We are wrapping up a work/play trip to San Diego/LA, and just boarded the plane for Denver for our third leg of our western summer adventure. We brought the kids (and even one of our favorite babysitters!) and hit up beautiful Southern California, their little eyes wide at seeing it for the first time. We definitely saw our fair share of sights!
From Sea World, Del Mar, and the San Diego Zoo…to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, we soaked up the perfect SoCal weather and slept in the most amazing Air Bnb’s, thanks to my husband’s uncanny ability to find the best last-minute places. We also endured classic LA traffic, whining, fighting kids, the cluster of Opening Day at Del Mar (ok, so that was also fun and perhaps the best people watching ever!) the monstrous line at In and Out Burger, and multiple Uber drivers that didn’t speak a lick of English, but alas, such is the beauty of travel. No one got kidnapped or ended up in the hospital, so I’m calling it a success.
So now here I am, just me and the kiddos, (our first flight as a threesome without daddy) and I’m trying as usual to hold it together and relax instead of imagining going down in a flaming ball of fire because, you know, being in a plane is my happy place. Oh, and did I mention that when I boarded the plane I discovered that my husband unknowingly swiped my headphones, and after the third baby cried before take off, I was cursing that sweet man a bit excessively in my head while trying not to bang my head against the seat 6 inches in front of me. And then there’s a guy behind me that clearly needs a new iPad because he is banging on his screen with brute force, so hard that it’s shaking my seat my seat as if a toddler was kicking the crap out of it. But hey, the kiddos are knee deep in plane snacks and soda and laughing their heads off together at something, so at least some of us are having fun.
On this next leg of the trip, we are meeting up with my mom, who has finally fulfilled her dream of renting an RV and trekking across the wide open space of the west. We plan to join her for some of the journey in Wyoming before heading back to Georgia for the start of school.
Before we meet up with her, we are spending a night in Denver to catch our breath and see some family. We have some cousins there, and we are meeting up with my “real” dad, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and who has never met his grandkids. Yep, you heard me right.
So, that’s not awkward at all.
I think I wrote some time ago about how my real dad hasn’t been in my life for quite some time, several decades passing between the time I talked to him on the phone, asking if I could invite him to my wedding (which was a no-go as I’d figured) to about a year ago when I finally got the nerve to return his surprising phone call. We have had several small-talk conversations since then, but he mentioned he would love to see us.
So here we are, about to land in Denver, me trying to explain to my children that they are about to meet a total stranger who happens to be their grandfather. Just another day in the life.
There are all sorts of reasons I could not make this happen today. All sorts of hang-ups and resentment and abandonment issues that have plagued me over the years. But as my sadness and anger and confusion has gradually settled, after I’ve realized that my love and self-worth isn’t dependent on a single person or my past, I know that forgiveness and love are the ultimate healers in any situation. In that truth, I rest assured.
Our meeting today will be brief and probably totally awkward, but it also needs to happen. All I can do is take baby steps in this journey. I must trust the process and be open to it. I will let the past stay where it needs to and focus on an amazing present and future.
Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two hurts don’t mend a heart. But an open heart, one that takes the first step, one that chooses to forgive…that’s where the magic can truly happen.
As we took off through a barricade of storms in Atlanta, the plane once again bobbed and weaved through the turbulence, sending me once again to the edge. Zero visibility blinded my view and brought on panic.
Meanwhile, my brave daughter next to me could hardly contain her excitement. “We’re in the clouds!” she exclaimed. Unfazed by the bumps, she smiled and carried on without a care. Her joy was contagious, parting the clouds of my fear.
As we journeyed on to Denver and started making memories on the first leg of our trip, I realized just how grateful I am that I can persist through my fears. I could’ve crumbled and said no to flying at all. I could’ve foregone the excitement and anticipation of this time with my family. I could’ve just stayed in the safety of my home and never experienced a day like today, watching my children take in this beautiful scenery for the first time, their eyes wide with amazement.
I could’ve said “no”.
I could’ve said “I can’t”.
But I said YES.
Go, see, do.
The yes is not always easy. It’s not graceful or without pain or embarrassment or doubt.
