Part of embracing awareness is facing our fears, learning about them, and accepting them. Accepting them as part of us and why we might have them. This is a great topic to explore, and I have a lot to say about it, but let me first share with you a particular fear that I needed to embrace and did.
As a young child I had unhealthy, irrational fears of airplanes crashing. Not only while riding in them, but crashing on top of me. Having that fear and living in close proximity to a very active air force base kept my anxiety levels at high alert at almost all times. The sound of a fighter jet would roar over waking me from a deep slumber. When I was about 11 or 12, I remember jumping out of bed and running out of my room in a frightful panic and my mom telling me that “its ok” and that “its gone now”. I somehow thought that I would be able to outrun the plane if I heard it or saw it falling in time.
How did this begin? I’m not entirely sure. I became a very anxious person in general as I started to mature. However, there was a specific incident that I recall that could have ignited this extreme almost unlivable fear in me. In 1989, a military jet from the air force base crashed into nearby apartments killing 2 people. One being a pregnant woman, the other being a man that my mother worked with at Sprint. Here are a few archived news articles reporting on the story: NYTimes, Associated Press, UPI Archives. Back then, Smyrna, the city where this occurred, was in the pre-Atlanta Olympics era. It was nearly half the population than it is today. While it wasn’t a small town, it had a small town feel.
My mother, being a curious person, decided that she wanted to drive by the incident to take a look at what happened to her co-worker. I was in tow. I remember that the apartments were blocked off. She had to be creative about getting a peek. She recalled there was a hill nearby where she might be able to look over and see the remnants of the crash. I can vaguely recall the 30 year old comments my mother made about the pregnant woman who passed, how tragic it was, and how her co-worker was about to go on a date that evening or had just returned from one shortly before it happened. I vaguely remember looking over the bushy hill and seeing a scorched Earth.
While I can’t be 100 percent certain that this is what sparked my fear, I think its a fairly reasonable explanation. Having been in proximity to the air force base, hearing the roaring of the jets, seeing the destruction that they could do, my 9 year old brain could only assess that this could happen to me and I better be prepared so that I might have a chance to survive it. Besides, what made me any different from those innocent people who were severely injured or killed?
It took me a while to piece this incident together with the overwhelming, life impacting phobia that I had (have?). When I was young it didn’t quite click. It apparently didn’t click for my parent’s either. They were clueless as to what would make me feel this way. I don’t think I have ever shared these revelations with them. In attempt to help me overcome my fear, my parents thought it would be a great idea to take me on a ride past the busiest airport in the world….. I wish I could say that was a joke, but it isn’t. In their minds, they thought if I saw all of the planes taking off and landing safely it would somehow be a remedy to my anxiety. If you could only see the look on my face as I write this. Part of me wants to laugh hysterically, while the other part of me is “bye felicia”.
As we drove on 75 south past Hartsfield-Jackson airport, huge passenger Boeings were taking off or landing, I don’t exactly recall. However, I do remember screaming and crying and crouching down into the floorboard trying to hide. My dad, who thought he had this ingenious plan to cure me grew frustrated with his confusion as to why it wasn’t working. As an aside, be careful folks, things like this can disintegrate trust between parents and kids.
This was a battle I would continue to fight through adult hood. And while I continue to fight the good fight, it now takes significantly less artillery than it did before, and there are quite a few wins. I look forward to sharing them with you when I continue the story in part II.