Anxiety Amongst The Clouds

I was academically intelligent in high school excelling in all my subjects and took more than a fair share of honors classes. I didn’t graduate in the top ten but was still considered very smart. I know the physics behind an airplane and even had my husband repeating it to me over and over again as he graduated college with a BS in Physics and Astronomy.

Then why did my fear of flying exist?!

I have flown countless times since I was a child. We flew to England, California, Canada. In college, I often took what I deem the “Quickie Shuttle” home. I mean this was an up-down flight, about an hour in the air. I wasn’t scared to fly. I actually enjoyed it. Something about watching the world disappear and finding yourself amongst the clouds.

Then my honeymoon occurred. A typical flight from New York to Orlando (hey we’re big Disney fans) turned my happy thoughts on flying in almost an instant to extreme fear. The culprit… The remnants of Hurricane Ivan, a storm in 2004 that just wouldn’t die. After hitting as a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, Ivan wasn’t done tormenting the eastern US as he regained strength along the eastern coast in the Atlantic. Ivan was a crutch to me. He was the force that destroyed my rather calming experience of flying turning it into a nightmare. The flight was constantly turbulent and once we landed I was basically sitting in my husband’s lap shaking with fear while the flight attendants joked that that flight would be the best ride we would have the whole trip. Ha ha!

I avoided flying and was lucky for awhile. During this time the birth of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder happened. Diagnosed in 2006, it was born a twin with my daughter. I raise them both, my daughter with much love, and my GAD with much dislike. Our next flight was for my best friend’s wedding in 2010. Once again, I boarded the plane. My husband sat at the window, my daughter in the middle and me in the aisle seat. The engine roared to life and as my daughter was screaming in my ears from how loud the engine was, I was digging my nails deep into my husband’s hand across my daughter’s seat. I even drew blood. I was hyperventilating, shaking and desperate to get off the flight. My GAD stayed with me the whole flight as I was off medication and hadn’t quite grasped “coping mechanisms”. My Anxiety was fueled by Ivan, airplane crashes, and with this flight, my tantruming toddler daughter.

Traveling by plane was beginning to be a huge trigger and I tried to avoid it at all cost suggesting vacations that only required travel by car. This was somewhat easy to do since at the time we were struggling financially. That being said, we have since flown many times to Florida and even Canada, where you will always find my nails securely dug into my husband’s hands and my breaths rapid.

Then I changed jobs and with that change came some minor traveling. Uh-oh. My first flight was solo from New York to Maryland. A flight I had done so many times when in college. Now I was alone. I tried persuading my husband to allow me to cut off his hand so I had that to dig my nails into when I flew but he convinced me he needed them for work. So here I was, sitting in my seat, trying to calm down. There was no more Sky Mall magazine which used to distract me. There was no one next to me I could depend on. There were no electronics I could have on during lift-off. How was I going to cope? How was I going to keep my Anxiety leashed?

I had quick access to my Anxiety meds but wanted to see if I could manage without. I was already on 4 different medications for my Depression and Anxiety and I wanted to avoid adding an extra dosage. I started my Four Square breathing I learned from my EMDR therapist… breath in for a 4 count, hold for 4 counts and breath out for 4 counts. I did this along with focusing on Word Searches and before I knew it, we had lifted off and were amongst the clouds. It was a vision I missed all those years of being horribly fearful of flying and having my Anxiety feed off of that. I now looked out the window and took the view in. I was floating high above the rest of the world next to blue skies with puffy cumulous clouds and the sun brightly beam in. I smiled and once I smiled, my GAD was pushed away to the sidelines and my fear of flying quickly became joyful once again.

Now I try to get the window seat whenever I am able to.

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