A story about facing and (almost) conquering fear through the love of nature, movement and family adventures
Words Kaisha Scofield
e all have that thing. You know, the thing where just thinking about it makes you break into a cold sweat and feel a knot in the pit of your stomach?
For some, it’s public speaking or flying, for others it could be small spaces, spiders or heights. These things can be called worst fears or even phobias.
My thing is deep water. Oceans, waterfalls and streams are great, but deep, dark, bottomless lake water? No thank you. I’ve never been a strong swimmer and the mere thought of the weeds in lakes makes me woozy.
Living here in BC, however, I still manage to spend most of my summer holidays at or around bodies of water. My family and I take several annual lake-centred camping trips with friends. These trips involve all sorts of water activities; swimming, diving off the dock, lounging on inflatable unicorns, water frisbee and paddle boarding. Until recently, my involvement in these activities was limited to wading, splashing and the occasional shallow-water doggy paddling.
I was content with my limited water activities until a few years ago, when I decided to buy my husband a paddle board. This paddle board is glorious, nine feet long with black and red stripes, cool fins and a shiny paddle. Never had I been so dazzled by a piece of sporting equipment. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
The following month, we headed out on our annual camping trip to Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island. We scored a beautiful spot, right in a pristine bay with a sandy lakebed and clear blue water. I eagerly hopped on the board and paddled around in the shallows. Sure, I fell in a few times, but the water was waist deep and perfectly clear so I felt confident to keep practicing.
I was feeling quite pleased with my progress and increasing water savviness, which is why I agreed, when my pre-teen daughter and her friends suggested that they paddle us moms to the big island in the middle of the lake. Surely it wasn’t as far as it looked, and besides, several of the people we were camping with had paddled and even swam out there. My new-found water courage was swelling as we enthusiastically set off on our adventure.
It started off smoothly. We travelled in a little flotilla, coasting along peacefully as the sun glistened on the water. Sitting on the back of the board, I lazily dangled my feet in the clear water.
Fairly quickly, however, one of the boards pulled ahead and the group started to spread out. My daughter paddled as hard as she could to keep up but the distance grew too far. We were on our own. It was at this point I realized that we had well and truly reached the middle of the lake. I could tell this because of the vast distance between us and the shore but also by the deep and very dark water below us. The same water that my helpless feet were dangling in. Cowichan Lake has depths of 50 to 150 metres and my mind started imagining what could be lurking in the depths.
I also realized my daughter was paddling painfully slow, and I wondered if we might be marooned in the middle of the lake forever. I considered that at only 11 years old, she might lack the sheer muscular strength to paddle us the rest of the way. I started glancing between the distant island destination, my helpless feet and my daughter’s slow paddles. Panic was creeping in.
Anyone familiar with the beginnings of a panic attack might describe it as waves, but when you are enduring a panic attack on actual waves, it’s more like an ooze that starts in your chest and slowly radiates out.
My heart started pounding, my mouth got very dry and my body became strangely rigid. Simultaneously, I started to slowly but gingerly sneak my feet out of the now terrifying water. I tried to compose myself by taking deep breaths while my brain, essentially doing the opposite of deep breathing, started calculating how reasonable it was to consider calling search and rescue. At the time, a rescue mission off of a paddle board felt completely reasonable and something for which I would have paid almost anything. I glanced at my daughter, assuming she was also in the throes of a deep panic and would be interested in discussing our search and rescue options. But she wasn’t.
My sweet, lovely daughter was not panicked at all. Instead, she was positively beaming with pride. Standing astride the board like it was a chariot, she paddled us into the great unknown. She didn’t appear to have a care in the world.
I gave my head a shake and willed the fear to retreat. I looked around and noticed that we were now only a few metres from the island, certainly close enough that I might be able to out-swim a lake monster. In no time, we landed at the island, lifted the boards up and stood firmly on solid land. I was still shaken but the sheer excitement expressed by my daughter and her friends, as they celebrated their epic paddling trip, filled me with comfort. The waves of my panic receded to a manageable murmur.
The girls fearlessly dove off of cliffs and swam around the rocky outcroppings, while I perched safely atop one of the more sturdy-looking rocks. It was beautiful and magical and something I will never forget.
After nearly an hour of frolicking, we decided to head back. Before anyone could speak, I challenged the adults to a race back to camp. I paddled that board like a professional with my eyes on the horizon, as fast as I could.
In the end, I decided that even though I will not be agreeing to any mid-lake island adventures any time soon, I am braver than I think. The water will always be equal parts magical and terrifying to me, and that’s okay. I will continue to practice my paddle boarding in the shallows, occasionally daring to reach a little deeper.