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.