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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Conquer Your Fears


I have flown many times because of my writing. I flew to New York (from Indiana) twice to appear on television shows. I flew to Youngstown, Ohio to be a keynote speaker at a Writer’s Conference. I flew to Los Angeles to appear on a show. I flew to Washington D.C. to testify before Congress because I’d written about unemployment. I was terrified every time but I went because you can’t let your fears limit you.
I was told when I first started my job that I would be expected to attend a week-long conference some time during the year.
“Where?” I asked fearfully.
They didn’t know then but when it turned out to be Minneapolis, I relaxed. Driving distance!
I know 9/11 was the onset of a fear of flying on the part of many people but I was lucky as I had long ago reached my saturation point of terror about being in a plane, so 9/11 made my phobia no worse than it had ever been.
I am the appointed person among my friends and family to drop them off and pick them up at airports. It is a favor I’ve always enjoyed doing because I like to walk happily around airports thinking, “some of these people have to get on an airplane but I don’t – ha ha!”
            I’ve never let my fear of flying stop me from doing anything I wanted to do. For instance if our work conference was in Denver, I’d stiffen my spine and go. All things being equal though, if I could get there in approximately the same amount of time via high speed rail or a Star Trek-type atomizer, you can bet that’s the way I’d do it.
            I’ve gotten anti-anxiety pills from my doctor sometimes when I’ve flown. I took one the last time I went to California and I can’t say I noticed any difference.  Sweaty palms? Check. Clenched stomach? Check. Pounding heartbeat? Check. I thought about taking two pills but I was afraid they would knock me out, causing me to miss my disembarkation destination so that I’d be groggily coming to just as the plane landed in Paraguay.
            The take-off is the most terrorizing part for me. My body goes rigid as I chant under my breath, “please, please, please,” in a personal effort to lift the plane into the air by sheer force of will.  It never feels to me that it’s going to make it as it lugs its way upward.  When it levels off, I relax the tiniest bit, going from 100 to 99.2 on the stress-ometer.
            Once when I went to Las Vegas, my seat partner looked at me very calmly and said, “I’m a young mother and I don’t want to die.” I calmly replied back, “My son is raised and I guess I could die if I had to but I’d rather not do it by falling out of the sky.” We decided the airlines should make a greater effort not to assign high anxiety passengers seats next to one another.
            I’ve heard folks complain that since the new security measures have gone into effect at airports, everything takes longer now. Exactly! I figure anything that delays the actual boarding of the plane is fine with me.  You want to remove everything in my bag and analyze it piece by piece, up to and including the individual flakes of tobacco in my cigarettes?  Hey, no problem, take your time.
            I’ve never gotten out of my seat on a plane.  I’ve gone to California without going to the bathroom for fear the redistribution of my weight will cause an imbalance that will tip the plane over.  I sit stock still, trying not to even move (not that you can move in a plane seat).
            I’ve also heard passengers complain that airline services have deteriorated so badly that the great meals you used to get have turned into a bag of 5 honey-roasted peanuts. I don’t see how anyone can have an appetite while flying anyway.  I could eat dinner on a plane and when it was over, not be able to tell you whether I’d just had filet mignon or roast of steel-belted radial.
            And I stay awake no matter how tired I am because I’m convinced the pilot needs me to help navigate.  Taking the red-eye back from Las Vegas late at night, exhausted from three days of non-stop activity, I nevertheless remained starkly wide-eyed, staring into the darkness as everyone else on the plane (probably even the captain) snoozes.  Sometimes I sort of resent the others for not helping me with the responsibility of worrying.
            I take a book on the plane but I don’t waste one I actually expect to enjoy.  I can read an entire mystery on a long flight and not have the faintest idea who did the murder.  My mind might have appeared to be concentrating on reading but in reality, it was primarily focused on the thought, “oh, my God, there are CLOUDS outside my window!”  Every fiber of my being is convinced that humans have no business being at the same altitude as CLOUDS!
 I don’t mind landing simply because the relief of knowing the trip is almost over is so huge.  Whatever is going to happen, it will happen soon.  Once we’re on the ground, I heave a sigh so heartfelt, I realize I’ve been holding my breath for 2,000 miles.
Still, the next time I get an opportunity to do something exciting, I know I’ll do it again.

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