On Overcoming Fear of Flying

Let’s review. Over Thanksgiving weekend, after taking nine flights in four months (including some long-haul international ones) my longtime dislike of flying turned into a full on, panic attack fueled phobia of flying. Fun times y’all. SUPER fun times for my husband when I couldn’t get on our connecting flight in Phoenix, and we were going to Albuquerque. (Good came out of this even in the short term, by the way, least you think that good things do not grow from bad. We had a spur of the moment road trip over Thanksgiving. I took a round-the-whole-country book tour sponsored by Amtrak. I’d never give those things back in a million years.)

And then, also, I was finally “working on” or really, life was “working on me,” helping me to tackle and start to solve my anxiety condition. (Onset: Quitting theatre and moving to San Francisco. Conclusion: Writing and publishing a book, having it do well. Take Away: Go figure.) But the one huge anxiety monster I had yet to wrestle was my enormous fear of flying. Damn it.

I joke a lot that I married David because, on some core level, he was always the person that could keep me driving forward. I am very good at seeing what I should probably do next (say: start a blog, write a book, take fear of flying training). And then I’m spectacularly bad at figuring out what the first step is and taking it. Why? Because once you take the first step, you’re actually going to have to do something about it, so it’s way easier to not figure it out. David has always been phenomenally good at wandering off, researching the first step for me, and then helping me do it. Always. He did this for me when we were platonic best friends, and he does it for me now after seven plus years together. Who set up the first blogger blog for APW? (David.) Who put in the first email to an agent we knew on the book? (David.) Who signed me up for a Fear of Flying course? (David.) Now, I don’t say that to discount my own ambition and hard work in any way. Once the first step is taken, I then climb the mountain on my own (with cheering from the sidelines). But that first step. Help on the first step is worth its weight in gold. Look for that, always. Notice it. Value it.

So, after Thanksgiving’s total melt down mid-air, David signed me up for a Fear of Flying Course, which, I frankly would have done just about anything to avoid. We enrolled in a course that involved eleven DVDs worth of training on everything from the psychology of fear, to how flying actually works, to visualization. And then I did a phone counseling session. And then I had to fly.

In case you were wondering, I hated every damn minute of it. I hated watching the DVDs (though they were interesting), I hated doing the visualizations (though they were pleasant), I sweated through the counseling session (though it was helpful). Why? Because I knew that all of it led to me getting on a plane again, something I absolutely, under no circumstances, wanted to do. But David said I had to.

Stupid spouses.

It worked out that my first flight, from San Francisco to Chicago, was on my own. I know, right? Like it could get worse. David had to fly out to New York to get sworn into the bar (yay!) so the best he could do was meet me at the gate when I arrived. In case you were wondering what getting ready to fly after months of training is like, it’s terrifying. Luckily, my course had prepared me for that. Until you can prove to yourself that you have the ability to fly without fear, your pre-flight anxiety is going to be off the charts. So I packed. And I panicked. And I watched my iPhone training video about getting ready to get on the flight. And I got in the car and I drove to the airport.

A key part of this particular Fear of Flying course is meeting the pilot. I mean, there a ton of other things that I worked on, but the final step is supposed to be meeting the person flying the plane. I wasn’t sure why this was going to help, but I’m pretty good at following orders. So I got to the airport and asked to meet my pilot. I was flying Southwest, which, no surprise, was great about it. And sure enough, when I walked up to the cockpit (something I felt very familiar with after watching a million and one take off and landing videos), the two men manning the stations made me feel right at ease. Were things going to be fine? Sure they were! Was I worried about turbulence (even though I now knew it was never a problem)? Here was the turbulence map so I knew what to expect! Did they think I could have a great flight? They sure did!

And you know what? Against all odds, I did. No more shutting my eyes and squeezing my arm rests when I took off. Nope! Now I walked myself through the actions pilots go through during take off, watched the air push the plane up, and suddenly enjoyed the fact that we were gliding, magically gliding, over the water… and then up up up into the air. When there was turbulence, I focused on what was happening (and looked down at the pretty views). When there wasn’t, I happily watched my movie. I arrived at the gate in Chicago to meet David exhausted, proud of myself, and drenched in sweat. He’d pushed me, but I’d done it by myself.

When you don’t like flying, people lay diagnose you with a lot of things, like “control issues.” What I’ve learned over the last few months is that’s not exactly accurate (surprise). When people asked me about my fear of flying, I always told them that “I just didn’t think I should be in the air,” and people laughed at me. Turns out, I was right. I didn’t really believe that flying worked (so I spent a huge amount of effort keeping the plane up with the power of my mind). And I also didn’t believe that planes that took off also landed (those endless take off and landing videos helped). And did I have control issues? Not exactly. But I mostly thought, in my heart of hearts, that the plane was flying itself. And no surprise there, I didn’t trust a giant machine, operating alone, with my life. The second I figured out that there were experienced, super kind people flying the plane, and that they had this, I was able to let go. It’s not that I have control issues, per se; it’s that I’d rather give up control to people that I trust.

