Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Over My Head

I took my own shake-up advice last week while on vacation in Mexico. I confronted my fear, pushed beyond my comfort zone, and emerged feeling proud, powerful…and nauseous. Don’t ask me what I was thinking, but I arranged a snorkeling outing for my extended family (18 people) and the family friends we were traveling with (10 more people).

I’m afraid of boats, and of drowning. I’m claustrophobic. And I’m a lousy swimmer (I do the breaststroke without getting my ears wet). These are not the qualities of a successful snorkeler. But I’d be damned if I was going to miss out on a family event—particularly one I’d planned myself.

Fortunately, I got on the same boat as my brother-in-law Gary, who is an experienced scuba diver. As we headed toward the reef, he helped me adjust my mask and snorkel. When I plopped over the side into the "refreshing" water, he grabbed my hand. And when I started freaking out (almost immediately), he pulled me along until I got a grip on myself.

Gary kept checking in with me underwater, giving me the OK sign and waiting for my response. I kept OK-ing back, but in truth, I was having a massive heart attack. I didn’t want to put my face in the water…pretty much a requisite if you’re snorkeling and want to actually see something. I was afraid I’d spit out the snorkel and choke on salt water. When the waves kicked in, I thought I would die.

Still, I kept on going—hating every minute of it, but determined not to give up. I kept tabs on the guide, who was pulling a boogie board behind him in case someone got tired or totally lost it. I swam next to my two brothers-in-law and my two nephews, ages 7 and 8, neither of who were having palpitations. My son William was somewhere in the water, too, and I didn’t want to mortify him by crying and begging for the boat to rescue me.

I had to force myself to put my face in and see the sea turtles. They were gorgeous. So was the school of fish that swam in front of me. Sadly, I missed the barracuda, because by then, I’d had it. I couldn’t get to the boat fast enough.

But the minute my ordeal ended, I felt very proud of myself. My family couldn’t believe that I’d tried it. It was so inconceivable, in fact, my husband Julian didn’t even realize I’d gone out. If he had, he would have held my hand. (Or so he says.) The best part of the whole thing was that I didn’t have to succeed in order to feel great. I just had to try.

If you’ve done something brave lately, do tell. I’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

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