Many people have a fear of flying…then there’s me. I actually feel anxious when I see an airplane on television. I have to close my eyes in order not to watch the flight attendant closing the plane door on the screen. Strangely, I flew often as a child. I have flown alone and I have flown internationally. My fear did not start until I was in my 20s and I had a panic attack on the flight home from my honeymoon (I am now divorced and the irony is really not lost on anyone). In the years that followed, I flew as seldom as possible and my anxiety grew to include any type of travel. In recent years, with the help of time and therapy and a supportive boyfriend, I have worked hard on overcoming my fears. I also was medically hypnotized two summers ago to help conquer my fear of flying, which actually did help a lot.
Regardless of how far I have come, the overwhelming panic still affects me every time I have to fly. It settles in a few days or a week before and keeps me up at night. I reason with myself in the dark, telling myself that I have successfully flown before and I know what to expect, even as the electricity of an anxiety attack courses through my body. I shiver and sweat and try to work through it. For me, the anticipation of flying is the worst part…that and not being able to control my environment. I often said that I preferred driving because “I can stop and get out of the car if something happens, but I can’t get out of a plane”, to which my therapist asked, “and why would you have to get out of a plane?” (to which I’ve never had a good answer!)
So this time I felt prepared. I had the tools from therapy and hypnotherapy and several successful flights to aid me. I knew the anticipatory anxiety would be there and how to deal with it. And I had Xanax, something I rarely take in my every day life, but that I use generously on travel days. The flight was only an hour and a half and the plane was on time. My boyfriend and I breezed through security and got settled on the plane, as I waited for the Xanax to help me fall asleep (I look ridiculous when I fly, wearing an eye mask and a hoodie pulled over my head). The plane pushed back from the gate and took its place to taxi out to the runway. Then we waited and waited…and waited. Finally the pilot came on and said that all planes were grounded because of a power outage in Washington D.C. I felt myself get hot and the panic start to rise uncontrollably. I turned to my boyfriend and told him I was going to freak out (poor guy!). In my head, I could picture myself standing up and running towards the plane door, yelling for them to let me off the plane. I took a couple more Xanax and then closed my eyes and focused on slowly breathing in and out, in and out, in and out…for three hours. This was literally my WORST nightmare- being trapped on the plane with no way off and zero control. It was horrible and terrible and traumatic and yet, I survived. After three hours of sitting on the plane, we finally took off, so in total I was on the plane for almost five hours. Even writing this now, two weeks later, I still remember how awful I felt and how scared I was. If I think about it too much, I actually start to feel anxious about it, even while sitting in my own family room. But just a short week later, after enjoying a wonderful vacation, I got back on the plane to fly home (thankfully with no issues!). I am actually really grateful that it happened on the way to our vacation location and that the flight home was easy, because I don’t want to use that experience as an excuse to not fly next time.