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An Aerial Weakness

January 14, 2014

Hello.  My name is the Little Merskank, and I have a problem.  A problem with flying.

So, it all started about a year ago.  I have always enjoyed flying—seeing the ground go by below, all that free time to yourself, free bubbly beverages.  But this flight was different.  Half way from Toronto to my destination on the west coast the plane started experiencing extreme turbulence.  Now,crowded-airplane-cabin1 looking back, I know that everything was fine.  What do they say—‘turbulence is a matter of comfort, not safety’.  But the fact was that it was rough enough that people on the flight were screaming and glasses were breaking in the stewardess compartment.  And I was scared.  Really scared

Somehow that flight was a marker point.  I feel like there was a little switch related to flying in my brain that flipped from ‘safe’ to ‘not safe’.  The next couple flights after that I was a little nervous, afraid to have to relive the fear I had felt before.  But over the next months the problem escalated.  Rather than just being nervous now, if I were self diagnosing, I would say I have developed a full blown phobia of flying.  And it sucks.

It sucks first, because I happen to go to school in England—thousands of miles away from my friends, family, and two dogs.  So not flying is not really an option.   Take Christmas for example.  I knew that there was a 10 hour flight between me and my home (and that was direct, which I don’t normally fly, so really I was being spoiled).  But I started worrying about it, dreading it, like… a month in advance.  I would try to do exercises to prepare myself for the plane, I would give myself pep talks on how it would be fine… but still I was freaked.  Partially it was knowledge that the ride is so long.  If you have a fear like this you often start getting afraid of being afraid: and 10 hours, panicked, with no way out, is not fun.  Yet by sheer force of will I got myself on that plane, although when we hit moderately severe turbulence over Greenland (Greenland is always a bugbear), I descended into blubbering mass, crying on Percival’s shoulder—who was seated next to me.

british airways

So yeah, flying for me sucks first because, well it sucks.  But it also sucks because I feel so ashamed of this fear.  I know it is irrational.  Sure, something bad can happen to you in a plane, but something bad can happen to you in a train too, or in a bus which is actually way more dangerous.  I know.   More generally, I feel bad because I feel like even if the plane goes down, I shouldn’t be afraid.  The worst that happens is you die, right?  And I know that God loves me, and will always be beside me—so really, what’s to fear?  And yet I am afraid, which makes me feel like I am a weak, disappointing person.  A coward.

Having this fear has helped me be more compassionate to people with other types of phobias.  There are people out there in the world afraid of ridiculous things… like crowds, or heights, or spiders.  Now, I don’t mean nervous around them, but honestly, very afraid.  And it is ridiculous—just like fear of flying is ridiculous.  But when you are afraid it feels out of your control.    As a force of will, I can make myself walk on that plane.  But can I make myself not afraid of it?  I am not sure.  When you have anxiety, or I imagine, a full blown panic attack, it is like your body creates a hormonal response and adrenaline floods your system.  It can feel very difficult to fight that.

But yeah.  So, I guess I am afraid of flying.  Although, I like to hope that on this last flight I hit rock bottom and can only go up.  At least, I feel that way until I hear internet accounts of people like the guy who was breathing into an oxygen mask mid-flight when he had a true panic attack, and hears the kid next to him ask ‘Momma, is that guy dying?’

Well, at least I am not there yet.  And honestly, I think things will get better.  I am hoping I can look back on 2013 as the year I hated flying. 2014—here I come!

Is anyone else afraid of flying?  Or of something else?  Please share your stories.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. copywriter_kate permalink
    January 14, 2014 4:18 am

    I can completely sympathise with this. I’m absolutely terrified of flying, and have a long haul journey coming up next month. (argh!) I used to be fine with it as a kid, but as I’ve got older it’s just got worse and worse… Anyway, I can definitely relate to sobbing on peoples shoulders!

    Hopefully, you’re right and it’ll get better for both of us – but its good to know I’m not the only one! Stay brave, lovely. xx

    • thelittlemerskank permalink*
      January 16, 2014 10:16 am

      Glad to hear we’re in the same boat! At least sort of glad in that I only hope it gets better for you (and me). But it is nice to know that other people go through similar struggles. I hope your next flight is your best one yet!

  2. January 14, 2014 5:13 pm

    We all have our irrational fears…but how to conquer them is an interesting conundrum. I have faith that you will not be troubled with this all your life…you used to be completely fine, and chances are you’ll be fine later. Not all flights have turbulence, I promise! It sounds like you have been having bad luck with that. How’s your other fear–balloons–been doing recently??

    • thelittlemerskank permalink*
      January 16, 2014 10:18 am

      The balloons are okay. No drastic changes– I still don’t like them. Luckily however that fear never descended into a real phobia, otherwise I could spend all my days freaked out, postulating about the many future possible appearances of balloons in my life…

  3. January 16, 2014 11:38 am


    I completely believe in your ability to get past this fear. That is the best part about growing up, we grow! Though I totally that anxiety is a powerful physical response that is really difficult to control. Whenever I freak out (paying for things, answering the phone) I take a deep breath and remind myself I am stronger than my fear. Sometimes I’m fine, other times I turn bright red. But I always get through it.

    I love planes because they’re such great places to meet awesome new people and get some much needed rest/alone time. Time stops on a plane, our priorities shifting from checking off the to do list to just enjoying the moment. Planes take us from one place we love to another person we love and I’m so grateful they exist.

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