November 18, 2004

I Hate Flying

I'm in the midst of a spate of business trips this fall, which means I'm spending a fair bit of time on airplanes. Thus, it seems to me that this is an appropriate time to do a little venting on a particular kink in my psychology:

I am scared to death of flying.

It is not a rational fear of terrorists, skimpy airline maintenance and safety procedures, violent weather or other genuine concerns. It is a completely irrational fear that if I let go of the arm rest, the wings will fall off. The bases of this phobia are my twin fears of heights and lack of control. Strap me into an aluminum cylinder at 37,000 feet with my fate utterly in the hands of a set of complete strangers and you can readily imagine why I feel compelled to grip my seat with such white-knuckled intensity.

By the time I get off a plane, my hands are cold, clammy and covered with moisture. At the same time, most of my arm, upper body and stomach muscles are considerably more toned than when I got on board, owing to the near constant clenching they've been subject to. And I always feel about five years older.

So why even get on a plane? Well, we do the things that need to be done. As I say, I hate flying, but there's no realistic way to avoid it. So I am constantly working on new ways to get through the ordeal.

My general approach is simply to dissassociate myself from what is happening. This means never looking out the window. (Except for the last few seconds on landing. For some reason, I have to see that.) I try to bury myself in a book or newspaper instead or, if I find I can't concentrate, simply shut my eyes. I used to try having a drink, but found that this actually makes me feel worse - sort of woozy and frazzled at the same time. For some reason, I find that water and coffee are, in fact, far more calming. This approach works pretty well for smooth, routine flying, although it becomes far more difficult to maintain whenever there is any sort of chop.

Take-off is the worst time for me. For this, I have a special solution. As soon as we start to roll, I play over in my mind the scene from "Star Wars" where the Millenium Falcon blasts out of Mos Eisley, starting from the point where the storm troopers enter the bay and ending up with the jump to hyperspace. Don't ask why, but I find this very comforting.

Sometimes people try to engage me in conversation on a flight, thereby intruding on my Travel-Size Fortress of Solitude (TM). This produces one of two results. Either I start babbling away at a mile per minute, or else I respond with short, tight-lipped and very sarcastic answers. I don't believe either treatment is very pleasant for the other person. In fact, it was for this reason that when the Missus and I were planning our honeymoon, I insisted that we go someplace to which we could drive. The last thing I wanted was for our marriage to start out on a bad footing owing to my phobias. (In case you're wondering, we went to The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia. A very nice place and a very nice time. So it all worked out just fine.)

The other thing that drives me stark raving mad about this business is watching everyone else around me relaxing, chatting or working in apparent unconcern. Fools! I think to myself. Don't they understand? Don't they SEE? It's only sheer will-power that keeps us all alive!! How can they be so freakin' OBLIVIOUS to the knife's edge on which they're standing!!?? I was chatting with my real-life blogger pal Marjorie about this the other day and she put it down to ego on my part. In fact, it isn't really that. Rather, I think it's a kind of terrified envy, a deep but so far unobtainable desire to be like them and to shake the crazies that I have.

So, what to do about all this? Well, not much, really. It's not so bad as to keep me off of planes altogether, so it seems silly to invest any time or money into any kind of "treatment". (I strongly suspect there is not much to such therapies anyway.) Instead, I am resigned to just toughing things out and, hopefully, eventually getting over it naturally. What I worry about chiefly at the moment is not passing my phobia on to the Llama-ettes, which is what I'm afraid I might do were we to fly anywhere together. Nothing makes a child so frightened of something as seeing her own parent frightened of it, and I'm not altogether sure how well I could wear the mask at this point. (Yes, Dear, that is one of my major concerns about this trip to Disneyworld you keep pushing.)

In the meantime, I can also keep posting about it here and you lot can feel free to pelt me with rocks and garbage. Perhaps simple shame will snap me out of it.

Posted by Robert at November 18, 2004 10:23 AM | TrackBack

I am terrified of flying, too. I have created a little list of things that I have to do in order to avert doom. Right before I board, I have to rub the side of the plane, right by the door. On the right hand side. Then, I have a little prayer I made up that I must say twice in a row, three times.

Oh, and Xanax.

Posted by: Sarah` at November 18, 2004 10:43 AM

Robert, it seems you have one thing in common with Kim Jong-il. Got any Daffy Duck 'toons?

Tip: Consume drinks before boarding.

Posted by: James Bradley at November 18, 2004 11:24 AM

The thing that really freaks me out is when I look out of the window and see that green thing chewing on the wing.

Posted by: David Gillies at November 18, 2004 01:52 PM

During a particularly rough turbulence, I started to visualize practicing a whole book of piano excercises -- every page of it -- to ease the tension. The people sitting on either side of me probably didn't notice that the hand movements weren't caused by the jumping aircraft.

Posted by: Fausta at November 18, 2004 01:53 PM

I hate flying. What's odd is my fear of flying got worse as I got older. I went from being nervous to having to force myself to even step on the plane. At first lots of drinks helped, but now I have to take medication. It also helps if I'm not flying alone because it seems to help if I'm distracted by my traveling companion.

Posted by: Ith at November 18, 2004 03:23 PM

Ith, I've heard that happens sometimes. Don't really know why.

Fausta - my hands are starting to get clammy just thinking about the circs.

Sarah - Can I borrow the prayer?

You guys - start hitting the tip jar so I can trick out a John Madden-style RV.

Posted by: Robert the LB at November 18, 2004 06:08 PM

When I first started flying, it was always unsettling to me to see how **MUCH** the wings flexed. But flying is safe -- it's landing that's dangerous.

Posted by: jd watson at November 18, 2004 11:40 PM
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