Underwater photo phobia

Ok, this has been bugging me for so long, I just gotta know if there is anyone out there who has a similar experience.

I have this weird problem that when I look at photos from underwater, (not shallow water - whales, scuba diver depth etc…) I can barely stand it. I get severe willies and feel almost a sense of dread. It doesnt need to include a large dread inspiring beast like a whale etc… even a school of guppies, or a scuba diver in the photo gets the same result. It is the water and its depth, not another subject.

A common occurence is when I am reading a national geographic. I have to close my eyes and try to flip the right amount of pages to the next article to avoid this feeling.

Whats weird is that I recently (2 years ago) found out that one of my sisters and my only brother have the exact same problem.

And no, I have never nearly drowned. I have never been on a boat other than a rowboat. I have never done scuba diving. etc… I can think of no standard psychological explanation. I have no other water related fears. I can swim, take baths (thank heaven), go rowing, fishing, enjoy the seashore, etc…

It happened again last night when I was reading one of those National Geographic special books. I wasnt quick on the draw with the page turning and my heart began pounding…

Perhaps this is just some sort of quirk of mine, I was just wondering if there was anyone out there with a similar experience.

(Oh, by the way, I dont intend to go see the IMAX “Whales” special. You would hear me whimpering in a corner with my eyes shut tight.)

IANAP (I Am Not a Psychiatrist), but it sounds to me like an irrational fear of drowning. All I can guess is that when you’re in a pool or bathtub, or at the beach, you can see the boundaries of the water. When you look at photos of scuba divers or underwater life, you can’t see the boundaries of the water and your brain doesn’t know how to deal with it, so you freak out.

I have a similar problem. I’m not afraid of heights at all-- I’ve been to the top of the Sears Tower, I’ve been on planes. Hell, I’ve even bungee jumped a couple of times. But whenever I watch Tall Buildings or something similar on TLC, or when I see a photo of a person atop a building or atop a mountain, I get a pretty severe case of the willies, much as described in the OP.

What rastahomie says may be true. Psychiatrists say that acrophobia (fear of heights) is really a fear of falling from something connected to the earth. Their evidence is that very few people with acrophobia are afraid of flying, or other height-related activities when they are NOT on a tall structure connected to the ground.
I know this to be true, I have terrible acrophobia, most certainly due to childhood trauma (some bullies in elementary school used to hang me by my heels from a 3rd story window almost every day). I love flying, but if I go to the Sears Tower, you’ll find me cringing along the inside wall. My sister took me there once, to help me “challenge my phobia.” To prove it was “safe” she sat on the railing with her back against the window. I couldn’t stop screaming until she got away from the window. I really couldn’t help myself. The weird thing is, sometimes I can play Quake, and I’m climbing along a high thin ramp, and if I look down, I get that same queasy feeling.
Anyway, phobias aren’t genetic, are they? Maybe your parents didn’t know how to bathe infants and nearly drowned the both of you. It has to have some psychological component in common.

I used to feel that way a little, but not the extent that you do. For me it was worse with dark murky water and large submerged structures, sunken ships and the like all covered in weeds really gave me the creeps. Nice clear water and a coral reef were okay though. And after giving scuba diving a try, it went away altogether.

This sort of thing never seems to make much sense. I’ve been caving in spaces so tight I’ve had to turn my head sideways to get my helmet through the gap, but I can still get killer claustrophia in a packed, low-ceiling night club. I like to fly, but I’m sometimes panicky during takeoff and landing.

Strange. I LOVE underwater photographs/film. But, being there in person may raise some fears (sharks, not being able to see in every direction, not being able to move quickly, etc.)

Since you can’t even look at a photograph without intense feelings, it may be an actual phobia to consider getting help for. (or accept it as an interesting quirk)

Not pictures, but movies. When watching underwater scenes, I get short of breath. Even Jacques Cousteau stuff. [french accent] While Phillipe attempts to circumcise the giant squid, I will stay aboard the Calypso and mind the coissants do not burn [/fench accent]

Funny enough, Spritle is an active scuba diver! BEING under water is acually quite calming!

That just shows to go ya!

A movie not to watch: “The Abyss”.

IANAP, but it’s quite possible that somehow this is genetic or congenital. I mean, if alcoholism, manic/depression, and other behavioral traits have been proved to run in families, why not phobias.