But perhaps the real story is what happened on the way home. I’d flown once, but of course I was worried about my ability to do it again. This time, I chatted with the pilot in the airport, and he told me to come up to the cockpit as soon as I boarded. When I arrived, he gestured to the co-pilot’s seat. “Have a seat,” he said. (David, later with slight, and wry, awe, “Man, the shit you get by being cute and charming” which is totally a gold-plated fact.) He then asked me with genuine concern why I was so afraid of flying, and he explained to me that he loved flying so much that he tried to go up in his own plane every day he wasn’t working, “Best thing in the world,” he said, “I never have to work a day in my life.” And then. Sitting in the co-pilots seat in the cockpit, he told me to grab the control wheel and pull up, just like I was taking off. On the actual plane. At the actual gate. “You’ve got it,” he said, “You could fly this thing.” I went back to my seat grinning.

We had a rough take off. Not terrible, but the kind where you’re pushing hard through a cloud layer, and bumping around. I was having a bit of a hard time. And then we broke through the clouds, and the sun was out, and I’d done it. The older, drama queen, flight attendant came by to check on me. “Take off.” She said, “I love it. It’s the only time we really get to go fast. I always think of The Doors “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” as we’re doing it.” And then, all those miles above the earth, every time we hit turbulence, the flight crew would come on the loudspeaker, tell us what was going on, and then end with, “Meg! We hope you’re having a good flight. Don’t worry, we’ve TOTALLY got this.”

And they did.

And I did too.

Turns out, what it took to Break On Through was the same tool kit I always use (though hell if using it ever gets easier). My husband pushed me hard. I did the work, even when I was so terrified to that I would sweat and shake during every video. I showed up. I talked to people. I charmed my way into situations. And then I trusted that other people had me. And they totally did. Control issues, my ass.

Do I belong in the air? I’m not totally sure. But it’s possible, one day, I might learn to like it. I may not be a bird, but I’m willing to give it a go. Let’s break on through to the other side.

The info: I took the SOAR Fear of Flying course, which I obviously totally recommend (plus, it has a guarantee, so there is that). I justified the price to myself by saying it was the cost of about one flight to New York that I wasn’t taking…

Picture: Meg for A Practical Wedding

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  • Thats amazing, congratulations. Hope it gets easier and easier for you.

    We used to go up to the cockpit all the time as kids, but I didn’t think they let you do it anymore.


    • Kate

      Wow. APW posts are usually timely, but this is one is RIDIC considering I’m about to hop on a Southwest flight (without my sweetie) in 3 hours!

      I developed my weird, nausea-induced plane phobia this past X-Mas and it could not have happened at the worst time with 4 plane trips (the biggest of which being our wedding) in the next 5 months.

      Like Becca said, knowing that others are coping with this and getting beyond it REALLY helps!

  • Carbon Girl

    Congratulations! Though I am not scared of flying (am way scared of other things, like ocean waves), it makes sense that much of that fear would come from not understanding how it all works. People generally fear what they do not understand. I am also so happy that the airline people were so good to you. It seems to really come down to which airline they are working for . . .

    So jealous you got in the cockpit!

  • PA

    “Turns out, I was right. I didn’t really believe that flying worked (so I spent a huge amount of effort keeping the plane up with the power of my mind).”

    This is why I cannot sleep on planes. If I don’t pay attention to keeping the plane in the air, WHO KNOWS what might happen?!

    Seriously, though (although I *am* serious about the sleeping thing), awesome job on pushing yourself and trusting David. I think that a lot of marriage is trusting that sometimes the other person has a clearer view of situations and our abilities than we do, and you totally proved that you HAD the ability to get through flights!

    • PA

      Also, have. Present tense. …more coffee.

  • Brefiks

    What a lovely reflection, and I’m so glad that worked for you.

  • You never shy away from a challenge Meg! Anyone else would have said, ‘I just love train travel!’ and stuck with that. But now, you can do either, depending on what you need. It must be very liberating to know that you can fly, even if you’d rather go by train if you have the time. Well done.

    • meg

      (I do love train travel… also…. mmmmmm…. trains….)

  • Margi

    Congrats and thanks for sharing, Meg! My boyfriend hates flying and it is slowly becoming a phobia. It is keeping us from traveling to places which is impacting our lives esp. mine since all on my family lives on the other coast and I LOVE to travel! I didn’t know what to do, but I think the link to the SOAR program is an excellent place to start.

  • The part about the flight announcements ending with “Meg! We hope you’re having a good flight. Don’t worry, we’ve TOTALLY got this.” made me all teary.

