flying phobia

flying phobia

You want me to get on an airplane? Drugs, please.

ANXIETY RUNS IN MY FAMILY. So do large foreheads and potbellies, but those don’t prevent me from getting on an airplane. I’d avoided flying the anxiety-filled skies for the last ten years, but now I would feel like a wimp if I told my best friend– who was 600 miles away, alone with a newborn, and in need of my assistance–“hey, I got the weekend off and found a really cheap plane ticket, but I’m too scared to fly, so sorry, you’re on your own.”

I would do it. I would go. But to board a plane, I would require drugs.

When I was a psychotherapist, I discouraged clients from relying on psychiatric medications. Meds are Band-Aids, I would say. They don’t fix the problem; they mask it. You should only use meds if your life is at risk. Like when you are getting on a plane.

My mom – who hates to fly – said her neighbor Sally attended one of those get-rid-of-your-flying-phobia classes that involved facts, relaxation techniques, a tour of the airport, and at the end, a fear-free flight. “Are you kidding?” I asked my mom. “Why would I want to convince myself that I’m not going to die?” That would be tricking myself into a false sense of security while speeding through the clouds at forty thousand feet in a flying tube of death. I did not want my last thoughts in this world to be, “Feet relax. Feet you are relaxing. Feet you are relaxed.” No, I would put my affairs in order, say my final goodbye to my partner Leah, and take my Xanax.

The day of my flight, I posted my last will and testament on Facebook and hugged Leah tightly at the security checkpoint, assuming I was about to plunge to my death in the ocean because the plane’s engines will fail due to some human error, like a mechanic confusing a bottle of personal lubricant with WD-40 – “oops.”

Boarding the rickety commuter plane was as easy as ripping out my own heart with a pair of pliers, but at the last minute, I surprised myself by forgoing the Xanax so I could take Promethazine, a travel sickness pill. This would prevent me from throwing up on the woman sitting beside me, who kindly offered me the window seat and then leaned as far as she could into the aisle to distance herself from my growing pile of grieving Kleenex filled with tears and snot. I tightened the lap belt over my potbelly and prepared to face my death without the assistance of a mind-numbing psych med. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to face my mortality and have my affairs in order, I thought. I tried unsuccessfully to convince myself  of this as the plane bumped along the runway gaining speed.

I survived the two-hour flight, this time. No plane crash, no death by panic attack. And due to my thoughtful drug choice, the other passengers would remember me as the anxious woman with the big forehead who cried hysterically, which is better than being known as the woman who puked on the plane. Did I mention travel sickness also runs in my family?

-Amelia Sauter