Thursday, December 5, 2013

the airplane.

Soooo Thanksgiving happened.  And so did a really really big, huge thing.  I flew on an airplane and was okay.  I have had a horrible, debilitating fear of flying (in planes, regular flying I'm great at) that has been an issue for me, whoever I'm flying with, and the poor people that have to bear witness to my cries....for years.

I was a scared little girl growing up.  The world inside my head is often more real to me than the world outside.  Until recently, I didn't consider myself as someone involved in an abusive relationship with Fear - I knew I "worried" about a lot growing up, but I mean, someone's gotta do the dirty work and take care of things, right?  I have always felt like the Universe and I have a eyes-meet-across-a-crowded-room thing, where it expects me to have its back.  It never occurred to me that it might have mine too.  What did occur to me was that there were very bad, scary things that could happen, like dying, or choking, or being kidnapped, or the house catching on fire, or getting stuck in an elevator, or having a freak stroke at 13 and that it was imperative that I avoided all risks and that I knew precisely how many minutes I was to the nearest hospital at all times.  Geez it was exhausting.

In the land of Fear, the airplane was enemy number one.  Scream 2 brought to life.  I didn't want to know what it did last summer, I wanted to be as far away from that metal tube in the sky (the SKY - hello?? There's nothing holding it up! Are you people insane?!) as I could.  I daydreamed about the pink, safe canoe I would build for my overseas trips since planes weren't an option.  And yes, build.

My relationship with my fiance seemed to act as a buffer between me and my fear for awhile.  Our first  plane trip to Mexico went remarkably well.  Things seemed to be All Quiet on the Panic Front for a long time.  Until dear old 2013 was born.  This year I have had a massive resurgence of panic and fear in my life (and that is a wholllleeeee other story in itself, one for another post or twenty) and my fear of flying was back.  I found myself at the mercy of my imagination, which when doused with fear can show the meanest, scariest movies on a projector in my head on repeat.  I could not imagine a day where I would be able to fly on a plane without sweating, crying, feeling faint, having a panic attack,literally losing my head or without feeling as if I just went got out of a trauma ward for a few hours after.

I've been in therapy to work with my fears and understand the purpose they serve in my life, and how I can learn to communicate with it better.  Fear and I have been in couples' counseling.  We've kind of learned to make love and conceive someone new - my Loving Adult, the part of me that is strong and wise and spiritually connected.  The part of me that doesn't need to check things on the outside in order to be safe on the inside.  I've watered her lots over the past several months and have watched her grow. The same water that nourishes Her simultaneously dilutes my fearful self, and sometimes it rains so much I float.

So with her by my side, and an audio recording my therapist made me, I made the conscious decision that this time it would be different.  That the bullying inside my head stops here.  That if I don't start making this choice now, and everyday, that my fear will continue to pummel me and I will remain caught in the current.  It wasn't easy; it took a lot of mental focus, and more than anything - self trust, which is the single-most valuable thing I have gained from this journey with anxiety and fear.  I had to take a stand, to show up for myself, to start changing the story.

As far as technical things I did to manage the fear on the plane, the number one thing I did was to use my mental focus to keep my entire body relaxed.  I told myself that my only job was to keep my entire body relaxed.  Whenever I started to think about something having to do the plane, or would start to smell the smoke of the fear fire, I told myself "Okay, but somebody else's job is the plane.  That's their job.  Your job is your body."  I kept reminding myself of that.  That this plane thing is a group effort.  We're all coming together to float through the sky and everyone has a little job to do (it helped me to imagine the people in glittery elf outfits doing cute little tasks everywhere) and my part in this is solely myself.

On that note (was there a note?), here are some resources that have helped me (aka changed my life):

The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron

Mindfulness Meditation podcasts by Lisa Dale Miller (free on Itunes!)

The work and writings of Sheryl Paul - her blog is amazing.

And at the top of my To Read list:

Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani

The Way of Transition by William Bridges


  1. Congrats on facing your fear and having a successful flight! I think that Meg at APW did a few posts on fear of flying and getting over it (a year or two ago maybe?) - have you dug that up?

    I'm sorry you have such bad anxiety, it is good that you are addressing it rather than having it rule your life. So many more places are open to you when you can fly, I would be sad to be limited to car rides (or homemade canoes - that sounds scary to me!!).

    When I start to freak out about planes or other such things I just wonder what the worst is that can happen. I die. Maybe I'm strange but this fact doesn't really bother me that much. Maybe this will change when (if?) I have kids but for now, it is enough of a reassurance to know that (1) the odds are really low (I don't take extreme risks by any measure); (2) there is nothing I can do about it (if the plane goes down, it's going down, me being afraid of it is not going to change anything) and (3) if this is my time, this is my time, I just hope it is quick. Probably not helpful, but there you go.

  2. Yep, I read Meg's posts a while ago and found the online course SOAR through that post.

    And you're number 2 is a great point and one that I try to remind myself of - my fear has no control over the plane - if its going down, it's not going to be because I'm psychic and my fear told me so. My fear isn't proof that something is wrong.'s been a long long journey with this!