But I’ll take a yes over a no any day when it comes to facing my fears.
Ahhh, the adventures of summertime travel. We have been hoping around a ton, making precious memories along the way.
Although flying has been somewhat easier for me than in the past, I still get hung up on the same old triggers. Turbulence is a biggie. No matter how many times I seem to fly, I struggle with the unpredictable nature and lack of control when those pesky little bumps seemingly come out of nowhere.
This past flight, although it wasn’t particularly terrible, it was just constant enough to drive me to that edge where I am desperately grasping for comfort. Where I just want to make it stop. It’s so hard in these moments to slow my thoughts down to where I have trained them; the physiological response is just so quick. But obviously, I cannot control this specific situation, so I must cope.
Enter my good old friend…words.
I need to get the words out, the words that match the overwhelming feelings. They need space, a place to breathe, a way to purge this toxic negativity from my body.
You know when you are so upset at someone that you write a letter you never intend to send? That’s what I decided to do. I decided to send a note to my pal, Turbulence.
Hi there! It’s me again. I know we have this exchange every time I fly. I get very upset with you, you see. The way your existence in the cloud formations just happen to be in the flight path of my plane, making it bump up and down with invisible undulations in air flow, it’s all very scary and terrifying to me. Why can’t you just stay out of the way until my plane has safely passed you by? How can you be so inconsiderate? You make me very, very nervous. I’m sick of it.
Today especially, even on this very short flight, you’ve decided to hang out waaaay up high at cruising altitude, in these thin little clouds that are shielding the clear blue sky with a hazy white glow so that I can’t see anything out my window. They are bright and blinding and it’s probably annoying to the passengers next to me that I have to leave the window open since you make me so nervous. I have to see what’s going on around me, hoping that it will give me a clue to when you decide to throw a few more unwelcome bumps my way. Sure, they are small and subtle bumps, but enough to keep me on edge wondering where the bigs ones are you’re hiding. I wish you would stop being so secretive about all of this. It’s not right.
I really hope you can work on controlling yourself and stop scaring me to death. I get really stressed out and nervous when I’m flying with you just bumping me around all unpredictability. Don’t you realize how many people you are making uncomfortable up here? It’s just really rude, and I think you need to stop.
Your Favorite Panicky Passenger
I know what the response will be, I can see it coming.
Dear Panicky Passenger,
I am so very sorry for your panicked state while flying with me. But please keep in mind, I’m just air. I can’t be anything else. The weather patterns and conditions made me this way. I’m here whether you want me or not. I’m not trying to scare you on purpose. I’m just being myself, and going where the wind takes me, and that’s the best I can do. I’m so sorry to hear that I make you so uncomfortable. Since I can’t do anything on my end to help you feel better, maybe there are some techniques you can learn that will help you deal with me when I’m hard at work. You could also take this up with the Global Air Current department. I regret to hear you are having issues with me, but I’m just doing my job, ma’am.
I hope that you have a pleasant flight.
My sincere apologies,
As usual, I make the realization that it’s not all Turbulence’s fault. It’s also my reactions that are to blame. So I write back.
I’m so sorry that I have placed all the blame on you again. I know you can’t help where and what you are, and it was unfair of me to make you feel badly for my discomfort. After I sent my first letter, I looked around the plane; I saw people sleeping, playing cards, reading and relaxing peacefully. No one else seemed upset enough at you to be writing you a mean letter. Everyone else must have realized and accepted that you cannot help who you are. Although it’s true that you do make some people nervous when you bump them around particularly hard, I know you don’t mean too. Like you said, you are just doing what you were meant to do.
You see, I have irrational fears that sometimes try to hijack my brain, and they cause me to enter into a state of panic. Even though there is no physical harm that your turbulance has placed me in, my brain send signals to my body that I am in danger, and it results in a vicious feedback cycle every time I feel the slightest bump. This is called a negative feedback loop. Your turbulence is also a panic trigger. There are ways to help this of course, and it is my responsibility to learn how to manage and deal with having you in my life. I’m so sorry to blame you for how I choose to react to your existence. I know you don’t mean to scare me or anybody else. It is something I continue to work on every time I fly.
