Saturday, January 08, 2005

Fear of Flying

Smartmom broke up with her fear of flying. It's over.

Her fear of flying accompanied her on all of her travels. It would begin a week or more before a trip. Like free-floating anxiety, it permeated everything she did in preparation for the trip and make her feel dark and vulnerable for days.

She hated every aspect of the flying: the car ride to the plane, checking in, waiting to board, boarding, take off, flight meals, using the bathroom, landing, even retrieving her luggage (although that wasn't too hard since she was, thankfully, on the ground again).

Her fear of flying was a bad relationship that went on way too long. So long, in fact, that she can't even remember when it started. It definitely got worse after September 11th when it converged with her fear of terrorism making for one heck of a fun ride. During her first few flights after September 11th, she got so crazed she inwardly suspected fellow passengers of being terrorists. But even then, Smartmom knew her fear of flying was stronger and more intense than her fear of the plane being smashed into a tall building.

For years, Smartmom sat with her fear on the plane, clutching it like an overstuffed toy bear. She could think of nothing else. A small bottle of vodka mixed with a can of Virgin Mary did little to keep it at bay. She and her fear were hypervigilent to every sound: the pilot's voice, the behavior of the flight crew, the hum of the engine. She was constantly worried that something would go wrong, that something was going wrong.

Are we going down? Is everything alright?

Every bump, every turbulent rumble, made her stomach clench, her heart flutter. She was all eyes, all ears, all emotion through the entire flight, never resting, never relaxing for even a moment.

Flying with the kids made her fear even worse. She worried what she would do if, god forbid, the plane should go down. She imagined what she would say to comfort them as the plane went down. What would her last loving words to them be? She wondered if she would be able to figure out how to use the oxygen masks, the life jacket (in the unlikely event of a water landing), the safety exit (she could never bring herself to listen to the emergency instructions).

She couldn't bear the idea of dying with her children on a plane. It was her greatest fear.

Like a friendship that slowly erodes, Smartmom's relationship didn't end with a nosiy fight or a nasty phone call. It just sort of went away. Sometimes she even misses it—they'd been through so much together. But mostly it is a relief not to be weighted down by it anymore. Without the dread, everything is so much easier now: every aspect of travel isn't imbued with dark emotion and morbidity. Packing is easier too, as is saying good bye to family and friends.

So what happened between Smartmom and her fear. Why'd they call it quits after so long?

Boredom. For one thing, Smartmom just got sick and tired of it. She couldn't bear to go on one more flight and think about morbid things. BORING! What a waste of time. Life is too short to spend it clenched in anxiety on an airplane.

Meditation. Smartmom learned how to meditate and tries to do it everyday. She started to do deep breathing before and during take-off, which was always the most difficult part of the trip. She finds that it makes her feel relaxed, almost sleepy. Concentrating on her breath keeps her mind off of her old friend. Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out. She breathes her way up to 35,000 feet, cruising altitude.

Jet Blue. Smartmom has been flying Jet Blue for three years now and it makes all the difference. They seem to have gotten all the nasty kinks out of airplane travel. Check in is a breeze, they're usually on time, the flight crew is great, pilots are nice (and they were the first to have locked cockpit doors), there are no airline meals (you bring your own), and they don't clog up the aisles with those stupid beverage carts. Plus the 30 channels of television are mighty distracting.

God. Smartmom hasn't become more Jewish or anything. It's just that through her meditation she's connected with something spiritual she can't define but knows that she needs. She still fears death but she's a little more comfortable with it now.

Transitional Objects: Now that she's let go of fear, that old, overstuffed toy bear, she still like to hold on to something dear from home. Her Tibetan bead necklaces works well as a TO: nice to finger or suck in her mouth. Like a security blanket or a pacifier, it keeps her calm.

Flying. Soaring above the earth, Smartmom loves the view. It's not like she's Superwoman now. It's just that she's begun to enjoy the idea of flying because it means going places, exploring the world, making the most of life.

Sometimes Smartmom wonder what her fear is doing these days. Has it taken up with someone new? Sometimes she misses it even though she knows it was bad for her -- you don't give up destructive habits easily that's for sure. But so far, there hasn't been too much back sliding. And that's a good thing. Smartmom needed to move on.

Flying brave, flying bold, she's reaching her cruising altitude.


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Helen_of_Sparta said...

Brilliant. You really are a brilliant - and eloquent - writer. To personify fear ... why, even Roe's English teacher (who is pretty damn tough) would be quite impressed! I'm sure that doesn't make much of an impression on you as you are considerably more mature and a better writer than my little sister, but I really thought that your entry was lovely. It is already one of my favourites! :-)
~ Lydia

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Udge said...

Another wonderful post, both for the writing and the content. Being sick has been very good for your writing, not that I'd recommend it as a working method or anything ;-) The last few posts have been uniformly excellent.

Rewrite this in the first person and send it to Psychology Today.


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