Nitrogen Narcosis

I have been thinking a lot lately about stuff I should post on a blog. You know, those deep thoughts that you think, “I should share that with other people.”

I just got back from vacation in Maui. It was our 5th wedding anniversary, and we spent 4 days diving, and the rest of the time playing in the ocean, eating good food, and taking a lot of walks.

We have only dove together in Kona before, which is a lot of diving just offshore, that stays fairly shallow. Looking at my log book, almost every dive day started with a deep dive at at least 85 ft. We were lucky that we had a great dive crew, and fairly advanced people on the boat with us, which allowed us to even do a deep, drift dive!

I’m definitely more a fan of dives around 60 ft, if only because it means I get more bottom time. However, all of the diving we did was pretty spectacular, even if brief. It’s the end of whale season, so we could hear whale songs under water. They were still a bit far off, as that our bodies weren’t vibrating (a sure sign, I’m told, that they’re near.) From the boat, we saw a whale tail, false killer whales (like giant dolphins!) and dolphins. Under the water, we saw so much! White tipped reef sharks, flame wrasses, tons of turtles (that was one dive), and so many other fish, nudibranchs, morays, garden eels – it was awesome.

Most noteworthy, though, was my experience of what had to be narcosis on our deep drift dive. My dive instructor, GirlDiver knows from my PADI Advanced Open Water dives that I’m a bit stupid when I’m narced. At 95 ft, I realized I didn’t under stand how my computer worked. Rather, it’s not that I didn’t understand, it’s more that I didn’t understand that I didn’t understand. I was completely without self-consciousness, and looked at my tally of bottom time so far, and the timer that tells me how long I can stay at that depth, and was confused. I wasn’t worried – not at all. That little voice that makes sure that I’m doing the right thing, though, was just really quiet. I was looking for it, and it just wasn’t there.

I showed Jon my computer. He was worried I was going to ascend too fast, meanwhile, I was completely unconcerned, but just wanted validation externally because I couldn’t find it within. He tried to explain to me, in crude diver sign, how my computer worked, and that I was OK. I decided, cleverly, that since I knew that the number allowing me to stay under water INCREASED when I ascended, I slowly started ascending. At about 87 ft, I realized – “oh hey, I’m stupid because I’m narced.” I spent the rest of my diving trying to make sure that even if I went below 85 ft, if I started feeling funny, I’d ascend back to 70-85 ft.

For me, narcosis starts around 65 ft, when I start relaxing a little more and get loopy thoughts running through my head. Those thoughts are met with that inner voice that knows I’m narced, and is able to point out to myself that I need to take care of myself.

The key thing I’ve learned here is what narcosis REALLY does to me – which seems to mainly relax me by taking away that ego that sits by and judges my every waking move. I think we all have that bit within us that helps us navigate the world, tells us what the “right thing” is to do, even if we don’t do it. It’s freeing not to have that critical voice, however, the down side is that when you’re diving, you need to have a bit of that critical voice to tell you “hey, if you want to be safe, you need to do/not do x,y,z.” You also need to be able to remember how your dive computer works.

This is why diving with a buddy is a good thing – and also, why diving with other advanced divers and a dive master is good. Then there’s the understanding what happens to you when you’re narced. It’s not something you can truly avoid, except by not diving past your threshold where you experience narcosis.

All in all, we had some great dives. I think I can appreciate deep dives, but prefer shallow ones more. We wouldn’t have seen the flame wrasses in shallower waters, though. The 65 minutes of bottom time I got on our shallower dive (last dive), was awesome. I got that long time, though I was chilly (77 degree water), thanks to a loaned hood coupled with my 5 mm Cressi wetsuit, and a 3 mm Henderson vest.

I hope to post more in the coming weeks. I’ve got a lot of posts percolating, but am also super busy. We’ll see….

Scuba and Running

Today my athleticism was a combination of dry suit diving with Girl Diver at Alki Cove 2 and doing a long run of 39 minutes in my neighborhood.

I’m desperately needing to get back in the water, if only to increase my endurance for kicking. Diving is great for developing all sorts of muscles, from your legs to your arms (for us Northwest divers at least, it’s 50 lbs of gear!)

