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Fear of Clearing the Mask

Discussion in 'New Divers & Those Considering Diving' started by Kerstin, Jan 3, 2004.

  1. Kerstin

    Kerstin Guest

    Hi. I went to Honduras last year and enrolled in a three-day intensive PADI training. I freaked out during the shallow water breathing exercise, especially when clearing my mask. Every time I did it I accidently breathed in through my nose, got water up my nose and had to shoot up to the surface to gasp for air. It was so horrible that I didn't finish the training or the certification. I got really frightened of the whole thing.

    Now, this Xmas, my boyfriend gave me scuba lessons at the Y. They start on Tuesday and I am already getting nervous about the mask. I have severely impaired vision and am dead scared to take off my mask because it has prescription lenses in it. I tried contacts and it was worse. I never wear them normally and do even worse with them in the water. I know I should relax but I have real issues about being blind and not being able to breathe...

    Any advice?
  2. Boogie711

    Boogie711 Contributor

    Best piece of advice I could give you is be patient, go slow, and practice, practice, practice - even in your shower or tub.

    Try breathing through your mouth with just a little bit of water in the mask. Just let it sit there, and pull your mask away and let the water drip down - even standing in the shower. Yes, you may feel silly, but I live life feeling silly, and you grow numb to it after a while. :)

    Add more water with time... then, when you're comfortable with breathing with water in your face, try doing it with a snorkel on - same drill. Then with the snorkel on, practice 'clearing' a mask by looking up and breathing OUT through your nose.

    Perhaps after a while, you can practice in the shallow end of the pool. Worse comes to worse, just stand up.

    This is a very common fear, and you're far from the only one to have experienced it. It will get much, much better with time, patience and practice - I promise.
  3. IndigoBlue

    IndigoBlue Contributor

    We ALL have severely impaired vision underwater. Our eyes would have to be big fish eyes for us to see underwater without a mask.

    Try swimming in a pool underwater without a mask for awhile, just your fins on for added propulsion.

    Then try swimming underwater with your scuba unit but without a mask. The key is to exhale continuously through your nose.

    Breathing in through our mouths is not a natural thing for us humans. It is tricky and needs time for us to develop "muscle memory" to Do It Right.

    Breathing in through our mouths and out through our noses is like walking and chewing gum. Very difficult for some. But with practice, anyone can do it.

    Practice, practice, practice. That equals learning curve.

    Once you can comfortably swim underwater without your mask, both on and off scuba, then mask clearing should be a piece of cake.

    Maybe your boyfriend is just pushing you too fast? That is my guess, anyway. You need to develop a comfort level first. He sounds like a water-baby whereas you maybe are not.
  4. RiverRat

    RiverRat Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Connecticut
    Hey Kerstin hang in there.....
    I had some problems on my open water and then again on my advanced open water dives. My first dive was a discover scuba dive in St. Maarten. Beautiful, clear water, great dive that got me into this. Well my first open water dives were in dark quarry water, 50 degrees, limited visibility. On my first decent I was basically the stragler, last one to descend. I think I was trying to do too much, new, heavy gear (full 7mm, hood, gloves) My buddy descended then I started to go down. As I got down about 10 feet everyone "disappeared" in the low vis. No visual reference I started to breath rapidly and could not get it under control. Felt like I was pulling real hard on the reg and not getting any air. I really felt like panicking and made a relatively controlled ascent topside. After resting a bit my instructor brought me down the wall for a visual referance and within several minutes I was diving with no issues! The rest of the weekend went well. No problems the second day's first dive. Well after OW certs I proceeded to take the AOW course. In the back of my mind was this anxious condition I experienced on my OW dives. Well as luck would have it, again on my first dive of the weekend I started to breath rapidly again on my first dive! This time I was ready though! I had posted on the board about this before those dives and got some good advise. Just STOP....and concentrate on breathing SLOW, DEEP breaths. After 4 or 5 breaths I was fine and nobody ever noticed. For me it was MIND over MATTER, a Zen like thing maybe, but I concoured it. I think we all have some weaknesses that we need to overcome to make us stronger in those areas. I was surprised after talking to others that got certified in my class that several other divers had some problems in other areas they needed to overcome. As stated previously just keep practicing and soon this will be a non-issue.
  5. glbirch

    glbirch Solo Diver

    Hi Kirstin, I feel for you.

