Sitting on the edge of the boat, I started to break out in a cold sweat. Our safari guide from Diversity Scuba had just spotted a pod of dolphins coming our way and everyone couldn't wait to get into the water - except me.
As someone who has had multiple bad experiences in the ocean growing up, I had developed an irrational fear over the years for water that wasn't clear or that had no bottom. Yet, here I was in the middle of the Indian Ocean on a mega fauna safari. What the hell had I gotten myself into?
Confronting my fears in the middle of the ocean
Just as the crippling fear started to settle in, and before I overthink the situation anymore - I jumped. Panic struck as it dawned on me that I had made my worst nightmare a reality.
I was floating around in the Indian Ocean without any land in sight with god only knows what swimming beneath me.
Suddenly, somebody shouted: "The dolphins are over here!" and I immediately snapped out of my spiralling doom. I couldn't let my fears get in the way of me seeing my favourite marine animal in real life. "I'll continue to freak out about my stupidity after I've seen the dolphins," I told myself.
I got so caught up in my excitement that my fears melted away. There were way more important things to focus on, like tracking the various pods of dolphins, trying to find the giant manta ray and counting the tropical fish swimming beneath me.
Anxiety you can take a number.
Snorkelling with Whale Sharks - Yay?
After gracefully falling head first back into the boat and earning another nomination for the klutz award, we made our way towards the final stop. It was almost time to snorkel with whale sharks!
But anxiety took that number and called bullshit. The more I thought about swimming so close to such large creatures the more frenzied the butterflies in my stomach became. What if the whale shark accidentally swallows me? What if the shark starts moving towards me and I can't swim away fast enough and its giant tail hits me into the next universe?
Even though I knew the tour guides wouldn't let us get that close to the animals because of strict ethical guidelines, I struggled to maintain my grip on rationality.
"The tide is too high guys. I'm sorry, but the water is too deep. We won't be able to see the whale sharks today." The tour guide announced when we finally arrived at the spot famed for its whale shark population.
Inside, a part of me let out a sigh of relief, but the disappointment was still there. I had been doing so well facing my fears on this trip. I wanted to get into the water with the sharks just to stick to the part of me that just wanted to be back on dry land, rolling in the dirt,telling it how much I loved it and would never forsake it again.
Becoming a walking talking cliche and owning it
Going into this activity, I knew that I would be facing a big fear of mine. But I had no idea that this decision would continue to have ripple effects in my life and travels to this day. Before my solo trip to Zimbabwe's New Years Festival, or any solo trip for that matter, negative irrational thoughts always spring up.
But these days, they have to work twice as hard to maintain their grip to send me into a spiral.
I swam in the middle of the ocean with mothertrucking dolphins, a giant stingray and lord only knows what else! I'm more confident than ever before that I can handle the social anxiety of pitching up in a new place completely alone and count on myself to still have a rad time.
This tiny little conquest helped me discover what happens when I get out of my comfort zone. It's going to be the driving force behind me getting my PADI Open Water in October. It's what I'm going to tap into to push past the anxiety of being underwater in the middle of the ocean. Because facing this fear is going to be all worth it when I find myself face-to-face with a shark chilling out in its natural environment and I don't lose control over my bowel movements
Have any travel experiences helped you conquer a fear?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, I'm Lauren! I'm passionate about inspiring young South Africans to travel for less and sharing my experiences and how to navigate the endless visa paperwork along the way. When I'm not busy preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, I'm having a travel fail somewhere and geeking out in countries all over the world. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat!