Beyond the Fear

The first time I flew, it was with my father. He was taking lessons. They were supposed to do some crazy stuff, you know recovering after an engine stall, but my father talked his instructor into putting that off. I originally didn’t want to go, but there was a boy I was trying to impress and he was like “you’ll have fun!” And so I felt like ok, I better do this. I was 16, I think, and into the Cessna I went. I don’t think they even gave me proper noise cancellation headphones. I remember it being so loud like an overpowered lawn mower and not being able to talk. We flew over Stone Mountain, Georgia. I remember feeling so proud. If you read Part I, you’ll know how terrified I was before doing this. So yeah, for me, it was as simple as trying to impress a boy to get my ass in a plane. At first anyways. Yep, I really liked him back then!

2002 was the first time I stepped into a commercial airliner. No boyfriend to impress this time. I was quite single. I just thought to myself how much I’d like to be with friends in Quebec for New Years. It was an amazing trip. I remember looking for the babies on each flight. I had connecting flights in Toronto both ways. That was my security knowing that babies don’t die in plane crashes. I know, I know.

In the period between 2002-2003 I had flown a few more times, and it really was uneventful. However, in 2004, flying back from my honeymoon was mildly turbulent, and the captain said over the speaker something to the effect that they will do what they can to land us safely. My thought was “what? You’ll do what you can? No, you better just land us safely, period.” There was a few rumbles across the plane and some storm clouds, but nobody was freaking out, it seemed normal to the rest of the passengers. But I was holding on to my seat and my palms were super sweaty. My new husband was kind of laughing a little.

And just like that. No more plan rides for 18 years.

In the mean time my husband occasionally flew for work. On one flight one of the rutters were stuck, so they had to land using a special maneuver that they told the passengers they had practiced frequently in simulations….. It took them a couple of hours longer to land, but in the end it was safe and uneventful. I would have shit myself.

GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!

I was often asked to take trips for business and would have to eventually tell them that I was too afraid to fly. Although, I really wanted to go on some of the shorter trips. I love to travel and see new places.

Then I was asked about a month ago if I would be willing to go on a business trip with my new company. It would require a 2 hour flight. I was thinking about how much I would love to travel to another country one day. This would be a good place to start. So without much consideration for my fear, I agreed. Sure! Sure, I’ll go! None of this would hit me just yet. Not booking my flight. Not our presentation discussions. Not packing my bags. Not even driving and getting to my gate at the airport. It wouldn’t be until they called for me to board the plane.

Standing in line to scan my ticket, I felt the anxiety rise up my stomach into a head rush. I looked out the window at the giant plane engine with the swirly logo painted on the front. I got mad that they would paint that! Thinking about it spinning made me dizzy. Everything started moving in slow motion. Panic said “run run!” On the outside I was just a person moving along in the line, but on the inside I was composing my excuses and trying to comfort myself saying “you tried!” I started texting my sleeping husband.

The actual texts I sent
“I love Paris in the springtime”

When I got to the ticket scanner, I hesitated for a split second. I was about to say that I changed my mind, but my embarrassment took over and I moved my arm and magically scanned my ticket. I moved into the terminal. I was mortified standing there. I was thinking about how once I am seated and the plane taxis I am stuck!

But then something somewhat remarkable happened. I remembered the successful trips I have taken. I started thinking about my first meal on an airplane and how it was nothing special, but it truly was one of the best meals I had ever had. It was literally the taste of freedom. I reminded myself of what the take off was like, and how gentle it was. How quickly we would get to altitude and how being so high was very surreal. Like looking down wasn’t being 30k feet up, but it was more like a dream. I sat next to a coworker. He was really easy to talk to and distracted me from my fears. The attendants moved along the plane without any concerns and I was comforted by it. I thought to myself that they literally do this every day, fearlessly. Before I knew it we were taking off.

And, again, before I knew it, we were landing. It was a pretty simple uneventful flight. Most of the time we had the lights off and the windows down, I guess this is the new thing since LCDs are pretty much on all of the flights these days. Every now and then my coworker would open the window and look out and I would take a picture enjoying seeing what I haven’t in almost 20 years.

We were to fly back the next day, and I was ready and unafraid. This time there was no hesitation to scan my ticket, I didn’t feel the need to sit near someone I knew. I just climbed aboard and enjoyed my window seat. I even filmed the take off.

Take off, leaving Baltimore.

The real key to success here was putting one foot in front of the other. When a fear piped in, I would counter it with positive visualization, a comforting mantra “I’ll be ok”, or even saying to myself that the pilots know what they are doing. Trust them to do their jobs. Acknowledge that none of the people on this flight are being brave and have every expectation to arrive safely. Acknowledge that turbulence is part of a normal flight. And if something were to go wrong, I’d be in the company of others who equally do not deserve it and that we were all just doing what we should have been doing; living our lives without fear. I know that last bit might seem weird, but I think many of us have this feeling that only bad stuff happens to us, but we really should know better. We are not the bad penny.

I think the lesson is that fears are never really behind us 100 percent, and that a set back is ok. Just try not to let 18 years pass before getting back in the saddle. And as I continue to work on myself and my fears I will always strive to never let my fear of dying keep me from actually living.

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