Although it’s true that sometimes I don’t like you, and you make me extremely uncomfortable, I need to learn that you are a part of life. If I want to continue to travel to fun and exciting places while making wonderful travel memories, you and I are just going to need to learn to get along and trust each other. I need to trust that although you make me nervous and scared, I am not in real harm. I will try to remember that next time I want to write you a nasty letter.
Looks like the nasty letter really needs to be addressed to my brain. I’ll get to work on that right away.
Work in Progress
I get a final response, hopefully the last exchange we will have for awhile.
Dear Work in Progress,
Again, I’m so sorry I make you so scared. It’s true that I have no way of warning you of every bump, and yes it is true that I cannot harm you and do not intend to do so. I hope that you can work with your brain and train it to not worry so much about me. Good job at continuing to fly even when you are so nervous about it. I would hate for you to miss out on the adventures of traveling because of me. It would sadden me greatly.
I’m sorry you don’t like me, but I hope that you can learn to tolerate me. I’m really not as bad as people make me out to be. I hope that one day you’ll be like the people on the plane who are relaxing and enjoying their flight without worrying about me so much. It’s a much better way to be, I believe.
Good luck with everything. I’ll reach out to that brain of yours and give her a good talking too. She sounds like she’s got some serious trust and control issues.
Until then, keep on flying and I’ll see you next time!
Be brave my friend!
I finish this two-sided conversation with an interesting feeling…relief, calm, and positivity. The plane continues to bump intermittently, but I find myself unfazed. I even close my eyes for a bit.
So I had an imaginary conversation with an inanimate object…and it totally worked.
It doesn’t matter how silly your coping skills are, find what works for you and go for it. Let go of the shame and stigma of your fear and give it a good talking to.
Then all of a sudden you’ll realize, with alarming clarity, that the things you’re so afraid of couldn’t talk back to you even if they tried.
I’m drinking coffee…on a plane!!! What?!! Who is this girl?
Many people head straight to the bar before they board an airplane, hit the Starbucks, whatever pumps them up (or calms their nerves) for the flight. Not me, I am straight-up ginger ale only up in the air. I want to be in complete control at all times, just in case. Like I’ve said before, someone needs to be sober in case it all goes down, just in case I need to take over for the pilot or something. Yet here I am in the middle seat, next to my son; my husband and daughter in the next row, ordering coffee. A previous panic trigger. There was a point in time where I wouldn’t drink coffee at my own house, as even the slightest elevated heart rate would start me down the worm hole of panic.
Ahhhh the dangerous desire for control.
The past couple of days I’ve really been thinking about the effects of the need for control. I’ve been a control freak most of my life it seems…which is why the fear may have started early. I want to have control to the extent that I can know what will happen next, which I’m pretty sure no one in the world has the power to do. The realization that this is utterly impossible, and that I must learn to accept that I will never have complete control in all situations, is a constant struggle.
Even my devotional passages this week have been reminding me of the importance of letting go of the desire to control every aspect of my life. I love these reminders, but then I start to feel bad about myself. Guilt creeps in. Why can’t I put all my trust in God? Is he mad at me for this? I am less deserving and worthy in His eyes because of my constant level of fear?
So add trust issues on top of control issues I guess. I am constantly reminded to release my urge to control my life and look to Him.
“No one was ever meant to carry the burden of complete control”
Yes. As I read the words I remember this, they blanket my soul in warmth. But why then, do I end up finding myself so quickly back to feeling exposed and chilled with fear? Perhaps I didn’t remain under the blanket long enough? I didn’t let its warmth radiate deep enough?
If you are a person of faith, you realize that it is a journey. I’m a little late to the party, having not been raised going to church regularly. We did go occasionally, to different places sometimes, and every place always seemed a bit foreign, like they were speaking a language I didn’t quite understand. I wasn’t sure how to act, what to say, what was expected. I was afraid I was doing it all wrong. I went to church with friends, witnessed different types of denominations and their rituals. My stepdad is Jewish and we spent some time enjoying some of their traditions. I taught in a Catholic school for almost 10 years and can say the heck out of some Hail Marys. As intimidating as each new religious experience was, I did learn that finding God came in all shapes and sizes. For this perspective I am grateful.
