I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “Thalassophobia” before. It’s gained quite a bit of traction here on the internet in the last few years. And for good reason.
You see, a phobia is usually used to describe a fear that is irrational or exaggerated in nature. But I can assure you, there is absolutely nothing irrational or wrong with fearing the sea. It is, quite literally, an abyss, a vast, endlessly deep, impossibly dark, and hostile place. The pressure, lack of light, and many other hostile conditions make it a recipe for a place you shouldn’t want to be.
And yet, thousands of people go diving every year, and thousands of people take cruises, that’s not even mentioning the people whose literal job it is to venture deep underwater in submarines for research or militaristic defense.
Anyway, the two incidents I’m about to share are something I’ve kept to myself for far too long now, but you’ll soon understand that I can’t exactly say these things to friends, family, or even a therapist for that matter, lest I want to be labeled as deranged.
I guess it all starts back when I was in elementary school, couldn’t have been past fourth grade if I recall correctly. If I seem a bit fuzzy on some of the details just bare with me, it’s been well over thirty years now.
I had been in an after-school swim course for what I recall being several weeks up to that point, and I had finally passed the test that would allow me to go swim and take lessons in the deep end of the pool, which was just about eleven feet at its maximum depth.
The main reason I wanted to be over there is that my friends at the time who I had deemed to be the coolest people in the world were already in deep end lessons. So you can imagine my excitement when I showed up to my first class where my name was on the board for the deep-end lesson schedule and outline.
Things went as normal for the first several minutes, the instructors went over the plans for the day as well as a game we would play at the end on the condition we stayed on our best behavior during the actual lessons. Easier said than done for a bunch of rowdy elementary schoolers, but hey, kids are gonna be kids.
My first task of the day was practicing proper diving form. We would go up on the starting blocks one by one, and dive in, after said dive, the instructors would give us feedback and pointers as to how to improve.
I was beyond excited but also a little nervous, the whole time the instructor was listing off directions, I couldn’t help but stare behind her, as she stood right at the edge of the pool.
The water itself was a deep, cobalt blue. It had a murky, yet paradoxically clear appearance. The lights at the bottom only helped to further illuminate its eerie depths.
Nonetheless, I brushed off my unease at the time, after all, it was just a pool, what could possibly go wrong?
My time eventually came to do my dive, my friends cheering me on as I got into the best form that I could muster, I looked down below me, watching as the blue abyss patiently awaited my presence. Something just felt… Off, in that moment. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew something didn’t feel quite right. Nonetheless, I had eyes on me, and the last thing I needed to do was hold up the rest of the class.
So I lunged forward, and dived in, the crashing sound of the splash distorting as I sank below the surface.
The water was a cool, soothing sensation on my skin, my eyes were closed as I allowed myself to sink several feet below the surface, enjoying the euphoria of the depth. But I knew I couldn’t stay under for too long, less I wanted to be reprimanded by my instructor.
So I opened my eyes, intending to look up and return to the surface of the water, but instead, when I practically broke my neck to peer at the surface, I couldn’t help but let out a bubbly and frightened gasp.
Above me, the surface didn’t look like it was only several feet above me, but instead dozens. Well over forty or so feet, my mind wasn’t even trying to wrap around how that was possible, I was too busy beginning to panic. A panic that was only cranked up to eleven when I went ahead and took a look both below and around me as well.
When I darted my head both left and right, there were no pool walls, no patterns or tiles in sight, but instead, I was greeted with a seemingly unending void of cobalt blue. Nothing but water in every single direction. If I was truly as deep as I predicted, surely my ears would’ve popped and I would’ve felt something on my young, fragile body.
But no, there I floated. I seized the moment to look down. A mistake so horrifying and stress-inducing I’m pretty sure it ended up costing me a few years of my lifespan.
Below me, I couldn’t tell if the water dropped down hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of feet deep. All I could really see was the blue slowly descending further, and further down, all the way until it became pitch black. A tried and true abyss.
And there I was, suspended right in the middle of it.
