Aquaphobia: def. – a persistent and abnormal fear of water, a morbid fear of drowning; involves a level of fear that may interfere with daily life activities
I can trace the beginning of my fear of water to the summer I was nine years old. My younger sister and I were visiting with my father at my Aunt Jackie’s house. A neighbor invited everyone over for a pool party. The six-foot deep pool, the latest in 1972 above ground models, offered ladders and a wide edge you could sit on.
Being an inner-city kid whose summer water exposure usually consisted of splashing in rain puddles and the occasional lawn sprinkler run, I didn’t know how to swim. The adults said it would be fine, because I could hold on to that wide edge. I didn’t want to miss out on the fun so I climbed in and carefully scooted my way around the pool, hand over hand, holding on to the edge. I wasn’t scared, just cautious.
The adults stood near the pool chatting and drinking their beers while my cousins and other neighbor kids splashed and swam. I became overconfident, and moving my hands too quickly, lost my grip.
Down under the water I went, my eyes and mouth wide open. I tried to flap my arms but I sunk like a rock. I watched the faces of the people above me get farther and farther away. I still remember the feeling of sheer terror. When my feet reached the bottom, I pushed against it and reached the surface coughing and flailing. I grabbed the pool edge and looked around. No one had even noticed.
I know that doesn’t sound like much of an event, but it was enough to imprint on my young psyche that water was dangerous and I needed to stay away from it at all costs. The fact that no one noticed scared me the most.
Ever since then I’ve been afraid of pools, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. I had to psyche myself up just to drive over a bridge. If I was the passenger, I’d push my hands against the car walls. Because yeah, that would keep the car from falling into the water somehow.
So what did I do? I married a Marine.
A Marine expertly trained in swimming and water survival techniques. He told me you could train yourself to hold your breath under water for a long time. You could tread water and float for a long time if you had to wait out in the ocean. I planned to never have to do that. He regaled me with tales of being dunked, upside down, in water, strapped inside the hull of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter to practice escaping during a sea crash.
But he also did something else for me that helped me push back at this fairly common phobia. He took it as seriously as I did. He didn’t make fun of me (except for the bridge thing, and who can blame him). He encouraged me to try to get over my fear. He volunteered to help me learn to swim. He was patient when I was hysterical. He talked me through treading water, dog paddling, and basic swim strokes. He stood behind me when I wanted to turn back from the pool or the beach or driving over a bridge.
But without his patience I wouldn’t have been able to drive over a four-mile ocean bridge that took us to a memorable family outing on St. George Island, FL. I wouldn’t have been willing to consider a trip to the Schitterbahn water park in New Braunfels, Texas, where our kids had one of the best times ever. I wouldn’t have been able to get on a trawler in Aransas Bay and watch dolphins jump out of the Gulf of Mexico. And I definitely wouldn’t have ever tried this:
I can’t say my fear of water is gone. I cried and shook waiting in that boat for the parasail to take us up. But I felt empowered after it was over.
I’ve taken steps to make sure my fear doesn’t cripple me, and keep me from enjoying life with my family. But I wouldn’t have made it without someone who took my fear seriously, offered me patience instead of ridicule, and made it a mission to help me overcome it.
Kristin Nador has been a military wife, SAHM, homeschooler, and animal rescuer. In her current reinvention she’s an aspiring novelist. She blogs at kristin nador writes anywhere, where she talks about writing and creativity. She lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma with her husband and Pinkerton the Cat.