But in not having a strong connection to one house of God, I told myself that I wasn’t worthy of his love. I couldn’t quote Bible verses, and was confused about whether to worship Jesus or God as a child. What if I talk to the wrong One? Do I need to choose? I had lots of questions that I was too afraid to ask. I was asked if I was saved or needed to be, and I was always unsure of how to answer. I often found I felt closest to God in nature (which is still mostly true); watching a sunset, reveling in the breeze, watching the waves on the ocean, I felt Him here. I felt close to Him through music and singing. Did this mean I had gained his approval? Was this enough?Am I doing it right? I was never sure.
In my Bible study recently, we were asked what our relationship with God was growing up. Every answer was so different. I spoke up and explained that I felt like I was never quite worthy of knowing Him; I felt like God was one of the popular kids that didn’t want to hang out with me. I felt like a good person, like if He knew my heart he would be pleased, and I wanted Him to know that I had a desire to know him, but was also intimidated and didn’t quite know where to start. I felt like maybe I had missed the Jesus boat and was left back with the stragglers. Did I still count? Was another boat on the way?
Speaking of Bible study, the fact that I had even joined one in recent years was so unexpected for me. I always had a desire to join one, but what did I know about the Bible? Wouldn’t they look at me like maybe I was in the wrong place? Was there going to be a quiz on Bible knowledge to allow me to attend (as I’m editing this I just remembered that “Bible” is supposed to be capitalized…doh!!)? But a good friend invited me (she actually thought I already attended, haha!), and assured me that all were welcome, so in I went.
Guess what? They didn’t ask me to leave. There was no Bible verse quiz of any sort (shoot, another B I had to capitalize!!). In fact, I was exactly the kind of person they wanted to reach. The one who felt unworthy. That felt out-of-place. They embraced me and took me in. They reminded me that there wasn’t a wrong time or a wrong way to find God. That we are all on our own personal faith journeys, and we all have our own pace.
I’m pretty sure it was with that group of amazing women that I first realized that God truly loved me, just the way I was. That I was secure and accepted with amazing Grace. I can almost pinpoint the moment. I was practically in tears about my struggles with anxiety (I could barely get through the carpool line those days without a near panic attack) and those women just took me in and lifted me up. They were the hands and feet of God (or Jesus, right?), radiating with love and acceptance. He grabbed hold of my hand and my heart and never let go.
Still, I am a skeptic by nature. I analyze things down to their core. I think and over think and think some more. Which is why sometimes I question. Sometimes I demand answers and clarity. Which when it comes to faith, you are not given. You must turn a cheek, and dig deep within. You must walk by faith not by sight. Wow, so hard for me. But I’m still on this journey, and I’m not planning on turning around anytime soon.
There are strong nudges on this journey of faith, ones that shout and ones that seem to whisper. There are crests and valleys and moments where I struggle to understand and others where I am lost in the moment. But the most important thing I am learning is that there’s no perfect here either. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to faith and God and your place in line for Heaven. Wherever you are, is where you should be, and He is there, waiting to meet you in that place, ready to wrap you up and cover you with love. No guilt, no shame, no doubt should preceed that absolute truth.
It was not ever meant to be our burden to carry. We are not meant to be in complete control. The work has already been done. The price has been paid. The more we can let go and realize this, the less fear and uncertainty will stain our hearts and steal our joy.
Fear has no place when faced with love.
I turn down the little personal AC fan above my airplane seat, something small that I actually can control, and grab the thin little blanket for warmth. I cover up, sit back and begin to relax in the security of that warm, tiny blanket.
Maybe I should order another cup of coffee? I’m not flying the plane, after all.
*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.
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.
The last time I flew in an airplane, I wrote my heart out for two hours straight. But when I failed to realize that my phone coverage didn’t extend beyond my home country, consequently, all was lost.
What I did realize, however, is that despite my loss, the benefit from the process still remained. The process, markedly, was the expoltion of my emotions in the way that best serves me; by writing them out.