My long-slow run was slower than I hoped, but actually over all, pretty OK. I didn’t stay as low in my heart rate range as I wanted, which was disappointing. I do have to contend with hills in my neighborhood, though, which makes it hard to keep my heart rate down without slowing quite a bit. I’m still going faster than 12 min/mi, but I am hoping to do under 10 min/mi, especially by late June. I’m finding that my interest in training is flagging quite a bit. I’m wanting a running buddy (not necessarily a group.) I don’t want to feel pressured, I just want to have fun. I also don’t want to drive too far to run. Driving to run? Really?

I’ve neglected hitting the gym and doing yoga. I’ve also been pretty busy doing a number of other things. I hope to be very busy this summer, so it will be interesting to see how that impacts training.

In the end, I’m caught up in my independence.

On a dietary front, I’m really trying to be mindful of carbs. They make me feel sluggish, hungry, and generally icky. Now, I’m speaking mainly of the refined-sugar type. They also make me cracked-out craving them. This is new for me. I’m about 15 or so pounds from reaching my BMI norm. Here’s hoping!

Tripping: Cenote Diving (part 2)

Cenote DivingLet’s start this off with the facts. I’m a PADI certified rescue diver. I have 40+ dives logged, most of them in the challenging cold water of the Pacific Northwest, in a semi-dry suit. I wasn’t ever sure I wanted to dive in the first place. I hate low visibility, I hate darkness, and most of all, I hate enclosed spaces to the point where I even hate simulated caves at theme parks.

All this is true. I agreed to join my husband on two dives through the cenote named Dos Ojos, “Two Eyes,” near Tulum, Q. Roo, Mexico. This dive required a trained cave diver (who is trained to go into the completely black underwater caverns like the ones that make up the underground river system in the Yucatan). We were allowed on this journey because this wasn’t a cave dive, it was a cavern dive, the difference being that there are exits (not that they are necessarily visible) within no more than a hundred or so feet from an opening to air. Sometimes, during the dive, light from above ground would illuminate these exits. Other times, it would be just you, your buddy and leader, and your flashlight, with rocks overhead and stalactites around you. It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had, and my first fresh water diving experience (requiring less weights in my BCD).

The first dive went pretty well, though I definitely wasn’t sold on the experience. The second dive was to the Bat Cave (and yes, there were bats on the ceiling when we popped up inside the cavern!) The dive promised to be a bit darker than the previous one, and it was. As we went through the sometimes narrow passages, following our guide, Victor, I had a moment where I heard a rumbling. Deep rumbles transmit well under water, and are at a frequency that surrounds you, with no direction to be ascertained. Victor had explained to us before going in, that in this kind of diving, especially, you get panicked? Forget about it. You’re done. You have to keep a cool head, or you’re never getting out alive. I heard that rumble, and it flashed in my brain, this cavern, it’s limestone, I’m diving in a sinkhole, it could collapse. I heard the rumble again. What is that? I imagined my final scene, trapped in a water filled cavern, unable to get out, watching my air gauge needle move closer to zero. It’s amazing how fast these thoughts can filter through your head, just seconds, maybe less.

I looked at Victor ahead of me. I remembered his words. Forget about it. You’re done. This rumbling cavern was less likely to do me in than my own mind, and Victor, our seasoned guide, swam in front of me care-free. Whatever the rumbling was, it wasn’t something he seemed worried about. As long as Victor indicates there’s no need to worry, then I’m just going to follow him. He’ll lead us to the exit. I’m just going to follow Victor.

At times I’m not convinced that I love diving. I do it as a form of mastery, because I’m compelled to do it with excellence. Then there’s the part that forces me to just really focus on yoking my mind in a way that I can’t do as well on dry land. Maybe it’s the pressure on my body, the focused breathing, the nitrogen narcosis that starts to impact my brain at 60 feet, I’m not sure. There is a parallel between the LSD trip and diving. There’s the otherworldly experience of floating, flying, being among other alien, floating and flying things, strange colors, forms, and dancing on the edge of life and death, staring into the face your strengths and weaknesses.

Walking to the edge of panic, and then consciously turning around and walking away from it, is such a powerful experience. At no point, in my dive, did I stop what I was doing, did I stop breathing, or act in a way that was dangerous to myself or those I was diving with. Victor talked a bit later about his training as a cave diver, about how he had to learn how to wrestle with that panic in order to be certified. Imagine being in a long, dark tube, your mask removed (so you can’t see), and one fin taken off, with your job being to get yourself back to the surface.

I have no interest in being a cave diver – but I have interest in that mastery over one’s psyche.