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  • Kristan Higgins

Paging Dr. Freud

Updated: May 3, 2022

Because I like the ocean in theory, and because I have this fantasy about retiring to La Jolla, California, I decided to take a scuba diving class.


Here’s the thing, though. I’m terrified of swimming in the ocean. I’m convinced that A) I’ll drown; B) I’ll be attacked by a shark; C) all of the above and more—I’ll drown as I watch my disembodied leg float past my face, dying in the jaws of a shark, not quite dead yet, as a riptide carries us out to sea.

My fear of the ocean began pre-Jaws; I remember a wave knocking me down and not being able to get up when I was tiny, my mom having to come in to get me. Another time, my father told me to hold on to his hand in what was called “the sailor’s grip” and we wouldn’t get separated in the surf. I think he made up this term, as he was wont to do, and sure enough, a wave crashed over us and I came up sputtering a good 20 yards away from my dad.

Sure, it SEEMS so benign, so peaceful.

Sure, it SEEMS so benign, so peaceful.

There was the time I almost drowned in the Great Barrier Reef, saved by McIrish and the all-too-amused Aussie crew. The time I went to a beach and my dear husband neglected to tell me there’d been a shark attack just a few weeks before. There are movies like Jaws and Open Water, which feed my paranoia. There’s Shark Week on Discovery. And worst of all, my imagination.


Note the needle-sharp beak.

However, once upon a time, I had a bird phobia, hummingbirds being especially terrifying. After I was attacked by a redwing blackbird in Ottawa, I realized that while a bird diving at your head, flapping its wings against your hair and scratching your scalp with its tiny claws was not pleasant, it wasn’t fatal, either. I decided to take this progressive attitude to the sea. Immersion therapy or something.

And so, yesterday, I went off to my first scuba lesson. I “couldn’t find” my bathing suit (paging Dr. Freud!). By the time I pulled into the land-locked parking lot, I was already terrified. Seeing all those flippers, those snorkels and tanks, reminded me that I can’t breathe underwater.

I went in, immediately asked to use the bathroom, where I did yoga breathing and told myself I couldn’t drown since I wasn’t yet in the water, and calmed down enough to hold a conversation.

“Have you ever lost someone?” I asked, side-eyeing the wetsuits, which are just a reminder that humans don’t belong in the ocean. The woman laughed (and did not answer).


Lo and behold, I’d been given the wrong time! There was no 12:30 scuba class! They’d have to call and reschedule!

The hand of God, saving me from a premature death in an indoor swimming pool? I kinda think so.


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