Palms so clammy my boyfriend can’t hold my hand. I’m certain other passengers can hear my heart beating out of my chest. Adrenaline makes my limbs shaky and clouds my vision. Constant images of tragedy flow through the movie reel in my mind. This is the personal hell I go through each time I set foot on a plane.
You’d think I was a newbie, right? No, my parents took me (generously) all over the globe throughout my entire childhood. Every year, I take multiple trips that require me to board dozens of flights. Business and pleasure. And still, I have a full physical, emotional and mental breakdown on each flight.
Two days before I was to board a flight to come home from this past weekend away, the Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco. I’ll just let you imagine my reaction to that.
I’ve tried anti-anxiety medication. It blunts the fear for a bit, but my metabolism is going at such a high rate, that I think I’d need 4 doses for it to really do the trick. Naturally, I’m not willing to give myself elephant tranquilizers just to fly to California. I should be able to master this myself…shouldn’t I? Maybe not. Irrational fear doesn’t respond to rational facts. When I tell people I’m scared to fly, they first think I’m joking, then they tell me how fun flying is. Except it isn’t for me.
Sadly, I can trace the intensification of this irrational fear to the terrible 9/11 tragedy. I was 16 years old when it happened, and I can say flying has never been the same for me, despite how incredibly safe the friendly skies are. Far safer, certainly, than driving my car on 128. I know this, I know all the numbers. I’ve done research on the mechanics of flight, I’ve spoken to pilots, my boyfriend has taken a flying lesson, and I’ve even watched youtube videos of how much force the wings of a plane can actually withstand (a LOT).
All I’m left with is acceptance. And in that acceptance, I have learned so much about fear. In the face of utter terror, I know how to manage it. I once flew over the rocky mountains, and the turbulence was so bad that passengers began crying and praying, and I sat there, like I do on every flight, breathing in and breathing out. Slowly. I’ve been dealing with in-flight terror for so many years that I’m fairly good at handling it.
Having a fear like this makes you face mortality, too. Not to be completely morbid but certain realizations about our universal powerlessness help you to just let go. Letting go lets you go for it. Frankly, whether I am on the ground or in the air or on a boat or a train, I have no control over what could possibly befall me. As scared or as calm as I am, I never know what’s around the corner. And that’s why I keep getting on the plane. Every trip.
What I have learned has bled into every inch of my life. Fear can slow you down, it can have an enormous impact on what activities you choose to do in life, what career you choose, what person you decide to be with. Most importantly, fear never goes away. But it is manageable. I’m flattered sometimes when people call me “fearless.” It’s not true, but I’m glad people see me that way. I have a healthy dose of fear in my professional life, but few people ever notice it. All it comes down to is good management.
Fear is energy. If you use this energy the right way, face it, wrangle it, and tame it, you’ll be unstoppable. Look your fear right in it’s face, and put one foot in front of the other.
- How Airplane Crashes Mess With Our Rationality (bigthink.com)
- Xanax won’t make me any less dead when the plane crashes! (yosoyalis.wordpress.com)