The time that passed was only a matter of several seconds, but those seconds felt more like minutes in the silent depths, I quickly turned my attention back up to the surface and began to desperately kick my way up to it.
Bubbles emerged and almost clouded my vision as I let out futile screams for help, begging to whatever god would listen that I would escape the waking nightmare I had just found myself in. Every kick and every stroke was me holding on for dear life. The worst part about it? I could only barely hear my own cries for my mother.
The surface itself almost didn’t seem to get any closer, but my inevitable drowning surely did. My lungs began to burn and I could feel myself beginning to slip away as I watched my hand pointlessly attempt to grab and clench at the surface like I was asking for its mercy.
I thought that would be my end, that I was going to perish then and there, that my corpse would be destined to float around in the blue and black abyss. My eyes began to close once again, but in a far less voluntary manner. I could feel my lungs squeezing in an agonizing fashion by the second.
Just as my vision was enclosed with nothing but darkness, just as I thought I would make my last cry for help for good, I was suddenly hit with the intense and familiar feeling of breaking the water’s surface.
But that wasn’t all, I felt the grip of hands around my shoulders, the fingers of whomever it was pressing hard against my flesh as they pulled me upward with a forceful conviction.
When my eyes reopened, I looked up and saw a sight that both relieved and deeply confused me simultaneously. It was the ceiling of the indoor pool I was just in less than a couple of minutes ago. A stern feminine voice emerged, blaring its way into my clogged ears as I began to cough up and spit out water.
“That was foolish, and could’ve ended a lot worse, you shouldn’t be staying under that long after a dive, you’re sitting out for the rest of the day.”
The voice was that of my swimming instructor, I absent-mindedly listened to what she said as I pressed my hands against the pool room floor, the solid tile beneath my hands delivering a euphoric relief I didn’t think was possible.
“Did you hear me, Jackson? You’re done for the rest of the day.” She scolded. But I was far too ridden with terror and confusion to really care about the discipline I had just received.
What I did comprehend though, was that I had just experienced something utterly bizarre and unexplainable. A quite literal call of the void. When I went home later that same day and tried to explain it to my parents, they laughed it off as the overactive imagination of a young kid. Guess I should’ve expected that. I learned from it though, which is why I’ve told no one else since. Not until now anyway.
I can’t necessarily blame my parents for being skeptical, or anyone else for that matter. After all, I was in disbelief about it myself despite being the one who experienced it. The days following the event were the hardest, I quit the swimming class immediately, much to the dismay of my parents and friends.
On top of that, I went out of my way to avoid any significantly sized bodies of water, not that I lived near many. But pools, lakes, and rivers were a no-go for me if I did cross paths with them. And as far as bathing went, I stuck to only showers. No baths. It stayed that way for quite some time, I had tried my best to bury the memory down as deep into the recesses of my mind as it could possibly go. Yet here I am, telling you all about it now. Clearly didn’t work.
Besides my newfound fear of any water deeper than several inches. My life had turned out to be relatively normal. I finished elementary and moved on to middle school. I made friends, went on trips, got into trouble, and had a typical experience for the first couple of years of my teenage life.
Things were going pretty swell, and I had come close to completely moving on from the experience. That is until the second incident occurred. You see, not long after finishing the eighth grade, my grandmother passed away. It hit me pretty hard, I only had fond memories of her, and she cherished me as her grandson. She was a loving, kind, and respectable woman. Part of me was happy she would finally get to be with my grandfather again, as I could tell it affected her quite a bit when he died a few years prior. Both of them were more than positive role models in my early life.
She had always been great at maintaining a positive and upbeat demeanor, but every now and then she would let herself slip up, which was more than understandable. He was always a great husband to her from what my mom had told me, and a caring father as well.
About a week after her death, my group of friends at the time invited me over for a pool party at their house. Shockingly, I didn’t really hesitate to accept, I thought the social interaction would help. Better to have some fun and get my mind off things while I grieve.
The first incident had mostly been pushed deeper into my psyche, although I still felt anxious whenever I saw pictures or videos that depicted deep water. I just stopped trying to find any rational explanations for what happened.
