G’day, I come across heaps of people on their travels who have fears. Fears of snakes, spiders, sharks, to name but a few. Some overcome their fears, some mitigate the risks and others let their fears stop them enjoying nature. This is my story of how I conquered my fears.
Fear vs Phobia
Fear is a reaction to danger that involves both the mind and body. It can serve a protective purpose, signalling us of danger and preparing us to deal with it, or it can be disruptive.
A phobia is an intense, unreasonable fear of situations, objects, activities, or persons where the fear is far out of proportion to the actual danger or harm that is possible.
Source Dr Vincent Berger
My fears are sharks & crocs and swimming dark or open water. To be fair, when I was kid I would spend hours snorkelling, I even wanted to be a marine biologist at one stage, then Jaws came out (don’t do the maths on that). All of a sudden, I became more aware of the possible dangers and directed my attention to more on-water activities and land-based nature adventures.
I didn’t think about it too much until I travelled around the USA and went canoeing on a bayou in Louisiana – it looked just like the movies, Spanish moss hanging from the trees, water black like ink, alligators peering through the water. Then all of a sudden, a huge snapping turtle took us by surprise, when it rose its head out of the water snapped at us. We quickly paddled away from it and accidentally hit a huge alligator (as long as our canoe). The giant dinosaur bumped under our canoe and we felt like we rose about a foot out the water, in reality it was probably 1cm, its giant reptilian tail flipped around and my paddle mates hat fell off. We both yelled and then paddled like their was no tomorrow, we proceeded to the nearest bar and ordered double whiskeys.
My fear of large predators in dark water, festered over the years and when I found myself living near the beach back in Australia about 10 years later, I realised it was stopping me from enjoying the water and so decided to get some help. I sought the assistance of a phobia counsellor and after several sessions, I was able to get back in the water, started snorkelling again, but still couldn’t swim in open or dark water.
Fast forward another few years, and I had an opportunity to go snorkelling of Great Barrier Reef, I knew I’d had to overcome or mitigate my final fear of open water. Normally I prefer small group tours, big groups are usually not my cup of tea, but I figured, a reef platform may make it seem a little less open, and the bigger group might just make me feel less vulnerable, also they had a submarine – just in case I couldn’t get into the water. So I signed up for a outer reef trip with Quicksilver – Port Douglas.
It took an hour or so to get out to the outer reef, on the way, a marine biologists gave us a talk on what we might see, which was really interesting. We finally arrived at the reef, I didn’t want to think about it too long, so went straight out to the platform, grabbed my gear, then sat on the edge of the platform for about 10 minutes or so, my travel buddy was the first one in (heights were her problem – not open water). I wanted a few more people in the water before I got in.
Just then a huge Maori wrasse came up to the platform, it was awesome. At the same time another woman sitting on the platform , waiting to take the plunge, started screaming and ran away from the platform edge. That’s all I needed, I put my head under water, then slipped off the platform and into what was another world, another amazingly, wonderful, beautiful world. I saw so many wonder parrot fish of all sorts of colours, had a great close encounter with the Maori wrasse, giant clam, wonderful coral, some of which was bleached, but that was one of the reasons I was there, to see the reef before it destroyed by the folly of man.
I must of snorkelled for about an hour or more, towards the end I was even hopping I’d see a reef shark – I didn’t but I was so relaxed and happy it wouldn’t of bothered me one bit.
So don’t let fear hold you back from experiencing nature. Take small steps, mitigate the risk, seek help if you have to and don’t forget to breathe. Enjoy your journey.