    During my basice OW I had the same problem. I'm just not a mouth breather. First time we did the mask drill I must have swallowed half the pool. I agree that practice is the big one, even in the tub with your snorkel. The other thing is to relax, which is easy to say and hard to do. I think in the end you will find the reward well worth the work required.

    Best of luck.
  6. Foo

    Foo Contributor

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Texas
    Hi Kirsten-
    I can't tell you how alike we are. The first course I took last Sept., I had a very hard time clearing my mask, and I would feel like I was strangling, which of course made it very hard to stay under. I also am NOT a natural mouth breather, and found I was still trying to breathe through my nose. I hated the way it felt when any water would be touching my nose in my mask (I suppose it was a "snotty nose" feeling and I didn't like it at all). So, I swallowed a lot of water (ewww) and I stayed pretty frustrated. I also was amazed (and somewhat dismayed) that EVERY other person in my class (it was me and 6 firefighters!) did each skill the first freaking time they tried, and looked like pros. Physical endeavors had always been fairly easy for me, (I mean, I was a lifeguard in H.S.!) and this stressed me out that I had such a hard time. But, I REALLY wanted to dive. (Though I did quit once, I went back). If you really want to dive, you will be able to work through the problems. If you're not doing it for YOU, however, it will be hard to work through things.
    I worked with my instructor in private lessons, where he just had me swim around in the shallow end, practicing my breathing. This was so nice- much more fun than trying to do the skills. I started understanding why people even want to do this thing! I got to watch the lap swimmers, check out the pool lights, tiles, hair balls, etc...while learning to relax and just breathe and trust my regulator. I began to "mini-clear" my mask on my own as I swam- each time gaining a bit more confidence about doing it. I stayed down for 30 min. the first time I did this- I was so proud! And I had a good time (for the first time). The next time I went to the pool, I cleared my flooded mask a bit better, but I still had some problems that frustrated me. However, I did get to swim in the deep end that night, and even though it was a little scary, I began to feel more comfortable. After that night, however, my instructor told me that he would be moving in a month, and that he couldn't teach any more lessons. So- I got upset at first, thinking that I would never be a diver. But I started taking lessons from another instructor (an hour from my home- my town is small), and the first night he gave me a purge mask to try. I LOVED IT. If you haven't tried one yet, do it. Your instructor/dive shop should have some rentals or something for you to try. You will probably find that you can clear it much easier, I sure can. And that night is the night that I played in the deep end and realized that I WILL be a diver. And it was good. Also, try As for the vision issue, I wear contacts and didn't wear them with my first instr. The new one insisted that I wear them. Any skills that are done with mask removed, floods, etc., I do with my eyes closed. He will tap my forehead to let me know when it is cleared. For some reason, it's much easier for me to do these type skills with my eyes closed, rather than to be trying to see blindly without my contacts. I've swam beside him with my eyes closed on some practice ascents, holding his arm. It actually helped me to relax and just remember that I can breathe as long as my reg is in my mouth, so it's okay for me to take my time doing my skills, even with my eyes closed. As long as you can breathe, there isn't really any reason to rush and get panicked. Talk to your instructors before you ever get in the water. Give them a copy of these posts, even and ask them to read where you are. But the main thing is, decide if you want to do this, or if it's just because someone else would like you to do it. When I realized that it was for me, not my husband (diver who is thrilled that I am finally coming around), then it made me more determined to make it. I will be doing my open water checkout dives in 3 wks. Give yourself all the time you need to be confident, don't rush. If you need to keep practicing before your checkout dives, then arrange to do it- don't feel like you have to complete everything in 3 days or 3 weeks. Find an instructor who doesn't rush you and who really wants you to be successful. I started in September! So, you needn't feel as if you're the slowest student ever, because I wear that crown. (Hey, you gotta be #1 at something!). But I am happy to say that I will soon be certified and I plan to go on with my training after that. So, hopefully my story and ideas will help you, because if I can do it, anyone can. PM me if you need any encouragement throughout your course.
    Best wishes,
  7. detroit diver

    detroit diver Contributor


    Some good advice was given already. I'll just add a couple of things.

