The sweet euphoria of nitrogen narcosis
The other day I went diving for the first time in a week, after sitting out a pretty rough cold (in the tropics, I know, right??).
I wanted to go already the day before, but I didn’t feel 100% yet, so I postponed a day.
It was better, but I did notice that even now it still wasn’t completely ok.
There was still something in my nose and sinuses. I inhaled a bit of salt water through my nose and cleared it, before putting on the mask and going down, which helped, but I was still a bit wary about the equalization while going down.
That appeared to be not a problem at all.
We were on our way down to 35 meters and when I got down to about 30-32m I started feeling this strange sensation.
Lucid dreaming under water
For those who don’t know “nitrogen narcosis”… It’s a term in scuba diving. It’s not a situation where you actually lose consciousness, but –in a nutshell- a state of mind where you lose your ability to sense danger and to rationally think and act upon the current circumstances.
I’ve felt a slight onset of nitrogen narcosis before, when doing a deeper dive to 40m. I’ve never felt it this strong before.
Have you ever had a lucid dream? The state of mind where you are dreaming, sleeping, but you KNOW you are dreaming and you are in control of/in your dream? The sensation I had was very much like this. It was almost as if I was outside my body, looking at myself, but knowing consciously what I was feeling. And that it wasn’t really the usual, normal way to feel.
When everything turns beautiful
My anxiety for equalization subsided completely, my cautious breathing, where there was still a little tickle in my throat from the cough I had for 4 days, changed in the ultimate comfortable breathing: deep and slow. There was a slight prickle behind my eyes. Something I can’t describe properly. Everything turned into near perfect clarity, it was like my vision doubled. Even though the scenery was far from beautiful, mostly sand with only here and there some corals, I found it beautiful. I found it gorgeous.
The time that I feared death has been behind me for a long time already. Not that I’m suicidal or anything, but, you know…, when it comes, I’ll be fine with it. But I started thinking that dying down here could be a wonderful thing. I’d be surrounded by super clear water, gorgeous white-ish sand, and oh! There are three beautiful yellow-margin triggerfish. Let’s check it out!
And I noticed my breathing was slowing down considerably. This was utter euphoria!
Coming out of it
But then I, or rather, my outside-me, actually stepped in and forced me back to shallower depth.
I fully realize what just happened there, and luckily I was still “in charge” enough to turn around, but I totally understand that people can drown and die as a result of nitrogen narcosis. It’s actually quite a scary thing when you come to think of it. I felt no fear whatsoever. I felt no discomfort and I was swimming right toward danger.
The narcosis lingered for quite awhile and when I saw my two buddies swim up I realized that I hadn’t looked at my dive computer in about 10 minutes. My no-deco time was stuck at 3 minutes. I followed them up just in time for my dive to stay no-deco.
When we got to around 18-20 meters the narcosis was completely gone and it just struck me what had happened. My breathing sped up and I became fully aware of my sinuses having filled up. The feeling of euphoria was gone as well, and I was left with this “What the hell just happened to me”-feeling. I didn’t panic, but it was enough for me to speed through my air in the next 15 minutes (a part of that may also have been the actual attack by a titan triggerfish that was “ambushing” behind a coral 😉 ).
These days I do a 60 minute dive to 30-35m and have 100-120 bars left. Now I was up after 55 minutes with 40 bars in the tank.
How will it be next time?
Will I recognize the feeling earlier next time? Probably, but you can never tell.
Can you specify the depth in which you get nitrogen narcosis?
No. I’ve been deeper than this without problems. It’s very personal and even with you it differs between dives. Clearly if you’ve just been sick and not fully recovered, yet, you’re more prone to get all kinds of things that you usually wouldn’t even think twice about.
So is diving dangerous? Not if you stick to the rules.
Just make sure you always have a buddy with you, to ensure you won’t do anything stupid when you really cross that line and even your “outside-me” can’t steer you back to shallower waters anymore.
In retrospect this was a great experience, believe it or not.