Perseverance in the Face of Fear

A reader achieves her lifelong dream off the NC coast

By Cara Perciaccanto

Perseverance in the Face of Fear

The boat raced to our destination located off the southern coast of North Carolina, just outside the Little River inlet at the South Carolina border. We were diving on a post-Civil War shipwreck.

My nerves were stirring a whirlwind of butterflies in my gut.

My mind rambled. “Did I remember all my safety gear? Don’t forget to equalize on the way down. Make sure to turn the oxygen tank on.”

I had finally found the courage to achieve a lifelong dream of becoming a scuba diver, and was able to put my love of the marine world ahead of my fear of deep water and man-eating sharks. It had taken the hard lesson learned about the brevity of life following my father’s death at 39 and most recent, my mother’s passing from breast cancer at the age of 55, to take this giant leap of faith and strength. If not now, when? We aren’t promised tomorrow.

I, along with others in my group, was ready to “back roll” off the boat, swim to its bow, descend 15 feet below water to grab hold of the “down” line, and then descend the final 60 feet. My first dive.

I donned my gear, rolled off the boat’s starboard side, and swam toward the back to my instructor, our dive-master. The Atlantic was much choppier than I imagined it would be. I felt my anxiety climb as I was thrashed around. Fearful of banging my head against the boat’s bow, I was ready to be underwater, away from constant rocking and feeling like my legs were dangling shark bait.

As my head submerged, my mask began a steady leak. My vision blurred, and I was unable to see anything in the depths below. I looked up and saw our boat rocking towards my head. Dizziness crept in as my breathing increased rapidly, my heart pounded, and my chest tightened. Sensing that my nervousness had given way to panic, the dive-master pulled me to the surface, saw the problem, and adjusted my mask. Water thrashed against my face and I struggled to breathe. The dive-master instructed me to try to calm down.

Tightness in my chest coupled with the inability to slow my breathing scared me more. This was my first open-water dive, and I was having my first panic attack.

“Do you want to get out?” the instructor asked.

I knew that wasn’t an option, as I was mere feet away from reaching a lifelong goal. If I got out, I knew I would never get back in.

“No,” I said.

Thanks to a patient instructor and my determination, I slowed my breathing and descended underwater. As soon as I witnessed the new world below the water’s surface, my anxiety was but a memory. Underwater was more than I ever expected. Everything was in sharp contrast to land and it felt as if I had descended onto another planet, with 360 degrees of flourishing and busy marine life.

Facing my fears has led me to diving on larger shipwrecks off the Florida Keys, as well as off the coast of Belize, where I saw amazing and colorful coral reefs, and the famous Great Blue Hole. I’m conquering a life’s worth of fear — and enjoying the experience.

Visit writeoutside.org to read more about Cara’s adventures.

About the Author

Cara Perciaccanto is a former member of Wake Electric who now lives in Whittier.

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