    Find a patient instructor that is willing to work with you.

    Don't go for a rushed course. Take your time. One of the reasons a lot of us abhor the weekend crash courses is because of what happened to you (amongst other reasons).

    Try this: Get into the shallow end of the pool (where you can stand up). Leave your mask off, hold your nose, and put your regulator into your mouth. Breath there for a few seconds. Then slowly put your chin in the water, then your mouth, then your nose, then your eyes, then your whole head. Do this slowly and to your comfort level. When you feel comfortable, release your hand from your nose and then stay there a little while. When you feel good at this, stand up and put your mask on. Again, go slowly down until you are under water, and then crack your mask a little to let some water in. Then a little more, and so on until it's completely flooded. Then take it off. By this time, you'll have already mastered being underwater without a mask, so this should not be too difficult. Take your time.

    This is an important skill to master. Water WILL get into your mask while diving, and the chances of someone knocking it off (or a current doing the same) are quite high. You need to feel comfortable without your mask underwater. As someone previously said, we're all a little blind (not to make light of your eyesight) underwater. If you're comfortable diving without a mask, and have mastered your bouyancy, then you will not panic when the mask gets knocked off.

    Good luck, and dive safe.
  8. DiveSurgeon

    DiveSurgeon Registered

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Southeast Massachusetts
    Kirstin -

    Hang in there! The whole mask clearing excercise can be frightening. I was always the kid with the bloodshot eyes by the pool because I refused to close them - my dad would thow a quarter in the deep end for my brother and I to compete at getting. Having your eyes open in direct contact with the water can be unnerving at first, but once you get OK with it (it never feels GOOD), then calmly putting the mask back on and clearing it is a piece of cake.

    I also recommend practinig in the shower, and even on dry land. Once the actual motion of taking it off/putting it on gets incorporated into your memory, then you will not feel so overwhelmed by the addition of the water.

    I too am blind as a bat without my glasses and I use a prescription mask. But with eyes open underwater, NOBODY can see well at all. In fact, we have the advantage over the 20-20 crowd in that we are used to bad vision - like finding the bathroom in the middle of the night without our specs.

    One final piece of advice - once you go on a trip, pack the mask in your carry on!!!! It is the one piece of equipment you can not replace with a rental on some island. I now carry 2 of them just to be safe.

    Happy Diving!
  9. Kerstin

    Kerstin Guest

    Thanks everyone for the vote of confidence! I will indeed do as suggested and print this out and bring to the instructor. It all seems a bit daunting now as I haven't put on this gear for over a year. I'm already feeling panicked. Ugh, I need to relax, I know.

    The really strange thing about all of this is that I am an excellent swimmer and have never had fear of the water at all. I love snorkeling and thought scuba would be a natural extension for me. I couldn't believe it when my boyfriend, who is NOT an excellent swimmer and has intense fear of waves, picked it right up. I, like Foo, felt completely overwhelmed (and annoyed with myself) when all of the other people in the class just picked up the mask clearing like it was the most natural thing.

    I don't have a lot of opportunities for practice in the pool (I live in Brooklyn) so I will definitely try the shower/bath thing as well.
  10. dbulmer

    dbulmer DIR Practitioner

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: UK,Windsor
    A couple more tips!

    1) Imagine you are breathing through a straw - you can do this in the bath!
    Put your head in the bath without a mask and snorkel and feel the water on your face - try cold water and warm water at different times.

    Place a snorkel on the bottom of the bath (again no mask) and then place the snorkel in your mouth and clear it of water - imagine breathing through a straw as you breathe through the snorkel.

    Practice this every time in the bath until it feels comfy doing it. If you inhale water - don't worry try again - all you'll need to do is remove your head from the water, dry yourself off and keep going.

    2) Try putting your mask on in the dark. No water ! Just get familiar with putting the mask on and taking it off.

    Keep on doing 1) and 2) till you get to see your instructor and then take it from there. By the time you get to your instructor you'll feel a little less scared by it all and whatever you do stick at it !
    Best wishes

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