I’m pretty sure that everyone has that one thing that they’re scared of and can’t seem to overcome. Maybe it’s something common like dolls or clowns (eesh!) or perhaps something a little less common like a fear of tall buildings or buses. Whatever it is, it’s pretty annoying to have this fear in your life, because sometimes it stops you from doing things that you really would like to do.
For this blog post, I’d like to talk a little bit about my biggest fear. Maybe I’ll connect with some people who have overcome it and could offer me some helpful pointers. Or maybe it will just be a post I can reflect on in a few years time when I (hopefully) have dealt with it myself.
So, in case you didn’t already know, my biggest fear is flying. Both the act of flying and an aeroplane on the ground is terrifying to me. Now, I’d like to find a way to describe exactly how I feel about planes and flying so that if you’re reading this and you’ve never had an issue with flying (please, tell me your secrets?) then you might understand a little bit.
I know how planes work. I’m actually very interested in aeroplanes and I would quite enjoy a day trip to an airport to watch them take off and land. It’s amazing and as long as I don’t have to personally go near them, they’re actually pretty cool. I think I have watched every single aeroplane video out there, to the point that I sometimes think I would make a good pilot. Y’know, if I wasn’t so terrified.
As soon as I know that a flight is in the future, I start getting nervous. I’m going abroad in August and I’m already struggling to sleep some nights because I’m that scared. Did I mention that that’s August 2019? Yup, more than a year to go.
The months and weeks building up seem to pass in a bit of a blur. I go into a state of mind where I almost kid myself that I’m not scared. I read all the typical advice that fearful flyers hear a LOT:
1. It’s the safest form of travelling!
2. You’re more likely to die in the car on the way to the airport!
3. Planes don’t just fall out of the sky!
4. Just think of the holiday when you get there!
I know it’s the safest form of travelling but I still don’t like it. The fact that I could die in a car crash on the way to face my biggest fear is actually not that comforting (you could die! feel better now?) Planes have actually fallen out of the sky. I know it’s a lot more complex than that, but planes have hit the ground. As for the holiday, I pretty much ignore that factor because, in my mind, I’m not going to get there.
At the airport, things go from bad to worse. I’m no longer myself. I’m quiet, nervous, shaky and moody. I won’t eat or drink anything because I feel sick. Imagine being my poor family, excited to be going on holiday and having a week away from the stresses of life, only to be sat with someone who is obsessing over the thought that they might die.
On our last trip abroad, I did quite well until we were sat in the waiting lounge at the airport, waiting for our gate to be announced. Through the window, I caught site of our plane as it taxied to the gate. I burst into tears and started shaking, I messaged my partner to tell him I loved him (I genuinely believed it would be our last conversation) I tried to explain to my mum and my sister what I was afraid of.
It’s quite an odd feeling when you fully believe that you’re about to die. Of course now, in the comfort of my own home and with my rational mind firmly in place, I know that it’s very unlikely that I will die in a plane crash. But in that moment, I’m convinced that my plane will be the next massive crash with no survivors. So when I know that I’m about to die, why am I still waiting to board? Why am I actually walking towards the thing that’s going to kill me? Why is everyone else smiling? Why are there children on this thing, why would you do that to your children?
Stepping into the aircraft feels like I’ve just sealed my fate. I stepped away from safety and put myself into danger. We find our seats and I look at the numbers; this is the very seat that I’m going to die in. Every instinct in my body is screaming for me to get out. Get out before the doors close. It was at this point on my last journey that I had my first ever panic attack.
The doors are closed. That’s it.
As I’ve said before, I know a lot about aeroplanes. I know what noises to expect and when. I know that the weird grinding sound beneath my feet is just bags being loaded into the aircraft. I know the different beeps and dongs I can hear are for flight attendants. I know that roughly 30 seconds after leaving the ground, the engines will slow and it will feel like we ‘fall’ backwards a little bit. I know the noise of the landing gear being retracted. I know it all and I go through it like a check list. It doesn’t help.
I also know that aeroplanes can withstand a lot more than they need to. Planes can fly without any engines, they become like giant gliders, giving the pilot some time to find a safe place to land. Planes can also apparently fly upside-down, although it isn’t recommended in commercial flights! This is all very comforting, until I’m sat in one.
Here are just a few of the irrational thoughts going through my mind before take-off:
– I’m going to die.
– I’m trapped.
– I want to be literally anywhere but here.
– What if the pilot decides to commit suicide with all of us on board?
– What if we crash into water?
– Do my mum and sister know not to inflate their life jackets until outside the plane? Better remind them!
– What if we get separated in the commotion? Better come up with a plan now! Do we stick together until we’re out of the wreckage or save ourselves and meet outside? I’ll ask them. This needs to be planned.
– What if there’s a terrorist?
– What if there’s a technical fault?
– I wish I was at home. I wonder what the cats are up to.
– Breathe, Holly, breathe.
– Why does the flight attendant look worried?
– Should I tell someone I’m scared? What could they do though?
– I wish I could go into the cockpit and meet the captain, I think I would feel better.
– How many rows of seats are there between me and the exit? 5? I need to remember that in case the cabin is full of smoke and I can’t see my way out. I better make sure my family know this number too, so they know how to get out.
– We’re sat too far back, that’s not good.
– What if you survive the crash but your family don’t? That would be my absolute worst nightmare. So much grief, so much guilt, why the hell didn’t I stop us boarding this thing!?
– They’re doing the health and safety brief. Why are people laughing? You will need this information in an hour or so!
– We’re moving. This is it. No going back. I want to touch the ground, the ground it safe.
– Have they checked everything?What if they missed something?
– I hope we’re not behind a bigger plane, I don’t like wake turbulence.
As you can tell, it’s quite exhausting.
It surprises most people when I tell them that I demand a window seat whenever I fly and that I absolutely love the views from a plane window. It’s not a fear of heights in any way. Being near the window and being able to see out gives me some context. I can see that life is going on as normal down there, and that’s weirdly comforting.
Once we take off and I’ve stopped squeezing my mum’s hand, I remain tense for the entire journey. I’m constantly waiting for something to happen. I’m anticipating a loud noise, a sudden jolt or a complete nosedive. I’m waiting for the crash to happen, and that’s extremely distressing.
A passenger who was on a plane when an engine blew out described the rest of the flight as being extremely uncomfortable because nobody knew what was going to happen next. That is how I feel all the time on an aeroplane.
I almost don’t believe it when we start to land. In fact, I get very giddy. We made it, we survived. Once the wheels have touched the ground, I cry with relief, and then quickly realise that I’m very hungry!
My mum has never let my fear of flying stop me from going on holiday. It sounds really cruel that she will book the holiday and brush off my fears with a “You’ll be fine, Holly.” but I actually think it’s a good thing. If I was left to my own devices, I wouldn’t ever fly, and the fear would get worse and worse to a point where I would absolutely never do it in my lifetime, and I don’t want that. I want to honeymoon abroad, enjoy family holidays and hopefully take my children on holidays.
On our last holiday, the flying lingered over me for our entire stay. I really enjoyed the holiday, don’t get me wrong, but I knew I wasn’t safe until the flight home had safely landed. I had a constant feeling of anxiety in the pit of the stomach until I was home. It’s so frustrating when I should be fully enjoying a holiday with my family, but I’m also counting down the days until I feel ‘safe’ again.
That’s why I know that I need to get this sorted. August 2019 is my next flight and I’m determined to take it and feel comfortable!
I hope this blog post helped you to understand a little bit more about fear of flying, and if you have any advice then please leave it below! Thank you for reading!