They say that phobias are irrational fear. I say, I don't care what you call it. I am feeling it and it is real to me. One of my phobias is flying on an airplane. My palms are sweaty just thinking about it right now. A good clue that you might have a phobia is if the mere thought of the object of your fear makes you sweat. I hadn't always been terrified of flying. I remember as a little girl having my mother describe riding on an airplane like it was some magical experience. She told me about seeing the clouds from the window appear like big puffs of cotton candy passing by. She told me it was like a party up there with people serving you snacks and food and even offering you pillows. I had no idea what flying was like but it sure sounded wonderful. I was very apprehensive for taking my first airplane trips as a young adult but I was soon gaining confidence.
Perhaps flying could be rather magical as my mother had described. But this all changed with one trip. I rode on an airplane through bad weather and lots of turbulence. The plane rocked, rattled, and dipped for two hours or more. Drenched with sweat and shaking, I vowed to never fly again.
I kept that vow for well over a decade.
Wherever I needed to go, I would travel by train or car. But then came issues of practicality. Travel by car or train takes a lot of time. Let's face it. Travel by plane can save much time. I was in my late thirties when my sister urged me to try getting on a plane to come see her. I had come by train to see her the year before but the hours it would drop me off at the train station were ungodly such as two am. If I travelled by plane I could have more time to spend with my sister as well as choose a more humane time for her to pick me up at the airport. Now this was back in 2003, just two years after 9/11. I had not been on a plane in fifteen years. I remembered that last horrible time and I immediately grew fearful. I thought about 9/11 and grew even more anxious. But I was ready to try again and face my fears head on. I was going to fly on an airplane.
Here is my diary excerpt about my experience that day. Although it is infused with some humor (this is one of my coping mechanisms) know that I was terrified out of my gourd. But in the end I did it. And I am still flying today. I will share further stories of being fearful and flying in future posts.
My First Flight in Fifteen Years
I had gotten the plane tickets on-line and when I signed up for them I hadn't realized that the plane was a teeny tiny turbo prop plane with propellers. Where was the jet? There was no tube to walk through, just stairs to walk up like politicians and movie stars do. I looked at the plane and just said...."Oh (expletive!)" I added an "oh dear" for good measure. I felt my feet moving so I was going on even though my head did not want to.
I was so scared that I was just about crying. As I boarded the plane of death, as I saw it, I was so nervous I dropped the ticket and my ID and other stuff from my purse all over the plane floor. I made eye contact with the stewardess and stuttered, "I am really really nervous" so she helped me pick up all the stuff and sat me down and tried to talk to me some. While I was waiting, I must have looked a sight and the lady across from me asked "Are you okay?" at which I spurted out "No I am really not okay. I am scared to death!"
Thank God for this woman. She was a business lady all decked out with her business suit on and just the right haircut and she looked so...confident. In contrast there was me gripping the arm rest with white knuckles and buckets under my armpits to catch the sweat. I found myself muttering to myself "It is just like a big bus" as a way to console myself. I asked her if she thought that there would be terrorists on such a small plane. I don't know why I asked that. The whole plane, all ten passengers, probably heard me. The business lady then told me that if there were, she was taking them out because she had worked too hard for too long for anything to interfere with her livelihood. Seems she owned her own company. I felt like a drunk on a bar stool who has met their long lost friend during the last call of the evening. I told her unabashedly "I am so glad you are here"
I noted to myself that when terrified, I am very eager to make friends.
When the plane started to make its rumbly sounds and it was rolling extremely fast down the runway, this is when I began to pray. And. it didn't seem to matter to whom. I was praying to Jesus and Mary and any of the saints I could remember. And then I was putting all the names together as in "Lordy, Jesus, Mary, Saint Patrick, please don't let me die up here!" I found myself trying to remember any prayers I knew. I don't really know that many so I even said grace and a few hail Marys from what I could remember. Hey, couldn't hurt right?
Second note to self: When scared poopless I suddenly find religion. This plane ride was making me both socially outgoing and prayerful.
I had brought gum to help me for this ride, lots and lots of gum. I had four different brands. Okay Big Red gum was the best for this kind of thing. The flavor did not run out. Nonetheless I was popping gum into my mouth every couple of minutes and I didn't spit out the old gum. So I had all the different kinds of gum in my mouth at the same time. When the drink cart came around I could barely talk and muttered that I wanted club soda. Club soda? Who drinks club soda? My mind had gone blank with any type of regular drink I could think of. So I was stuck drinking club soda and with all that gum. I gulped my drink down quickly and spat out the huge wad of gum into the empty cup. The stewardess just stared at my wad of chewing gum lying forlornly at the bottom of my cup and then me and asked me if I was doing okay. I told her that I would be fine as soon as we were landing and would she tell me when that was please.
Due to drinking the club soda and the fact that I was so scared, I had a great urge to go to the bathroom. But there was no way I was going to get up. I didn't even know if the plane had a bathroom. The thought of using the bathroom up there, that high up, no way, not gonna happen. My full bladder did get my mind off the plane ride however. I kept crossing my legs, looking more frantic by the minute, and popping more gum into my mouth. Cross legs, uncross legs, chew chew chew. I had sort of a rhythm going there and every once in awhile I would say, "Just like a bus" to myself. The business lady leaned over and told me, "You are gonna make it." Although at that point, I was sure she was lying.
When we finally landed and I felt ground, I was like a piece of wet spaghetti. I wanted to dissolve into the floor.
The business lady told me, "See, you did great!" I didn't know whether to hug her or slap her.
I was a limp and sweaty mess but I did it! I rode on an airplane! And a little bitty scary propeller plane to boot.
So how about you? Anybody here afraid of flying? Can you tell us what the experience has been like for you? Have you tried to overcome it? Tell us your story! We want to hear from you.
Published On: January 25, 2010