You see, my friend was very much into swimming. And his parents were more than well off, which always made me question why he hadn’t gone to private school.
The pool they owned was a little over nine feet on the deepest end, which allowed them to install a diving board. It was also well-maintained and appeared better than most public pools. With a sapphire blue color in the water that was almost euphoric to look at.
I arrived at the party, a slight tingling feeling had arisen in my stomach once I had the pool in my direct line of sight. But once I had begun to talk and shoot the shit with my friends, it quickly subsided. Of course, for a while, I hadn’t actually entered the pool but rather kept on the pavement a few feet away with my cup of punch in hand. Talking amongst my peers at the time.
But it wasn’t until my long-time crush at the time, Jennifer, had started to tease me about my hesitance had I truly considered getting in. After all that time had passed, the thing that finally got me was peer pressure.
“Come on Jackson, you’re gonna turn to dust if you just keep standing around up there.” She playfully taunted. Looking up at me with an expression of both intrigue and subtle mischief.
I smiled. Trying to play it cool, an attempt that didn’t last long after a few of my other friends began to playfully chant. Joining Jennifer in her light mocking.
“Jump in Jackson, Jump In Jackson, Jump In Jackson.” They echoed.
And so, I walked over to one of the tables, set my cup down, turned, and then without allowing myself to hesitate further, I made a sprinting jump and cannonballed right in.
It had been so long since the feeling of being submerged had made itself known to me. But the lukewarm water had felt more than comforting. A refreshing change of environment from the hot and humid weather I had been subjected to throughout that day.
Of course, when cannonballing in, I had closed my eyes before jumping off the edge of the pavement and into the pool. I had kept them closed for just a couple of seconds after I had broken through the surface of the water, just as I had last time. I felt myself sink a few feet, I figured I would just make my way back up to the surface as soon as possible. After all, I hadn’t forgotten how to swim in the years since the first incident.
But when I opened my eyes, my heart sank right into my stomach. Which itself began to churn. Looking down, I saw nothing but water. No tile, concrete, or any sort of floor by any means. Just a black abyss that I so happened to be floating above. I immediately shrieked like a frightened child. Which I guess I technically was. But I floated there, realizing I had awakened a nightmare I thought I had left far behind me.
I frantically looked up, seeing that like last time, I seemed to be submerged around forty feet underneath the surface. And despite my heightened mental state. I wasted no time before beginning to swim toward it. Hoping I would fare much better than previously.
But not even a few seconds had passed before something stopped me right in the middle of my frantic attempt at an escape. A sight that had puzzled both my brain and my eyes.
To both the right and left side of me, I saw what looked to be a tall and broad pattern of greyish squares. A pattern that continued around me in a full three hundred and sixty degrees. Each section of this wall appeared to be over a hundred feet away from me. And as my eyes ever so slightly adjusted to the conditions, I could just barely see it more clearly.
I took a quick look down, one that would help cost me precious time. The wall, on all sides, ran all the way down as far as I could see below me. Right into the abyss underneath my feet. After looking back up, I noticed that the wall closer to the surface of the water seemed to curve inward just a bit, like a hyperboloid shape.
Of course, at the time I wasn’t seriously stopping and thinking of all the details of my predicament in a sophisticated manner, rather I was frantically swiveling my head, trying to figure out more about my horrifying surroundings.
But as my time ticked, and my lungs began to strain, I knew I didn’t have time to find answers, for anything. Right then and there is when I should’ve continued swimming up and never looked back, or down in this case, which might’ve come to pass if I hadn’t heard something that made my blood freeze as if I were in arctic waters.
“Jackson..” Came a weak, withered, feminine voice. One that echoed in the water around me. It sounded far too clear for it to be originating in the environment I was trapped in, as if someone were calling my name from an empty corridor rather than over three dozen feet underwater.
I didn’t know what to think or how to process it in the moment, all I could do was glance beneath me as I kept swimming up, my legs kicking harder as my anxiety spiked, and I couldn’t tell if the pain in my chest cavity was my lungs squeezing, or bile threatening to burst out from my esophagus. Probably a mix of both.
