I’ve never really liked flying. As I’ve gotten older, my fear and dread of flying the friendly skies has only gotten worse. I’m not sure why that is- maybe it’s because my children have already suffered the loss of a sibling and I just don’t want them to have to suffer another loss. Since my book Josie’s Story was released a few months ago, my time spent on airplanes has increased dramatically. I’ve been to twenty-five cities in the past seven months. Any chance I can hop on a train (which is not too often) I take it.
The plane lifts off, and it’s the same every time. My hands are sweaty. My mouth is dry. My stomach is in knots. As the plane continues to list itself further and further away from the ground I am certain that soon it will decide that the load of passengers, bags and highly flammable gas is too heavy and the only thing to do is to plop to the ground and explode into a ball of flames. Once the plane levels off and the stewardesses begin serving drinks, I settle down a little until I feel the slightest bump or hear the faintest out-of-the-ordinary sound- surely an engine malfunction- then my panic attack starts all over again. When the plane lands I always give the pilot a little smile and say thank you. I am grateful and I am exhausted and my trip has just begun.
Not long ago I told myself I was either going to give up the travel (which meant giving up the book tour and my work with the health care industry) or I had to get a grip on the situation and find a way to deal with it. I decided I would face the problem head on and try to fix it myself before I went the route of seeing a shrink (which I had no time for) or taking some sort of medication (which I didn’t want to do).
So after seven months of frequent air travel, here is how I deal with my fear of flying:
-When I am buying magazines in the airport before my flight, I say to the cashier, “I hope my plane does not crash.” If the plane were to crash, it would be too weird of a coincidence for the cashier lady. A coincidence like that must be highly unlikely, therefore I am decreasing the chances for the plan to crash. A few flights ago, I decided this strategy was a bit odd (particularly for the cashier at the Hudson News store at BWI), so I no longer use it.
-If I can’t find someone to talk to during takeoff I read my “People Magazine”. It is easy to read and entertaining enough to get your mind off of what is happening. I also chew two pieces of Orbit chewing gum.
-Leaving a little work undone that absolutely MUST be done before arriving at your final destination forces you to focus on something else.
-Listening to good music helps block out the scary noises of the engines.
The thing that really helps the most is the realization I came to thanks to the wise words of my English friend who flies often from London to the States. She mentioned that her most recent flight took eight hours longer than it should have. I asked her why. She proceeded to explain that two hours after take-off they had to return to Heathrow because of a high terrorist alert that had just gone into effect. After another few hours of searching the plane the passengers re-boarded and once again headed west across the Atlantic.
What struck me about her story was not just the story itself, but rather the way she told it. It was as if she were telling me about a trip to the grocery store.
“Weren’t you scared?” I asked her.
“What is the point of being scared and getting worked up when you have absolutely no control over the situation. It is an absurd and ridiculous waste of precious energy,” she said in her beautiful English accent. “When it is your time to go, it is your time to go. You can’t control that, so why waste your energy worrying?”
What she said made sense. Getting worked up, being afraid does not prevent the plane from crashing. It IS pointless. It IS a waste of energy. She was right. When it is our time to go, we go and we can’t control that. We might as well just relax.
So I read my “People Magazine”, chew my gum, listen to my iPod, and do my work that absolutely must be done before I arrive at the next city. I don’t mind sitting by the window anymore. Sometimes I even lean against it and look past the five inch-thick piece of metal and plastic that separates me from the 30,000-foot drop. I look down at all the little houses with the little swimming pools and the little, tiny cars that travel on the little, grey strips of road and I think how pretty it all is.
I am no longer exhausted by the flights. I am actually quite productive. I get my work done; sometimes I even get extra work done. I read the newspaper or books off of my beloved Kindle. I get geared up for the next city, the next group of amazing nurses and doctors- or better yet, back home to my family in Baltimore.