    Congratulations on breaking on through, putting your faith in people you can trust, and doing the hard, hard work of overcoming something terrifying. Thank you for sharing!

  • fascinating – and good job.

    my wife has a bad fear of flying that has turned into a serious phobia after a (truly, epically) horrible flight. she’s flown since, but it’s just awful. this looks really worth looking into. especially since i actually love flying (i hate airports and all the related stuff, but the actual being in the air part is awesome).

    • meg

      Do it! One of the things you do is re-work painful flights so they loose their power. SUPER HELPFUL.

  • Bravo, Meg. And I think how friendly and wonderful the flight crews seemed to be to you is spectacular.

    • meg

      Southwest! Normally they’re just funny, but when you have a problem they are so so kind.

      • Hello Jodi

        After the flying experience sandwich of Air France/Discount Airline/Southwest I decided that if Air France or Southwest doesn’t fly there then it is someplace I don’t need to be. That’s really extreme, and I may fly someone else internationally, but only if I have to. I’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences with Southwest, including the last one where someone did have a panic attack and the crew was just unbelievable.

        • H

          Also Qantas to Australia. Amazing.

        • meg

          Oh. British Air! They’re my favorite. We basically only fly them to Europe now.

          • Sarah

            British Airways rock. But KLM are also pretty decent.

      • I’m thinking Southwest should fund your second book tour :) And, reading your story totally reminded me of what flying USED to be like. I’m so glad that Southwest and a handful of other airlines are still keeping it real.

  • Rach

    My (soon to be) Mother-in-law has a completely paralyzing fear of flying (I’m told that just thinking about it will cause a panic attack some days). She also just happens to live halfway across the country. This means that, while we see my Father-in-law about once every three months, we only see her once or twice a year. The rest of the family has just sort of accepted this (it’s been an issue for over two decades). I know I’ve got no right to push her to do something that terrifies her… but I’m really worried she’s going to miss out on quality time with her only child/future grandchildren.

    My question is: how completely inappropriate would it be for me to send this to her and suggest she look into it? Should I encourage my partner (her child) to send her a link to the program? Should I just accept that this is an issue I should stay away from?

    • meg

      *I* think that having her kid send her a link saying you read it and thought of her is loving. She doesn’t have to do anything about it (though, seriously, hard as they are, these programs work… I was such a lightweight in my fear for this program) but she’ll know you care.

  • Yay! I am so proud of you and the growth you’ve made.

    I’m afraid of heights, so I became a ropes course facilitator. Learning about all the ropes, knots, and failsafes really helped me feel more comfortable. Of course, there are still some elements that are completely scary (have done them, and won’t repeat them until I’m more comfortable on everything else). And I still don’t like being way up high with nothing to keep me safe. But climbing with ropes now is totally doable!

  • Steph

    This is a really great piece, Meg. I am not afraid of flying but I sure don’t enjoy turbulence one bit! I would probably benefit from watching those DVDs to find out what turbulence actually is. Anyway, it sounds like you tackled this issue with grace and courage. Good for you!

    • Paula

      Turbulence is simply a region of non-uniform fluid flow in the atmosphere – often caused by the boundary interaction of those fronts your local meteorologist is always talking about. For a visualization, think speeding jetski bouncing along small waves. The real thing is 3 dimensional, but the idea is the same. Maybe try thinking that you are riding the leading edge of someone’s sunny day.

  • NF

    Thanks so much for sharing. I’m not afraid of flying itself, but I have fairly extreme agoraphobia which makes flying pretty much impossible. Slowly working towards getting over it, with a long term goal of using the money my husband and I have saved up for traveling to go somewhere exciting (it’s not bad as far as incentives go…). Having the extra encouragement is so important to me, sometimes I need someone to tell me that it actually matters that I be able to leave the house!

    • KA

      Bigs hugs and encouragement for tackling this. I grew up watching my grandmother just live with it—she left the house maybe 5 times a year—and have my own struggles with it as well. I think this is why I spend so much travel prep ogling pictures of where we’re going—with enough practice I’ve trained the excitement to override the fear. You will get there and it will be so worth it! :)

  • Cate Subrosa

    Well done, Meg. x

  • Cherry

    Great story, Meg! I was reading a study a while back andseems that creative folks tend to have more anxieties about flying. Supposedly, our brains can’t wrap around the idea that it’s “right” that we’re flying through the air. LOL. I love to travel and flying but it still doesn’t stop the anxiousness I feel while on the flight. So glad that you’ve Broken On Through…

  • Sarah

    “But that first step. Help on the first step is worth its weight in gold. Look for that, always. Notice it. Value it.”


    It’s surprisingly difficult to tell in advance who the people who help me through the first steps will be. Not so surprisingly important.

