Perhaps this year I’ll learn to let go of my number one fear.
I’ve been dealing with it for more years than I care to count (14 or so). It’s nothing that unusual, and it certainly doesn’t mean I can’t live a normal life, but, really, it’s time I let go of it.
You might think that fears are something you treat, something you cure, or something you manage to bypass in one way or another, with, say, hypnosis, for example. I’ve tried that. It didn’t work.
I’ve tried reading up about it, tried getting my head into the right place, tried meditating, listening to music, acupuncture, medication, alcohol, and even watching some self-help videos. None of it has worked consistently even though some have offered brief moments of fearlessness.
I’m afraid of being in a plane.
In October 2001, I was in a plane that managed to land despite all odds. There was a severe storm, ours was the only plane to land that day, and yes, I watched as the tip of our wing almost hit the ground as we attempted to land… and then spent some 40 minutes praying to whatever forces might be out in the world to save my sorry ass from what I felt was a premature death.
Those 40 minutes spent awaiting and dreading death were the most painful minutes of my life. I experienced genuine pain in my body as we circled around the airport, waiting for the fleeting moment of calmness in the eye of a raging storm. Waiting for certain and imminent death is an experience you don’t lightly forget.
The hoped for respite from violently changing gusts of wind never came, so our (female) pilot decided to have another go at landing. We landed from high and very hard. As the plane touched down, the wind almost ripped us back into the air. I don’t know how, but our pilot managed to bring the airplane to a halt, but not before passing a sea of what seemed like disappointed spectators and a row of fire trucks, ambulances, and a deployed safety net. Nobody thought we’d make it.
My boyfriend at the time and I walked through a quiet, eerily deserted airport filled only with Asian tourists sleeping on whatever surfaces they could find. We didn’t exchange a word. We couldn’t.
We took the train into town and walked into the city center. The world was busy being full of life, the beautiful cumulus raced across a tempestuous sky, coloured pink by the slowly setting sun. I couldn’t believe I was alive. I held onto the railing of the bridge and breathed the cold autumn air, filling my lungs with life. Words failed me… my tears spoke for me instead.
My grandfather was turning ninety and I had to fly to get to the party. It had been three months and while nervous, I was ready to get back on a plane. I loved flying and always had. I could not imagine my life without being able to soar through the skies, looking at the world from an angle none of my ancestors would have been able to even dream of.
As I sat down in the plane, I felt light headed, slightly nauseous, and certainly uncomfortable. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to me, perhaps I was exhausted? Perhaps I had eaten something I shouldn’t have? My mouth suddenly dried up, I needed a glass of water. I needed to see someone, I wasn’t well. My heart raced, I thought I was having a heart attack, I needed to get off the plane. Get me out of here! I screamed – in my head. I could not speak. My mouth was so dry I could barely open it. My eyes didn’t want to stay open, I was terrified I was dying. The airplane taxied onto the runway as I saw my life flash before me. I needed to get off this plane. I needed to get medical attention. The engines roared and soon we were up in the sky. And I was somewhere else.
It took me three days to get over the panic attack I suffered on that flight. I was due to fly back in four. The return flight was not quite as bad, but far from normal. It took me another four days to recover.
In the thirteen years since I experienced my first panic attack, I have been able to fly without fear about three or four times. I have circled the world twice since and have gathered an impressive amount of air miles.
On Monday, as we entered the security check-up area of yet another airport, I kindly asked a member of the staff if there was an alternative to going through the somewhat recently installed body scanners – of which I am not a fan and which are associated to some lesser fears of mine. She sternly replied that there was no other option and that I should not be concerned about their safety as they are new and of the highest standard.
I broke down into uncontrollable weeping.
Through my wails, I was able to somehow communicate that I was not only scared of these machines but of planes in general and that she was making my life very difficult by refusing me any leeway in this anxiety-inducing situation.
Or, in other words, I’m scared of flying and I just can’t, I can’t… *chocking up*
Being a gentle being at heart, she saw my distress and told her colleagues to let me go past the scanners by patting me down instead. I was finally sent off after her colleague had gone through my purse to check I wasn’t a mad person trying to get a bomb or drugs onto a plane by pretending to cry. In between sobs, I kept apologising for crying. It’s something I normally do only once I am in the midst of a panic attack and usually just off the runway.
As I sat in the plane, tears started rolling down my cheeks again, but this time I wasn’t panicking. It was a strange feeling of familiarity without the emotional and physical strain. It felt as if my body was only reacting according to a habit. I was listening to music – Cat Stevens to be precise – and was actually quite comfortable. A sadness rose within me, a form of melancholy about my passing life, a tiredness of sorts that drowned me in tears as the plane roared and took off. I wasn’t crying because I was afraid. I was crying from somewhere much deeper. Perhaps the tears were a way for me to materialise the fear I have grown so accustomed to.
It was then that I thought that perhaps it was time I let go of the fear.