Learning To Fly … Unmedicated

When I was younger, I was all about the adventure … I’d hop on a plane without reservation. I went sky diving … did that crazy bungee jumping thing at our local amusement park … would ride any carnival ride or roller coaster. It didn’t matter, I was a little adrenaline junky and never considered the risk of any of it. After J & I were married, things changed. In 2009, we were flying home from Miami, and I realized I was  TERRIFIED of flying … and roller coasters … and sky-diving … and riding on trains … and anything other than sitting on my couch! ;) Basically, it boiled down to this: I was so afraid I was going to die.

I’m not a psychologist, and I’ve never visited one, so I don’t have a specific ‘reason’ for this fear … all I’ve deduced is that I have more to lose than ever before. So, in 2010, I started taking Xanax when we flew anywhere. I’ve taken-off and landed 16 or so times since then, and those little white pills kept me super calm & rational during flight. Yesterday, before leaving to fly back to Portland, I decided I’d skip the Xanax. 

I’ve always hated taking medication. The thought of just covering up a fear or pain seemed weird & unnatural to me. I don’t even like taking aspirin when I have a headache. I like natural remedies … so pumping my system full of anxiety medication wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. After a series of really great flights, I was ready to face it head-on.

Our flight from Indy to Chicago was great. 36 minutes of smooth flight. Soft take-off & landing. I was doing great! After leaving Chicago (en route to Portland), the take-off was rough, and we noticed it took a REALLY long time to get to cruising altitude. I was still doing okay, as I was just focusing on the book I was reading. After about an hour and a half, the pilot came onto the intercom to announce that we were having some mechanical issues with the plane’s tail & air conditioning system. We were being diverted to Salt Lake City, and getting on a new plane as the current plane needed a new tail before flying again. A few minutes later, we were over some mountains, and the turbulence started. It wasn’t the up & down turbulence I was used to … it was more side-to-side. All I could picture was that the tail (the one the pilot said was ‘broken’) was about to detach itself from the plane. 

That’s when I lost it for a minute. I started to have a little panic & asked J if this was normal. Of course, in that moment, nothing seemed normal … I thought we were going to crash and I shed a few tears. To not disturb anyone else, I kept it together & put on some headphones to try to sleep. Since I hadn’t taken Xanax, I had just had a STRONG burbon drink, and now I didn’t have the option of taking the pills … Alcohol & medication isn’t a great combo. So, I finally drifted to sleep for a bit.

When I woke up, we were through the turbulence, and we landed in SLC safely. After boarding our new plane, we were off to Portland. Before we boarded, I took a Xanax … In the end, we got home safely. Looking back, I know I could have made it without the medication, and now I’m a little disappointed that I took it on that last leg of the flight. 

We fly again in September, and I’ll try it again. I’m learning that overcoming an extreme fear or phobia takes a lot of self-reflection and determination. For now, I’m happy to be back home …

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10 responses to “Learning To Fly … Unmedicated

  1. For years I’ve been the same way with flying. I just know something bad is going to happen and then I’m tense and a blubbering idiot for the entirety of the flight. The worst was when we were coming home from Paris via Detroit. As we were accelerating for takeoff I heard a noise that wasn’t normal. Ten seconds later our plane came to a stop and the pilot announced that something essential had blown – if we’d tried to land without it, we would have been skidding down the runway on our plane’s belly. Since that flight I’ve medicated myself if it’s more than three hours. Unfortunately I fly a lot on the west coast for work and I can’t medicate when I need to go directly from the airport to my office. I’m getting better about flying the more I take these small trips, but I still need help on the longer ones. It’s not rational, I know, but it is what it is and I have learned to make do.

  2. Glad you both made it home, sorry we did not make it to Indy (very mixedup weekend).

    Hope you will take your meds on your next flight, but you my not need anything, but you never know which it best.

    Love to both and glad your are home.

    Hope you got the email i sent, received note you were out of town! If not, I could send it again.

  3. This story does not help my insane fear of flying!! I haven’t tried pills yet, but I do wail and flop around crying like a crazy person on almost every single flight. If it’s bumps, I scream. If it’s not bumpy, I scream because shouldn’t it be a little *less* smooth? I can only imagine that if I were in your shoes I would be puking or passed out from heart attack. YOU ROCK!

  4. Alright, friend, I now know you have unnatural fears of bears and flying: two things that statistically are never going to hurt you. Have you thought about visiting a therapist to perhaps get to the root of the problem, rather than take the pills that you don’t want to take anyway? I mean this in a tough love kind of way. ;o) Still sending you positive thoughts and mental hugs from across the river!

    • Ha! I love you!! Yes, I have considered visiting someone to help. If you saw me Monday, you’d be very proud. Aside from the moment I thought we were going to crash, I was REALLY calm. While I know it’s a bit dramatic, I guess I just don’t think it’s too unreasonable about being nervous about being 38,000 feet in the air. Once we get our new insurance, I am most-definitely hoping to talk with someone about my anxiety, in general. I shouldn’t be afraid to hike because of bears … or afraid of everything! :)

      • Think of it this way: you have a MUCH greater chance of being in a car accident than a plane accident. And I *know* you like to adventure in your Jeep. ;o) Yes, I realize that when you’re in the air you’re not in control of the situation, which is what it seems is the root cause of many people’s flight phobias. I’m glad you’re thinking about talking to someone about it!

      • YES! It’s totally about control, I’m sure. Learning to let it go … an be one of those hippies I always dreamed I’d be when I moved to Portland! Miss you, friend!! :)

  5. Sometimes medication is needed for a huge phobias but if you really want to be off of it, the most safe way to get over a phobia is exposure therapy with a trained therapist or psychologist. And with their help it can actually be a relatively fast process. And it can be very specifically about just the phobia. Sometimes it is hard to ask for help but there is no shame in needing it. And getting help doesn’t mean anything more about you than that you want to face your problems and not take medication. Good Luck! I am sure you can do it!!

    • I’ve heard of exposure therapy … even thought about it. Seriously, Monday was a really great day. Jimmy even mentioned he was super-proud of how calm I was (minus the in-flight tears). I really kept calm & truly didn’t think about it. I am a huge advocate for therapy (though I’ve never been) … or meditation. Anything that allows you to have time for self-reflection!! :)

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