Today’s session deals with my fear of flying. I know that I’ve dealt with this before, but I want to cover this a little more closely this time to see if I can come up with anything different. On our most recent trip to Baltimore, we had a non-stop flight via Southwest Airlines into BWI. Now, before y’all start the trash-talking of various airlines, let it be known that I’ve flown dozens of airlines to a variety of places and that doesn’t matter. I’ve flown TWA, Piedmont (got my wings with them), Continental, Air France, South African Airways, Delta, Southwest, American, USAir, British Airways, Independence, some prop plane out of Flagstaff, it does not matter.
As the flight takes off, I feel my stomach sink and I grip the seat tightly and sweat out about five pounds until we reach our cruising altitude. Then, provided all is still and turning is at a minimum, I might be able to relax, but I can never take my seatbelt off. The slightest bit of turbulence puts me in a panic and banking the plane causes an almost vertigo feeling. Landing has always been the best part of flying for me, but even my most recent flights have made that more challenging due to turbulence and the fact that we’re notified 20 minutes before landing. Why do I need to know 20 minutes before? I can feel the plane descending. I’ll know when it lands…why do you need to announce it? Anyway, that’s beside the point.
Before the departing flight for Baltimore, I took a prescription Xanax that I had left over from previous flights. I had hoped that I wouldn’t need it, but I took it just in case. I didn’t bother taking the last one with me, which in hindsight was a bad idea. Anyway, on the flight up to Baltimore, it did not seem that the Xanax had any effect. The takeoff was similar to others, though it was fairly smooth. There was turbulence on the descent which made for an interesting landing and I sweated off a couple of pounds there. But, apparently the Xanax was helping more than I thought. The flight home was a nightmare. More than likely it was calm by other people’s standards. The entire ride up to cruising altitude I desperately gripped the armrests, digging my feet into the floor as if hoping to steer the plane through sheer force of my calf muscles. I whispered quietly to myself that it would be okay, that I would live, that everything would be fine if we’d just get up above the clouds. Still, every slight bank or jolt caused me to tense up as tightly wound spring, while my wife and daughter sat quietly enjoying the hour and a half flight home. By the time the seatbelt light went off, I was near tears telling myself that it was stupid to be this terrified while my 14-month old giggled through Elmo’s Animal Alphabet. I was incapacitated to the point of being unable to help my wife with holding my daughter on the flight and every time she grabbed me I shuddered thinking that she was in more control than I was.
My wife knows my hatred of flying and she knows how difficult it is for me to get on a plane. She has also repeatedly told me how proud she is that it doesn’t stand in the way of my desire to see the world. I’ve been to 3 different continents, 6 different countries, and a number of states via airplane…but every single flight has required me to rip my heart out and watch it beat rapidly in front of me on the tray table as I hope desperately that this is not the flight that I fear it will be each and every time. It’s not just the physical toll, though it’s a fairly severe extraction when you think about it. It’s the mental and emotional drain. Sometimes, when I exit a gate from a flight, I want to just sit and cry, or vomit, or both because it’s silly and irrational as well as real and discomforting.
I’m not sure that there’s anything I can do, but it has never once hurt me to talk about it, here or anywhere else. Thanks for listening and if you’re next to me on my next flight, just be aware that it’s not that I’m ignoring you, I’m simply doing my best to keep it together long enough for us to get to our destination.
See you in the funny papers!
Photo by Michael B. Shane, courtesy of Flickr and Creative Commons license.