A Fear of Flying

IMG_5116Doris Day, Whoopi Goldberg, and Ronald Reagan all feared flying, preferring to travel by bus or train to other states.  A few years ago, I discovered what such a fear felt like.  I had never really flown before.  Well, there was no “really” about it.  I’d never had a reason to fly anywhere.  Living in the Mid-West, a few hours car ride to family, and having a tight income prevented farther excursions, much less vacations.

Then, one day I received an e-mail offering a free day at Disney World and a cruise to the Bahamas.  We only had to fork out for the plane ride to Orlando.  This was too good to be true!  Oh yes, and one catch . . . we had to sit through a 3-hour tour / presentation soliciting us to purchase land or condos in Florida.  We were young.  I’d never been far from home.  We took the bait!

Let me just say this . . . after the flying (both ways) and the cruise . . . it’s a wonder I ever got back on a plane or went on an “actual” Carribbean cruise years later!  I’m sure it was my lack of experience on a plane that contributed to my intense anxiety, in addition to the fact that I get motion sick as a passenger in a car.  Deep inside, I just knew the plane would go down.  Between the motion sick dizziness and the anxiety of a potential crash, I had no choice but to take medicine for motion-sickness, an anti-depressant and keep my head buried in my husbands arm, with a death-grip on his leg for each of the entire flights.  It took me a full day of rest to recuperate front the stress on both ends of the trip.

Years later, I took a position at a charter school which required me to fly to California once, Portland, Oregon twice and Vegas three times during my three year contract.  In fact, the week I signed the contract, I flew to Pasedena for a conference.  I got flying patches from my doctor.  Familiar?  They worked heavenly!  I experienced no motion sickness during the flight, which helped.  And, once landed, even though I was sitting IN THE BACK of a van from LAX to our hotel, I never felt dizzy or nauseous!  I was IN LOVE with the patch.  Until . . . I discovered that if you leave the patch on beyond 48 hours, you start to experience some strange side effects, including dry mouth and blurred vision.  I used the patch only a couple more times.

For the two trips to Portland, I made sure to sit with a colleague who knew of my fear and would talk me through the take offs, turbulence and landings.  The third summer I had to fly to Vegas 3 times and once to Chicago by myself.  It was at this time that I began taking control of my fear.

Once boarded, I would look around at my fellow passengers.  Most would immediately begin reading, working on their laptops or fall fast asleep.  I noted their calmness.  Their matter-of-fact demeanor about the flight.  I would, also, pay careful attention to the flight attendants during the instructional episode, before take off, as the plane coasted to the runway.  My attentiveness wasn’t focused on the instruction but, again, on their demeanor.

My inner dialog sounded like this:  “Look at the flight attendant.  She looks so calm and confident.  She isn’t scared or worried at all.  She does this at least twice a day and several times a week.  She knows we will make it to our destination.  She wouldn’t do this job day in and day out if she wasn’t sure about the safety of air transportation.  What about the pilot?  He wants to live, too.  He is going to do whatever it takes to assure we arrive safely.  He’s flown this plane and this route numerous times.  He knows what he’s doing.”

Granted, sometimes I had to repeat this dialog several times during each flight, but each time got a little easier.  I would, also, make sure to have a good book to distract me.  And, I’ve come to appreciate the in-flight service which I believe helps to ease the tension of flying by giving passengers something to do.

Overcoming my fear of flying was not so different than overcoming my fear of drive-thru car washes . . . but that’s a different story.  I was confident about my flying . . . until I took a job overseas!  Flying over land for up to 4 hours was a breeze at this point, but flying for 16 hours or more over the ocean was another obstacle altogether!!!

In September of 2012, I accepted my current position in Abu Dhabi.  I was excited to experience another culture . . . another world!  I didn’t leave St. Louis until November 16th and my greatest fear was getting to the airport, going through security and then not being able to get on the plane.  I thought about it often between September and November.  But, somehow, when the day came, I boarded the first flight to Chicago without hesitation.  In Chicago, I was so enthralled with the diversity of passengers boarding Etihad Airways with me and the SIZE of the plane, that I forgot to be scared.  I was beginning an adventure!  The entire flight was uneventful (as far as anxiety goes).

Since then, I’ve flown roundtrips from Abu Dhabi to Nepal, India, and Paris.   I’ve also returned home twice.  While in Abu Dhabi, I met a fellow expat from Greece who arrived around the same time I did.  During his two year contract, he taught Physics at a local college.  During his first year, his wife had a baby back home in Greece.  She was given a full year of maternity leave.  Rather than bringing the baby to join her husband for a short adventure, she remained in Greece for the full two years.  Why?  She was afraid of flying.  What new mother doesn’t want to share the early morning feedings with her husband? Or, the simple joy of a new baby?

This last week, on a family trip to California, I realized I had overcome another cause of anxiety related to flying.  Going through security.  This used to be a major stressor for me.  My heart would race and I would be uptight until arriving at the gate.  I’m not sure why I was so stressed.  Perhaps I was afraid of missing my flight.  No more.

I hope this post reaches those readers who struggle with flying.  I never planned to see Europe before accepting the position because I never wanted to fly so far.  Now, I wouldn’t waste an opportunity to visit a foreign land or another state.  My world used to be my city, my state and maybe the one next door.  Now, the world is my home.

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