One of my biggest fears is deep water. I have always wondered why I’m so afraid of it. One time I was jet skiing in the Cayman Islands and I was cruising around within 50 yards of the shore. One of the boat captains had previously explained to me that about 200 yards off shore the depth of the water sharply dropped off from around 40 feet to a mile. A MILE DEEP. That is 5,280 feet, way deeper than 40! I decided to venture out and see what it was like to cross the “threshold” of depth. I revved my trusty Yamaha and went straight out toward the horizon. Suddenly, all around me, the water turned from light blue to black; I had journeyed over the great shelf. I was immediately filled with an ominous fear I had never experienced before (aside from when Taco Bell took the Volcano Taco off their menu). When I scampered back to safety and calmed down, I posed this question to myself: “Why is it that absolutely nothing changed when I crossed the barrier – my jet ski still worked perfectly, I had the same ability to swim, and the waves remained the same – but I was absolutely horror-stricken?” I researched the answer to this question for 3 solid years and have finally figured out the answer. In keeping with the TGM tradition, this is all totally scientific and full of completely accurate science.
The true fear presented here is actually going down beneath the surface into the depths, either in an ocean or a lake (lakes are almost scarier), and the jet skiing example is what happens as a result of that fear. Though filled with horror, I was able to be on top of the deep water and could probably do it again. It would be absolutely out of the question for me to actually dive into the depths and be “down there” by myself. But why is this so? As you will see, it is not due to any one fear, but a combination of all of our most common fears. Here are the reasons why deep water is a ridiculously scary concept.
1. Fear of the Dark
When you’re at the bottom of a body of water, you can’t see anything. It’s pitch black. Have you ever tried to swim as far down in a lake as you can? It gets really dark and cold really fast – about 10 feet down. Imagine being 20 feet down. Or 5,280 feet down. But even that’s nothing compared to the deepest point on the entire crust of the Earth, located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Japan, called the Mariana Trench, which is 38,000+ feet (or 6.8 miles). If you put Mount Everest at the bottom of the trench, the top of the mountain would still be over a mile below the surface of the ocean. The bottom line is that you can’t see anything. Even if you’re not that far down and there is faint sunlight, everything below you would be complete darkness, and this definitely plays into our collective fear of the dark. In case I haven’t hammered my point home by now, just think about taking a walk in the woods by yourself. Not really scary. Now picture yourself alone in the woods in the middle of the night. I don’t care who you are, the dark is a scary thing.
2. Fear of Suffocating
This is the most obvious reason, but it still needs to be addressed. Have you ever gotten to the point where you swam down too far in the swimming pool and you seriously considered the fact that you might not make it back to the top before you ran out of breath? If you’ve ever been rough-housing as a kid with blankets and pillows and you accidentally got pinned down inside of a sleeping bag or something, and you get to that point where laughter temporarily turns to screaming, you know what a scary concept not being able to breath is. Even if you have scuba gear with you down in that deep dark abyss, there’s a chance a valve could pop out or you could run out of oxygen. You can’t see and you can’t really take a deep breath. Could it get worse? Yes.
3. Fear of the Unknown
Need I remind you there are lots and lots of weird, dangerous, freaky-looking creatures everywhere in deep water? There are over 1 million species of creatures in the ocean. I’d be scared if there were 1 million creatures in the ocean, let alone species of creatures, and scientists estimate there are an additional 9 million species yet to be discovered. That means we only even know what 11% of the creatures in the ocean are. Most of the beings in the ocean are things mankind has never even seen or heard of. Who knows what could be down there?
But it’s worse than you’re even imagining. Allow me to use another analogy that’s happened to you in real life so that you can gauge how truly scary this is. Think about a time when you were walking in a dimly lit basement trying to find something, or, again, walking in the woods at night armed with only a flashlight. All the sudden, something brushes up against the back of your neck. What do 10 out of 10 people do at that point? They become airborne similar to a frightened cat, possibly let out a very girly scream, and instantly turn around and shine their flashlight to see what it was. And every time, what is the thing that touched you? A leaf from a branch or the flap of a cardboard box. It’s never anything actually scary. But in deep water, it’s always something scary.
Think if you couldn’t shine your flashlight on the thing. And think if the thing was lots of things. And think if, even if you could see the thing, you probably would have no idea what you were staring at. You would be forever locked in that initial fright index of 100.
It’s dark, you can barely breath, and some weird things just touched you and you have no idea where they just went. But there is more to fear, I’m afraid.
4. Fear of Flying Insects
Think if you were in a canyon somewhere in Colorado taking a hike. It would be very much like the bottom of a lake except without the water, wouldn’t it? If you answered yes, you clearly don’t appreciate the gravity of the fear of deep water. Imagine that, as you’re walking along, all of the beetles and scorpions crawling along the ground, the huge, black, hairy spiders that are hidden from view in the cracks of the canyon walls, and the slimy worms and snakes that are burrowed beneath the ground, simultaneously started flying anywhere they wanted. That is what the bottom of a lake without water would be like. For the strange creatures underwater, there is no up or down. They simply go wherever they want as if they were flying.
Ever been around someone when a huge bug flies near them? Then you know how even the manliest men, even though they appear to be calm, quickly tense up and become filled with a secret fear that the bug might land on their eyeball or fly into their mouth, and that’s why men try so hard to kill them. Go to a park in the summer and observe a large group of people. You will most assuredly witness at least one person run for their life because a bug is flying around their head. Flying insects are just plain scary.
Unfortunately, in deep water, you can’t see any of the undiscovered freakish flying creatures that brush past your body as you grasp at your suffocating throat. That’s gotta be it, right? Wrong.
5. Fear of Being Caught
Have you ever been chased by a dog, even if you were just playing with the dog? It’s so scary. Dogs will always catch you, and there is nothing more thrilling than when you are running full speed away from the dog and each time you glance back the dog is 10 yards closer until it’s finally nipping at your heels. Now, imagine that same scenario, except instead of a dog, you’re running from a bear. You will be eaten if you are caught, and it doesn’t help that bears can run faster sideways than the fastest human can run forward.
When you’re at the bottom of a lake, everything that is around you was built to move in water. Everything, except you. If something truly frightening like a shark or a giant squid caught site of you, you could turn the other way and flail about all you want, but the monster will catch up with you in a split second. You can’t get away from anything.
Even if you had the wherewithal to see and breath, you couldn’t run from danger. It would simply find you and devour you.
There are lots of places that I wouldn’t want to be, such as trapped in a burning house or alone in the vacuum of space. But in the burning house at least I can see, and in space at least there aren’t any creatures that could get me. There are no other places in the universe that combine as many common fears as places like a mile below the surface of Lake Baikal or 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. It is because of the combination of all of these fears that I am so horrified by deep water.