Extreme Sports with Invisible Illness

From Wikipedia

An extreme sport (also called freesport, action sport, and adventure sport) is a popular term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger. These activities often involve speed, height, a high level of physical exertion, and highly specialized gear.

Doesn’t sound like something we spoonies could be a part of. Speed, height, physical exertion? Pass. I have enough trouble getting through a work day. Extreme sports aren’t for me.

That’s where you’re wrong!

As you know after reading my colorguard post, I’m a person who loves to use my body. Or, at least, I used to. Running, jumping, push ups, dancing – I lived for that. This past year, I’ve gotten sicker than I’ve ever been, and I haven’t been able to get my flags out or even just run as much as I used to. Colorguard is not, by definition, and extreme sport. I may get some heat for saying that, but if the Die Hard Guard Girl can admit it, I think we can all admit it. It’s a sport, just not an extreme one. So if I can’t even keep up a normal sport, how could I ever practice an extreme one?

I don’t know. But as I became sicker than I’ve ever been, I took up an extreme sport at the same time. Meet Rachel Meeks: Certified SCUBA Diver.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I signed up to take a SCUBA diving course through the university, and on the first day he said you needed to be healthy to get certified, and if you weren’t, you needed a doctor’s note to allow you to dive. To my great delight, my doctor said there was no reason I couldn’t dive. I was ecstatic.

Diving is one of the more “mellow” extreme sports out there – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! It may seem easy – you float in the water, breathing calmly, watching fishies swim around you. Yeah, that part is easy.

Shot from my parent’s latest dive adventure in Maui. I’m not jealous or anything. 😉

But getting certified IS NOT. Our first day of class, we did our “swim test.” That’s right – day one. I guess to a divemaster, this seems pretty easy and like anyone could do it on their first day, but I’m still having trouble forgiving him for that one. We had to swim an ungodly number of laps, and then tread water for ten minutes. I am apparently the only person who had trouble with this. My invincible classmates were done with their laps and already treading by the time I finished mine. Then I told the dive master I needed a break in between. He was nice enough about it, but it was still embarrassing to be the only one on the side of the pool sputtering and gasping like I was dying. But the point is I DID IT. There was no time limit, and I did manage to tread water for ten whole minutes! And I slept really good that night.

Now, one of the first questions I always get asked is how I can hold up all that gear. Even though my illness is invisible, my smallness is not. I’m a little girl. And it is a lot of equipment.

But somehow I manage. Really the equipment part isn’t a problem. I have my parents and my hubby to help me get things around on land, and in the water it hardly weighs anything. Like I said, actually diving is easy! Learning to dive is the hard part.

First, you have to get over your nerves. This may not be a big problem for everyone, but it was for me. Diving is freaky, it freaks me out. I am breathing underwater, it’s just not natural. Plus, due to a horrific snorkeling incident combined with Darth Vader, the sound of breathing underwater will always sound like a horror movie to me…

Hm? The horrific snorkeling incident? Well….I was in Florida with my family, and my parents were going diving and my sisters and I were going to snorkel. Before we got there, the divemaster said there might be a few jellyfish in the area. Then we got there and it looked like this:

So I was like “Duh, I’m not getting in to the water.” Apparently I am the only one who thinks this way.

This is pretty much how my baby sister approaches any situation.

Then literally less than a second went by before…

And I was like…

So I got my fins on and jumped in against all better judgment.

Swimming through those jellyfish was terrifying. I was wearing a longsleeved wetsuit, and had very little skin exposed. I kept my bare hands above water, using only my legs to swim out to her. So stings were not the issue. But I’ll never forget that long, slow swim. Ghost-like jellyfish hovering all around me, with only the sound of my own breathing to underscore it all. It was seriously like a horror movie.

Anyway, I got her out, rubbed sand all over her (I had heard this helps – it actually just aggravates the jellyfish stings and makes them hurt more – sorry sis.) and we waited out the rest of the dive on shore. But the point is, the sound of breathing under water will always remind me of that day. And Darth Vader.

So it is really scary. And as many of you with chronic pain or invisible illness know, being scared can be pretty tiring, depending on your condition. I was exhausted after every training session. Nervousness paired with the inevitable cold that comes with diving equals a lot of shivering, which will wear anyone out fast and can really aggravate chronic pain.

These were the challenges. But they were challenges I could overcome. I was the only one in class who wore a long wetsuit to every pool session, but it kept me warm, which meant less shivering. And the challenge of overcoming my own nervousness was a very rewarding one. By practicing keeping myself calm underwater, I also learned how to relax my body on land when I feel chronic pain coming on. I learned a lot about my body and its limits, and how to safely push those limits. I highly recommend SCUBA diving to anyone who can do it, especially if they have a chronic pain condition. It’s the most mellow extreme sport there is, but it’s a challenge that’s rewarding and fun.

My first open water dive was in the Comal River, in December, in the rain.

Mom and Dad decided to just watch this dive.

It was cold, I was swimming hard against a current, and it was COLD. But I did it! And I think it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. It’s a great story. And it’s a huge accomplishment. So whenever my body’s kind of failing at life, I try to remember all we’ve been through. My broken body still got SCUBA certified in truly grueling conditions. I am awesome, and I need to give my body more credit. It’s pretty amazing, and I’m pretty strong. It can be hard to remember that on those weak days.

A friend of mine introduced me to a new saying I’d like to leave you with today. “Be AWAP.” It stands for “Be As Well As Possible.”

Be AWAP, friends.

9 thoughts on “Extreme Sports with Invisible Illness

  1. Oh my gosh… you have very much inspired me with this post. When I am in such a dark place as I am right now in my life, It really gave me something to be grateful for that I have taken for granted today… my body. I am so proud of you and excited for you!! I cannot wait to read about your next open water dive. Keep it up my friend.

    1. I’m so glad I could bring you a little happiness during such hard times! This is by far one of the most meaningful comments I’ve ever gotten. I’ll keep the prayers coming for you. Stay positive and love yourself. 🙂

  2. Diving has always appealed to me, but I’ve never tried it. And with my body narrowing my activity options more and more, I think this one should move up the list. I am very interested in the lessons that you learned about your body during the experience. Not to mention having the pay-off of being able to dive and admire the great below.

    Thanks for sharing! And as usual, you made me laugh!

    1. I hope you go for it, because it’s a LOT of fun. Plus your certification is forever, which is nice, especially for spoonies who don’t have the time or energy to go renew certification all the time. 🙂

  3. Amazing! I love this post, for its wit, determination, and motivation. Swimming against the current in cold water sounds like a great metaphor for dealing with a chronic illness, and that you would voluntarily accept that challenge is truly an inspiration! Congratulations on the certification.

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