If you’ve ever sat next to me on a flight, as many of you have, I am sorry 😉 Thank you for letting me jump onto you, hug you, hold your hand with my excessively sweaty palms, shake uncontrollably, curl up in a ball in crash position, maybe even hit your arm really hard to wake you up to tell you that something is really wrong when it is actually just completely normal minor turbulence…all ways that I completely panic on flights. I cannot control it. It over takes my mind and my body. It’s involuntary in a way. Yet, I don’t stop. I am in love with traveling, I love airports, I get giddy and excited every time I get dropped off at the terminal. I’m fascinated by air travel. I put myself at risk in so many other ways in life and it doesn’t scare me. Something about flying though, it triggers my anxiety at it’s worst.
My flight this past week from Dubai to Beirut was quite the event. Shout out to Shan for going through this one with me! While we’ve flown together plenty of times before, she now has the true experience of flying with Aly: full-on panic mode. We hit turbulence about an hour into the flight, despite the cabin crew saying it would be a smooth flight the whole way. Well luckily, we were flying to Lebanon, and our cabin crew were wonderful Lebanese men. But I really had an episode this flight. So at the beginning I got up and went to the back, and got my first round of wine early because I could feel the panic coming on. I told Jean Claude, the adorb Lebanese flight attendant, about my fear. He was really calming and when we hit our first patch of turbulence, he was serving some people in front of me and looked back at me and yelled ” alright drink!”. He kept checking on me and telling me everything was totally normal (he also got my number to hang out while in Beirut, so bonus move). Poor Shannon, she had to hold me, calm me down, sit with me curled up on her lap, frantically yelling this is not normal, something is wrong, this is so bad, over and over until we’d smooth out.
It hasn’t always been this way. I can actually recall the first episode: flying from Atlanta to Cancun. Not sure what happened, but on take off from ATL we had a sharp turn, and I jumped up out of my first class upgraded seat. The guy next to me gave me a strange look. “Don’t you fly all the time?” he asked. Yep, every single week for work I fly, that’s a minimum of 4 flights per week. But the turn just got to me. After that turn, I passed out in the bathroom on the plane. Flight attendant had to get me ice and sit next to me for like 30 minutes. I don’t know what it was, but after that little event my anxiety has been on orange alert.
When we’re about to take off I’m calm, I tell myself “we got this” — like I actually have control over it — but the second we hit the first tiny lift up off the ground, my heart thumps so hard you can feel it through my chest. I count to 90 three times. Why? Because that’s 270 seconds, 4.5 minutes…and once I read that a pla=ne crashed on takeoff after 3 minutes 12 seconds, so in my mind if we make it to 4.5 minutes we’re all good! Sound crazy? Yep, it is. It’s insane, illogical, unnecessary. And that is what’s called: anxiety (my version of it).
In the air
Turbulence doesn’t cause a plane to crash. I’ve read and read and read about turbulence. Planes can handle it, even the worst of it. Planes crash mostly on takeoff and landing, or due to a major mechanical malfunction, not turbulence. Even knowing this, reading these facts, I am totally fine up in the air…until we hit turbulence. Then I freak out. Again I sweat, I shake, I curl up into a ball, the worst is when I’m alone hit the flight attendant button out of pure impulse, like I just need someone to tell that I’m freaking the f out. I try breathing techniques: I count to four as slow as a possibly can while I inhale, and again as I exhale, trying to get oxygen to my brain. It can help, but usually doesn’t because the thumping in my heart takes over the breathes. Once on a flight home from a work trip to Hawaii, we flew through a bad storm. I’m pretty sure I blacked out due to the panic attack. I was told I was screaming into a pillow, that the plane was going down. I was convinced the plane was plummeting. Thanks to the stranger sitting next to me who held my hand and let me cry on his shoulder, poor guy. PS. United Airlines gave me a good amount of free wine after this episode, that definitely helped me out!
