To celebrate the upcoming release of my romantic comedy, Driving in Neutral—a love story about claustrophobia— (arriving in 8 days!) I am running the 75 Days of Phobia series. A massive thank you to everyone who’s been following along and everyone who’s joined in to share. As Olivia, the heroine in Driving in Neutral says to Maxwell the claustrophobe, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” My favourite librarian and Shallowreader, Vassiliki Veros, is sure as hell proof of that.
I blame all writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, all of you. I do not blame you for my phobia, however I blame you for making it necessary for me to cope with my phobia.
I have aviophobia. When it comes to flying, I am not a particularly sane person. I fear it beyond fear. It completely fucks with my head. It turns a holiday into a nightmare, anticipation chewing at my innards, my thoughts overtaken with burning images of hell and pain crashing through my dreams and waking moments.
People always seem to think if they sit me down they can rationalise my fear out of me:
“Them: Thousands of planes fly safely daily and you are more likely to die in a car crash.”
Me: “Yes but I may be on the one that doesn’t fly safely and who said that I am not terrified of dying in a car crash also. I live in fear every time I get in a car but this blog post is about my fear of flying not my fear of car crashes.”
Listen, I get that you think that giving me statistics is going to somewhat calm me but here is the problem: I have been on a terrifying flight. Oh yes. I have been on a flight that had the air steward on her knees crying and wailing, “we are all going to die, we are all going to die.”
Now if that had been another passenger, I would have just dismissed it as a neurotic, phobic, crazy person to be ignored. But when the air steward is inconsolable, you know there is some hard-core shit going down.
Why was the air steward crying? Well……. We spent an hour travelling through a cyclone that had us plunging into huge airpockets – we aren’t talking about little hopskipjumps – they were like freefalls with major jolts, when the pilot announced that we had engine problems (!!!) necessitating us to return to our departure city, and then there was the small matter of some surprise men who started marching up and down our aisles carrying uzis. When we landed we were shepherded off the plane and then an hour later we were shepherded back on. There were no more men with uzis and the distraught air steward was gone too. We flew back out and once again entered the zone of plunging terror turbulence for another few hours. Flying through cyclones is not fun.
Sure enough, we survived the cyclone, the turbulence, the confusion and terror and had a few smooth hours of flying until we flew into Sydney. Just moments before we were due to land the plane was hit by lightening. The inside of the cabin glowed brightly as the plane jolted to the side. Everyone screamed and only moments later the plane landed. I was 16 when this happened and I was travelling with my older sister.
So every time someone rationalises flying to me I laugh a hysterical little laugh and precede to tell them that I have been on a horror flight. I know they can be survived but that doesn’t mean that they will not leave you scarred for life. Post-traumatic stress disorder is my crutch!
Of course, there are ways to deal with the fear of flying. Some people suggest that I take valium or sleeping pills but, mwahahahahaha, my phobia is not singular in its manifest. It is a multi-dimensional fear.
I cannot take sleeping pills or valium as I am also terrified of dying of deep-vein thrombosis (is this called DVTaviophobia?). Oh yes. DVT is painful and horrifying so I end up being the hat-full of interpretive dance woman who is doing leg exercises and bum exercises and arms-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care exercises every 45 minutes. Yes, that is right, 45 minutes. I do not sleep on these flights. Sleeping is risking life. Now if you are on a 2 hour short haul, this is not an issue but if you are on a 30 hour transit (like my last 2 long haul flights) this messes with your state of mind.
I usually get on a flight all red-eyed because I have been crying as I walk through customs (this is disconcerting for all) to take my seat. I really do pity the passengers sitting next to me. They never signed up for the batshit crazy that my family should be dealing with but my family eventually ignores me and the person sitting next to me cops it. I have held hands with multiple air stewards, an elderly woman with a suspected concussion, a New Zealand trekker, a reiki master (he was kinda cute and husband was ignoring me), a tax auditor on a business trip and another cute guy who was taking photos of me to upload to his social media to laugh at the wacked out woman on his flight. (Please note that despite being in the throes of an anxiety attack I can still admire hotness when hotness is near me).
This is not to say that my own family and friends don’t care. They try to calm me down, they whisper kind words, they ply me with alcohol. Recently, my son was insightful enough to calm me by telling me, and I quote, “You have nothing to worry about, mum. The pilot is male.” This was a cunning plan on his behalf as he hoped that he could make me angry enough to go into a feminist rant about women pilots being on par with male pilots and forgetting that I was airborne but my phobia is not easily distracted. I saw through his ruse and panicked despite his patriarchal statement.
But just as my phobia is two-fold, so is my problem. As much as I hate flying, I am afflicted with living in Australia. The only way to see any other country in the world is to fly. I am also afflicted with a malaise called reading. And my reading is worldly. It takes part in many different places in the world. When I read about quaint English cottages in the Lakes district where a doe-eye English ingenue is hiding from the squillionaire industrialist who is seeking her out – I want to go there. Every time I read a novel set in some exotic country, some dreamlike island, some remote mountain pass, some bustling city, I want to go there. I want to be there. I want to experience the same place, to judge the author (and oh yes, dear authors, I am judging your novel for its accuracy of its sense of place). I WANT to see these places, I want to experience them personally and not through the eyes of a writer. But I have had to overcome my fear to see these places – I blame all you writerly and readerly types for taunting me with places and making me need to cope with flying. I wish I could fly without fear. Perhaps I will eventually be able to overcome this terror. But in the meantime, I will opt to read rather than embark on another trip….for now.