When pushing past your comfort zone means looking like a Teletubby

It’s nine o’clock in the morning. In a bathroom stall somewhere in a state park, I am crying, sweating, and swearing. I have never known such despair.

I am trying to get into a wetsuit.

My new husband and I are taking scuba-diving lessons, and this morning we are preparing for our open-water dives, the final requirement for certification. In previous weeks, we attended a class at a scuba shop and completed a portion of our training in an indoor pool. Now we’ve taken a trip to the Southwest, where we have an opportunity to complete our training in a lake far away from Minnesota.

Up to this point, I hadn’t had to deal with rubber bodysuits, and dealing with one is like trying to put on pantyhose that’s several sizes too small and made of tires. I didn’t know this would be the hardest part of it all. The thing is barely up to my thighs, and I am out of breath, blinded by perspiration, and wondering why I ever attempt anything new. All that’s needed to complete this miserable scene is an empty bottle of Old Grand Dad nearby and perhaps a child pounding at the door crying, Mommy, Mommy! Buzzards circling overheard would be a nice touch.

The other divers are waiting on me. I have sent one of my female classmates to fetch my husband. He knocks before he enters the biffy and says with wonder, “Hey, MJ, did you see those buzzards circling overhead?” He loves nature.

The instruction manual and videos have extolled the wonders of diving, and also repeatedly warned of potential hazards. It says nothing, however, about one’s husband of five months beholding his wife, a woman of size, trapped in a rubber contraption with some of her “size” squished out at the midway point, her arms stuck out at her sides, hanging over the bulk of the remaining material. My arms and hands are simply not strong enough to grab the folds of the fabric and pull upward. Tears streaming down my face, I squeak out, “Help.” It occurs to me that I should have worn a girdle or some Spanx under this outfit.

I was always one of those girls who was chosen last for the team, if at all. The show Survivor gives me no small agitation because I know I’d be voted off the plane on the flight to the island. I was a couch potato for many years, much too abashed to try anything that was new or different or required physical exertion in public. I started doing things—I took tango lessons, fencing lessons, I joined bike and hike clubs. I think I started taking on these activities to defy expectations—not just the expectations of others, but of myself for myself.

It’s good to push past your comfort zone, or so I’m told. You learn so much about yourself, people say. Practicing in the pool, I learn that I’m really buoyant—really buoyant. Not to brag, but I’d use the word gifted. One must use weights attached to a belt or vest to maintain neutral buoyancy once below the surface. Neutral buoyancy is needed so you can swim through the water, neither floating to the top nor sinking to the bottom. I won’t go into graphic details about just how many pounds of weight were needed to get me underwater, but let’s just say the ever-patient instructor sent his assistant to the back room to try to find some anvils, a couch, or a spare engine block.

Still, I’d soldiered on and mastered the necessary skills. I almost even allowed myself to get a little bit excited. But right now, in this dank ladies’ room, I want to quit. I want to retroactively quit everything I’ve ever attempted, and pre-quit everything I’ll ever think of trying.

My husband, tall and lean and elegantly at home in his body, looks like the hero of an action movie in his wetsuit. He’s crazed with excitement to be doing this. He can’t wait to commune with turtles and fishes. I love the guy so much, and never more than when he tells me everyone has a hard time getting into their wetsuits. He takes a stance, then yanks upward while I clutch the silver railing affixed to the wall in the stall. My feet are momentarily raised off the floor. There is thrashing, grunting, and breathlessness, but not the good kind. Some time later, I find myself encased, a helpless, shapeless sausage. I don’t care. I’m in.

I stride to the lake, like a triumphant Teletubby. Just try stopping me now, for now I can do anything, anything I tell you! Except, perhaps, get out of the wetsuit.

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