I’ve not always been scared of flying. If I ever do CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) I bet they would trace my fear back to when I was 18 and travelling around Brazil with my then boyfriend. We took an internal flight and the plane was so shaky and at one point it felt like it dropped so far and I freaked out and started crying. I don’t have any memories of feeling scared on planes before that.
I should mention that I’m specifically scared of turbulence. I don’t feel scared at airports, I don’t feel scared during take off or landing, I don’t feel scared on a smooth plane but if there’s turbulence I get panicky. My brain tricks me into thinking this is the end and I’m about to die in a horrific plane crash and my body gets sweaty, my heart starts racing, I can’t breath, sometimes I start crying. I’m not entirely sure but I think what I experience is similar to a panic or anxiety attack. And I don’t like it.
It’s not too severe that it stops me from travelling (thank god) but I do travel a lot and so it happens a lot and it’s scary and tiring and I just want to be normal. I’ve had strangers hold my hands on planes before. On an empty flight once I lay down across three seats at the back of the plane sobbing and saying the words the flight attendant said to me in my head over and over again: “it’s perfectly safe”. That was a definite low point.
My fear has gotten worse and worse, I think partly because I started talking about it and then started expecting myself to get panicky and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But whatever reason I have this fear and whatever reason it’s not going away and it’s getting worse, I recently decided that I couldn’t handle the feeling anymore and I went to my doctors to get help.
I explained to my doctor about how I felt during turbulence and that because I travel a lot for my job it was not an ideal situation. They prescribed me some Diazepam (Valium) which is a strong AF sedative. This was to help the symptoms when I’m flying but then I was also referred to CBT. I answered some questions on the phone but they told me I was not eligible for CBT because my fear of flying was very specific and it wasn’t actually stopping me from flying or something. But they recommended a fear of flying course that’s offered by airlines.
I’m very lucky that I could afford to do this one-day course because damn it was pricey. But I’m very grateful I went on it. There was a pilot who gave us a ‘How Planes Work 101’ class which was extremely useful! Did you know turbulence is 100% safe!? (I always thought turbulence was like condoms and only like 98% safe but no! I am definitely more likely to get pregnant than die in a plane crash. Good to know). Also, did you know that planes only actually need one engine, the other is just there for uber extra safety!? And did you know that when a plane is descending it’s actually gliding!? What the…!? I am a strong believer in knowledge is power and all this information I learnt definitely helped me take some power back from my fear.
We also did a flight. An actual flight. From London Gatwick to London Gatwick. We just circled around in the air a bit with someone talking us through everything that was happening to the plane at each moment. Very cool. And there was also a therapist there who taught us different exercises we can do in order to relax us if we start feeling scared or anxious which I use every time I’m flying now. Not sure if they actually help but they’re definitely a good distraction!
Even though I learnt so much on this course and it’s helped me rationalise my fear somewhat it hasn’t stopped the panic attacks. I have all these tools now from my knowledge of planes, my relaxation exercises, mindfulness, the diazepam (and alcohol served on planes) and they all help in their little ways but if it’s a really bumpy ride none of these things will stop my body from freaking out. And by the way, I don’t take Diazepam on every flight – usually just long haul overnight flights so I can sleep too (the day time ones I just get drunk). I AM A ROLE MODEL.
Anyway, I’m working on it and I just thought I’d share my progress with you guys. I hope this helps anyone maybe going through a similar thing or if you know things that have worked for you I’d love to know them so please write them in the comments!