Up in the Air

*Fear of flying continues to be one of the most common anxieties today. I wrote this post a couple of months ago while flying home to Atlanta from Jacksonville, FL. I know that all you fearful flyers will be able to relate! I’m working on it…and I know you are too! With every flight I try to practice leaning in to my anxiety, which gets me one step closer to actually being able to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

Another day, another flight. I have flown more lately than I have in years, and its a bit of a paradox for me. I can’t think of a place more terrifying and yet more utterly exhilarating than up above the clouds in an airplane. It’s truly one of the few places where I can almost completely surrender control, simply due to the fact that I have no other choice. For this challenge and opportunity I am thankful, but still uncomfortable.

One thing I’ve learned on my anxiety journey is that the hard things not only make us stronger, they bring us one step closer to healing . When I choose to lean in and deal with the discomfort of turbulence; when I ride the surges of panic that try to take over, I can begin to relax into my role. I can pleasantly sink into the fact that my only responsibility is to sit, watch a movie and have a drink or two (even if it is only ginger ale, nonetheless). No one needs me to fly the plane. No one needs me to explain turbulence to them to get through it. I have realized that what I thought was so hard may only be so due to my negative way of thinking. I can groom my thoughts, train them up, turn lemons into lemonade. I am in control of that choice. I can continue to battle with this invisible monster of fear (which, in turn, feeds it), or I can turn my back to it, and move forward.

Sure enough, there’s good reason for my self-pep talk. As I cling to these words of encouragement, I feel myself slipping back into the spiral of dread as we fly into impending storm clouds ahead. Visibility goes from clear to zero. This is the place I hate. The place where I have to trust without seeing. The place that tests my deepest level of faith. The bumps come; the invisible, unpredictable roller coaster of air shakes me to my core. 
I realize this is why I’m so scared of total darkness; I want to see what’s ahead, what surrounds me. Dark water slides, roller coasters, I even freaked out once on the People Mover at the Magic Kingdom it was so dark. Don’t even think about putting me on Space Mountain. No, ma’am.

Although it’s not dark during our flight, the concept of fear is the same; I have no control over what’s in front of me. This seems to only occur physically and spatially; conceptual control of things in my life are usually less anxiety provoking. Recently I’ve found that watching YouTube videos of amusement park rides helps me mentally prepare myself for what to expect, (really, I think I’ve watched every Disney ride ever made. Yes I’m a dork.) but there is no such life-hack when it comes to airplane trips. You are simply a slave to the wind and weather.

As we fly onward towards huge grey storm clouds, I grasp to remember my own words…Give. Up. Control. Turn my back to fear. Why is it so much harder to do in the moment? The answer, of course, is due to the discomfort that the physical symptoms of panic bring in my body’s quick response to stressful situations (again, in people with panic disorder, the fight or flight response is a bit disabled). But I persist, because this hellish place is where the magic happens. Where you become tolerant and patient. Where you look fear in the eye and say…I see you. I acknowledge your existence. But I don’t need you. You will not help me in this situation. So thank you for visiting, but you are not welcome here today. 



A friend told me recently that she loves turbulence. I looked at her like she had three heads. She also loves roller coasters, so I guess that makes sense.  This is a totally foreign idea to me. You love turbulence? To me that’s like saying you love jumping off buildings. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to see it for what it was; the same event viewed in two different perspectives. The same definition, simply experienced a different way.

You mean the same thing that terrifies me is same thing people love?!!
  Yes, the event is exactly the same, it is only the perception of the event that is different. What a shift in thought.
Yes, my heart is racing and I’m starting to get some hot flashes. This is not relaxing by any degree. But turbulence, which is just weather-related changes in air flow (a.k.a, invisible roller coaster that I loathe) is not out to get me.  The event has no more risk to it because of the way I view it than the person next to me. I’m pretty darn sure a plane has never crashed from turbulence (okay, so knock on wood just in case) just like the doctor tells you that no baby will die from crying it out when you’re trying to sleep train, although your motherly instincts make you feel otherwise.  I try to see the turbulence for the event that it is, rather than emotionally analyzing and constantly worrying about the discomfort it brings. This is easier said than done, but each time I practice, it gets a little bit better.
We are emotionally driven beings, complex in nature and sensitive to the world around us, some more than others. Certain things frighten and unnerve us that others don’t even blink at. But that’s a beautiful thing; it’s what makes us human, it’s what make us want to work together to find common ground. It’s what motivates us to seek community and support when we need it. If we all walked around with perfect, needless lives, how could we achieve purpose and meaning? We were not meant to live that way.  Our struggles drive connection and enable empathy.
Just like that, we are through the storm and making our way closer to home. One thing to remember about moments of panic, rest assured, is that they will always, always END. With the threatening clouds behind us now, I gaze down onto the ground below.  I notice a field filled with tiny glimmering specks, what are those? I stare closer.

Headstones. It’s a cemetery.
It screams up at me, not in a morbid, dark way but an enlightening one.  The sun illuminates each marble slab, creating a sparkling, enchanting display from the ground below.

You up there! Yes, you! You’re doing it! You’re living! You are alive! Don’t take this life for granted. This is your one chance. Don’t let fear steal your joy and hold you captive. Don’t waste your time on the enemy of fear. Keep moving forward. Live your life. Right. Now. 



That’s all we can do. Whether we’re up in the air or down on the ground, we journey on.
Okay, I just looked out the airplane window and no lie, there’s a rainbow below me. I can’t make this stuff up, people.

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You can’t have the rainbow without the rain. 



I see the runway ahead of me. This was not an easy ride, but it wasn’t meant to be. We are not guaranteed a smooth ride through this life. But we press on, we do the work, and if we’re lucky (or perhaps just a little insightful), we will find rainbows behind the rain.


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