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  • Pteromerhanophobia

    (originally published on January 20, 2012)

    Some of you may be surprised to hear that I have been plagued with a horrific fear of flying for some time now. I wasn't always afraid and actually enjoyed air travel for most of my life. Then I developed this awful panic that would hit me in waves while I was waiting to board, as the plane was taking off, during any sort of turn or movement, after any little bounce of turbulence, and during all landings, which is pretty much the whole flight, right? 

    I've tried lots of things to help me. Praying to the universe. Yoga breathing. Closing my eyes. Lifting my feet straight out during takeoff (that actually helps! Thank you, W!). Counting seats to exits. Memorizing the emergency brochure. Telling the flight attendant that the man sitting by the escape hatch wasn't paying attention during her demonstration and asking if he could please be replaced. I've never tried pharmaceuticals and never drink during a flight. I've reasoned that I want to have my wits about me in case I need to count those seats to the exit if we need to get out quickly if something goes wrong. (On the positive side, I've never been so fearful that I haven't gotten on the plane. My interest in going wherever we were going has always been much stronger than the fear.)

    If you've never experienced it, I can only describe it as akin to the response one might have if a lion jumped in front of you and lunged at you with its jaws open and as you turn to run there is a giant T Rex dinosaur behind you. Pure adrenaline shoots through you and every little hair stands on end. You are hyper-aware of everything. It is AWFUL.

    As you may have seen in my previous post, I recently flew to Puerto Rico. And on the way down, I did not have ONE panic moment. Not even when we took off from Logan with intense wind gusts that blew us back and forth the whole way down the runway and bounced us all over the place as we took off. Not ONE. And here is why:

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    1. I downloaded 2 apps on my iPhone and iPad -- SOAR and the Flying without Fear app produced by Virgin Atlantic. The first one helped me to understand the mechanics of what was happening -- did you know that the plane takes off at an 18 degree angle and then dips to a 14 degree angle? So helpful to know that is normal! The second app helped me relax. The Mr. thinks the man's voice on it is super creepy. I found it comforting. There is even a "fear attack" button that you can push if panic sets in.
    2. I was tired and actually FELL ASLEEP. I haven't slept on a plane since our honeymoon when I fell asleep before the plane even pushed back.
    3. It was dark and I couldn't see where the ground was. 
    4. I've been in therapy since July. Oh, didn't I tell you? I debated for a long time whether to put this out there or not as it seems there is a stigma attached to therapy. I know this because when I tell people I either get the puppy dog eyes, hand on my arm "you poor thing" look or "I am really UNCOMFORTABLE talking about this!" look. Turns out having that one hour of my week when someone has to listen to me talk about whatever I want to talk about also helps flying phobia issues. So if you have anything in your life you want to work on, I highly suggest getting yourself a good shrink.

    With that said, I'm not sure I'm totally cured. I had short-lived panic moments on the flight home. It was bumpy! But I was able to watch two movies all the way through. Usually I get so jumpy that I can't focus on anything. I think I'm definitely on the right track. Next flight is in March so we'll see if it was a fluke or if I am really on my way to feeling "totally and completely calm," as my Virgin Atlantic friend would say.