Ten years ago, just walking into the airport sent me running for the restroom. If you knew me a decade ago, you’d probably find it difficult to believe that I now travel as much as I do.
In the past two months I have flown on three small prop planes. Two in the wake of a typhoon.
Prop planes have always given me pause. Prop planes in a thunderstorm with a Typhoon coming our way, was a serious challenge for me. But comfort zones are over-rated. After I did this I gave myself a pass on cliff and helmet diving though! #travel #planes #phobia #goplaces #soulofthephilippines #PhilippinesPhotoContest
Not many people know this, but for the past twenty years or so I have suffered from a fear of flying. Not just a fear. A true phobia. My phobia was severe enough to keep me grounded for the better part of decade. This was tragic because travel is, and has always been, my favorite thing.
I wasn’t always fearful. There was a time when I was basically fearless – laughing at turbulence, happy to hop on a plane to anywhere, anytime.
Then I had a couple of bad experiences. Back to back.
I thought I was fine after the first experience. In fact I was the calm one, coaching a hysterical friend through the incident. I won’t go into more details about the tense situation, because if you are reading this you might be similarly phobic, and I refuse to feed your demons. Let’s just say it was bad, and all things considered,I was fine. I did not panic, I felt certain we’d be ok.
Almost immediately after the first “emergency” landing situation, I got myself right back on a plane, knowing it was the healthiest thing to do. I wasn’t going to let it get me down, keep me down. I wasn’t even particularly scared. But then, that flight had a near miss, resulting in a very dramatic aborted landing. Again, we were fine. There wasn’t time to panic, but my heart wouldn’t seem to stop pounding. Even when I was off the plane. All I had to do was think about flying.
That was it. I was officially a basket case. Call it PTSD, if you want to be kind.
I tried to fly but each and every subsequent time I found myself on a plane I would be unable to catch my breath and I would hyperventilate. I felt panicked, and embarrassed, because sometimes I would cry. It was terrifying. The feeling scared and out of control of myself, was even worse than the flying.
Of course everyone had “get over your fear of flying” advice for me. I heard it all.
The most annoying were the statistics quoting members of the sanity police who let me know, in the most patronizing tone possible, that flying is perfectly safe! Safer than the 405 freeway en route to LAX! It was as if they thought I’d just arrived here in the present, from some time in the distant past and was worried about these crazy modern flying machines in the sky I had never seen before.
“Oh, it’s safe you say? I’m statistically unlikely to ever crash you say? But I already had two back to back scary experiences, and the odds of that are astronomically low. Plus… newsflash.. FEAR IS NOT RATIONAL.”
Other bits of stupid advice came from the people who suggested that I conquer my trepidations by having a few too many drinks at altitude
“So you’re telling me the solution is drinking enough to not be terrified (ie, basically unconscious), leading to my being medically compromised on the plane? Ummm….No thanks.”
Possibly my favorite helpful hints came from the insightful sidewalk psychiatrists who would inform me that this was all due to my control issues, that I clearly needed to delve into more thoroughly. Because… I really wanted to drive the plane? Please. I can’t think of a more suicidal notion.
“No, I don’t want to fly the plane. I want to nap on the plane. I want to relax and laugh and read and watch movies like I used to, without hyperventilating and sobbing like a crazy person.”
I was embarrassed, frustrated and angry with myself. The only thing I wanted to control was myself.
For many years, at least once a year I forced myself to fly, just to prove it didn’t own me, and it was torture every time. I gave up on so many dreams of travel. I researched boats, trains, scenic driving routes.
Until one day I was faced with an incredible opportunity to speak at an event and I decided enough was enough. I was going to get a hold of my fear, and if I could not get over it completely, I was going to get better.
Continuing reading part two for tips and tricks I’ve used to overcome my fear of flying.