How I Flipped A Jet Ski and Was Cured
I am not an adventurous person. I enjoy following the rules of life and gravity. Humans are not designed to swing from ropes in the middle of a cannon. Lungs are not meant to walk at the bottom of the ocean. Racing is better done on two legs and best accomplished when something or someone is chasing you. It's simple. I like to be safe.
When I watch videos of people doing parkour from massively tall buildings to massively tall buildings, scaling monuments and statues instead of using stairs, or eating foods that squirm on their way down to their stomachs, it stresses me out. Maybe they are more confident in themselves than I am. Or maybe they have a secret contract with God, but it's a no for me.
This is clear in the job I have. Threat management and Security Compliance. Not only do I find where danger exists, but I write the safety rules and teach people how to be as safe as possible. And I enjoy it! Following rules. Being safe. It's my jam!
I am NOT an adventurous person.
In spite of my inability to go with the flow and live on the wild side, rarely am I struck with the idea to live a little as they say. Try something exciting that isn't a new wall paper or recording my own poor rendition of a TikTok dance. Very rarely am I hit with the "let's do something dumb" bug. But when I'm bitten, it usually goes just as I expected it to go. Bad. Comically bad.
This is the story of how I flipped a jet ski in the middle of an ocean, became a mermaid, and was cured. Call me Ariel, I'm convinced I grew gills. I'll explain.
I've written before about how my anxiety is set up. Anxiety and I have been buddies since I was 6 or 7 years old. It's the reason I hate the smell of croissants today. But that's a story for some other time.
Though anxiety and I have been stuck together like white on rice, I'm occasionally able to tuck it deep into my belly, ignore it, and do the exact opposite of what it's telling me to do. On this day, riding a jet ski in the bluest waters of Aruba was the move.
I'd heard stories of how fun riding jet skis was from lots of folks. My cousins were all excited and as I watched my one cousin skip waves like Flipper herself, with her long black braids flowing in the wind like a beautiful cultural flag, my confidence tanked. There was no way I was about to look that graceful on water. But I was convinced to do it anyway.
A friend that I’d invited on our family vacation was also bitten by the "lets so something dumb" bug. Though I wanted to give the jet skis a try, her incessant coaxing stressed me out, but again with anxiety tucked away I ignored my better judgment and paid the instructor the fee.
In our conversation about doing this together I hadn't realized that together meant that the two of us would be on one jet ski. You could imagine my surprise when she insisted that I, Scary McScary Pants, would be the driver. Lord help us all.
In that moment, anxiety flew right back up to the surface of my soul. Full speed ahead.
I should have known when I couldn't get on the jet ski that perhaps I shouldn't drive something I couldn’t climb on to. I'm petite and I've got thighs that have been referred to as Christmas hams; thick and juicy. Throwing my short thick legs around a vehicle that rocks every time I swung was frustrating and embarrassing. Ultimately a leg cocked belly flop was the move that got me where I needed to be. My long-legged friend had zero problems as she scooted on to the tiny boat adding a second set of hams to the back end of the only apparatus separating us from the deep blue.
Instructions were spewed by the instructors too fast and nothing made sense but sitting like a tired duck wasn't what we paid for. Off we went... slowly.
As I watched my cousins zoom by in the distance, I anxiously putt-putted from the shallow end of the beach. In my ear my friend encouraged me to pick up speed. Anxiety said DON'T DO IT! I did something to the throttle and zoomed across the water.
Sounds like a successful ride. Wrong! As soon as we made it out of the baby pool part of the ocean, and into the great wide, I panicked. We were going way too fast, my friend was yelling in my ear, and then, I was under the boat. Apparently the accelerator is not the brake.
I looked up at the submerged seat of the jet ski I’d been driving I hadn’t realized what happened.
Under the water, looking up at the boat, I didn’t know how long I was down there. I’d guess long enough for my friend to have gone airborne and crash into the water. Long enough for my mom, who was watching us from the sand, to fall in a hole on the beach as she attempted to run into the water to rescue me. And long enough for the instructors to gear up the emergency rescue and make the trek across the water to save us.
All the while, I looked up at the capsized boat from the water below. I don't remember holding my breath. I am convinced that this was the second time in my life that God temporarily turned me into a mermaid and gave me gills; the first was the only time I’d ever been in a wave pool with people taller than me. Never again.
