When I was young, I witnessed a man drowning at a public swimming area of a large lake. The commotion of the man’s friends alerting lifeguards of the situation caught my mother’s attention. She quickly gathered my brothers and me from the water and we watched everything unfold from the shore.

It was a horrifying experience that left me terrified of any water that wasn’t clear enough for me to see the bottom. The fear I developed that day was not necessarily a fear of drowning. The fear was that, if I should go under, I wouldn’t be found.

For most of my life, I just stayed off the water. No big deal.

Advertiser Democrat photo by Dee Menear

The few times I did venture out on a boat, I did so securely buckled into a life jacket and firmly planted in my seat. I dared not move for fear of going overboard.

If I joined my friends for a day of swimming in the lake, I’d put my toes in the water. Maybe my ankles. Definitely not deeper than my knees.

Water was never really fun for me.

I finally decided I’d had enough of avoiding the lakes part of the mountains and lakes region in which I reside. Determined to overcome my fear, or at least reel it in a bit, I bought a life jacket and borrowed a kayak.

My first ventures were short jaunts. I armed myself with survey maps in order to know where the shallowest parts of lakes and ponds were. I hugged the shoreline. I constantly peeked over the side making sure the bottom was still in sight.

Before long I bought my own kayak. I went canoeing with friends, joined in on river floats, and whitewater rafted.

Time after time, I faced my fear and anxiety with persistence.

Every single time I took to the water, I did so with my life jacket on. I still do. The practice is definitely attributed to my experience. It is also because of my friend and Maine Guide Nancy Taylor.

Nancy is a huge proponent of wearing a life jacket on the water. If a boat were to capsize and the occupants knocked unconscious, having a life jacket on board wouldn’t be much of a help.  Besides, putting a life jacket on while in the water is no easy feat. If you don’t believe me, try it.

As she often advises to those in our circle, I also have a whistle attached to my life jacket. This, she says, is helpful in attracting attention, if needed.

I recently joined game wardens for a few hours of patrolling Brandy Pond and Long Lake in Naples and Harrison. We covered a lot of water as we traveled  back and forth across the lakes. It was a memorable adventure I won’t soon forget.

That evening, I reflected on a 3-year old Facebook post that had popped up in my news feed. It was a photo of the front of my borrowed kayak on Porter Lake in Strong. I had just finished a two-mile journey that took me across the deepest portion of the lake.

Porter Lake, Strong Dee Menear/Advertiser Democrat

“Paddled to the island,” I wrote. “Y’all know I am terrified of water, right? I am going to overcome this fear.”

I didn’t realize until I was reminded of that photo how far I’d come.

In fact, as I reflected on my afternoon on the warden service boat, I could not recall one instance of trepidation. Not once did I wonder how deep the water below us was and not once did I feel the need to check to see if the lake bottom was in sight.

I’m not sure when it happened but sometime over the last three years, I defeated the uneasiness I associated with water.

Now if only I could lose my irrational fear of spiders.

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