  • daynya

    Eee! I’m so definitely afraid of flying, but I power through it. I’ve only ever had one solid panic attack on a flight, and it was awful. I seriously was clutched to my fiance’s chest and arm the whole time, sobbing. I vowed to never fly again, except, we had to fly home 2 days later. And I did, and it was okay. I have read lots of fear of flying stuff since, and the knowledge helped. Meeting the pilot though?! I am not sure if that would reassure me, or scare me even more. I think my biggest fears are that the pilot will screw up, or that air traffic control will screw up, not so much that the plane itself will have a problem. Sigh. Anyway, after all of that reading I did, I flew to Montreal by myself. I had drinks before the flight to and from, and that was the key for me. I no longer fly without a sufficient amount of alcohol in my body. I can’t believe you got to sit in the copilot seat, yowza!! So proud of your bravery. :)

    • meg

      Nope, it will not scare you more. Meeting the pilot, after you’ve learned about how many backup systems their are for everyone involved, and how close to impossible it is for someone to screw up and get away with it, will be amazingly helpful. Also, SERIOUSLY lady, it’s time to get some help. You can’t fix this on your own, and you shouldn’t have to drink or take meds to do it (this was totally how I was managing right before). You can do it on your own, but with anxiety, you don’t have the tools to fix yourself, so be brave and get help!!

      • daynya

        Yes ma’am! I will look into the course that you took. Thank you. :)

      • Class of 1980

        “Meeting the pilot, after you’ve learned about how many backup systems there are for everyone involved, and how close to impossible it is for someone to screw up and get away with it, will be amazingly helpful.”

        There are stories of pilots in little private planes passing out mid-flight, yet control towers have coached the unlicensed passenger to a landing! Flying a plane isn’t really all that difficult.

        Planes (unlike helicopters) actually WANT to fly.

        • meg

          I know, it’s weird right? They told us that takeoff (unlike landing) isn’t automated, because it’s actually too simple to bother automating. (Wait till plane is trying to pull off the ground, then pull up.) And apparently once you’re up there, it’s just boring for pilots. They only really move to avoid turbulence because it bothers passengers. But the funniest part: apparently planes basically land without power (or they could). So they told us, “Ever wonder what it would be like if your engine’s went out (almost impossible)? Basically, like every landing you’ve ever been through.

          • Emily

            As I pilot, I can say that yes, it can be boring after taking off. :-) Also, in flight training, there’s a whole section of the course about landing without power. Since the wings of the aircraft still produce lift, it’s very easy to control the aircraft without engine power.

            Random fact about flying, the aircraft isn’t pushed off the ground by air, it’s lifted up by the air on top of the wings. Since the air flows faster over the top of the wings than the bottom, it creates lower pressure over the top of the wing, which then produces lift. Fun demonstration: Turn on a sink faucet so you have running water. Take a spoon and hold it by the very end of the handle, so it dangles downward. Hold the spoon parallel to the running water, with the curved part of the spoon closest to the water. The spoon will get sucked into the stream of water and that is the exact same concept as aircraft wings being lifted.

          • I can’t press “reply” to Emily below – but I just wanted to say, Emily, that is so cool and fascinating!

  • Montclair

    I can so relate to a dislike of flying turning into a phobia after multiple flights in a short time period… Last year, in the space of two months, I had to take 15 flights, two of which were transatlantic and two of which were transpacific. On the 12th flight, which was one of the transpacific ones, we had major turbulence that lasted hours. I had a total meltdown/panic attack on the flight. It was awful. And I still had 3 flights left, one of which was immediately after the panic attack one. Thankfully my now-husband was with me, and I made it through. But I was extremely nervous about those last two flights and after they were done I vowed it would be a long time before I got on a plane again. But of course, I ended up flying two transatlantic flights in January, by myself this time. I totally agree with this post – you have to face your fears and get back on the horse, so to speak (note: I am also afraid of horses). Your partner can help you and support you, but it something you have to do for *you*, or you won’t succeed. Good for you Meg!

    • meg

      Actually! I don’t really think you just need to face your fears and get back on the horse. I think that’s what we’ve been taught, and it’s actually wrong. I think you need to get TREATMENT or other kinds of help for your fears, and then get back on wisely and safely. I think continuing to power through without attacking the root of the problem sets you up for a way bigger meltdown later on, because you’re sublimating the fear (I’ve been there…)

      • Laurel

        This reminds me of dog training. If you happen to accidentally spook a dog about something — like, say, you slip while cutting her nails and it hurts — the solution is to start all the way over at the very beginning to reacclimate the dog to the scary nail clippers. Making the dog face the scary stimulus again just makes the fear worse. You’re repeating the experience of being afraid when the nail clippers are around, and reinforcing the association between nail clippers and fear. Instead, you want to condition an association between nail clippers and delicious treats.

