Conquering my fears at Gili Air
For years I have had a crippling fear of the ocean. As pretty as it is, the thought of going beyond ankle deep terrified me. Come to think of it, I have a lot of fears, but my love for nature had me facing them all head on during our trip to Indonesia. None more so than on Gili Air. With its turquoise waters and array of exotic wildlife beneath the surface, curiosity had me itching to conquer this irrational fear.
The waters around Gili Air are home to some of the most graceful, yet endangered wildlife; Green Turtles. With only 2 days on this small paradise, I knew there was only one thing I had to do, go snorkelling. While there’s a spot just off the beach to the east side of Gili Air that is popular with tourists for seeing Turtles as they come in to feed, we didn’t want that experience. We didn’t want to be surrounded by heaps of other tourists (and children), pushing their way through the shallow waters disturbing the Turtles peaceful lunch, if they happened to be near that day.
Instead, we opted for a guided snorkelling tour, at least this way the number of tourists would be limited and being out in the water with a smaller crowd would be a little less daunting for me, right?
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You see, deep ocean water isn’t the only thing that scared me about this tour. Although I’d already been on 3 boats by this time, they still unnerved me. Seeing the small wooden ones lining the shores didn’t help with this either; I knew this snorkelling trip would mean spending the day on one. Something I had never done before. Nerves and an excited sicky feeling rattled around me as we eagerly booked our trip, we’d already hesitated at 4 kiosks throughout the day before I finally pushed myself to actually book it. That was it, booked and paid for, no backing out now.
When the day came, we met up with the dive team and waited for the rest of the tourists to join us. Slowly the group went from 2 to 8, to 16. I nervously sat watching our small group grow, feeling the regret wash over me. I tried to hold it down, keep my anxiety at bay but I’d never snorkelled before, yet here I am, flippers ready and a second-hand mask in my hands. Another couple joined us, their bag full of snorkelling gear and GoPro accessories told me they’d done this before but that didn’t make me feel any better.
Could I really do this? Spend the day on a wooden boat jumping into the unknown?
I’ve been scared of the ocean since I was about 12, I was knocked over and held down by a big wave. It sounds a lot more dramatic than I’m sure it was for onlookers, but that feeling of being held under water has stuck with me for 14 years. No matter how many times I’ve tried to face it, nerves take over and have me dithering ankle deep unless the water is still like glass.
Hands shaking we headed to our boat. A long narrow wooden one with a leaking glass bottom, Dec must have felt my anxiety peak because I noticed his hand on my knee before he pointed out the view across the water; tactically distracting me. Just like that, we were off, skimming across the ocean as the shore got further away.
We drove (rode?) out towards Gili T, home to Turtle Heaven. A popular spot where you’re almost guaranteed to see Turtles. Our guide briefed us, we were to follow him as he looked for wildlife. That suited me fine until I realised we were sat closest to the exit point. Not only was I expected to jump into the water, I was now being looked at expectantly by 14 strangers while they waited for me to do so. The more experienced couple must have sensed the tension I was giving off as she just smiled at me, put on her mask and hopped on over. Simple as that. With one person already in people slowly started making their way past me, letting me handle my fear in my own time. Dec jumped in before me, treading water patiently while I sat on the edge.
3… 2… 1…
Heart pounding in my ears I put on my make and slowly lowered myself into the sea. I could feel my hands shaking as I held on to the side of the boat. Releasing my grip, that was it, I was in. When I joined the group I wasn’t sure what I was feeling most, fear? Excitement? Numb? Pride?
When you submerge yourself so deeply into your fear, it’s hard to remember what you’re actually afraid of. I could hear my rapid breathing echo in my mask, feel my shaky legs keeping me afloat but I could also feel the cool water on my skin, soothing me, I could see Dec next to me, clearly ready to haul me out if I panic… I felt safe in my fear.
The flippers were a lifeline for me, helping to keep me floating but also helping me keep up with the other, faster, swimmers. We were all eager to find what we’d come here to see and honestly, I didn’t think I could get any more emotional than I was right at that moment. The moment when our guide excitedly announced he’d found one. A Turtle. Swimming solo up ahead in the open waters.
I don’t know how. Excitement maybe? But I ended up at the front of our group, swimming with the guide as we approached this beautiful animal swimming below us. My heart beat echoed through me while I reminded myself to breathe. In that moment it felt like it was just me and the Turtle, I forgot about my face being under the water, I forgot about the panic I was feeling only moments before.
