Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I Used to Be Afraid of Flying, and I'm (Almost) Not Anymore

  Sometime during my freshman year of college I developed a nearly debilitating fear of flying. I would sit for entire flights in a cold sweat—any time there was the slightest bit of turbulence I would grip the seat handles and panic, and bad weather had me practically writhing on the floor in agony. I would sit, staring out the window, completely pale, for the entire length of a flight, wishing for it to be over. I couldn't read, or listen to music, because I was so panicked I couldn't focus enough to distract myself.
   My mother is also terrified of flying, and she claims it's a control issue—that she can't handle a complete stranger being in charge of where she is going and how safely she gets there, and also that the claustrophobia of being confined in a small space with three hundred strangers was just too much to bear.
   These reasons, while enlightening, didn't ever strike me as familiar. I played with all kinds of ideas trying to figure out where it had come from—general fear of death projected onto plane flights, other stressful emotions saved up until I could release them all at once, hypersensitivity to loud noises and motion. I even blamed it on ex-boyfriend #2, and general male rejection, since it had started during our relationship, and prior to that I had very much enjoyed flying.
  Then I read Byron Katie's “Loving What Is,” in which she claims that all unhappiness is simply interpretation—that you can tell yourself whatever story you want, so why not tell yourself a happy one?—and directs people to isolate these negative thoughts, ask themselves four questions about them in order to determine the truthfulness of the thoughts, and finally to invert them.
So during a four-hour plane ride to Boston, with nothing else to do, or to distract me, I decided to try to figure out which thought it was that was making me so unhappy—and I found it.
   The thought was, “I don't want to be here.” Clearly I did want to be there, because I was on the plane. I wanted to go wherever I was going, and I wanted to go there the fastest way possible, so clearly I wanted to be on the plane. So why did I think I didn't want to be there? 
  Now, I can list probably a hundred things that totally suck about flying. Security sucks, the food sucks, the interior decorating sucks, sitting for the whole length of the flight sucks, turbulence sucks, the fact that if something goes wrong you're totally f*cked sucks, the sitting next to complete strangers sucks, the recirculated air sucks, etc., etc., etc. Everyone complains about these things. No one likes flying.
   But you know what doesn't suck? You are flying. The human mind, in all of its glory, has managed to invent and build a structure that can carry three hundred people or more through the air indefinitely—we, the infinitely awkward, fragile, unbalanced bipedal creatures that we are, can f*cking fly.
   Then it occurred to me that the reason I'm afraid of flying is actually because I think flying is one of the most amazing things in the world.
  Which sounds insane, until you put it in context.
   I started to feel afraid of flying when I got to college, and started dating the atrocious men that I date. Which means that I started to feel afraid of flying when I began to feel afraid of what other people would think of me, when I began to worry about whether or not the things I wanted to do with my life were acceptable, or viable, or a variety of other things that don't matter. I started to feel afraid of flying when I started to feel afraid of expressing myself, for fear of rejection; when I realized that other people laugh at enthusiasm. I started to feel afraid of flying around the time I quit dancing. I started to feel afraid of flying when I realized that other people think flying is boring. My psyche was so insistent on the idea that it wasn't boring that it would rather put me in a panicked cold sweat for four hours than buckle under to the dullness of a universe where I could sleep through that kind of miracle.
   So f*ck you, universe, and your newspapers, and your angry foot-tapping, and your glaring at your watches, and your bitching about the fact that it's going to take five hours to travel three thousand miles instead of the promised four, and your sleeping through something as incredible as flying—f*ck you and your sneering at the moments that are the most beautiful, your sarcastic comments about the treasures of others, and the way you don't make eye contact on the escalator. I like flying, and you can kiss my ass.

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