        Dog training secret: most of it works on people too.

        (p.s. CONGRATULATIONS.)

        • meg

          I am like a doggie. (You probably are too.) That is the lesson for the day.

      • Montclair

        Oh, I didn’t mean that you just have to just jump right back on after falling off. I completely agree that treatment can be big part of facing your fears. I meant that you can’t just avoid the problem forever – eventually you need to take action (whatever that means for you) to get you to the point where you can get back on the plane, horse, whatever, safely, and kudos to you for doing exactly that!

        • meg

          Yes, but I’m kind of disagreeing with you, and pointing towards treatment with a flashing light ;) I did what you’re doing for years and years and years. I took action and got back on the plane (God, I’ve flown a lot in my life). In the end, I powered through a lot of flights, but I think it actually made the problem worse, because it was building internally, without the tools to deal with it.

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    This was awesome, and seriously inspirational. I am very afraid of driving, which is really going to interfere with my life once I move to a more rural area. I think I’m going to see if there is something similar for me! Thanks Meg! :)

    • I have been terrified of driving since it occurred to me when I was, oh, twelve, that I would have to learn to drive a car to go anyplace. (I grew up in horse farm country; you have to drive to get everywhere.) But since learning to drive, I have discovered a secret that might help you: Driving in rural areas = easy. Driving in cities and towns = so many more things to pay attention to. In a rural area, often it is just you and the car and the road, sometimes with stray livestock standing around. And then it is so much easier. For me, it is the other cars and the pedestrians that are scary. It can be hard to tell what they are going to do. But I like my car – it does what I tell it to, and if it’s just me and the car we get along fine. Hope that helps, and good luck!

      • Class of 1980

        Absolutely. After moving to the country, it’s city driving that terrifies me now. I used to be okay with it.

        Of course, it doesn’t help that the nearest city is Atlanta with it’s freaking Indy 500 traffic.

      • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

        I does help to remind myself of that :) And, certainly, the sort of ‘city’ traffic I would get even in the province’s biggest city, is nothing compared to the traffic most of ya’ll are referring to.

  • Good on you! And the pilots/crew sound amazing.

  • Well written and well played. Good for you, meg :)

  • I’m not afraid of flying, but I have a ritual that make me feel safe – I tap the side of the plane next to the door with my hand while boarding. I didn’t realize I did it *every. single. time.* until a flying partner asked me about it. I tried to break the habit, but felt more anxious, so I decided, why bother? It’s easy to do, and if it gets me on board calmly, who cares.

    (Re: people not supposed to be in the air, anyone else thinking of the Louis C.K. sketch about The Miracle of Flight?)

    • Um, I make it a point to touch the outside of the plane right next to the door as I board, every time I board. I don’t have anxiety about flying, I’m not particularly superstitious, I don’t know why I do it or when I started doing it, but I do. And it’s funny to hear someone else do something very similar.

    • I do it too – as I get on and off the plane. I’m not really superstitious but I picked that up somewhere along the way. And hey, it must work! I haven’t been on a plane that’s crashed yet! :)

  • Go you! This post actually made me a bit weepy — everyone at Southwest was SO sweet to you! And you are such a bad-ass for breaking through!

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  • PERFECT timing! I’m flying across the country tonight for my bridal shower and get very anxious before flying. The course sounds really awesome. Even just reading about someone else who is anxious taking it and feeling reassured makes me feel less anxious. Thank you!

  • Awesome! Go Meg, go!

    And yay Chicago… we just got back from a week there… love that city.

  • Class of 1980

    The long-time boyfriend of my twenties was a private pilot. He handed me the controls once over the ocean. The ONLY thing I like about flying is the exciting take-offs and landings! Everything in between is cramped and boring.

    Bonus points for a post containing David, your conviction that planes should not be able to fly, and The Doors.

    • meg

      I try ;)

  • This is awesome. I’m glad you were able to do this, and overcome.

    My fear of flying is less intense, but in Vegas my hotel room looked onto the airport, and I must have spent at least an hour watching planes take off and land, roughly every minute, without incident. That helped a lot, as I personally tend to think of the plane I’m in being the only one in the sky. It was reassuring. They got this.

  • sb

    Congrats! And you should totally send this to Southwest–maybe they’ll sponsor your next book tour ;). They really are quite wonderful.

    I wish there were a SOAR-like course for fear of driving. It’s not that I’m scared of losing control, or that no one’s in control, but that *I* am in control, and what if I react badly and someone gets hurt? My fiancee loves to drive and will happily take me to parking lots and cul-de-sacs to drive (I do have a license), and we live in a transit-rich city, so it’s not a huge day-to-day issue, but I would love to overcome it. If any readers have suggestions I’d love to hear them!