While underwater, I wasn’t scared. Anxiety had completely left the scene of the accident. I remember looking up at the seat and thinking, “Hmm. I should probably move”. A sweet voice in my head calmly said, “Get from under the boat” and I popped up to the surface. My friend was panicked, then relieved to see me.
As we waited to be rescued I floated on my back in the middle of the ocean, eyes fixated on the sky, and cracked up laughing!
Seconds later the rescue team arrived. Completely focused on me, they ran over my friend who was floating a bit further from me. Her bruises eventually healed, but she will forever have the story of being ran over by a jet ski. Was this heavenly punishment for pressuring me into driving the now capsized boat? Who knows?
One year later our friendship inexplicably ended. She moved across the country, ignored my phone calls, and blocked me on social media. I was ghosted. I figured the season of friendship had ended and God needed to make space for something greater. I wish her well.
This is where I tell you what I learned from the ordeal. Aside from the reminder to always follow my instincts, I learned some valuable lessons.
1. There are always signs before tragedy.
I should have known our jet ski ride would go poorly when the attendant attempted to give us a tattered life vest. And perhaps I ignored the foreshadowing when the instructor zipped through the instructional and seemed annoyed that my short legs couldn’t mount the jet ski. Oh, and my then friend's insistence on me being the driver of doom. At every stage in this story, I ignored the red flags. I will not do that again.
2. Anxiety isn’t a loyal companion.
What a fickle friend anxiety is. I call it a friend because in most instances it can protect you. Protecting the body from danger is its actual full time job. But it can also trick you into thinking that everything is dangerous, which is why it’s a fickle friend.
Sometimes you don’t know when it’s telling the truth or lying, so you occasionally make the wrong choice to ignore it. Which then adds to the problem, causing you to spiral into an anxious cluster and question everything. Is this real danger this time? Fake danger? Should I take a risk and go balls to the wall? ANXIETY, WHY ARE YOU MAKING A FOOL OF ME?
And this is why prayer and therapy are necessities.
3. Friends won’t pressure you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.
Public Service Announcement. Peer pressure doesn’t disappear when you reach adulthood. If you thought the days of come on just go for it, ended with your teenage years, you are sadly mistaken. Sometimes the pressure intensifies when you’re an adult because you get wrapped up in the mindset of, “Yes! I AM an adult. I CAN do this”.
But just because your friend lives the glamorous life, does risky things, and lives to tell the story, doesn't mean you should follow suit. Everything isn’t for everybody.
After the incident, I don’t push myself to do anything that I'm uncomfortable with. I’ve learned to be brave enough to say no, and let “No” be the complete sentence. Boundaries are life's safety net. As I said before, being safe is my jam and I never cared about being cool anyway.
4. Silence is necessary
It’s amazing how clearly you think when you’re underwater. Looking up at the capsized jet ski I was calm. This was a life changing moment for me. I was away from the noise of people talking or demanding anything from me. I wasn't thinking about anything taking place back on land or back at home.
For the first time in my adult life, I was totally present and in that moment without anxiety. My brain was quiet.
I didn’t have time to worry. Nothing inside of me triggered that response, which is odd. It’s funny how I can vividly recall nights that I laid awake thinking about conversations that I didn’t want to have, but what could have been a near death experience, triggered no anxious response.
5. God is good.
While waiting to be rescued, I realized how small I was. Floating, in the bluest water I’ve ever seen, with life that I couldn't see but knew was there, swimming all around me. I looked up at the sky with gratitude.
I felt like a grain of sand.
No matter how small I felt in that moment, God still looked after me.
Things could have gone differently that day. But instead of healing from physical wounds, a part of my brain healed that day.
From that day on, my anxiety lessened and I learned to take time for myself to sit and be silent. I stopped worrying about what other people wanted me to do, and started doing what made me feel good without apologizing. And I fully believe that this trip was the preparation I needed to deal with the unexpected removal of relationships that I refused to let go of. Which in turn made room for blessings I never imagined.
I will never ride a jet ski again, but I am grateful for the experience and the lessons I learned from it. I continue to enjoy the ocean and even built up the confidence to do some lightweight snorkeling later during that trip. Unlike jet skiing, snorkeling was something I always wanted to do. But trust me when I say, my feet were always able to reach the bottom.