I nearly drowned as a child. I have a pretty bad memory for details sometimes, but this I remember vividly. I was 13, and my family took a vacation to visit relatives in Florida. They were nice enough to teach me and my brothers how to water ski. We were in the intercoastal waterway on the east coast, so there weren't any waves.
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get up on the ski's, I was given the advice to "lean back more", which I did on the next attempt. I guess I leaned back too far - I fell over backwards, feet to the sky. Unfortunately, the ski handle wedged itself between my legs and I started being dragged upside down and backwards from the crotch by the boat. Of course, I didn't get a good breath before I went down - but it almost didn't matter. I was wearing a life vest, but it couldn't keep my head above water as the boat pulled me along. The people on the boat could see my body being dragged underwater, and assumed that I was still hanging on to the bar with my hands - so they kept going. I struggled to free myself, but the force of water rushing by at 20 MPH was colossal. I didn't really know what was going on in the boat - why they weren't stopping - but it was clear that they weren't. I realized that I was going to die.
It's not a feeling I think I can describe accurately. I've done scary things before: skydiving, walking on the edge of icy cliffs on Mt. Whitney, jumping over rattlesnakes, numerous cycling close calls, driving in Boston. All those things produce adrenaline, and the world slows down as the seconds stretch themselves out in your mind. Then the moment is over, and your heart is pounding and mind racing as you come to realize the details of what just occurred.
That's not how I felt on that day in Florida. I needed to breathe in, but I knew I couldn't. I felt claustrophobic and panicy at first. I knew exactly where I was and what was happening: I had a breath full of water in my lungs, I couldn't free myself from the rope, and I knew the boat wasn't stopping. I opened my eyes, and to this day I remember exactly what the muddled blue and green blur looked like. My panic turned to calm. I accepted that I was going to drown, and was actually starting to appreciate how beautiful the blue/green swirl was - and in some sick way glad I wasn't going to die in some other horrible, painful manner. Of course eventually the driver of the boat did cut the engine and my life vest pulled me up to the surface where I coughed and choked and vomited water out of my body. The whole thing probably only took 20 seconds, though in my mind it was much longer. I didn't lose consciousness and didn't need medical help. In reality, I probably wasn't very close to death by drowning - though I certainly believed it.
I like to think about that event when there are rough times in my life. I'm proud of how I dealt with the possibility of my own demise. I got past the initial panic and fear and shittyness of the situation and once I had exhausted my options for saving myself, I accepted my fate. I didn't scream, or cry, or pray - I kept my head. I haven't always handled myself in a way that I am proud of - and when that happens I try to remind myself of that day in the murky Florida swamp water. I try to re-capture the maturity and rationality I had in those moments.
I've thought about that a lot recently. I could use a good dose of rationality right now - and occasionally a booster of maturity wouldn't hurt either.