    • meg

      Oh, for that you should be seeing someone for generalized anxiety! I was working on that too earlier this year in a group. Awesome. (Lots of us with generalized anxiety don’t like driving, it’s very very common.)

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      there actually are programs…I just googled ‘fear of driving’. I’m thinking of looking into doing something about my fear of driving. My fiance suggested I would totally feel better once I operated a tractor or something, but I am skeptical. The funny thing is I got an almost perfect score on my drivers test, so clearly I am capable…
      Honestly, the biggest thing is just to get out and do it. If you have a chance to get out of the city to a more rural area, you might find you have a better chance to feel comfortable behind the wheel. My grad studies field work was all in rural areas, and the other people in the lab encouraged me to drive the truck outside of town, and it has made me feel better. Once I did this awful job of parking and made one of the summer students fix it because I was so worked up, some guy waiting to park looked really ticked until he saw how little ole me get out of the truck. The summer student told him how afraid I was of driving, and the guy was super understanding, and told me I’d feel lots better if I just kept doing it. Also, I like to have the radio on, or have somebody nattering at me-it takes my anxiety down a little bit.
      I get pretty close to all out panic attacks when I think about driving, and I don’t have access to a car I can drive right now, so I really haven’t been taking my own advice. However, you are totally not alone, I find just knowing that helps alot.

    • Class of 1980

      People who live in cities with mass transit never get enough chances to develop driving confidence, and often remain at the skill level of a new driver. That isn’t necessarily a phobia as much as it’s a developmental stage.

      You just need to drive in fairly empty spaces and gradually work up to more traffic.

      • meg

        ME. I used to be a better driver. And then I lived in NYC for 10 years, in SF where we only had one car so my husband almost always drove for 5. As of this week I have my own car for the first time EVER, so I’m just practicing. And realizing I’m shitty and unpracticed at things like getting my own gas, and that’s ok. I’ll get better.

        • Class of 1980

          Of course. After that many years with mass transit, what could anyone expect, really? ;)

  • Jane

    I don’t have a fear of flying, but I LOVED this post. I had no idea you could actually take a fear of flying course–amazing! And now I’m totally making a note to put on my desk with your “toolkit” list as a reminder of how to get through any thing I’m afraid of.

    • meg

      Hee. It’s quite a toolkit.

  • Congratulations and congratulations to David on being sworn in by the NY Bar!!

    • meg

      THANK YOU!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      California AND New York, the two hardest

      Yes, MAZEL TOV to David!

  • Kate

    Wow. APW posts are usually timely, but this is one is RIDIC considering I’m about to hop on a Southwest flight (without my sweetie) in 3 hours!

    I developed my weird, nausea-induced plane phobia this past X-Mas and it could not have happened at the worst time with 4 plane trips (the biggest of which being our wedding) in the next 5 months.

    Like Becca said, knowing that others are coping with this and getting beyond it REALLY helps!

  • Thanks so much for this article – I’m about to take my first red eye tonight from Portland to New York for a dear friend’s wedding, and a large part of me in still trying to think of a way to bail out. I’ve always envied people who think of time on a plane as a relaxing escape from their every day lives (and those people who FALL ASLEEP DURING TAKE OFF, MY GOD!) and wish I could use those hours to read or do work, but I definitely have the whole “keep the plane up with my mind” thing going on. Now that I’ve moved to the West Coast and my entire family is on the East Coast, I’m mentally prepared for numerous cross country flights per year, but that online course seems like exactly what I need to start weaning myself off the flight meds and booze and be able to read something other than Us Weekly during the flight :) Thanks for writing about this – I agree that a lot of people either scoff at you or try to tell you that you’re foolish for being afraid of something so relatively safe, but the human mind fears what it fears and you just have to work with that.

  • NF

    I just want to re-iterate what Meg already said. For those of you who struggle with phobias/anxiety you should get help, whether it’s a counselor or through DVDs, or whatever works for you. Getting back on the horse may sound good, but trying without outside help is like not having a saddle on the horse (or a halter, or reins, or whatever). It mostly doesn’t work! And if you try before you’re prepared, and things go badly, it will just reinforce your phobia/anxiety.
    I’m terrified of being where there are lots of people (among other things), and the solution is not go go to the mall on a weekend (tried that, it’s been a year since I’ve been inside a grocery store without immediately running out), it’s to talk with my therapist about why I’m scared, and how I can change my thinking, and occasionally start going into the pharmacy, or a coffee shop in the late afternoon, and then when I’m ready I’ll try something big like going into the grocery store.

    • Class of 1980

      I have a strong aversion to parking close to the grocery store where I am hemmed in by other cars. I always have to be far away with open space.

      I have no idea when or why this happened.

