Dealing With Irrational Fears

Months ago The Mechanic and I sat down and put 4 holiday locations in a hat and picked one to do. You can read about it here. At the time it seemed like a great idea, to have a child-free weekend and head off to explore Melbourne.

The weekend finally came, and last Wednesday afternoon ranks right up there as one of the most difficult times in my life. I left Nick at my mum’s and went home to pack to have 3 nights away from him. Not only were we having 3 nights away from him but we were getting on a plane the next day to fly 2 and a bit hours away. The furthest/longest we had previously been away from him was 2 nights up to the Sunshine Coast. Then, it was nerve-wracking knowing if something happened it would take us at least 2 hours to get to him. The thought of being at least 4 hours (and part of that being on a plane) was excruciating. I have never been a fantastic flyer. I didn’t realise just how bad I had gotten.

Thursday morning when the alarm went off I awoke with dread. No excitement about a child-free weekend away to a city neither of us had ever been before, just flat out, anxiety–filled dread. The whole way to the airport I was trying to think of an excuse good enough to stop me from going, to figure out how I could convince hubby to go on his own so we hadn’t wasted $1000! The whole flight down I went between tears, hot flushes, shaking and nothing could keep me distracted enough to calm down. I felt like I was losing my mind. It didn’t help that the pilot told us there were strong winds in Melbourne and only one runway was open for landing and we were expecting “a few bumps”. I prepared for the worst, barf bag in lap, and waited for the bumpy descent/landing. Thankfully, it never got too bad*, and finally my feet were back on the ground, though not before I felt like I was completely insane.

I have never been this bad of a flyer before. I have not been great, but the certainty I felt that something bad was going to happen was just so overwhelming. I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to make Nick an orphan 2 weeks before his 4th birthday. I just wanted to be at home, cuddled up on the couch with my little man.

“People do this every day, people do this every day.” I kept saying it over and over in my head. I tried to read, I couldn’t see the words. I tried listening to music, I didn’t hear it. When we landed it was like every muscle in my body relaxed and I was exhausted. I most certainly need to go back to therapy. Surely it is not rational to be so freaked out?

I tried rationalizing my fear, tried to figure out why I felt so paralyzed, so convinced something terrible would happen. I have never had anything completely terrifying or disastrous happen on a plane. The worst thing that happened was 16 years ago when I split my head open when we hit turbulence and I flew out of my seat. I still think had I not had to get straight back on another plane in LA (after having my head stitched at a local medical centre) I may never have got on another plane again. Last year we flew to Sydney and on our return trip, our landing scared the crap out of me. I felt like we were coming in way too fast and once we hit, I thought we were never going to stop in time. Perhaps that had something to do with it. Perhaps it was more a fear of separation from Nick, from being so far away from him, from worrying about him should something happen to us. Perhaps I just watch too much TV and read too much news.

People say, “Everything will be fine” or “Flying is safer than driving, you’re more likely to crash on the way there than during the flight.” These things do not help. People were probably told that before September 11 or any other flight that didn’t make its destination. No one can say for absolute 100% certain that your flight will be fine. Shit happens, and you don’t know when it’s going to happen, or how!

Even though I know my fear is irrational, I can’t stop my mind from taking over. I think about Air Crash Investigation, and how one small mistake or small malfunction can be so disastrous. I think about the people on the planes on September 11, who crashed into buildings, and empty fields. I wonder if any of them were afraid to fly, and were told they would be ok. Or were told they were safer up there than driving a car. Because they weren’t safer up there. I think about my son and how he’d cope growing up without parents, because they were selfish and went on a weekend away without him. I think about how I have absolutely zero control over any part of the situation at all. And even though I know** I’m safer in the air than in the bus from the airport to Melbourne CBD, the bus ride doesn’t terrify me and render me paralyzed like the plane flight does. Why is that?

I think about NOT being afraid of flying, and worry that the second I get over my fear is the very second that something disastrous will happen, a la Alanis Morrisett and Isn’t It Ironic.

Part of me so very desperately wants to cancel our trip to New Zealand in October. All we’d lose is a few hundred bucks. But part of me knows that my fear is 99.99999% irrational, that if I don’t fly, I’ll never see anything outside a 3-4 hour radius of my home. And that is not how I want to live my life, in fear and never doing anything because of that fear.

So for now I try to not think about flying to NZ. And I start thinking about how I can manage this fear while on the plane. I thought about getting drunk, but didn’t want to throw up. I thought about pills, but I don’t want to be loopy. I tried breathing and rescue remedy but it wasn’t enough.

Do you have a fear of flying? Or another debilitating fear? How do you cope with it?

*It didn’t get bad at ALL. Both flights were actually pretty smooth, barely any turbulence at all. What would I be like on a rough flight? I don’t want to find out!

** By “know” I mean I have been told over and over and over and over.

Linking up with Jess for IBOT!


14 thoughts on “Dealing With Irrational Fears

  1. anxiety and fears aren’t meant to be rational hon – if they were we would be able to talk ourselves out of our feelings and magically be ‘fixed’. All i can say is this – you are so brave, for doing it anyway. For facing something that terrifies you, and doing it. Because at the end of the day, no matter what your head is screaming, or how your body is reacting, you are on that plane, and you are doing it in spite of your fear.
    That my friend, is courage

    • I guess you have a good point! It just seems like I look around the plane and no one else is panicked, it’s like they’re sitting on a bus and going to the next stop. I hate being the one freaking out. I wish it was something that I did easily. Seems to get worse, no matter how many times I fly, too! Facing this fear does not make it go away!

