Are you having an underwater panic attack or is it something else?
I think this is an important topic to talk about since it was so scary, it nearly ended the progression into my deep dive training. For my first few years of recreational diving, I consistently maxed out at about 90ft with the occasional wreck dive to 125ft. I used all my original gear which I slowly accumulated, much of it second-hand or just inexpensive starter equipment. I maintained it as recommended and was very content with my setup. Everything worked great, and I was very comfortable doing anything I chose to do underwater. Any diver experienced enough to explore wrecks past 100ft knows that their time at depth is limited and needs to be more vigilant about the numbers on their computer. This additional task can be a little stressful to an inexperienced diver as are all new skills. You can feel your heart beating a little faster and breathing through a regulator at depth just feels a little different due to the denser air.
A few years ago, I decided that I was ready to take a Tec Diving course to become more experienced and knowledgeable about deep diving. I felt the additional training would help me be a more confident and safer diver. I signed up with Larry Mullins, an extremely experienced Tec Instructor. Our training started at depths of about 140ft. When you reach 130ft., an additional 10 feet is practically nothing underwater, but in your mind, you know that you are past normal recreational dive limits. It’s exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Then it started. I began having trouble breathing. The slight heart palpitations turned into full blown, can’t breathe, I want to take the regulator out of my mouth (but knowing I can’t) situations. I could feel my lungs contract and expand, and it wasn’t pleasant, as I tried to breathe in whatever air I could get. At first, I was embarrassed to tell anyone. I couldn’t understand it because I didn’t feel afraid or panicky. Eventually, I confided in Larry to let him know that this was occurring. I desperately did not want to quit the class, so I learned how to deal with it. My routine was to stop whatever I was doing, go up about 10ft and just steady my breathing until I felt better to continue the dive. Still confused as to why this was happening to me, I spoke to a therapist to find out if something in my sub-conscience was coming out with each more dangerous dive.
I became acutely aware that I would probably experience that horrible feeling again and considered staying within comfortable limits permanently.
Around this time, my trusty regulator which was now quite a few years old was ready to retire. I decided to make an investment in a new, better quality life-saving piece of equipment. Excited to use my new apparatus, on my very next dive I followed my instructor down the line and gave him the OK sign. There was a relatively strong current that day, but I was able to follow him against the current all the way to the front of the wreck. Just then it hit me. I was breathing fine. I wasn’t short of breath at all. It had not been panic attacks all along. The regulator that worked fine at 60ft could not deliver the air needed at deeper depths.
Through experience, I learned that this is an item you do not want to scrimp on. It is one of the most critical pieces you can own. Many times, I fought the urge to bolt to the surface. What can happen by using ineffective equipment is not a lesson you want to learn at depth, especially if you are a new diver. In addition to your regulator, make sure all your gear is not only serviced regularly, but is suitable for the intended purpose. Although I maintained my starter regulator, it was not suitable for depths deeper than 100ft. Another lesson I took away from this incident; don’t be reluctant to share your concerns with other divers. We have all experienced similar issues and could provide valuable information to help each other dive safely.
You can contact Larry Mullins at Gold Coast Scuba 954-616-5909