    • meg

      YES YES YES YES YES YES. This is exactly what I was trying to say with this post, and I’m afraid I somehow didn’t communicate it clearly. Basically, we all need help doing things. I didn’t do this because I was brave, I did this because I was brave enough to get help. You can’t do these things on your own, if you’re struggling with anxiety, and that’s ok. It’s great even. GET HELP. Getting help makes you stronger and wiser, not weaker. People use every excuse in the book not to get help, because actually working on the problem is scarier than trying to muscle through (even though muscling through is living hell, and never a long term solution). Not only is getting help 1,000X worth it, but it’s also the brave thing to do.

      • When I was in EMDR therapy to recover from PTSD (which totally worked! Was amazing!), I was learning a lot about all those crazy chemicals that get released when we’re anxious, having panic attacks, or feeling fight-or-flight, etc. In recovering from PTSD (which I’m not saying Meg has at all – just speaking from my experience), I’ve been told that you move the “pot” the memories are held in inside your brain from the short-term memory pot (where they get triggered over and over) to the long-term memory pot, where they can be processed and no longer get triggered in such a way that you are experiencing it like it’s happening all over again. I was told that this metaphor does actually relate to different physical parts of your brain, which is why EMDR therapy engages the different hemispheres of your brain through eye movements or sounds in different ears.

        So I’m not sure if this comment is relevant or not, but I guess I want to support Meg and NF’s point that you can’t “think it away,” and add that there are some serious biochemical things going on in anxiety and panic – it’s not just in your head – it’s a physical, whole-body experience. Good luck, everybody! It’s not easy.

    • Caitlin

      YES! Great metaphor about the horse. Exposure is universally recognized by psychologists as the best treatment for fear. There’s even scientific evidence showing how well it works. However, when psychologists use the word exposure they mean a method involving therapy and very gradually ramping up of exposure to the fear. It’s a whole process. So yes seek treatment! Fears are scary enough on their own and facing them can be even scarier, so have someone knowledgeable there to help guide you!

      (My fiancee is getting her Phd in Psychology with a specialization in anxiety and depression, so I’ve heard a lot about exposure these past 4 years)

  • Smith

    I know how you feel. I’m pregnant right now, and I would give my baby every other negative quality of mine before I would give them the fear of flying, which limits my career, keeps me from visiting friends and family, and makes me drive ridiculously long distances to avoid flying. The only way I can get myself on a plane is to tell myself that my life is literally not worth living if I don’t go to the place I want to go (so, at least I got myself to Europe a couple years ago). However, I will think about this post some more as I figure out how to get my future kid to love flying when I fear it so much.

    • meg

      Don’t THINK about it lady, do the course! (Or any course). You can’t think your way out, you have to have tools to help you work your way out. Also, sorting through your issues is ALWAYS good for your kid, right? Apparently it’s super common for pregnant women to do the course, since pregnancy hormones trigger feelings of protection, that make the phobia way worse. Lots of people’s phobias start DURING pregnancy.

  • Airplane Rachel

    Such an accomplishment! Congrats Meg!

    I met my special person on an airplane…coming home from Las Vegas. I know, pretty amazing if you ask me. I’m pretty happy I’m not afraid of flying. :)

  • blissing

    I have a milder form of this phobia. Thanks for the tip to look where my thoughts are literally going. One thing I tell myself over and over is, “The pilots don’t want to die.” I also feel so sad when I think about dying on a flight. I think I don’t want to die without saying goodbye to people.

    Yes, I have a tendency to catastrophize.

    Many many congrats on this journey!

    • meg

      Mine was mild for years. And then it was not. They told us that older pilots (pretty much all of them) are great insurance. They’ve flown almost ever day of their lives since their 20’s, and look where they are? Still alive, still flying.

  • Thank you so much for this Meg!
    I also developed a massive flying phobia in the last couple of years, and I am so interested to hear you say you took the S.O.A.R. program because I’ve been researching it and thinking about (but putting off) doing it for months now. I am going to take your post as a sign that I need to go ahead and take the plunge.

    The timing of your post is pretty perfect for me too because I just got the vacation time approved for what will be my first out-of-state trip in 8 months. I am supposed to fly to Maine (from LA) to see my family and then go down to Brooklyn to visit all my college friends. I was supposed to go to New York in February – tickets bought – and I canceled the trip because my anxiety was so bad. I started seeing someone for the anxiety at that time, and I think that’s helped some; but I think I also need something specifically flying related.

    I too have full-on panic attacks on the flights – they last for hours and it’s the most dreadful, awful experience. I so much want it to get better, so it’s really encouraging to hear your story and hear how it’s gone for you. I love how kind all the flight attendants were to you (Southwest is the best!) and that you got to sit in the cockpit.

    I’m worried somewhat now that month will not be enough time to get through the SOAR course, but I’m going to do what I can. Thank you for the push! And congratulations on your successful flights!