When you are a writer, or any kind of creator, really, it’s like having an imaginary portal that bypasses the normal means of communication. Where as one may cry when upset or scream out when scared or verbally speak what’s on their mind, some of us need the portal of words to get our feelings out. Others may feel compelled to paint or draw or feverishly bang away on a piano. The pathway to emotional freedom is like that for me. The emotions stir within, churning and expanding, trapped without an escape route, until…the words come. But seemingly for me, the words must be written or typed to be best understood. Verbalization of words becomes an extra hurdle of which I always stumble over. Writing is the medium that makes the most sense to me; it has repeatedly proven to be the most authentic expression of myself.
So, seeing that I must rely on the writing process to efficiently shed my overflowing emotions, here I sit on the airport runway, heart pounding and breath seizing, fingers typing feverishly, my two precious babies beside me, preparing for take off. My nerves are raw and my mind grasps to steady itself.
Jack, being an overthinker much like myself, has been barraging us with questions for the past month.
Are the engines loud? How loud are they? How does the plane lift off? How high will we go?
He has flown before, but he was only 3 at the time. At 7, his ideas are big and the questions are bigger. He wants to know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. He yearns for control. He wants nothing to do with unpredictability. He is my child, no doubt.
Then there is my little Allie. This is her first flight. At age 4, and being the second, more fearless child, she is gung-ho and ready. She woke up exclaiming, I’m so excited! Ahhh…the adventurous spirit of a young, uninhibited mind.
We start down the runway, and Allie squeals with delight. I can sense Jack’s nervousness; he is watching the plane’s every move, internally analyzing. As for myself, I know too much. I am a mess of worry and fear and catastrophic thinking. I close my eyes and squeeze their soft little hands and say my most earnest prayer.
The wheels lift and we are propelled upwards with a rush of air. I am forced to raise the white flag of surrender as I begin to accept my current situation. Soon enough, fear and anticipation quickly turn into wonder and amazement as the world below us shrinks.
Look at the tiny trees! The tiny cars! Everything’s so tiny!
I love how children are little sponges for joy. How they focus in on the positive in an instant, like a dog that has suddenly picked up a scent, is brilliant. They hone in and live in the moment. It is an admirable trait.
I had been anxiously anticipating this day of travel for months. I do not like to fly (despite a love affair with flying in my pre-panic disorder life), and doing so with my two smallish children in tow had not been high on my list of upcoming fun activities. Talk about a recipe for a panic attack. But there I sat, in the moment, the normal fears tangled up and swollen with the mom fears, but through it I must go. Exposure therapy, here I come!
Okay. So it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it. My kids actually had a blast. They got to color, play their iPads, gaze out the window at the tiny houses and puffy white clouds, and they were so excited that they got mini cups of Sprite. Oh, AND they each got 3 bags of peanuts. I mean, how could one not be having fun?
We did get the dreaded buckle up for turbulance announcement. As soon as that seatbelt sign lights up and the ding!!! goes off, I prepare for the worst. My stomach sinks and my body goes numb in preparation for this event to occur. What is it about the turbulance??? Me no likey.
Allie, however, sees this moment as a huge adventure. As we are tossed about on invisible waves of air, she is flat-out laughing.
Wheeee!!!! This is like a roller coaster!
Oh, sweet Allie. To have your zest for life, your fearless zeal. I long for even a tiny taste.
Taking this flight was a huge hurdle for me. The first flight, EVER, with both of my children. Not only did I have my usual flying anxieties to deal with, but I would also have to manage the unpredictable nature of little ones. I also felt the crushing pressure to be strong for them, to keep it together. I was the adult here.
As I’ve mentioned before (especially in my previous post, Mama Bears (and Papa Issues)), as a mother, your deepest, purest desire is to keep your children safe. On the contrary, in the midst of a panic attack, you feel total endangerment and loss of control. Nothing could seem farther from feeling safe and secure. This is why the fear of fear is that much heavier; I feel like I cannot keep my children safe while I, myself, am a panicky mess. It is a helpless, depressing and extremely maddening feeling.
Of course, this is a distorted thought, causing unnecessary worry and doubt. I am able to recognize these fraudulent thoughts now. Still, their roots run deep; it will take time to dig them up and uncover their many crooked pathways. It is a slow process.