I think landing is the worst part, but at least I know it’s all almost over. But landing takes foreverrrrrrr. And there’s a lot of movement and shaking. When there are clouds and we start going down through them, oh boy. I really really hate landing. And while up in the air I can logically say we are really safe and my fear is irrational, landing can actually go wrong. Now of course the odds of being in an emergency landing or have any real incident on landing is about 1 in 100000000. And the moving and bumping around to get down is totally normal, but every time in my mind, it’s the plane falling apart, the engines blowing out, the cross winds taking over the controls of the plane.
So What Is It?
People always start by asking my what I’m afraid of: am I afraid of dying? I mean no, I’m really not. It’s the trauma I think, the lack of control. If something does happen, we’re just up there in the sky and have a long way to fall, fully aware of what’s happening and the outcome. Sure, death is a bit of a scary thought, I’m not wishing it to happen. Especially up in the air I’m on my way to another adventure! But overall, I understand and accept death. I’ve seen my best friend taken unfairly, unexpectedly, incompletely. I’ve thought endlessly about what it means to die, and I can confidently say I accept it. I don’t live my life scared of death in any other way, except on the safest form of transportation we got. It just doesn’t make sense. Is it anxiety in other areas of my life just releasing when I travel? Oooooo, yeah, probably. I can get a little (or a lot) overwhelming, stress builds up, I like having control of things in my life…so sure there’s some psychological stuff going on here…and yes I’ve seen a therapist, not enough, but I’ve gone.
I really like the ideology of multiple lives, although I wouldn’t say I am fully a believer, I love the thought of it. So the idea that I’ve had a tramatic flight event in a past life is one solution. And for sure I was Lebanese in a past life, of course….
So what do I do?
I just keep going really. It can’t stop me. I love travel. LOVE it. Addicted. So I take Xanax or drink wine. Both really do help, if I don’t do one of these I still panic. I’ve been able to overcome it a little over the years, enough to get me through, to keep going. But I want to get past it. It’s so illogical and irrational! I think about how bad it must be for my body to go through this rollercoaster so often as much as I travel. I think about having kids and how the hell do I travel with them (which I WILL DO!) if I can’t even control myself?
On a serious note: I really need to get this under control. It overwhelms my thoughts, conscious and subconscious. It’s really unhealthy. I need to do something, and I’m willing to, I just do not know what to do. I’m traveling here and there right now, so seeing a therapist and getting consecutive treatment doesn’t seem like an option, but maybe I need to make it one? I’ll be in Oklahoma in July, so I say that’s when I’ll do something, but I feel that’s putting it off. After this last flight, I really am not sure I can put it off any longer.
Sorry if you thought this was going to be a post about how to OVERCOME flight anxiety. This is not that, I am not that. I’m still on the prowl for this “cure”, so if you do have it, please share 🙂
I COMPLETELY REALIZE HOW LUCKY I AM!
I set goals to explore off-the-beaten-path countries because I so badly want to learn, to grow, to experience cultures that open my mind. I didn’t even know it, but I have taken a picture of flying to each of the 6 (out of 7) stans I’ve been to! This blows my fucking mind: as much as I am terrifyed of flying, I know it’s worth it to have these adventures, and makes me actually really proud of myself for accomplishing these goals despite such an intense journey to get there.
The Bright Side
I really didn’t like writing this post. It’s continuously frustrating that I have this issue, and that I haven’t done enough about it to have it under control. But while writing this post, I thought about the pictures I’ve taken while flying. So I pulled up my iPhone pics, and started scrolling through. What I found was amazing! I didn’t even really know I had all of these amazing photos from above the clouds and above so many countries. Reflecting on these pictures makes me reflect on the experiences I’ve had. I am astonished at the places I’ve traveled, the adventures I’ve had, the people who I’ve gotten to travel and explore the world with, it’s all so meaningful, so fun, so valuable! So through it all, the sweat, the tears, and the fears, I really got to see the bright side and be thankful for each and every adventure I have. These pictures gave me that incredible reminder!!!