    • meg

      Oh lady, I did it in six weeks. I could have buckled down and done it way faster too (and they have a fly tomorrow course if you really need it). You have SO MUCH time. So proud of you!!!

      • Thank you! That’s so good to hear!

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  • KA

    This became about so much more than flying for me (though lord knows I could use the help with that specifically)—like how it’s OK to be pushed to take action, the impetus doesn’t always have to come from within, from “willpower” or “motivation”. It’s OK to just be told/made to do something that you know you want but are too paralyzed to start.

    Which got me thinking about the concept of “willpower” and the sheer number of things I power through that I would really like to be, I dunno, effortless? Flying, for one, making phone calls for another. Yes, despite my near debilitating phobia of making phone calls I still make them everyday, but it never gets easier. You’re right, there are just some things that one should get help for, because depending on willpower may be a short-term solution, but one day willpower will call in sick, and the aftermath probably won’t be pretty.

    Good stuff, lady. Thank you.

    And a huge, huge congratulations on achieving something [almost] as big as that whole book thing—defeating your fears, one step at a time.

    • meg

      Thank you. And yes, that’s what the post was really about. It wasn’t just for the flying phobic among us ;)

  • NF

    By the way, for those of you whose partners are the ones with phobias/anxiety, take a look at this link: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/wellness/2012/05/tips-for-helping-anxious-partners/
    As the partner WITH anxiety I’m not sure I agree with all the tips, but I think that’s kind of the point of the article and maybe it will be helpful to some of you looking from the other side!

  • Well done, lady. Very well done. xx

  • Wow, thank you Meg! My former dislike for flying has quickly become anxiety-ridden, and I have a few flights to take this year. I’m not to the phobia level yet, but I might look into the class just for the sake of my husband’s poor knee that gets squeezed to oblivion every time we fly together. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a class to help with this. Again, thank you!

  • Camie

    Congrats, Meg! I always find it reassuring to read about other people dealing with their fear of flying. Mine’s not paralyzing, but it’s pretty bad (although it has improved dramatically over the next few years). I didn’t fly hardly at all until I was in my early twenties, and so when my partner and I flew a few states over there was a lot of me gripping the handrest and praying. And then my next few trips we had awful, awful turbulence— mountain states! So I developed a pretty bad fear.

    I still have it (reading the post gave me sweaty palms) but I’ve developed a couple ways of handling it. I have some visualizing techniques (when I have more money, I’d love to try that SOAR course).

    That said, for my last flight I also took some meds and it was the best flight I ever had. I do take meds every once in a while to help me deal with everyday anxiety, so I’m okay with taking them (I am also astonishingly functional on them). The meds + the visualization was the trick I needed to get me through the flight with little problems. I even hopped through the turbulence while laughing and watching TV. I know some people are really down on meds, but for me, they’re a lifesaver in getting me to the point where I can deal rationally and try out my calming exercises.

  • Dodie

    I’ve been reading APW for years and this is the first article that made me cry. People are amazing. If you reach out for help, people are almost always willing to give it. That’s something I’m struggling to learn right now and this was such a beautiful example. Thank you for sharing Meg! And congratulations on getting back in the air!

  • april

    Awww, this post made me cry to think how you struggled and then to read about your success – totally made me smile and cheer for you, Meg. Congrats!

    I am unbelievably terrified of heights (surprisingly – flying doesn’t trouble me) but platforms, endless flights of stairs, bridges, walkways more than 10 feet above ground…you get the idea – fills me with paralyzing TERROR. And my darling husband thinks we should take a trapeze class so I can effectively “get over it”. Yeah. We’ll see about that…

  • Catherine

    Wow this is a jillion years too late, but I’m just now seeing this post and OH MY GOD THIS IS ME. Seriously, Seriously, Ahhhhhh!!! All of the thoughts you have about flying, yes yes yes! Someone gets it!! Some people don’t like flying because “i get anxious just sitting there” and its “uncomfortable” and other trivial complaints and I’m like “THIS IS MY LIFE PEOPLE!!!” So great to read your post. There is hope for me! I understand how the meeting the pilot thing helps a lot, I always try to make little personal connections with the flight attendants when I walk in and if they are warm I’m like “oh, okay, we’re good, they’ll take care of me” hehe ! had to repsond…

  • Becky

    Super late to comment here, but I loved this post!!! I’ve had pretty significant flying-related fears for years now, and finally just started taking anxiety medication for flying a few years ago and have found that it helps a lot because it got to the point that I was more anxious about being anxious and panicked on a flight than about actually flying. It was also unclear to me whether it was anxiety or motion sickness that affected me more, but taking anxiety medication seems to alleviate it for the most part – now I can pretty much zone out for flights and read or flip through magazines rather than sit and shallow-breathe and shake the entire time. Related, David sounds like quite the mensch, creating an awesome road trip out of a panic attack!!!