Thursday, April 13, 2017

Anxiety in the sky

I don't like flying. AT. ALL.

It's not that I fear that the plane will crash or fall from the sky. I white-knuckle it a bit during take-off but not more than the average bear, and I am positively mellow on landing. I don't faint at every little bump and joggle. I don't find turbulence too scary (unless it's really intense).

No, the part of flying that makes me almost paralysed with anxiety - and sometimes brings on full-blown panic attacks - is the lack of control part. From the minute I hand over my luggage and turn up at the security checkpoint, everything that is going to happen is basically out of my hands. I can't know if the plane's going to leave on time, or indeed at all. I can't know if I'm going to have to undergo a panic-inducing enhanced search by security.

Once I actually get into the plane and they shut those doors, I am stuck inside a tin can with a bunch of strangers for the length of the flight and nothing, NOTHING, I do will make a blind bit of difference to that. (I'm also claustrophobic, so this adds a wonderful soupcon of terror to the whole business). I can't know if there is going to be a drunken fool sitting next to me, or a leg-squashing recliner in front of me. Given my stomach, I can't know for sure that I'm not going to be sick. Apparently, I can also now not know if I am going to be required to leave the seat I have paid for (possibly forcibly) to suit the convenience of the airline. It's an excruciating thought.

Like many people with anxiety disorders, control is super important to me, and the less control I have in any given situation, the more stressed and anxious I become. In a flight situation, this miserably feeds itself, as you must lid your reactions if you don't want to risk being taken off the plane. (Lidding anxiety can be done extremely temporarily by a massive effort, but it doesn't take long for the cracks to start showing, and the break-out is usually intense).

My flying anxiety has gotten worse - much worse - as I've gotten older and flown less, and my General Anxiety Disorder has come to the fore. I never *loved* flying, but I could accept it as an unpleasant necessity to travel when I was in my teens and twenties. And I flew often enough that the edges got rubbed off it a bit - it was no longer so strange, and thus less scary. (It's also worth noting that security was less overwhelming 20-25 years ago - yes, I know all the reasons why it's changed, but it does not help people for whom flying is not a friendly experience).

But now, flying is an acute anxiety-making event for me, to the point that I dread it intensely. I last flew in July 2014 with my family, to Cairns (for our Port Douglas holiday) and that trip went absolutely smoothly, but I still hated the flights so very very much. The only thing that got me through was having to be the parent for my girls, who were flying for the first time and needed my shit to be together. (Quite typically, I found the flight home easier than the flight there. Coming home has a magic to it, I find).

It's to the point now where I have to use a bunch of ritualistic techniques to get my arse on the plane, and I'm concerned that my "acceptable conditions to fly" is becoming ever narrower.

For instance, I have to be seated in the aisle and as close to the rear of the plane as possible, preferably in the very back row. This is a row that most people hate because you can't recline your seat and it's right next to the toilets, so at least I rarely have competition for it, but it's still a pretty rigid condition.

Secondly, I need to board last, or at least in the last batch of passengers.

Thirdly, I will only fly certain airlines and won't even consider flying to particular destinations that my internal Panic Button has deemed TOO DANGEROUS. At the moment, I am booking family flights for our Sydney holiday in September, and I am only really looking at Virgin flight options - my most recent three flying trips (2012, 2014 x 2) were all taken on Virgin and so I can kid myself into seeing that as a "safe" option. At a pinch I'd take Qantas but I won't even consider Jetstar or Tiger. And as for destinations, the mere thought of flying to any US destination at the moment brings on heart palpitations. I'd also be unlikely to fly to anywhere in Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

We are planning our family trip to Japan for 2018 at present (Japan, luckily, does NOT trigger my DANGER DANGER RUN AWAY response!) and I have already decided that we will be flying either Virgin or Singapore and that is all there is to it. I also feel I may need pharmaceutical support for such a long flight, and am going to be talking to my doctor about the V option.

If anyone has any super tips for me, I'm open to anything short of drinking myself into oblivion ... Also airline experience stories welcome. (Hint: United is OFF THE LIST).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kathy. Oh yay for exotic destinations!
    I fly rarely enough but this year I am taking the fam to San Diego ComicCon, flying Alaska coz they have direct flights! And I always bring sound proof headphones! For the inevitable crying baby in the seats behind me! Best wishes and safe travels!