Uneasy with Flying (My Story continued)

I wrote earlier about how my fear of flying began and developed and got worse until I was almost unable to do it.  I lived very far from home, and I had first one and then two babies, so I couldn’t not fly unless I never wanted to see some family members or the place I grew up.  That wasn’t an option.

*As an interesting aside, I was always amazed at the number of people who suggested I drink to deal with my fear.  That wasn’t an option either, for me, and of course no one in charge of two babies could drink or take a drug to deal with fear.*

I would be nervous and frightened before I flight.  I felt very superstitious about not changing flights or seats or anything once it was booked.  But then, I would get the overwhelming premonition that this plane would crash. I knew that it would.  I’d get more and more worked up as the day approached.  Once I had flown, my trip was always shadowed by the fact that I needed to do it again, soon, to get home.

I would be practically sick the day of the flight.  I hated (and still hate) airports, packing, and everything that goes with it.  Airports, to me, are awful places.  So many people are upset, frightened, sad, anxious, angry, hasseled, tired.  I always feel like I’ve neglected to pack something very important, without which I will surely be miserable.  But I can’t think of what it is.

There’s the traffic.  Will you arrive on time?  Once there, the parking.  The checking in.  The saying goodbye to your luggage,, maybe forever.  Is the plane on time?  Is the weather OK?  How much money has this cost?  I’m making myself sick just listing these things, and I’m just sitting at my dining room table.

And the overwhelming feeling that this is it, this is doom.  I’ve tried to avoid it but I can’t, I hear about plane crashes and near misses and terrible things every so often.  I imagine myself in that scenario.  I try not to.  I can’t help it.

From my first flight (not first of my life, but first of that time that I moved away) and the fear my cat wouldn’t make it, until the time I had to get off of a plane carrying two babies, because the plane had mechanical difficulties, my fear grew and got worse.  When finally my three year old daughter began to catch my fear, I decided to do something about it.

I bought a book about overcoming phobias.  One difficult thing about a fear of flying is that you can’t practice if you’re feeling brave, like crossing a bridge maybe or going in an elevator.  The book explained that my body was reacting as if there was an emergency, and really everything was fine.  I began to try to relax as a response to fear, kind of like the Bradley method of child birth I had tried with my son.  I had rubber bands to snap on my wrist.  It suggested biting a pickle or something very strong tasting, but I didn’t do that.

On the ground, if a popular flight path was going over my mother’s house, I sat in the living room and watched plane after plane go by – not crashing, not crashing, not crashing.  On the plane, I would concentrate sometimes with thoughts like, “Nothing bad is happening right now.  You’re just sitting here.”

I flew once the day after a huge crash, and the pilot welcomed us to statistically the safest day to fly.  I reminded myself again and again how terribly against me crashing the odds really were.  I considered, too, that if one has to die, dying in a plane crash would not be the worst way to go.  And yes, one does have to die.  An interesting aspect of my fear has been the fact that I’m only afraid planes I am on will crash.  I’ve put my kids on a plane to go visit my mother (when they were much older), and I’m pretty certain their plane won’t crash.  Just mine.

Right before I took a final flight from the place I was living, far away, to move back almost to my home, a plane crashed in Iowa.  They were unable to lower the landing gear, and they knew for a long time that the plane would crash.  It circled and circled and dropped its fuel.  Ideas were floated to manually pull the landing gear down, or give it a soft place to land, or I don’t remember what else.  I watched it live on the news.  There was the plane, in the air, fine, with everyone alive.  There was the ground, hard hard hard, and no way to stop the momentum of the plane from crushing itself and the people on it.

Some of the people on that plane did die, some didn’t, and I wonder if they knew what was happening.  I don’t wonder enough to look into it, since surely it’s been recorded many times.  But I remember voicing to an AA friend of mine that maybe God would punish me by making my plane crash.  Punish me for not liking my new home, even though I had everything I needed and much, much more.  She said something along the lines of, “God didn’t bring you this far to drop you in an Iowa corn field.”  But had God brought the others that far to do just that?  Why them?  Why not me?

I found a religious pamphlet at my inlaws house that had verses in it like, “Let it be done to me according to Your will,” “For everything that has been, thanks.  For everything that will be, yes!”  I found it while visiting them, facing a flight home.  I took that with me on every flight after that, and I read it on the plane over and over.

I’d like to say I conquered my fear of flying, and really I got much, much better about it.  By the end of my time living there, I was basically very nervous the day of the flight, and better on the plane, and generally OK with all of it.  But since that move back toward my home 18 years ago, I haven’t had much call to fly, and I’ve only done it twice.  I’m still afraid.

As my kids are now adults, soon I’d like to travel, and I want to go places on a plane.  I’m not sure what I’ll do about my fear, but I’m determined to do something, not to just be one of those people who won’t fly no matter what.

I’m not sure how my program has influenced this experience, but it’s probably shot through with program principles.  I hope that before I’m done, I will have a total success with getting over this fear.

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