A very important part of my recent vacation wasn't part of the vacation at all. It’s not about what I did once I arrived, but how I got there and what a huge moment it was for me.
You see, I’ve been flying my entire life. It started when I was a little girl, following alongside my mother on her business trips. Getting on a plane was never a big deal…until last September.
This post was what I thought of initially as one isolated (and very bad) experience. Somehow, over these past few months, flying has become a lot bigger than that. In fact, it’s turned into a fairly debilitating fear. When I look back, I can see all of the optimism I felt in posts like this one, and I've realized how long it's been since I truly felt that way. I even had plans to visit San Francisco in February, but I lost my nerve. I just couldn’t do it. Not after my previous encounter felt so horrible, and during a much shorter flight no less.
It’s nagged at me, worked at me, drilled into me until it became apparent that maybe whatever it was that had me so spooked was about more than just being afraid to crash.
When I lived in Gainesville, I worked with someone who was born and raised there. He'd never left Alachua County, let alone Florida, and had no desire to. I couldn't fathom it. A big part of what I want to do is see the world, as much as I can in my lifetime. When I carelessly asked him why he wasn't interested, I could almost see the gears of fear and discomfort working to close his mind off to the question.
At the time I brushed it aside; attributing it to small town life. I was about to fly from Miami to London, beginning my great European exploration, and all I could think about was the end result: getting somewhere that I wanted to be.
Then a few months ago, I came to the realization that my fear was beginning to take the world of opportunities away from me. My realm of discovery was rapidly being reduced to a single pin on a map, and I found myself feeling like my old friend from Gainesville. I decided to talk to someone. The way I was reacting to a somewhat typical fear just felt too foreign, too unlike myself to be ignored any longer.
It’s incredible how difficult it can be to admit that you are in need of help. I even feel uncomfortable phrasing it as ‘help.’ There’s just something about it that sounds so defeatist. Embarrassing. Abnormal?
But the fact of the matter is, it’s none of those things.
We all need help from time to time, and I think the hardest part for our generation is admitting that. Be it from a co-worker, a family member, or even a complete stranger who’s willing to offer a fresh perspective, we are not alone in the world and we shouldn’t pretend to be.
So I talked to someone, and reasoned out what it was that had driven me into this state of fear. We talked about things I never would have connected to my concerns; events that were both traumatic and horrifying, as well as moments I’d all but chalked up as seemingly non-events.
I learned a lot about the way my survival instincts have molded me into the person I am now, and the way we, as humans, adapt to experiences over time. In many ways, the part that helped the most was to just be able to speak about my feelings out loud.
You know when you wake up from a bad dream and you’re practically paralyzed by the memory of the nightmare? There’s something so terrifying about it when you keep it to yourself, but if you could just say it out loud (be that to the person next to you or on a late night phone call), it’s like the power of the memory is lost. All of your panic deflates, and sometimes the fear can even change to laughter and relief, just by hearing yourself admit what it was you were so frightened of.
It was kind of like that. All of the stress, anxiety and trepidation I was juggling inside began to sound almost silly when placed into a verbal context for my unbiased listener.
When the time came to fly, I have to admit I was still pretty scared, but I was also ready to face the void that had grown into the patchwork of my life. I wanted the chance to try and loosen the hold it had over me, and maybe even to laugh about it eventually, like some distant nightmare.
When I felt my nerves creeping up into a panic, I recited mantras to myself that made me feel better. ‘The pilot wants to live as much as I do…bumps in the air are like bumps on the water…I am not being held against my will…a plane is just an instrument for getting me somewhere that I deserve to go.’
Two layovers and four flights later, I am back on solid ground and mostly better for it. Forcing yourself to face a fear is sort of like an out of body experience. While you’re pulled away from yourself, if you listen carefully to the changes in your body and your mind in the midst of panic, you’ll eventually hear all of the directions you’re capable of going in. From there it’s a matter of looking at those avenues of control and panic from an aerial view, and exercising the willpower to take charge of how you choose to react.
I will not say that I am 100% cured of my fears, I wasn’t expecting some miracle quick fix, but looking back I can see a silver lining of optimism and best of all, room to heal.
I refuse to allow my world to telescope inward, to be the ‘one city’ kid that I met in college, and I hope none of you do either. I’m going to keep trying, keep working at it, and keep talking until I feel safe again. Life is too short to spend it letting our worries rule us, and it’s too long to spend regretting what we missed.
Do not be afraid to seek help if your fears are keeping you from living life; just look at all the beauty there is to enjoy out there!
Tomorrow, let's get back to the fun stuff. Be well my readers, and always travel safely.