Reflections on Fear, from Seat 15A

I had a lot of anxiety leading up to this moment, flying for the first time since the pandemic hit. It’s my usual flight anxiety, still much better than it had been at its worst, yet worse than it had been at its best. Bad enough to outweigh any anxiety I might have had about coronavirus on the airplane.

I repeat my usual mantras: white knuckling won’t change anything. My thoughts do not impact whether this plane crashes but they do impact my anxiety. I can’t control the safety of this flight and I must accept that.

My usual fears try to interfere. I do not want to die in an airplane crash. I’m sure no one does. I just really really don’t want to go out like that. I don’t want to be afraid. I keep picturing it. I picture what I’ve seen in nightmares, what I’ve felt in nightmares. Maybe if it really happens I’ll at least think it’s just a dream.

My therapist says that all phobias are actually one phobia, that the way we deal with one should work for all the rest.

I accept that I can’t control whether this plane crashes. Being afraid does not somehow protect me. I can choose to let go of the fear. I am allowed to trust the statistics. Doing so will not cause the plane to crash. Even if I do and the plane does crash, it won’t be because I finally felt safe. My thoughts do not control the plane. I can relax.

I really really don’t want to die in a fire. But I can make sure the burners on the oven are turned off. I can make sure to blow out candles when I leave the house or go to bed. I have some control over whether my apartment catches fire, and that is enough. I know how to be responsible.

I know how to feel responsible.

I really really do.

I know that I can’t 100% prevent a fire. I know that there are things outside my control that could lead me to perish in a fire despite the precautions I take. But I focus on what I can prevent. That feels reasonable.

I focus on what I can prevent.

Am I lying to myself by feeling safe? Should I worry more about fire? Should I stop taking the safety measures I do just because things outside my control could lead to the same fate? No, of course not.

Am I lying to myself by feeling like there’s anything I can do to prevent my abuser from hurting anyone else? Should I stop trying just because there’s things outside my control that could lead to him doing so?

Is this a flight or a fire? Is it something in between? Are they really so different?

If I accept that I can’t control him, if I allow myself to relax, if I start to feel safe, then what?

It won’t be my fault just because I let go.
But I’ll still feel responsible. And I’ll be alive to feel it.

We begin our initial descent. This part of flying doesn’t scare me. We are almost back on the ground, and I love that.

I used to love flying. I thought it was so cool. I loved being in an airplane. I loved the feelings and the sounds and the views.

I look out my window, right over the engine, and I feel an affinity for it. In my head I say to it, “You’ve done a good job, thank you for keeping me safe this far, I trust you to get us back on the ground.” I mean it all.

I wonder if after all I’ve been through with my relationship with flying if it’s possible someday I can love it again. I wonder if I can forget the anxiety, the vivid nightmares, the thoughts of all that may go wrong, the superstitious attachment to the fear, and someday just be excited about the miracle of flight and the incredible adventures it permits, to feel so safe I don’t even think about whether or not I am. I’d really really like to think that someday, I could.

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