Thankfulky, we had an amazing Thanksgiving trip. Lots of quality time with family, beautiful scenery, and so many memories made. What a shame it would’ve been to miss it all because of fear. To think back on all the things I have already missed out on over the years is heartbreaking.
I’m declaring this trip a huge victory. The confidence gained just by checking off this box has been profound. Not to say there won’t be nerves and doubts the next time we have to fly the “friendly” skies, but the first time is always the hardest. It’s even opened up a whole new pathway of thinking. One that asks, Whereshall we fly to next? What family adventures await?
It’s remarkably refreshing.
I can’t explain how good it feels to be able to even think simple thoughts like this, thoughts that didn’t exist a few weeks ago. Thankfully, the framework of the mind is not made of cement. It is flexible, malleable; like the birch tree that bends without breaking, the mind can always be persuaded to lean just a little bit more each time. We can stretch ourselves in ways we never thought possible. We can claim even the smallest victories when it comes to fear.
What will your little victory be today? Or perhaps you will decide to conquer one of your bigger fears? How can you bend your mind just a little bit more? What box do you need to check in your life?
Just do it.
You are stronger than you think.
We are the champions, my friend.
Whatever cliche sports metaphor you want to insert here, it’s better than telling yourself you are a failure. It’s better than not even trying. Even if you have to motivate yourself just to think about trying, it’s better than succumbing to the debilitating chains of fear.
Don’t listen to the naysayers in your head. Words can be beautiful and words can be downright destructive. You can choose which words will be heard the loudest; you can choose the conversation you want to have with yourself. When you hear words that praise you, that build you up and cheer you on, grab hold of them tight. Hold them steadfast to your heart and tattoo them on with the darkest of ink. Or maybe use a gold glitter sharpie. Whatever. But don’t let them go, those beautiful, life-saving words.
I can think of so many words, whether it be a single word, a phrase or a quote, that have carried me to where I am today. These words sing to me when my heart is lonely and afraid. Sometimes they are my own words and often they are the words of others, but the source doesn’t matter as much as the substance.
Wherever they come from, cherish them. Speak them to yourself with care and kindness. Words of praise will pull you forward and propel you upwards. They can carry you high above the dark depths of fear.
The next thing you know, you’ll look around and see the clouds below you.
We need to remember to carve out time like this for each other at home!
And then we go home. We fall back into the same routine, get hit with the same everyday stress, figure out that finding fresh octopus and passion fruit for ceviche and tropical drinks is not a practical option from our local Publix. Life continues as we left off, and our vacation memories are put on a shelf.
As we shared our last lunch of our vacation to Tulum, Mexico, we acknowledged that fact.
Okay, so there’s no way we will be able to recreate this at home.
But then we acknowledge that that’s okay. That’s the reason why vacations exist. To get away from your everyday life, to appreciate a different place and culture, to bridge the gap between the foreign and familiar.
Still my husband threw out lofty ideas.
We can get a place down here! We could come down a few months a year and rent it out the rest of the time! It would be amazing!!
I love my husband and his big ideas. I love his grandeur and his spontaneous, contagious excitement. But I am the practical one. The one who keeps us down to earth. The yin to his yang. Sure, internally I’m a dreamer. But in reality, I am a humble creature who enjoys the safety of her comfort zone. I love small snippets of adventure, but I love the joy of coming home even more.
So I let him dream out loud, listening to his outlandish thoughts while I quietly smile and stare out at the ocean, knowing that tonight we will be home and the dreams will be hung back up, put away with the suitcases, maybe to be revisited later when they are one day repacked.
I’m not saying that you can’t have dreams, people. How unmotivating is that? I’m just saying when you get to a place in your life, when you are a family with kids and a home and pets and school and sports and all that circles around that lifestyle, you can’t just hit pause. Of course, I guess you could. But there will be some obvious obstacles and daunting tasks to get to that pause.
I think one of the best things about our trip down here were the people. Most notable, the people at our resort. Sure, we are paying customers; we are expected to be treated well I guess. But these people went above and beyond. They treated us like friends, almost like family. It made all the difference.