I had various phobias as a child: heights, claustrophobia, being underwater (like you). But one by one they disappeared.

Unlike you, I almost did drown when I was knocked into an irrigation canal filled with 15 feet of muddy Colorado River water. Even though I was in it for only 10 seconds max (my siblings were quick to the rescue), just thinking about that experience gives me shudders. Yet I can swim fine.

I think heights disappeared when I started skiing and figured that I needed to get on the chairlift to get to the better slopes.

The claustrophobia probably went when I moved to a big city and had to ride crowded elevators all the time.

Have you never been swimming in really deep water? Its the worst when you know that when the tide goes out, you can see loads of weed on the bottom. I was swimming from a beach to a quay once and I looked down and suddenly got really freaked because I KNEW there was all this horrible slimy weed and god-knows-what down there and that any moment i might get into a clump of it. The point is, its fear of the unknown. When you see the picture you imagine you were down there, and you cant see anything upwards or anything downwards and you are disorientated and you dont know whats down there.

I think I know the feeling you’re experiencing. I’ve felt twinges of it myself from time to time and I describe it as acro-hydrophobia, or a “fear of depth.” It’s not the water—it’s the expansive depth of the water.

For instance, when scuba diving a reef, I’m perfectly comfortable when I can see the bottom, even if it’s 60 to 100 feet down. However, even if I know the bottom is there, but it’s obscured for some reason, I’ll get a little dose of the heebie-jeebies. And looking over a deep-water shelf into the abyss definitely gives me the creeps…even though I know that I can’t fall per se.

Does this sound familiar? Is it the depth that gives you the feeling? Do pictures of shallow water (like a coral reef in crystal-clear water) bother you, too?

Sorry I can’t be of any real help, but perhaps it would be of benefit to identify the fear more specifically.

I’m thinking along the lines of Rastahomie and Jingo.

I think it is best put as Jingo put it:

“it’s the expansive depth of the water”.

I am perfectly able to handle shallow water photos. If I can see the “end” of the water it is ok. I somehow do sense subconsciously that it is an issue of the unending, mammoth nature of it. Sort of like a feeling of getting lost of swallowed into it. Something like that.

It might be a combination of some genetic factor that makes us (my siblings and I) more susceptible to the “heebie Jeebies” that Jingo describes.

P.S. I also have a severe phobia of dogs, but I was chased almost daily by a large barking black Labrador that lived on my block from about the age of 3 until the age of 10. I suppose that one is a bit simpler to explain…

i was snorkeling off a protected island in the Philippines once. let’s just say that the water was impossibly clear. as the depth approached 60-70 feet, it seemed just like flying to me and it was an amazing experience.

but when i approached “the wall” and could peer down into the darkness, it started to scare me, even though logically i knew that i was in no danger. i kept telling myself this, but it was like an elemental fear that would drive itself into my consciousness. and it manifested itself in the image of a huge shark shooting up from that darkness headed right toward me. makes it kind of hard to swim away from the wall when you’re hesitant to turn your back on the shark you’re convinced is lurking down there…

and ** spritle**, i thought i was the only person afflicted like this. i’m from Southern California and grew up on the beach (sometimes being in the ocean feels like returning to the womb). i feel completely comfortable surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and any other form of aquatic activity that might actually lead to me drowning. i’m never scared in the water.

but show me a movie of somebody drowning, and i freak out. i get short of breath and extremely uncomfortable. it’s like i have this fear of drowning that only surfaces in certain instances? i can’t explain it, and it’s the only part of my personality that even remotely resembles a phobia.

Thats exactly my point. You cant SEE whats down there, and you dont know how deep it goes. It seems irrational, but when I get that feeling, I start to think ‘imagine if the water suddenly dissapeared: I would fall all the way down there.’


I thought I was reading my own fears here as when I open a National Geographic or any other picture (especially a large one) containing water, I nearly flip. I have this horrible feeling with watching satellite views. I could not go into one of those boats with glass bottoms as I think I would die.
When I was young, my mother took me to an exhibition where there was a large aquarium showing how a wave was formed. This I think started my fear of underwater views and things …

When this one was started back in 2000, GQ was where you put it. Now we have IMHO, so off it goes.


samclem, Moderator