September 19, 2006

Google-Prompted Busy Day Retread

We Llamas are No. 3 out of about 18 million when googled for "I hate flying". This is owing to a little essay I dashed off back in November of '04. Since then, I've logged quite a few more air miles. While I'm happy to report that I am calming down somewhat, most of what I thought back then still holds true:

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.

The issue of how on earth to introduce the Llama-ettes to air travel without passing on my own neuroses in the process is one that continues to baffle me....

YIPS from Steve-O: And here I would've thought it was from our long held beliefs that the novels of Erica Jong are complete crap.

Posted by Robert at September 19, 2006 01:16 PM | TrackBack

My mother is afraid of going over bridges.. needs the windows down in case we drive off the bridge and start to sink. Of course, nothing could be worse than having the windows down (your breathable air pocket is now an unbreathable water pocket.. enjoy Mom!)

Your fear of passing on your fears to the Llama-ettes is quite valid. My mother passed on this terror gripping fear on to her youngest daughter. My suggestion to you is this... if they ask about your 'condition'... don't explain it. Just tell them you are sick if anything.

Explaining the fear can only lead to the Dark Side!
"Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."

Posted by: Troll at September 19, 2006 02:49 PM

May I suggest buying a copy of Microsoft's "Flight Simulator", which has realistic graphics, and start doing your own piloting. That wouldn't cost much, and it might do wonders -- especially if not feeling in control is part of the problem. Then, when you fly in a real airplane you'll feel involved.

Posted by: Lastango at September 19, 2006 03:11 PM