One of our friends was a bartender named Eduardo. We spent lots of time at the bar (it was a beach vacation with no kids, so of course), and got to know him pretty well. He is ten years younger than me. Single, a charming guy with big dreams. He wants to run his own beach bar one day. He also wants to travel.
Do it now! I tell him.
Before life gets serious. Ties you down. But be smart about it. Jason interjects with sound business advice. Make smart decisions. Save some money first. Don’t burn any bridges along the way.
I love how life is a series of decisions, sometimes circumstantial, sometimes intentional. There will be paths to take and paths to leave untraveled. Some paths are attempted but blocked along the way, and occasionally we are able to traverse them later. We can even revisit a path; we can stumble upon paths we thought were lost forever, only to find them wide open and ready for another chance. I love looking at my life right now, appreciating it for what it is, and admiring the tangled mess of roads that got me here.
Eduardo has many more miles to travel. I remember that me, ten years ago, fresh off of the I do’s and ready for this next chapter. Then like the blink of an eye, here it is. My husband, my precious two children, our sweet stinky dog, our dream home, our friends and family. A decade behind me, a new chapter before me.
I smile as I listen to Eduardo talk about his dreams. I smile because I know he will be okay, whatever path he ends up going down. When he gets there he will realize it, too. But it is a long journey. And there will be more roads ahead.
So who knows…maybe one day I’ll be writing from our thatch-hut villa on the Mexican coast, chopping up fresh fruit and grilling our catch of the day. Maybe one day we will be able to visit our friend Eduardo for some fish tacos at his new restaurant. Or maybe we won’t have the luxury of ever returning to this magical place, and fond memories will be all that we have.
Whatever the future holds, our path has been enlightened, thanks to this amazing trip. There are new avenues and ideas to explore. We have intersected and merged with others along their paths and been fortunate enough to join them for a few steps of their journey.
Traveling gives you the gift of experience, of a broader world-view, of lasting memories. You are a better person for it. Even if it’s not a vacation, there is always something to gain. It may terrify you, sadden you, or exhaust you, but travel will always impact you in some way. It will lead you to a richer, fuller life. You may end up feeling smaller out in this big world, but you will appreciate bigger.
Well, time to fly. Literally, I’m about to get back on the airplane to head home. And as always, I’m a jumbled mess of mixed emotions.
Oh, the fearful anticipation. Oh, the knowing that I will have to look those demons of fear in the face in a few short moments. Oh, the fact that the gift of travel is not without it’s moments of discomfort. Oh, the idea that in order to live our fullest lives we must also embrace the risks.
But oh, the living I have done.
And then there’s the dream. The dream that is about to come true, God-willing. Bigger than the dreams of travel and grandeur and possibility. Bigger than anything I could’ve ever dreamed up myself.
The dream that awaits at home.
Okay, so maybe minus the laundry. Laundry is never a part of anyone’s dream.
I wrote the most soulful, harrowing, genuine, clarity-filled post I had ever written.
And then I lost it.
As we prepared for our upcoming anniversary trip down here to Tulum, Mexico (where I sit at this very moment, absorbed in a tropical beach-dream come true), I had been planning to write this particular post. I meant to put aside time writing it way before we boarded the plane, as my anticipatory fear of flying often starts months in advance. Yet the busyness of life intercepted, and it wasn’t until we were strapped into our seats on the plane that the words began to breach the dam.
I took my raw fear, that had moved suddenly from anticipation to staring me straight in the eye, and I began. With my phone and my two small but mighty thumbs, the words billowed out, filling the tiny screen.
From the startling moment of the jet-engine’s deafening start, to the pure surrender of the moment of lift-off. From when I closed my eyes and said my most earnest prayer for safety and the ability to be able to hug my children again. From the moment when peace triumphantly emerged as I was taken back by the beauty that was displayed out my window at 30,000 feet…I captured it all in my complete narrative. For the entire two hours of the flight, I wrote.
