Monday, August 27, 2012

I flew on an airplane! In the SKY!

It's funny the little mantras that help me throughout the day.  When I am feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or just having a crummy day I like to look back on what I have accomplished.  In the past two years I have done quite a bit to challenge myself in a healthy way and to not let my anxiety hold me back.  At first, going to the grocery store during a thunderstorm was a huge success.  Then driving to the city--by myself!!-- at night.  Small things that become obsessions then fears and then, finally, victories.
Last summer I was in a position where I had to either get continuing ed credits for my Pilates certification or obtain my next level of certification.  Pilates trainings are few and far between in the Kansas City area, especially those by Peak Pilates.  I knew that I was going to have to travel and travel far.  The nearest training locations last summer were Boulder or Austin.  My aunt lives in Austin so that seemed like a great choice.  Either way I was going to have to fly.  So, I enrolled in the training in Austin.  I booked my flights and made travel plans.  It was really happening!  Eeek!

Let me start this by saying:  I LOVE to fly.  I love buying tiny toiletries.  I love packing my suitcase.  I love rolling my suitcase through the airport, boarding the plane, sitting in my seat.  I love the feeling of taking off and landing, gazing out at the clouds and the endless blue sky. 

 Okay, then, so why was the idea of flying last year such a big deal?  Big enough of a deal to make my heart race, my palms sweat, and to even contemplate getting a note from my doctor to try and convince Peak Pilates to let me have an extension on my certification expiration?  Because I also have quite a bit of anxiety about flying.  I used to fly about once year and didn't really think twice about it.  But isn't that another thing anxiety robs us of?  Something that used to seem very easy and even fun becomes a big deal.  Something to anticipate with fear.  I like to feel like I am in control.  By stepping onto a plane I am automatically not in control.  The pilot is.  The weather is.  What if we don't land?  I can step back and logically say that everything will be fine.  But...what if?
And then comes my other, even greater, fear.  What if I am on the plane and I have a panic attack?  A fear of being in a confined space.  Here's how it plays out in my mind:
I have a seat.  The plane takes off.  And...suddenly I am panicking.  Most of us know the feeling.  Racing heart, sweaty, the feeling of wanting to escape.  But I can't on a plane.  If I were on the ground I could simply escape.  Go home, pull the covers over my head, and hide.  But on an airplane?  I'm stuck.  And then my imagination goes even further.  I'm crying, pacing, of course an air marshal is there and I am tasered.  Embarrassing.  Uncomfortable. CNN-worthy drama. And...completely unlikely to happen. 
Plus, deep down, I really wanted  to fly.  One of my long-term goals is to become a Peak Pilates teacher-trainer.  Meaning that I would train others to be Pilates instructors.  Teacher-trainers travel throughout the entire world for trainings.  I really don't think Peak would pay for me to take trains and boats in order to run a training.  So, in order to help me reach future goals I knew this was a fear I had to tackle head on.

So, how did I do it?  How did I go from wanting to cancel my training or drive 12 hours all by myself?  I talked to my therapist, of course :)  Here is what helped me successfully fly through the air:

In a car, or at work, I am essentially under the same "lockdown" that I was fearful of with flying.  I can't leave whenever I want.  While driving I have to wait until I arrive at my destination.  At work, I have to keep teaching until the class is over.  It's essentially the same with flying.  Have I ever felt panic while driving?  Of course!  What did I do to handle it?  Breathe.  Focus on something else (planning dinner for the next day, going over something I have memorized like a song or the mat order for Pilates helps me) until the car ride is over.  So, I sat back and asked myself these questions:

  • How long is the flight?  About 90 minutes.
  • Could I, if necessary, handle my panic symptoms for 90 minutes?  Yes.  Sure.  If I have to.
  • What if I have a panic attack?  Okay...what if?  I will get my book out and read.  I will study my Pilates course work.  I will Instagram and play Fruit Ninja.
My carry on was packed with as many distractions as I could think of.  An easy-to-read book.  Martha Stewart Living.  People Magazine.  My coursework to study.  My iPod and iPod touch.  About 15 good luck charms.  And, you know what?  The plane took off, I teared up a bit because it was REALLY happening, and I was fine.  It really is like riding a bike.  But easier, you know, since your just sitting in a cushy seat and all.  I had a short lay-over in Dallas and then did it again.  Take off.  Drink a ginger ale.  Land.  Did I struggle at all?  Eh...not really on that first trip.  I went in September for the course and then November for the test.  When I went in November I did feel a little bit of panic on my flight home.  Why?  Because everything had been too perfect.  So, of course, that means that on my flight home I will die in a fiery crash, right? (btw--this is magical thinking and I am totally going to write about it soon.  You will be amazed.)  So, the last 20 minutes of my flight I was a little on edge, waiting for the plane to fall out of the sky.  But no one around me knew.  I looked out the window.  I listened to Better Than Ezra.  I drank water.  And we landed.  And it felt AMAZING!  Seriously.  If you suffer from any sort of fear or anxiety there is nothing, NOTHING, better than the feeling of conquering that fear.  Trust me.  I am sort of like a junkie now when it comes to conquering my fears.  It's hard to step out of your comfort zone but oh my gosh it feels so amazing once you have "lived" to tell the tale.   
Packed and waiting to board

There she is!

In the clouds, away from it all!

I look really scared here...but it's totally staged.  Promise.  I felt great!

One last thing.  To prepare for my flight I also used meditation.  I would lie down and close my eyes.  I would imagine myself in the car on the way to the airport.  Going through security.  Waiting to board and then boarding.  Sitting in my seat.  The flight taking off.  Sitting in the plane.  The plane landing and how great that would feel.  I did this nearly every day for about a month before the flight.  It helped because I would get those same nervous feelings just from imagining everything.  Isn't the mind funny?  Somewhere during that meditation a thought popped in my head.  "When you are in the air, you will be away from all of your fears and anxieties that you deal with each day.  It will be peaceful."
Oh, wow.  That helped me so much.  That single thought made me then WANT to fly and actually look forward to it.  Guess meditation really does work :)

I want to hear from you.  I love to hear from you.  What are your thoughts on flying?  What fears are holding you back?  What fear have you conquered and how did you feel afterwards?
Anything is possible.  Really.  If I was able to fly and not flip out and get tasered I can do anything!


  1. I have no fear of flying, but I have done it so many times for my job I have no idea how many flights I have been on (one time I flew completely around north america including a jaunt to south america in the same month)...I am almost at the point that I can not stand flying anymore...I am lucky to have a future now that doesnt include it!

    Congreats on overcoming your fear!

    1. Thanks for sharing! That is another thing that is comforting to me on flights, looking around at the men and women that do it every week for a living. Just like hopping in the car or walking around the block. I do like flying, but can't imagine how it would be to do it for work all the time!

  2. Glad you were okay :) Proverbs 3:5-6

    1. Thanks! Me too! I am looking forward to traveling even more in the future.


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