progressive Image and creator of the Fire in Five program...helping people reconnect and find the joy in their lives.
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