Monday, June 14, 2010

Flying, Phobias, and Fears - Oh, My

Hello Friends:

Thanks for sticking with me through this little blogging dry spell. I'm going through another rough spot, here, with anxiety and depression making computer use a challenge. But as always, this blog, and the knowledge that there are people out there actually reading (wow, and thanks again) brings me back in spite of it. Good therapy.

And I'm in the middle of an anxious scenario that was perfectly ripe for posting. I'm at the airport, awaiting the arrival of a family member who is now 3.5 hours late. Airplanes make our lives easier (snort).

I really, really do not like flying. In fact, it scares the f#@k!ng$h!% out of me. It has for more than twenty years. And airports, by way of association, now feel like hospitals. These are creepy places where painful things happen. In spite of this, I fly a lot. An average of seven round trips a year, down from nine or ten five years ago. I do this by using Ativan to get my anxiety to a level I can manage. It is almost the only time I use the Ativan, since I want it to remain potent. When I fly, the stuff has to work. It has to. So I try not to use it for any other purpose. That way I don't run the risk of developing a tolerance.

I have been working on this flying phobia for a long, long time. I've tried all the usual methods to deal with it - like gradually increasing exposures, booze, meditation, and all the rest. Booze does not work at all, by the way. You can be drunk and still terrified, so I gave up on that. Now, I have had some success over the years in with the before-trip anxiety, and the after-trip triage.  I've been able to reduce my overall fear so that I start getting worked up only about a day before a trip. Used to be I was hanging from the ceiling by my nails for a full week. And I can calm myself at an airport with deep breathing and meditation. But when I am actually on an airplane that is in the air, only the Ativan can beat the anxiety to the point that I don't spend every waking second thinking "I'm going to die right now. Wait. Still alive. I'm going to die right now."  Over and over. I mean it. I am not exaggerating. Every single second.

I find this fear really irritating for a whole host of reasons. First and foremost, I am a scientist who does a lot of statistics. I know perfectly well how it is planes take off, fly, stay in the air, and land. And I know how much safer it is, mile for mile, than driving. Does not matter. When I am in a plane my education becomes useless and I wonder how it is the whole thing doesn't drop like a brick out of the sky. I certainly feel like dropping a brick.

And I love travel.  Well - I love being new places, I just don't like getting there. And my job (when I'm actually well enough to work) requires plenty of travel. So this fear is a real pain.

So to the point, sort of.  Here I am, sitting in the airport observation deck, typing away, having thought ahead and brought my computer. I've never really just sat in one of these places and watched the planes do what it is they do. The place is freaky. I am watching planes take off and land, over and over. Hour after hour. It is businesslike and appears as precise as clockwork. Which it patently isn't since I wouldn't be sitting around for an extra 3.5 hours watching it, if it were. The planes take off, which has my mind spinning with the cognitive dissonance of thinking both "that's impossible" and "that's perfectly explainable" at the same time. Then they land. And I'm holding my breath for each one. The lack of air is no doubt contributing to that head-spinning feeling.

I thought that would be the sum of my 3.5 hour experience here. But, interestingly, even though I've spent hours and hours in airports waiting for flights and stuck on layovers, just sitting here watching is sort of ... interesting. Different. Still scary and creepy. Yet after all this time I am actually starting to look up at the planes less and less. It is just what is happening in the background while I finish a post. Then I look up, see a plane land, and inhale suddenly. I've forgotten for a moment to worry about them, and yet they went ahead and landed without me.

Very interesting. What is flying like for you? Does watching it calm you down?

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image "Blue Sky" from flikr via Creative Commons by Ack Ook, CC Share Alike 2.0


expwoman said...

I'm the opposite. The anticipatory anxiety is the worst for me, but once I'm on the plane, I'm fine. I also get frustrated by my anxiety about flying when I know how safe plane travel is. I haven't been on a plane since 1996.

Chronic Impending Disaster said...

Planes don't make me anxious. Being in new places does, but it's always not as bad as I anticipate.

Ryan said...

Flying doesn't actually bother me on the day of the trip. It's the few days before the trip that set me off.

Jen Daisybee said...

Flying bothers me, but I don't do it often so it's not really a big deal. I do understand what you mean about phobias, though, and how your education and the facts go out the window when your irrational fears take over your brain. I have that experience with other things. Recently I went on a trip and handled it better than I have handled any such experience in years, which is pretty good for me. I think it's because I'm on a really high dosage of antipsychotic meds that controlled my tendency to go into psychosis. I wrote about it on my blog at Thanks for visiting my blog, by the way, and I really enjoy yours as well. I hope your next visit to the airport is less difficult than this one was, but I think you were smart to bring your computer and use your coping method of writing to get yourself through that time period.

Kinder Brain said...

Yes, I completely relate to your fear of flying. I am also scientific and have flown a lot. I once had a panic attack on the flight so bad that they had to move my seat near the flight attendant because I was having diarrhea from nerves and my 10 month old was with me. I used to feel every flight was a brush with death and that we were going down every minute. I don't have this problem anymore. I am on SSRI treatment for OCD and it took away a lot of my intense phobias and panic - a nice side effect. I did blog about flying recently if you care to read the post at

Beth said...

I absolutely hate flying with a passion. When I enter a plane, I make a mental note of the faces of the other passengers, saying to myself, "These are the people I am going to die with." said...


The Blue Morpho said...

Hey there everybody! Read all the comments, thanks for the discussion. Flying does seem like a touchy event for a lot of people. I don't think any of us likes to give up that kind of control to a complete stranger.

Expwoman - Sorry you haven't been able to fly for so long. But a lot can change inside us in more than ten years. Maybe if you do try again it will seem less difficult. Sometimes I think things are getting a little easier for me just because I'm not so young anymore, and I just don't have the energy to get worked up the way I used to :)

Ryan - Yep, you and me and expwoman with the scaries beforehand. Without the Ativan it would be much harder for me to handle.

CID - New places are hit or miss for me, sometimes it's great. It's just the getting there.

Beth - Yeah, I know that feeling. Like I want to shake hands all around and say "nice knowing you" or something like that. And yet, I'm still here. Never seems to make the next flight any easier.

Jen and Kinder - Yep, I have my mind meds, too. Celexa, which I have become rather fond of. Works pretty well to help me handle general OCD and the worst of the rumination, but hasn't put a dent in the phobias.

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