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Full Face Mask - Anxiety/Claustrophobia?

Discussion in 'Diving Medicine' started by Jim-SAR, Aug 26, 2013.

  1. Jim-SAR

    Jim-SAR Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Kenosha, WI
    This past weekend, I was wearing a full face mask (Ocean Reef Neptune) while doing some training as a Public Safety Diver with our local dive team, and I started having anxiety while wearing the mask. After this, my breathing rate accellerated, and I had to work hard, mentally, to get it back under control. When I was called upon to perform a task, and submerged, the anxiety came back even stronger, and I ended up surfacing and called the dive. Not a "panic" situation, but definitely not a comfortable feeling.

    I surfaced, signalled okay to my tender, but told them I needed to come out. No, I didn't rip the mask off, or freak out. I just knew that i wanted to NOT be in the full face mask any longer than I had to. Once another backup diver was in the water, then I managed to exit and everything was fine. Well, everything except for me feeling like I had let my team down when they were depending on me. At least this was a training scenario. My LDS is going to have a pool session for anyone on our team that desires more time on the FFM, and will be running through drills, and I will definitely be there.

    About one month ago, we had an actual rescue call for a missing swimmer that jumped from a lighthouse pier. When I went in to search for the missing swimmer, I had the exact same feelings and rapid breathing. I pushed through the anxiety due to the nature of why I was there, and managed to complete my search patterns, although I used more air than I normally would have.

    Our dive team has always recommended the use of FFMs, but in the past we could use a 2nd stage and mask. Since we're all volunteer, it was never pressed, but now that we have received some grants and gear for our dive team, we're enforcing the use of FFMs on all operations. I haven't had a lot of time with the FFM, but I was comfortable with it in the pool when I first got it. It's been a couple of years since I dove with the FFM, as I was away from the team due to injuries from a motorcycle wreck.

    I have no issues with ZERO visability and working in blackout conditions, but for some reason the FFM starts the anxiety. Similar to the feelings I got when I had to have an MRI done on my neck/shoulder area. Maybe it's a mild form of claustrophobia.

    1. What are ways to learn how to deal with the anxiety/claustophobia associated with a FFM?

    2. How can I be perfectly fine in blackout conditions where my only reference is by feel, but the FFM creates anxiety?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Hickdive

    Hickdive Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Glasgow, UK
    Are you sure this is actually anxiety and not just CO2 buildup?

    I use an Ocean Reef Neptune G-Diver for zero-vis underwater search tasks and, compared with an Aga Divator II with positive pressure, I've noticed it is very easy to get CO2 buildup which manifests itself as rapid breathing and an intense desire to get out of the mask. This was never a problem when I was using a conventional half-mask and mouthpiece; even in "can't see a fingertip on the face plate" visibility. This is particularly noticeable if I don the FFM and use the SAV whilst doing last minute items such as donning fins and gloves.

    Now I take the time to do all these things with the mask off, take a moment or two for some final checks and then don the mask last with the SAV closed and breathing from my cylinder. When submerged I take things slowly and, although I've not encountered any problems since changing the order in which I gear up, I am always ready to flush the mask with air if I get that feeling coming over me.

    Try slowing down, doing all your pre-dive stuff with the mask off, composing yourself and only donning the mask at the last possible moment before entering the water.
    Duke Dive Medicine likes this.
  3. Jim-SAR

    Jim-SAR Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Kenosha, WI
    It could be a CO2 buildup I guess. As the backup diver, we are either fully dressed with the SAV open, waiting on shore, or we're in the water waiting on the surface with SAV open. Since we are there to provide immediate assistance to the primary diver, we have to be ready to clip into the primary diver's tether line, and go. I'm not sure that breathing off of the back gas would be a good option since we would basically be using our air while doing nothing. The only time we would have to be on air at the surface is during a hazmat/contaminated water dive.

    I wish I lived somewhere with better visibility, so I could just get a buddy and go sit on the bottom somewhere and breathe. It may just be a matter of getting used to the mask again, and figuring out how to not let the CO2 build up in the mask. This is just another obstacle that I have to conquer somehow, and press forward.
  4. Herb-alaska

    Herb-alaska Barracuda

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Alaska
    Jim as a backup diver we do not seat our FFM until we are called to dive. We will stand suited with all but the mask and then go It takes about 30 seconds to seat that mask

    if you are building Co2 with the surface vent over I would think that you are breathing to rapidly, is it that your over heated in the gear?. I think that your plan to go sit on the bottom and get used to the mask is the correct plan.
  5. Jim-SAR

    Jim-SAR Public Safety Diver

    # of Dives: 100 - 199
    Location: Kenosha, WI
    I probably just need some time in the pool to go back through the FFM skills and then do some pleasure diving with it to get comfortable again. I probably got myself worked up due to the rapid breathing initially, and then when I started responding to the distress call, it all started again, and I just let it get the better of me.

    This FFM is now my nemesis, and I just have to figure out how to kick its ass like I've done with other diving issues. :crafty:
  6. Duke Dive Medicine

    Duke Dive Medicine ScubaBoard Supporter Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    You may want to consider having the mask serviced as well. If the regulator isn't functioning properly, increased breathing resistance could contribute to both CO2 buildup and anxiety.
  7. Warmwaterpls

    Warmwaterpls Divemaster Candidate

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Barcelona/Montreal
    I was thinking of going FFM EXACTLY for the anxiety you're speaking of! I see now, after reading this thread that a FFM wouldn't solve the issue. From extensive reading on this forum, I understand that it's in most part psychology, perhaps a minor part physiology. There's a thread on 'anxiety and panic for experienced diver' (or something similar to that). I'd recommend you have a read.
  8. Akimbo

    Akimbo Just a diver Staff Member ScubaBoard Supporter

    Last edited: Mar 31, 2014

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