Opinion

How determination allowed me to fly high again

It was just as the float plane settled into its flight that the panic took hold of me.

Until that moment, I was excited to be airborne, looking for my house in the bay below.

My heart rate tripled and my mind chose flight over fight as its stress response: I looked for the door handle to jump out of the plane. I believed I had increased my risk of death for the sake of convenience, which was irresponsible because I left a newborn who was solely breastfed at home.

I was tempted to tell the pilot but decided distracting the only person who knew how to fly this metal box would jeopardize the safety of our 20-minute journey across the Georgia Strait.

The event developed into a mild case of pteromerhanophobia: a fear of flying. Each flight since only exacerbated the problem.

On one flight, I was put in the worst seat on the full plane: back corner, no recline. Luckily for me a kind woman who isn’t afraid of hurtling across the sky at 400 mph in a tin can squished together with 150 other people offered me her aisle seat. That somehow made the flight more tolerable.

Last month, I flew to Kelowna: two flights each way. I was nervous about the trip from the moment I booked it in February. This time, I decided to deal with the problem instead of living in fear of a panic attack.

My doctor offered me two things: a prescription for a mild sedative, and a breathing technique to use when I felt panicky.

I ditched the prescription. Overcoming my fear drug- and distraction-free was a scarier proposition but this way the problem might disappear forever.

My friend who worked as a WestJet flight attendant said in 18 years with the company she didn’t have a single incident. I spoke with a WestJet pilot, who told me three facts: the pilots love their families as much as I do, we’re safer in the air than on the ground, and the wings will never fall off.

When the day came, I set out to the airport armed with these positive affirmations, my new breathing technique, a few episodes of Downton Abbey and meditation music on the iPad in case I couldn’t manage my anxiety.

The universe conspired to ensure many eventualities were covered in this desensitization exercise. The kids all cried when I left them. The airline moved me from the aisle seat I had booked to the worst seat on the plane: back corner, no recline—for all four of the flights. I was told I might not have a seat on one of the flights, we had turbulence over the mountains, and I couldn’t get Downton Abbey  to play.

None of it mattered because the moment I sat in my seat on the first flight, I knew I had it licked. I’d imagined myself in that seat for so long the anticipation of it was worse than the event itself. I still used the breathing technique in every challenging instance, but I was in control of the anxiety so it didn’t have a chance to surface.

As we flew over the coastal mountain peaks, I look out the window and was in awe of what I saw below. In the same moment I experienced a rush of joy that nearly brought me to tears, I noticed the woman next to me playing Candy Crush on her iPad.

It’s scarier to face the fear without drugs or distractions, but the reward is so much greater than becoming the Mayor of Candy Town.

Maeve Maguire is a technical writer who lives and works in Maple Bay and writes monthly in the News Leader Pictorial. Visit her blog www.cowichandale.com, or email her at maeve@describewriting.com.

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