In the world of foreign correspondents, Jane Hutcheon is a veteran. Over a decade-long career, she’s reported from China, the Middle-East and Europe. She was in Iraq during the U.S. led invasion of 2003 and has reported from Gaza, Israel, Syria and North Korea. In short, she knows what it’s like to be in the path of danger.
There’s danger and then there’s fear. And fear, however irrational can be just as paralysing. Today Jane lives in Sydney and is the host of One-Plus-One, the ABC’s weekly interview program. She decided to tackle one of her own fears head-on for this three part series.
Do you know people who need help yet are afraid of asking?
Last weekend, I asked for help. Actually, I didn’t just asked for help, I yelled for help at the top of my voice.
I was part way through my fourth ocean swimming session since beginning a personal challenge this year; to question my fear of the ocean and have the courage to swim in the surf.
The previous session was so good. Bondi Beach had been ‘like a bath’ as one of the other participants put it, barely any surf, just the way I like it, and an excellent confidence booster.
Then Saturday arrived and with it a whole new set of conditions. Rolling clouds gathering since morning yawned out their contents and by the time the session began at 11.30 am there was steady rain, squally winds and a churning sea. Huge sets of swells and white-topped waves broke onto the shore. I counted only five surfers in the water. On the beach, lifeguards outnumbered beach-goers. I would never have chosen to swim in such conditions. But the instructor waved me over. The swim was going ahead.
As we huddling, dripping in a cabana, the instructor talked about the types of waves we might encounter. I tried to think of how I would approach getting through the surf to the calmer water behind the breaking waves. I tried to focus on the exhilaration I'd felt after the session because I would have broken through a new barrier.
When it was time to leave the shelter and jog onto the beach (still raining) the scene was even more fearsome. I kept my goggled eyes trained directly in front of me, but not too far into the distance. Before I knew it, we were into the waves.
Andre was the lead instructor. There were two other instructors accompanying us. All of them held rescue tubes, a kind of flotation device. Andre directed us to swim further out, warning us to keep left because of a strong current. It was really tough. So much was energy expended on trying to swim in a straight line. I kept looking out for flatter water ahead, but there wasn't any. Instead, I was diving deep under wave followed by another wave. It was the only way not to get submerged and you couldn't simply float or tread water or you would end up on the rocks. It was just exhausting.
After maybe 10 minutes of this - it wasn't a long time but I was well and truly out of breath - I realised that the oncoming waves weren't going to stop or flatten or give me a break in any way. And I had no more energy to dive. If another wave was to submerge me, I wouldn't have enough breath left to hold.
Suddenly I felt the panic rise. It was about having absolutely no control. I calmly thought, I am going to die out here in the waves of North Bondi. No-one will even know. I am going to run out of breath and at that point a double wave is going to wash over me. I didn't have the stamina to get back to shore and reaching to the rocks was out of the question. I would be smashed to pieces.
At that moment I had two choices: to be brave (which is what the personal challenge was all about) or to ask for help. I chose life.