Fear of sea/not to see

I love the sea, its smell and the idea itself of being able to support my body almost without wasting energy. My relatives often tell me that when I was a child, water seemed to be my element. I learned to swim almost before walking. I kept my eyes open to go down even though I knew once I came to the surface they would tear. Those open eyes allowed me not to miss anything and were a real need. Then I grew up, and seeing underwater is still a need not only given by curiosity but also by the sense of fear. Strange isn’t it? I continue to face this fear, but I cannot deny that it exists. In fact, floating in the water without seeing what is below me generates a sense of emptiness and an extreme vulnerability. If my eyes, only one second later, are underwater the void leaves room for completeness. Absurd, how only the sense of sight can calm my restlessness of mind. Neither smell nor touch perform this task, but sight. I thought I was alone, but talking about it with other people who like me dream of having a job with a sea view or at least a “research” view, is a fairly common thing.

So I wonder what this fear can be caused by?We will try to understand this together with a completely anthropocentric vision of the question.What is fear? It is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a basic, intense emotion aroused by the detection of imminent threat, involving an immediate alarm reaction that mobilizes the organism by triggering a set of physiological changes like rapid heartbeat, redirection of blood flow, a tensing of the muscles, and a general mobilization of the organism to take action. Fear differs from anxiety because the first one is considered an appropriate short-term response to a present, clearly identifiable threat, whereas the latter is a future-oriented, long-term response focused on a diffuse threat. 

From an anatomical point of view, fear is perceived thanks to a small region of the brain called the amygdala. Lesions of this area have shown an impediment in the recognition of stimuli induced by a dangerous condition both in humans and in studies conducted on animals.Fear can be perceived for various reasons and is often given by two opposite conditions: similar previous experiences and the absence of previous experiences (unknown condition).And actually my condition of fear towards the sea is often given by unpleasant experiences such as frequent jellyfish stings or drowning, which I experienced directly. I think the first of these has left me with a sense of anxiety, the second, however, did not determine my approach to the sea at all, probably because I perceived it as a situation from which to learn rather than from which to get away.

Credit: National Geographic Kids 

Furthermore, when my head is not underwater, the fact of not knowing what is going around in the water, the unknown, gives me a sense of unease. I am in fact a person who tends towards rational control, and it is precisely this need to rationalize through the sense of sight that generates the most irrational of feelings; fear.

I must admit that the knowledge “of the things of the sea”, which I acquired through my studies, helps me to see underwater even without looking directly at it. In fact, just by observing a marine habitat from the surface, I can roughly understand what awaits me in the aqueous medium.

Yet despite the knowledge, I still feel fear. Probably the common perception of the sea continues to influence my subconscious. The sea is perceived as an intrinsically negative barrier, as a limit to go beyond a given place or as an empty and uniform space, as a non-place.The values attributed to the sea are lived and shared mostly by those who live with the sea, the sailor, who transmits them inside and outside his community thanks to a series of representations, literary or graphic, cinematographic or theatrical, autobiographical or fantastic, becoming a constructor of spatial sense, characterizing space. So we can say that: “We do not discover the sea by ourselves and we do not look at it only with our eyes. We also see it as others have looked at it, in the images and stories they have left us: we come to know it and recognize it at the same time” Matvejević, 1993.

Even in the “navigator” the sea generates fear, confusion, loneliness but at the same time the sense of self-challenge, of the search for individual peace, of escape as a way of salvation or of admiration for nature and its elements.

Credit: The Guardian

From what the literature states, knowledge of the sea therefore helps to develop other feelings in addition to fear and anxiety, such as excitement, ecstasy, pride, relief and freedom. All these feelings together are part of men who really know the sea, respect it and feel a sense of admiration for it.
Literature has therefore allowed me to understand that my feeling is not incomprehensible. Underwater I feel complete only when I have the opportunity to scrutinize the marine world, this neutralizes my fear, making me become an integral part of this world, as if I had the opportunity to be reborn, as evolution shows, once again, from the water.

Maria Bruno
P.S. and are you afraid of not seeing?

Joseph LeDoux, 1998. “Fear and the Brain: Where Have We Been, and Where Are We Going?”. Biol Psychiatry 44:1229–1238. 
Lewis, Michael, 1975. The meaning of fear. 
Laura Nieddu, 2011. “The sea as a limit of fear in Salvatore Niffoi”, Between, vol. I, n. 1.
Matvejević, P., (1993), Mediterranean. A new breviary, Garzanti, Milan. 
The contribution of geography between revolutions and reforms. Proceedings of the XXXII Italian Geographic Congress (Rome, 7-10 June 2017), edited by F. Salvatori, A.Ge.I., Rome, 2019, pp. 597-604.

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