  2. HAve to completely agree with Lyndal – if we could talk ourselves out of the fear we wouldn’t have the fear to deal with. I know exactly how you feel because I am very much the same – a white knuckle flyer – mainly on take off and landing – when I am up in the air I seem to cope OK BUT I don’t do heights well so I NEVER look out the window !
    You faced your fear and you had a break – good work ! Your holiday in NZ will be amazing and you will have Nick and your Mom on the plane and you will be wanting to make sure that they are OK. I would suggest a very mild sedative just to take the edge off for when you go – it will definitely help and won’t make you loopy.
    Lotsa hugs

    • I have a fear of heights too, though looking out the plane window doesn’t seem to worry me much. I like to see the ground slowly getting closer. Just reading these comments, commenting, thinking about flying again has my stomach in knots. I really hate that it makes me feel this way. I’m going to need something to get me through the flight to NZ!!

  3. Oh dear.. when we went HK last weekend I felt a fear as well that something bad might happen and Lil Pumpkin will be left all alone. Wrote her a little letter before we left too in case something did happen and I didn’t want her to be dangling wondering if we had any last words or thoughts of her. Paranoid I know.. I think my greatest fear is being in the deep sea. I was a competitive swimmer so it is kind of ironic but the thought of being in the great big ocean with no idea what lies beneath or not seeing land kind of freaks me out. One of the reason why I’ve never tried snorkling…

    Do hope you can somehow overcome your fear or lessen it before your big trip to NZ!

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    • You’re not the first person to tell me they have done the letter thing before leaving their child for a couple of days! I thought about it, but I thought writing the letter might be tempting fate!? I’ve actually written Nick a series of letters since we found out I was pregnant, and I’m fulling intending to be here to give them to him myself one day! At least with a fear of the ocean that is fairly easy to avoid! I don’t blame you for that one. I wouldn’t want to be out there either.

  4. I do have some irrational fears. Flying is not one of them but I did suffer great anxiety a few months ago when I flew to the US, leaving my 2 and 4 year old behind for 10 days. That was pretty awful, and I had all the same thoughts – what if something happens to me or to them, how awful that flight back will be, etc etc. Like you, I just wanted to clutch them in my arms and never let them go. Those fears are probably very primal – a mother leaving her children and being a long distance away probably goes against something in our make-up. But in regards to the fear of flying, I am sure like most fears it is feeling like you have no control. I think there is a great lesson in it in letting go, surrendering, and being okay with what happens in life.

    • You are so right about the fears being primal. It goes against EVERY maternal bone in my body to fly away from my child. I should be close to him, it’s my job, my life, to protect him. Can’t do that from the other end of the country. My husband went to the US to visit family for 12 days over Christmas and seemed to be fine about us being back here. He missed us but I don’t think he really worried about us. My mum always says “if your time is up, your time is up” but that’s just it, I have too much to do and look forward to! I don’t want time to be up! Which is very much a problem with letting go and being ok with what happens in life. ha.

  5. Oh, that’s just so yuck for you. Just because the fear might be irrational, it doesn’t take away from how terrible it makes you feel. I have a massive fear of snakes, myself!
    We went for 3 nights to NZ for a wedding early last year and left Small Child home as an 18 month old – it was harder than I ever envisioned it would be.
    I do hope you managed to enjoy Melbs (minus our freezing weather) and am glad you’re back home to snuggle with your little guy x

    • A fear of snakes is totally rational though! Everyone should be afraid of them! haha! I already told hubs we are absolutely NEVER flying anywhere without N again! It’s just too different when you’re a mum. We had a good time, but I don’t think I ever completely relaxed.

  6. I feel bad but I don’t really understand the irrational fear. I’ve been lucky enough to never go through it. I’m scared of sharks and I’m sure i’d become irrational (kicking and screaming and hyperventilating) if a great white was under me – hold on that would be rational wouldn’t it.

    Because I haven’t been there, I don’t have any advice to give but I do wish you all the best. You are a brave woman and you’re amazing just for trying to overcome it.

    • Yes, that would be rational to be terrified of a great white underneath you! I’d be worried if you weren’t! Thanks for your comments Penny. I’m glad for you you’ve never had to overcome a fear like this! I wouldn’t say I’m that brave or amazing but thank you for the sentiment!

  7. wow! I am sorry I can not relate.. I love flying.. the thought of going to a new place just excites me so much – especially on a plane…

    BUT I think you are VERY brave to go through with it and that you overcame your fears and got on that plane and it turned out all fine in the end!! Hope you get on the plane to NZ.. but NZ is a beautiful country! So friendly, wonderful scenery, great place to visit and live!!

    • I have flown so much. I have lost track of the number of flights I’ve made. So for this fear to keep getting worse…I just don’t get it. I thought if you faced your fears you overcame them, I keep facing it but it’s not getting any better!! I am sure once we’re on the ground in NZ I’ll be fine (then I’ll be worried about Earthquakes – we’re flying into C’church!) but getting there and home again will be a mission.

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