I described in gritty detail, the effects of panic that my body feels when I am traveling in an airplane. The moment when the doors close and the white flag is waved. When the pilot announces that there will be turbulance and my breathing seizes up. When I am in the midst of turbulance and my nerves catch fire and my body is frozen with fear and lack of control, and the epiphany and relief that I have when I surrender to that control. When I let my role be one of traveler and leave the flying and controlling up to the pilot. When I realize that maybe the fact that I have gotten to have a tiny snack and a ginger ale while writing and listening to Band of Horses all while simultaneously not having to move a damn muscle can actually be seen as relaxing instead of terrifying. When I realize that my husband, who is snoring hard next to me after two margaritas and a couple episodes of Portlandia, handles this flying business way better than me, so why aren’t I doing that??
Whatever I said, it was good. I felt it. It was raw and in the moment; a front row-seat inside the inner workings of my brain when faced with one of my biggest fears. I felt the landing-gear machinery opening, and I quickly gave the writing a once-over. It didn’t even need more than a word or two of editing. It was good.
I had known the title for months. Learning to Fly. Flying has played such a big part in the story of my anxiety. It was time to give it the spotlight.
Done. Title ready, photo of a plane, easy. Effortless and satisfying. Like a good meal at a restaurant. Only thing left to do is pay the bill.
When you spend time searching for moments of creative inspiration and then suddenly it happens, where everything falls in to place, when an idea lands in your hand with ease and grace, waiting for you to make it your own, you treasure it. It is a special thing. Like a creative birth of sorts. A thing of beauty. If you fail to grab onto the idea, however, it is gone; it will flutter on until it lands on another willing soul, ready to give it a life of its own. It’s a delicate, fleeting process.
We will be deboarding soon. I have to hurry to tidy up and make sure I haven’t left anything on the plane. So, I hit publish.
An important thing to remember when you are traveling to a foreign country, is that the internet is not a given. And when you choose to do your writing exclusively on an internet-based blogging site, you most certainly need an internet connection, of which I did not have. But in a hasty, hurried moment, I hit publish. And although I missed the entire message that was given next, I know that it most definitely contained the word error.
And then all was lost.
When you create something, anything of originality, you realize the inability to duplicate it, at least without its original copy, that is. There will always be a first creation of something, and you need that evidence as a blueprint before it can be copied. A re-creation can be attempted, of course, but it will never be the same as the original.
As I walked through the Cancun airport, excited about vacation and yet sick to my stomach with the loss of my words, I thought about trying to re-write it from memory. We did have a 90 minute shuttle ride, plenty of time to start over, right? But the moment was clearly lost. The ideas, the words, the emotions, had clearly passed. I had to move on, let it go.
It was hard. It sounds so silly, to be so upset about the loss of something so seemingly trivial. But to me, it was important. When you feel that you can better explain your life in words, when you can shine a bit of your soul this way, it is a piece of you. You cherish it. For some, it is how you best show your true self to others. It is a genuine piece of your heart.
A piece of my heart that will never be recovered.
But then I started to think (as I often try to spin things into the positive), maybe those words weren’t meant to be read. Maybe those words were just for me. I had documented every moment of my journey through my fear of flying, and had come through with flying colors (hehe). The words had served as a catalyst, as a trusted guide, holding my hand, leading me through the thick cloud of fear. My words gave meaning to my emotions, laid them out, exposed them to the light. And we all know that fear cannot survive beyond the shadows.
My words carried me through one of my most feared moments. Although I had wanted to share them with others, to bridge a connection for others who share a fear of flying, it was apparently just not the right time. There will be other times, though.
At least I can rest in the fact that my words were there for me when I needed them. They guided me through a difficult time and remain forever in that moment. A moment no longer captured in words, but in memory. A moment where fear came and went like a passing cloud outside the jet window. A moment not meant for anyone but me, as I triumphed over my fear in quiet victory.
The words are gone, never to be captured again, but the experience, the progress, it remains. Every single step taken towards freedom from fear leaves a lasting impression in my mind, a footprint in concrete.
For this reason, I know that I have lost nothing, but gained everything.
Okay. I think I’ve made my peace. Time to get back to some vacation time. And cross your fingers that I don’t lose this post too; I don’t think I could take it. At least I still have Mexico. It’s not such a bad consolation prize.