"I learnt to dive 10 years ago. Initially, I had no intentions to dive in the UK, but, after a few open water dives, was soon hooked.
I was 26 years old when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis - as the Consultant explained, arthritis doesn’t just affect “old people”. I took reassurance from the advice that, with the right drug treatment, I could continue to lead a full and active life.
And so for the next couple of years, with occasional check ups, I did exactly that. Although I still had symptoms, I learnt to ignore these and was adamant that the disease would not affect a very active and full-time schedule.
It wasn’t long, however, before I began struggling with day-to-day activities. My diving activity dropped off as I often felt too tired and couldn’t face the car journey, let alone the painful process of trying to kit up. Diving also made me ill tempered as the frustration of previously simple tasks became more difficult.
I was admitted to hospital just before my 30th birthday, with intolerable pain and restricted movement in my right shoulder and elbow. A few months later, I had major surgery for a complete shoulder replacement, which left me with a largely immobile arm. I simply refused to accept this physical change and decided to do continue as I had always done and, with this renewed, slightly arrogant approach, decided to start diving again.
It was the re-introduction to diving that brought my focus to my disability. After a disastrous dive, I ended up with a neurological DCI hit. Although I made a full recovery with no residual physiological symptoms with clearance to dive again after a month, it completely shattered my confidence. You would think after such an incident I would be delighted and counting my lucky chickens. But I emotionally hit an all time low as I came face-to-face with the reality of my disease.
It was a conversation with my father over the fact that I was going to sell my dive kit that was a catalyst for change. He insisted that I should contact a diving club to ask their opinion. I was adamant that diving was nearly impossible and all manner of negative thoughts dominated my mind. But to keep my father happy, I contacted a club to get their advice.
So I sent an e-mail. It said, in not so many words "hi, I’ve been bent and I have limited use of my right arm – can I join?” I can remember thinking there is no way any club would want to take me on – there was all the hassle of kitting up and then they would have to let me off virtually all the skills because I wouldn’t be able to do them, on top of which they would have to find someone mad enough to consider diving with me! But that wasn’t what happened. I was bombarded with and overwhelmed by encouragement from the entire club. This was the start of many a pool session, re-visiting all of the basic skills from early training and included new rescue skills for Sports Diver training.
Initially I had nagging doubts that I was unlikely to be able to do it. However, every single task was overcome, including the dreaded mask skills (see end for description of how to do this with one hand). Despite the usual fears and doubts, my first open water dive with the club was a success and I returned to the surface after having a fun dive on the Scylla, transformed into a person who was struggling to contain the joy and overwhelming excitement of what was just achieved. It was an amazing feeling.
My confidence has grown since then and with over 30 dives last year, I am becoming more ambitious than ever, with expectations to finally fulfil the life-long dream of diving with Manta Rays this year.
Diving is many different things to me. It’s unforgiving, extreme environment forced me to recognise how my body had changed. It’s a sport which I always enjoyed, but now find even more fulfilling and it allows me to have movement and exercise of my right arm that I am unable to achieve in any other way (it’s excellent physio!). The people who make up the club (and my experience of the diving community as a whole) are the really important aspect that have re-introduced fun and perspective back into my life and this has affected how I feel about myself.
This last year has seen my life transformed and I am looking forward to many more challenges and the fun that is yet to come.
Single Handed Mask Removal & Replacement
This may be a useful skill for any diver to learn, as in an emergency situation, you may only have one hand free.
- Bring mask to face and hold against face whilst using tips of fingers to sweep hair out of the way and form a seal.
- Exhale air through nose to clear all water from mask
- Breathe in, through nose, to hold the mask against your face
- Now your hand is free to hold the strap and pull over your head
- Make final adjustments to mask and clear out any water once strap is holding mask in place.