When I turned fifty I decided to try at least two new activities a year. One of those activities last year was scuba diving. I live near the ocean. I love to snorkel. Scuba diving seemed like a perfect fit. My family gave me a certification package for Christmas. I went to the shop and picked out my gear. When I tried to schedule the class it was difficult to find a time that fit in my schedule.
It was a sign of things to come. The study materials were on DVD, not my favorite method of learning, but I muddled through.
When I arrived at the first class the front of the dive shop was set up with metal folding chairs in a circle. The faces occupying those seats were young and primarily couples. Feeling frumpy – midlife – invisible- awkwardly self-conscious I sat down. After the requisite round of introducing ourselves that feeling only increased. I was twenty-five years older than the oldest guy and indeed everyone was paired up.
The twenty something instructor reviewed the course material and handed out the written test. I have always been a quick test taker so when others began getting up and handing in their tests it rattled me even more. Ugh I thought if this is fifty I’m not liking it. I passed the test and was told to show up at the pool in the morning for hands on training. I went home with two tanks, a weight vest, underwater computer, and the dreaded wet suit.
I had never put a wet suit but how hard could it be? Hard – very – hard…. I wiggled my feet through. Shimmied it up my calves. Squeezed it over my thighs feeling like I was stuffing sausage. I could not get my arms through. I googled ‘how to put on a wet suit’. I tried numerous tips finally plastic bags got the thing almost to my shoulders. Twenty minutes into donning that wetsuit the first hot flash hit. Now I was hot and sweaty and getting cranky. I wasn’t sure I could get the damn thing off. (I have since learned a skin under the wetsuit helps immensely). I was alone and rolling on the bed trying to peel it off. Fifteen minutes and another hot flash later I finally got it off and was pretty sure I would be humiliated the next day at the pool trying to don it again.
At the pool the next day before suiting up we are required to swim 8 laps and tread water for 10 minutes. Not having exercised in five years I was praying I could do it. I did and to my utter delight I was not last. Next we suit up with all of our equipment. I hoist the tank up and buckle up the weight belt. This stuff weighs a ton! I am barely able to stand up. My mask slips off my head and I stoop to pick it up. I teeter precariously and then spill over backwards onto my butt. The instructor laughs(yes out loud) and helps me up.
Into the pool we all went. I completed the drills pretty easily until the last drill of the day. We have to sink to the bottom of the pool and take off our vest and tank then put them back on again. I was able to remove and apply them both but when I tried to get up I couldn’t. I was stuck on my back on the bottom of the pool. I could not lift myself up off the ground. I twisted. I turned. I attempted to roll. I could not budge. The instructor came over to push me over on to my knees so I could float back to the surface. I felt like a prodded cow.
I should have stopped then. I told myself that it would be better in the ocean. No, it was definitely not better in the ocean.
The next weekend we met in Monterey to do the ocean dive. Once we suited up we had to walk down to the water. Sounds simple right? Not! With about 80 pounds on my torso and a hot wetsuit the walk to the water felt like ten miles. Once in the water trying to stay together and perform the drills was a challenge. Adding to the stress my mask was leaking, a lot. I kept clearing and clearing and clearing. For those that haven’t done this it involves tipping your head forward and forcefully blowing out your nose to push the water out of your mask. I was nervous I would lose my group, visibility was very low and every time I cleared my mask I couldn’t see them. Nothing about this was what I had imagined. I thought I would be peacefully floating among the fish and the coral, while gliding effortlessly through the water. It did not line up with the reality of heavy gear, aching muscles, slight claustrophobia, and a sense of intruding into a world where I was disruptive.
I passed the drills that day. Went home with a nasty headache but the end was in sight. One more day in the water and I would be certified. It was occurring to me that this was not something I would likely do again. It wasn’t fun for me.
The next morning I had severe pain in my right ear, a low grade fever, a crinkling sound in my ear, and a sore throat. I stayed home thinking it was a cold. When it didn’t clear up I went to my doctor. I had a reverse block resulting in injury to my middle ear Probably from clearing my mask so much. She told me not to fly or under any circumstance dive until it was fully resolved and instructed me to take decongestants.
This midlife adventure was over. I had no desire to complete the class or to scuba dive. I enjoyed snorkeling much more. It was a realization for me that my body was not as young as it once was and that was okay. I also realized I want to feel stronger physically. If I want to do something I want my body to be able to handle it. Knowing as I get older and eventually slow down a stronger body will serve me well. Looking at exercise that works for me. It needs to be fun and challenging so I actually want to make time for it.
It’s also a lesson in listening to what that inner voice is whispering and letting in be okay to let go. Not everything needs to be completed. I used to finish every book I started, even if it stunk or I didn’t like it. I was wasting time reading books that I had already gotten whatever I needed from. Learning it was okay to let them go unfinished, to pass them on to the next person was a milestone. Time becomes more precious as we age. Choosing to use time wisely is a skill I continue to hone. Stopping to listen to that quiet voice inside that was saying ‘done now’ was hard.The critic in me said I was giving up. It wasn’t about giving up but rather knowing when it was time for me to walk away.
I’m glad I did it. It gave me courage to try other things and to keep my options open. You never know until you try. Life keeps marching on. I may never have six pack abs again but I can hike a trail or learn to salsa or kiss someone new or try paddle boarding or whatever this midlife adventure has to offer. That feels good….really good.
Share one of your midlife mis-adventures in the comments below?