Thalassophobia

Imagine yourself as an adept swimmer, front stroking through the ocean on a lucid, sunny day for as long as your body will allow. You never really look up, it is the ocean after all, you simply bask in the serenity of gliding through ripple after ripple as you move forward. So enjoyable is the experience that you swim to the point of fatigue without a second thought; so, you starfish yourself in place and stare up at the clouds as they pass overhead. Your skin begins to prune, and you, like everyone else, loathe that feeling, so you arise from your floating position and glance around.

The next thing you see sends horror lunging through your heart. Nothing but sea, for miles and miles, in every direction. To make matters worse, you’ve been floating so long you can’t remember the direction from whence you came. You’re an ant in a full-fledged lake, and as far as you can see, there lies nothing but panels of blue. You’re coincidentally quite the poet, and for some strange reason the existing colour palette strikes you disoriented.

High in the sky the hue is that of baby blue, as a result of the clouds dissipating and blending with the heavens. Further down is the shade of sky you’re more familiar with. Continuing downwards, the ocean’s darker blue lurks up into your field of vision. You dunk your head under the water for a moment. You peer at the enveloping, all-encompassing abyss that lies beneath your feet. There is no clarity, all that you can notice through the murky void is the shift in tint. As far down as you can see, the blue turns into black, as the sun’s light is syphoned by the chasm of the depths.

Without conscious awareness of your actions, you begin swimming towards that black abstract, straight downwards. You swim entranced, longer than your unaffected mind would ever allow. You imagine movement taking place ahead of you, shadows darker than the water cascade on the noir backdrop. You continue swimming without registering it, you’re hypnotized by the blackness, like a fish to an illuminated angler lure.

Eventually, your senses flood back into your psyche, a boatload of reality smashes into your burgeoning mind. The water is immediately ice cold, your nervous system writhes when contacted with what feels like freezing acupuncture. The feeling in your hands and feet disappears, panic jars your neck region into tension. Your chest feels like it’s been sandwiched between tectonic plates, and you suck in a breath without thinking, immediately beginning to suffocate on the water.

You take a final scan of your field of vision, and realize the blackness you swam towards moments ago surrounds you on all sides, you are now directionless in the centre of the abyss.

Yet, you can still barely see, there must be light somewhere. You intuitively find the up direction, and spot a shimmer through the opaque tar layers. You start fighting to get to that shimmer, raising your hand in a swim stroke that looks like a cripple climbing a ladder. You keep finding the next rung. As you emerge from the black, back into the dark blue, your semi functioning brain conjures up a sliver of hope.

You’ll make it back to the breathing air.

In the next second, your momentum abruptly changes. You’re ripped away from the light, by something that coils around your leg. You look down to make out the silhouette of a tentacle in the darkness, one hundred suction cups are latched to your thighs like leeches. The tentacle drags you down, with enough force to make the water feel like razor blades.

From afar, through the darkness, two glowing balls of yellow come into vision. You begin to close distance, and recognize that they are the eyes of something colossal, and malevolent. All thoughts of hope now drowned out, everything blackens once more as you’re thrust from the clutches of the creature and down into a massive beak.

In your final moments, you pray for the oxygen deficiency to kill you as your body is mauled and lacerated by a spiked tongue. In hindsight, I’d say that curiosity killed the cat, but they hate water.

Now that you’re dead, let’s move on. Turn your imagination off and listen.

I used to get anxiety watching Finding Nemo as a kid. I would think there was a giant squid underneath the tiles of every pool I couldn’t see the bottom of. Upon seeing a large body of water, my thoughts of it would always trickle into something resembling the grossly exaggerated scenario proposed above. In my mind’s eye, every pond contained the creature from Dagobah, and every lake housed a Plesiosaurus.

Psychologists deem this sort of schematic thinking as Thalassophobia, an intense and persistent fear of the sea. I can’t say for certain that it’s an affliction I suffer from, but it definitely seems to match what I’ve felt about deep water my entire life. This is coming from someone with a penchant for eradicating his fears through familiarity, to an obsessive degree. Despite all my best efforts, the ocean has remained a golem in my every endeavour to shake it from seeming fearsome. Even to this day the thought alone seems unsettling. The thing is, I’ve only very recently given any actual thought to why I might be afraid of deep water. But, now that I have, I figured I’d share.

There are, in my opinion, three main reasons one might have for being terrified by the deep sea. Each one is as essential as any other. Firstly, the size; as on this planet, the oceans are the largest thing we know. They constitute more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface. A single ocean would take upwards of 3 days to drive across. They contain trenches that lie more than 10 kilometers straight down – the word gargantuan doesn’t even begin to cut it. The sheer mass alone is enough to rattle the average human being. We operate in such minuscule perceptive fields that processing something so big forces one to think beyond that comfortable realm. We, as a species have a tendency to fear that which lies outside of our scope of existence. The waters of earth are the furthest thing from that scope, bar the spherical entirety of the globe.

When mortal men are faced with seas fit for Titans, such godly expanse can only be revered as Herculean. Anything that big, should be feared, and rightfully so.

The second reason one might have to fear the seas relates to the enigmatic properties of the deep. They remain a mystery to us as a whole, as we know strikingly little about our native blue bodies. I’ll set some facts straight for you. In all of our documented years of existence we have only managed to pry through just under 5 percent of the ocean. More than 95 percent has been unscathed by our analytical gaze. It is hypothesized that there are potentially thousands of Poseidon’s undiscovered creatures that exist. What this means, is that the realm of possibility is the Devil’s domain; especially to those with rampant imaginations. It means, the Kraken from Greek mythology could bust through the hull of your family cruise and devour all those on board. The biblical Leviathan could snatch your charter jet to Cuba out of thin air with a 300-foot tendril. It means that on an Australian SCUBA expedition, you could be dragged by the ankles into a deep sect of the coral reef by a tribe of feral bipedals with faces like octopi. Are these thoughts ridiculous? Far-fetched? Sure, but we truthfully don’t know. Take size into account again and our ignorance becomes hellish fuel to a terrifying concept. The potential for what the oceans harbour is as big as the oceans themselves.

So, thus far we have 2 reasons to fear the sea down pat. The astronomical size, and the ignorance to what exists within that monstrosity. Now that you have those two factors in mind, I know what you’re thinking. Well, probably not in all honesty. On second thought, I doubt this is something you’re actually thinking. But then again, who knows, maybe you’re an astute little miscreant, you actually are thinking it. I shouldn’t just assume things. The Bad News Bears taught me that. I got off track. I digress, I know what you’re thinking: space shares both of those attributes with the seas, should you not fear space too?

No. I don’t fear space in the slightest. This is on account of our third and final reason, and the main difference between the two aforementioned entities. Visual clarity. The fact that within water, especially with our maladaptive human eyes, we can see nothing.

Y’see, space has literal astronomical size; however, you can look out into the cosmos and see for lightyears. We know next to nothing of what it contains, but you can actually see the unknown so long as it is within your field of view. The same cannot be said for deep water. The seas are opaque on a bad day, translucent at very best. Goggle up, and you’ll still only be able to see for a few miles. That difference, may seem slight to some, but is the world to me. You haven’t the faintest idea what lies just out of your field of view. What this means, is that as you bob up and down off the shoreline of a Florida harbour, that which lies beneath your toes as they dangle in our planet’s life force, isn’t up to you. It is up to your paranoid imagination. Which can kill you, if you happen to have a fucking potent one.

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