Facing my fears at the National Aquarium

Like everyone else on this planet, I have fears. I’m afraid of scary movies, dying, and fish. yes, you read that right: fish. I’m not sure when the exact moment was when I became terrified of the ocean and the creatures that live in it, but it is a fear that I’ve been dealing with for awhile. It was not always like this. When I was younger I was fascinated by the ocean and other bodies of water. I read books and watched movies about life under the surface and all who called the water home. But most of all, I was obsessed with whales and dolphins. When I was a little kid, they were all I could think about. I wanted to swim with the whales, even though I was the farthest (and I do mean the farthest) thing from being a good swimmer. These giants were the most interesting creatures that I had ever encountered, but over time had come to fear them and anything similar. But I knew I had to overcome this fear, so I went to the best place to do that: The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland.

To give you some background: I have been to the National Aquarium a couple times before. It has been one of my favorites places to go in Baltimore for a long time, despite me having a fear of fish and water. Aquariums have always been a place of discovery for me, even though those discoveries were slightly terrifying. There is something magical about life not on dry land, and the aquarium was the perfect place to see that magic. Except, that magic freaked me out a little bit, but I did not want it to anymore. I wanted to overcome and face one of my biggest fears. So, I walked to the Baltimore Harbor and into the aquarium, ready to reclaim what my fears had taken from me.

I won’t lie, I was extremely nervous stepping back in that aquarium after more than 10 years. I was mentally preparing myself for what I might see, heightening my anxiety even more. I worried about looking like a fool around hundreds of people I didn’t even know, and was especially concerned with looking like a fool in front of my boyfriend. I tried my best to keep cool, calm and collected. It was my only hope for making it through this maze of terror.

Everything started out calm and steady. We passed over a tank that house what seemed like thousands of sea creatures, from rays to a giant sea turtle. Sting rays have always been one of the animals that have freaked me out the most over my life, but that afternoon I saw them in a different light. All of them laid at the bottom of the tank, bothering no one and nothing. They were completely still and the most relaxed out of all those who inhabited the space. When they did move, they gently glided through the water with no care in the world, only focusing on getting to their destinations. In those moments watching these rays, I though of how I could relate to being one. Maybe if I stopped over-obsessing about my environment and the people in it, then I could have better focus on getting to where I needed to go. Being at peace with myself means that I can better be at peace with the world around me, and the sting rays in that tank were evidence of that phenomena. I can learn how to glide through situations in my own life.

As we continued moving throughout this massive aquarium I took more notice of the way that fish move in their environments. All of the fish in a tank can be swimming at once, but they never seem to run into one another or get in each other’s ways. They swim in different directions and patterns, yet they all are in sync. When I stopped and took time to study these creatures, I began to see them as less threatening. Sure, there were definitely times where I stood back from the tanks and didn’t look for too long, but overall I held less fear than before. In fact, there was a small part of me that was mesmerized. Maybe life under the surface isn’t that scary after all. In a way, maybe it could be a beautiful source for life lessons.

Facing fears is never easy, but when we do we can take pride in the fact that we did face them. We are all far stronger than we think we are. No matter what life may throw at us, we can face it. Going to the aquarium that chilly Sunday afternoon served as a reminder that I have overcome fears before, and I can certainly overcome them again and again. Our fears should not hold us back from enjoying the good things in life. Like a wise fish named Dory once said:

“Just keep swimming.”

 

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