Just me, swimming above this oceanic icon.
One of the very few pics we managed to save; Dec swimming with the Sea Turtle!
It’s a moment I will never forget. Sure, the photos are long gone now, but that’s a different heartache. This memory, this moment, it won’t fade.
I drifted back and watched as our group swam down to get a closer look. I envied their bravery for being able to dive down fully, something I knew I wasn’t ready for. That’s ok, being right there, where I was, that was just enough.
Back on the boat, my legs were like jelly, excitement and adrenaline rushed through me like I’d never felt before. I could barely control myself when Dec came back, I’d done it!! The fear that has haunted me for 14 years had finally been faced and it felt AMAZING.
We spent the rest of the day going from spot to spot, my courage only growing. I no longer felt I had to wait to be last off the boat, in fact, on one occasion I even threw myself off the edge wholeheartedly… the bitter sea-water soon bringing me back to my reality. Snorkelling at the Gili Islands did so much for my confidence, I would never have imagined it possible.
On our final stop, we were left to our own devices as it was just our group just off the coast of Gili Air. The amount of fish here I knew I had one more obstacle to face; I needed to dive down. Just like the others were. I needed to see these fish up close for myself and explore the coral sculptures.
I’ve never been one to go underwater, not even in the swimming pool but I’d come this far.
Dec warned me that they were further than they looked and to expect to feel the water pressure in my ears, the same way we do on a plane. I could see he was nervous for me but eager to get me to try.
One. Deep. Breath.
I took the mouthpiece out and before I had time to change my mind, I forced my upper body down and my legs up. I ran out of breath before I ran out of try. I don’t know how far I went, I just knew I had to keep trying until I could swim amongst the fish. Each time they got closer and closer but my breath would run away with me. I must have looked like a stubborn child, coming up for air, huffing and heading back down again. Had we have not lost our hard drive, the videos would have been funny I’m sure.
I did it. 14 years of fear came to an end thanks to one snorkelling trip at Gili Air. Who’d have thought it! Now I’m looking forward to the rest of our Australia trip, I’ll actually be able to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and not worry about a panic attack.
Fear is a state of mind. I let it rule over me for far too long but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let it ruin my chance to see wild Turtles. Especially since we don’t know how much longer they’ll be around for. If my ramblings today teach you anything, I hope it’s the lesson of pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone.
5 Tips on conquering fear:
It isn’t easy, I know. So here are some of my methods, from personal experience.
Admit to Fear!
Admitting to fear isn’t accepting defeat. It’s the first step towards healing. A lot of people with fears of things don’t actually admit to it, and that’s part of what keeps them in the cycle.
I used to say ‘I’m not scared of the sea, I just don’t like it’. As soon as I admitted I was scared, I was able to work through it in time.
Write it down + talk about it!
Opening up about it relieves some of the tension we put on ourselves and lets rational thoughts filter through.
It wasn’t until I started to talk to Dec about my fear of the sea that I began to realise how irrational it was. In my head, I’d built it up to be some big freak accident, when in reality, it was nothing more than a small tumble.
Take your time!
Even if it means only doing a tiny bit towards it every month, baby steps are the fastest way.
I didn’t jump straight in the first time because I knew it would overwhelm me and I’d be back on the boat in a heartbeat, but I also didn’t get on that boat knowing I was going to get in. I told myself that if I get out there, and I don’t want to go any further then that’s ok! Don’t put pressure on yourself to rush things.
Reward your victory!
Saw a spider and didn’t immediately run away? YAY! Celebrate the little wins. Positive reinforcement isn’t limited to altering children/pets behaviour you know! Use it on yourself to get you out of the habit of being scared.
Wanna know what I rewarded myself with? CAKE! haha
Practice, practice, PRACTICE!
Any chance you get, put yourself in front of your fear. Take it slow, breath and practice. Not too great with heights? Find a rock climbing club and slowly go a little further, or not, each time. You’ll eventually be pushing yourself a little bit further the more your confidence grows.
Remember, it takes TIME, PATIENCE and a sprinkle of SELF BELIEF but eventually you’ll get there.
I hope you enjoyed reading my emotional experience of snorkelling on the Gili Islands. I know it’s a bit of a ramble but I hope it inspires you to face your fears, or push your boundaries.
Here’s a challenge; do one thing every day that scares you…
What have you done recently that made you nervous? How did you get through it? We’d love to know!!
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