My husband and I recently escaped the snows in Idaho for a first-time vacation in Belize. The travel brochures claimed the water around the tiny island of San Pedro offered some of the world’s best snorkeling, so we signed up for an excursion.

I bravely wiggled into the fins, secured the mask, and climbed down the boat’s ladder to enter the deep water, knowing I would remember the traumatic near-drowning experience from more than fifty years ago.

A Heart-Racing Memory

Back in 1965, my church youth group had organized a swimming party at the public pool located on the edge of the Snake River in southern Idaho. I’d never been a strong swimmer, but I tried to keep up with my friends Mary and Peggy as we swam back and forth between the shallow and deep ends. I was in deep water when I couldn’t go any farther. I remember flailing and struggling for breath before sinking slowly to the bottom.

 
 

I often can’t remember what happened last month, but I’ll never forget the feeling of sinking, weak and silent, to the bottom of the pool. I can still feel the rough texture of the pool against my skin. The memory makes my heart race.

The pool didn’t have life guards, and I learned later that a teacher, Bonnie Trounson, jumped in and pulled me out by the straps of my red and white swimming suit. Volunteers worked to make me cough up water and breathe again. After they took me home, I slept for two days. I have been in the water many times since then, but the traumatic memory has never faded entirely. I admit that I am afraid of deep water.

Recognizing and Handling Your Fears

There are several ways to recognize and handle childhood fears. These methods may help you to deal with yours or to empathize with others.

First, acknowledge the fear is real. I can’t pretend the near-drowning never happened. The memories are embedded in my mind and can emerge (no pun intended) any time I’m in deep water.

You can also empathize with others who have childhood fears. Some adults are afraid of the dark; others may have a phobia against dogs or spiders. Remembering your own apprehensions and experiences can help you understand and sympathize with them and stop others from mocking their anxieties.

Seek help, if necessary. When fears become debilitating, professional counseling may be required to address and overcome the issue. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome encompasses many symptoms, and a trained counselor can make recommendations for treatment.

Your experience is part of your story. I survived the ordeal at the swimming pool, and I can use that successful reality to face other obstacles. Surviving an ordeal makes it easier to tolerate another one, like record snowfall.

Your Fears Do Not Define You

My near-drowning experience is part of, but doesn’t define, my life. My adult children know my story and have seen me face my fears by snorkeling and waterskiing, so they know I’m not too afraid to get back into the water.

I took both of them to swimming lessons when they were toddlers, and they are strong swimmers and have scuba dived. My daughter worked on a tour boat in Hawaii and free-dove into the ocean to set the anchor. My son works in law enforcement and was a member of the dive and rescue team that searched for drowned victims. I am in awe of their skills.

As expected, the snorkeling adventure in Belize brought back the memories from 1965. But I remained calm until the fear subsided. I paddled on top of the deep water and gazed at the abundant, beautiful vision below. The brochures were correct; it was some of the best snorkeling in the world.

Have you overcome any childhood fears recently? Have you ever been teased about being afraid? How did you respond? Have fears from childhood made you more compassionate and empathetic to others? Please join the conversation.

Elaine AmbroseElaine Ambrose is a #1 best-selling author of eight books, including Midlife Happy Hour and Midlife Cabernet. Read about her books and blogs on her website ElaineAmbrose.com.

Let's Have a Conversation!