A freediver at the bottom of Cabbage Tree Bay. Photograph by the author.
A freediver at the bottom of Cabbage Tree Bay. Photograph by the author.

Deep. How much courage does it take to go deep, deep into the darkness, to spend time and explore what is in the crevices or our psyche?

I am a beginner freediver (someone who holds their breath underwater) and I took the above photo of my partner who is an experienced freediver. While he expels air from his lungs and gently glides to the bottom of the bay, where sea creatures are drawn to him—I am on the surface, sucking in a huge lung full of air, this air makes me buoyant so I kick around messily in an attempt to try and descend beneath the surface. I go a metre or two down and enter an increased atmosphere where the pressure on my ears forces me to stop while I waste precious time attempting to equalize the air spaces in my head. While most people tend to be able to hold their nose and blow gently to equalize, this has never worked for me. The only way I can equalize is by swallowing. Now try to swallow, and then try to swallow again as quickly as you can. It’s almost impossible to swallow in quick succession. As we descend in water, each atmosphere (ATM) requires we equalize, to meet the pressure that is being pressed against us. You can’t suddenly go from the surface to the depths or you would burst your eardrums. So each atmosphere I pass through, I have to stop, deliberately hold still and focus on swallowing and repeat this process until I reach the bottom. Thus, I am a slow descender and by the time I get down to the bottom, I have run out of air and have to surface.

This is what my life has been like, trying to get to the bottom of my internal fears and find a peaceful place. But I have not mastered the smooth descent; it’s stressful and jerky and hurts if I push it. By the time I get there, I have nothing left in the tank, no time to explore what’s around me.

I have spent the past four years learning to equalize my psyche, learning to ‘go deep’ through the process of writing an autobiography and I am now on my final edit. The guy on the bottom of the ocean is my husband, my dive buddy and now he is my book editor. I hope to have my book finished in the near future. In the meantime, I have been publishing some condensed portions of my memoir on the ABC Open Drum website.

While all this is happening, I hope that I will slowly learn to let go, to accept that I am different from most people, that it’s no drama that the only way I can descend is by swallowing. As long as I get there, does it matter that how I achieve it, is not conventional, not normal, not what everyone else does? I need to work on a smooth descent that suits me and learn to let go of my attachment to the surface and to conformity.

Interestingly, as I was about to upload this story, my partner said that blowing gently against the nose is ineffective when diving deep and partial swallowing is actually a more effective way to equalize, so being different and doing things differently doesn’t necessarily mean you are wrong. Perhaps I am a trailblazer without even knowing it.

But the most important thing that I want to work on is to be more like my diving buddy in the above photo, to let go and explore the depths effortlessly, unafraid of what I might find.

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