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Underwater Wakulla- August 15, 2019

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Prelude to panic By GREGG STANTON

Prelude to Panic.

Adventure underwater is an awesome attraction to young and old alike. Breathing underwater differs from the terrestrial experience, a condition that few others can compare. Where else can you fly without wings, visit new and strange life forms and take home supper all at the same time. Granted, it took a few weeks of training, and the purchase or rental of life support equipment to enable you to visit this new realm, but what could possibly go wrong?

I have often wondered why people panic underwater. The more I see this illogical response to stress, the more I think there must be a prelude, something that leads a perfectly stable person to give up logic and claw their way to the surface. I do know we are programed with a fight or flight response when faced with an unexpected threat that works well on land. First you take a deep breath, then hold it and with adrenaline pumping, decide to fight the danger or run from it. But that is not panic. As divers we must reprogram that instinct because we know we will over expand our lungs and pop them when rapidly running to the surface while holding our breath.

I believe conditions for panic begins long before the dive begins. Preparations for a dive can be very stressful, especially for the inexperience. Folks may not sleep well the night before, eat poorly or loose their breakfast on the way out to the dive. Dehydration makes you feel strange. Performance expectations and or new experiences in this new and unfamiliar medium may set the stage for trouble when the simplest challenge gets in the way. And we carry so much mental baggage when we dive, that I wonder how we ever get in the water in the first place. After all, this is supposed to be recreational!

The comment I get from those who have survived panic underwater, is that they lost their way. There was no rational thought left in their options. I watched one person beat his head on the wall of a cave when he thought he was going to die. Another had to just get out when their regulator snagged on a line. They gave up in their own way. (In both cases, I gave them an alternative breathing gas, and they were fine). As with any challenging endeavor, an attitude of survival is required long before engaging in the activity. Underwater, the addition of maintaining your breathing gas supply adds complication, but does not lessens the survival instinct. Think you can, or think you can't, either way you are right.

So how can we prevent panic? Be prepared and rested before the dive. Believe in yourself and secure in your abilities, and don't go beyond those limitations until you are ready to do so. If you feel pressured, then stop and don't go there. There will always be a better dive available tomorrow. And resolve your phobias before you make the dive.

My wife kidded me about our fear of sharks, until we dove with sharks at Stewart's Cove in the Bahamas. There, they feed sharks while divers circle the trough. Sharks as big as divers cruise in right over the divers to grab fish heads offered on spikes. A photographer takes pictures to be sure everyone will appreciate the experience while bellied up to the bar. Truly, it really happened, see me with a shark inches from my head! And I did not panic. It took courage to prepare for that experience, and wisdom to learn from it. Focus on the prelude to prevent the panic.