Don't Hold Your Breath

by Tanvi Punatar

A leap into the unknown Thailand


As I sunk below the surface, one hand clutching my respirator, a flutter of unease tickled my stomach. Within minutes I realised I couldn't equalise the air pressure in my ears. I tried pinching my nose and blowing, but to no avail. We were descending only a metre every minute, and yet I couldn't keep up with the others, paralysed with pain. As the silhouette of the group faded slowly, I tried to fight through the pain and catch up. The distance grows, so I kick harder. Alas, in a matter of seconds I am alone in the ocean. Terror floods my veins. My body, from the sway of my panic, begins to roll and rotate - I've lost control. Now I'm dizzy, disorientated and sad, and I don't know which way is up or down or forward or back. My vision starts to blur; I'm crying into my mask. Why did I agree to do this?! I was never a thrill-seeker, I hate this, I'm thinking. Diving is stupid, dangerous, stupid. My heart pounds in my chest like a bomb countdown. Registering my heartbeat, I realise - in the stress of it all I'd broken the ONE GOLDEN RULE. `Don't hold your breath' they'd said - I'd forgotten to breathe! I exhale violently into the misty blue, and close my eyes. I'm toast. I feel a hand on my jacket, and everything is still. I look down. Xavier, my Chilean hulk of an instructor, had come to save me. He pulls me down with him, slower than before, holding eye contact to keep me calm. Focused on him instead of all the things that could go wrong, I relax, and I dive. All I hear is the reassuring rhythm of my own breathing, underscored by the low, barely perceptible wobble-and-clink of the ocean. The water stretches on, vivid blue for miles and everything through it appears larger, sharper, closer. I move slowly, utterly weightless despite all the gear, able to glide through the water using broad, languid fin kicks, veering up, down, or side to side with a simple lean of the torso. The alien landscape rises and falls into lopsided valleys and hills, cities of marine life, buzzing with activity. Fish with stripes and spots, big and small, loop around my head. A trigger fish is guarding its territory, a shy puffer fish is hiding in an underwater cave. As I float past, entranced, the bubbles from another diver's respirator rise and expand, jiggling like jellyfish as they fly past my face, or rupture against my wet suit. Note to self: push yourself to the edge, then take the leap (or the backwards roll). It will be worth it. Just remember to breathe.