There are reams of articles written on how to attain optimal physical conditioning for freediving. It’s easy to dial into the perfect diet for freediving, the right yoga practices, the best gear, the ideal boat, the correct breathing techniques and proper safety practices. Mental conditioning is also important and you don’t have to look far to learn how to tap into the power of your mind and put this to work for you when freediving. However, almost nothing has been written about diving after experiencing an emotional crisis. Psychological research shows that the emotional response to the breakup of a romantic relationship strongly resembles reactions to what would appear to be more traumatic losses, such as the death of a loved one or the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.
What happens when you can no longer think clearly after losing a relationship, a job, failing a college entrance exam, or find yourself in financial stress? What happens when a freediver who is in an emotional crisis seeks an escape and heads out to dive?
Freediving is often described as addictive because of the fluid peace and beauty that embraces a diver while underwater. When a freediver experiences a loss beyond his control, it is understandable that he or she seeks the escape freediving affords. Yet, I’ve learned, after listening to many divers and friends, of the disturbing frequency of fatal and near-fatal results when divers who are troubled seek the comfort of the ocean. Read these four stories and discern for yourselves. The names and locations have been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.
Distraught after a difficult break-up with his wife, Ron quit his job and flew to Italy to freedive with friends and get his mind off his problems. Friends described Ron as deeply distressed and felt he demonstrated uncharacteristic, irrational behavior. While spearfishing in a favorite spot, the troubled diver went missing, sparking an intense search for days which yielded nothing. A best friend, who knew exactly where Ron liked to dive, traveled to Italy, went to Ron’s favorite dive spot, and found his lifeless friend still lying in ambush behind a rock with his speargun. Those who knew Ron best told me they felt his death was directly related to his inability to cope properly with the break-up of his marriage.
Alberto was deeply in love with a beautiful girl with whom he had enjoyed a three year relationship when she decided to separate from him. Alberto went into a deep depression. In an attempt to escape the pain, he decided to go freediving and swam out off shore to a pristine dive spot in a protected park. He dived deeper and stayed down longer than he’d ever done before. He later described the experience to me as calming and peaceful; he felt good. But on the ascent, he blacked out at the surface and began sinking. A group of scuba divers happened to see him and thought he was spearfishing in the park (he wasn’t) and motored over to complain to him. It was then they realized he was drowning. They rescued him and administered CPR, reviving him. Alberto admitted later that he was not mentally prepared to take such a dive and feels his emotional distress contributed to this near-fatal event.
The love of Peter’s life broke things off with him after a several year relationship leaving him deeply troubled and emotionally distraught. His friends and he had planned a spearfishing trip in North Carolina the day after this break-up and, although he was not in the mood, he stuck with the plan and went spearfishing with them. After one dive, Peter knew his mind was not in the right place as he could not concentrate and his heart was just not in it. He exited the water and spent the rest of the time in the boat helping his friends who continued to dive.
Blake experienced the loss of a relationship, as well as personal medical issues which he would not discuss. In the midst of these difficulties he went spearfishing with a friend. As Blake’s buddy deposited another fish into their boat, he looked back to see Blake making another dive alone. The friend recovered at the surface, waiting for Blake to return, but he never did. The current was swift and the water deep. Although an intense search ensued, Blake’s body was never recovered. Friends called me more than once to discuss his erratic behavior just prior to the dive and are convinced his depression over the situation with his girl and his medical problems caused him to take risks he otherwise would not.
Being mentally and emotionally fit is critical when freediving. Although the ocean can be comforting, this sport requires a clear mind and sound judgment, as there are inherent risks in breath-hold activities which can jeopardize the lives of those who make poor decisions. Flawed judgement can also put dive partners at risk when they find themselves in challenging rescue scenarios.
If you are experiencing a mental stress load, no matter what the cause, skip the dive and instead assist from the boat. If you are the dive buddy of a distressed friend suggest an alternate activity until your friend’s outlook returns to normal. If you do dive with a distressed diver, be mindful of the need for enhanced supervision and offer your support both in and out of the water.