“Jackson, don’t go… Jackson.” Repeated the voice, once again sounding oddly clear and easy to understand. Which allowed me to comprehend the source, both who and where.
As I kept working my way up to the surface, I looked down below, and between my moving feet, I laid eyes on a harrowing sight.
Down below, a few dozen feet at least, was what appeared to be my recently deceased grandmother, or something resembling her, with a thick, metallic chain wrapped around her ankles. Restricting any vertical movement.
Her eyes were completely whited out as if they had been drawn in with chalk, her flesh was severely wrinkled, and her long white hair messily floated above her head, bestowing an almost medusa-esk look to her appearance.
I knew that it wasn’t her. It was just another aspect of this waking nightmare that I needed so desperately to escape. But my swim to the surface was turning out just like last time, my lungs squeezed harder, and I felt my grip on consciousness slip as everything became darker. I fought the pain, I really did, but it wasn’t enough, and I knew that. I just didn’t wanna accept it.
A few more seconds passed, and everything went black. Just a simple, painful, lights out.
Unlike last time where I had felt myself break the surface of the water and come up in a coughing fit, I had instead abruptly awoken, staring at the night sky, the light from the stars above beaming down on me as I looked up.
I felt hard pavement on my back and legs, and when I looked to both my left and right. I saw my friend, the host of the pool party, as well as a few other attendees on either side. All of them looking down on me with various expressions of concern. And just like that, I was right back where I started.
The weeks following that were… Confusing, to say the least. I attended my grandmother’s funeral, but the entire time I couldn’t get the image of her monstrous counterpart I saw in the abyss out of my head. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly sad when we left, and as terrible as that might sound at first. I will still remember her with nothing but love and respect.
But whatever this phenomenon was trying to do to me, trying to tell me, at one point I thought I could figure it out. But sadly, years down the line, well into my adult life. I’ve found nothing, no answers, no solid evidence that what I’m experiencing isn’t isolated. I went through book after book, website after website. And sure, maybe it’s not the deepest research you can possibly do, I get that.
But what I don’t get is…If it was only me that this was happening to. Why? Were there forces at play that I couldn’t perceive? Was it some sort of punishment for some sin I had committed?
I knew that after the second time around, it was me. Specifically me, not the pool, not the water, but me. I wasn’t one to believe in curses, but after that. I definitely opened my mind to the idea. But why had it started happening so suddenly? What switch had been flipped that made me suffer through it every time I submerged myself in water? After all, I had been swimming for months before that first incident.
It just feels so frustrating, so hopeless, not being able to find any answers or solutions. Hell, even just being able to find one other person who has the same problem would bring me some sense of reassurance.
But no, nothing. Something weird has affected me, and the universe will not give me the mercy of answering why or how.
I did however delve further into the history of Thalassophobia, and while it didn’t have nearly as much material as something like arachnophobia or claustrophobia. There was still more than enough to keep me busy.
I went through what you’d expect, old reports and transcripted logs from sailors and ship crews, ocean myths such as Moby Dick or The Kraken. What really piqued my interest though, were pictures of the deep sea. Whether they were genuine, or photo-realistic artwork, I was given an odd, unsettling, yet morbidly curious feeling when looking at them.
I pulled up several deep water photos, and each time it was just like staring right into the abyss, and it staring right back. You’d think that after my experiences, the last thing I’d ever wanna see is an image like that, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was almost trying to say something to me. “It” referring to the unknowable depths.
Was I going crazy? Maybe.
I wasn’t really sure to think of such contradictory behavior. Some days my terror took precedence over my curiosity, and other days it was vice versa. They say that space is the final frontier, but I beg to differ.
Is it bigger? Sure. Is it more empty? Absolutely. But yet, If I was forced to choose between being stranded in space, and being lost at sea. I’ll take the cosmos any day.
At least up there, I have stars and other sources of light to help keep me sane. To help remind me that my eyesight works. But down in the deep blue? I don’t get that luxury. It’s endless blue and black, forever.
Like a black hole, it’s a void that will swallow you, and never, ever, spit you back out.
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