Monday, June 22, 2009

I am pteromechanophobia

Something to know about me- I am fear of flying. No, I said it right. I am not just afraid to fly, a condition which has five distinct phobia categories to choose from: aerophobia, aviatophobia, aviophobia, pteromechanophobia and OMG-what-am-I-doing-40,000feetintheairophia. I am the epitome of aviatophobia. So, it's no wonder that weeks into this upcoming intercontinental flight I've already had three or four episodes of sheer terror.

Like last week, Wayne and I were in the toilet paper aisle at Happy Market, busily chatting away. The radio was playing over the store PA system and I'd hardly even noticed it because we were talking about somethingorother. Then just as we turned the corner I heard "Continental Airlines 777, Flight 61 made an emergency landing after... ".

At the check out counter and on the way home. Yes, twice.
Boni: The what? The pilot what?
Wayne: He had a heart attack.
Boni: And died?
Wayne: Yes, but the plane landed safely and no one was injured.
Boni: And so, who flew the plane?
Wayne: The co-pilot. (duh)

Well, he didn't actually say "duh" because he loves me, but I know he wanted to.

Yesterday, out of the blue.
Boni: How many pilots are there in planes?
Wayne: Two. And a flight engineer.
Boni: And, if..
Wayne: So, if something happens to the pilot the co-pilot flies the plane.
Boni: And, if both pilots have heart attacks?

And before that, while I was getting dressed for work, rolling my hair at 6:00 am, feeling okay for the day, I hear that an Air France flight went "missing". That's it, bad hair day.

Then today, for no apparent reason, I check my flight schedule. Crap! I leave a day earlier than I thought. Thump, thump, thump, there it is, the incessant sound of my heart pumping blood to my already overparanoid brain. A day earlier. I'm already scared, so what do you think I do? I swear, it's the inanest thing! I google "most recent flight accidents" as if it will magically erase the visions I am having of plunging into the depths of the ocean. I don't know why I do these things. Like why do I insist on keeping the window shade up the entire flight? As if my personally acknowledging the fact that we are flying over polar ice caps will prevent the airplane from crashing into them. And, why do I not watch movies to distract me, but instead choose to listen carefully to every sound as if I could single-handedly save us by identifying that mysterious click-clack coming from the rear of the cabin, near the left engine. I only read on planes so that my mind will have to create images and piece together scripts, so it works overtime on fantasy instead of the terrible reality of being where no birds can even fly.

When I taught 3rd grade, my favorite subject was Air & Flight because as a teacher, we all know "knowledge is power" and I was going to teach my students all about how planes fly and it was going to be really cool and also possibly help me conquer my own fears. Yeah, that was the plan. It was great fun. We labeled our paper mache planes and did lengthy presentations on what parts did what jobs. We learned all about the layers of the atmosphere and how planes flew in them; horizontal and vertical stabilizers and ailerons; wind lift and much more. We took a trip to the airport and got to sit in the planes, talked to pilots and learned neat trivia like how much safer it is to fly than to drive and how turbulence was just like driving down a bumpy cascao (coral paved) road. We even got to do some neat systematic desensitization exercises to relieve tension in flight and I learned how to relinquish control to the pilot and not call attention to every minor crack in the airplane plexi-glass window that separated us from the stratosphere a mere two inches. Okay, so that wasn't in the curriculum map, but it was really important!

I've since realized that no amount of information, desensitization or rationalization will ever completely erase this fear. I'ts not like the more I fly, the better it gets because the more I fly the more I wonder if this is the flight? Ugh. Like now, my hands are already sweaty and I'm already frustrated that maybe the GPS thingamajiggy will be broken and I won't be able to obsessively watch the airplane inch closer to it's final destination. And, like now, I've built up such a panic that I've lost the point of this post. Ah, yes. It was to leave tangible proof, in case my plane makes a "water landing" (yeah right) and I don't, that aerophobia is no laughing matter. Unless of course you're laughing at me, because that would be appropriate.


Capt Tom Bunn LCSW said...

Absolutely right. No amount of information changes the feelings because the brain reacts on its own to cause the feelings.

Desensitization doesn't work for fear of flying because desensitization requires careful adjustment of intensity. You can't adjust the intensity of flying; you either are flying or not.

Rationalization does work for some people, but not if you see through the rationalization.

And it doesn't get better; as you continue to fly, it gets worse until something is done to effectively turn it around and make it better and better.

Having specialized in this for almost thirty years as both an airline captain and a licensed therapist, I have found ways that work - not just for mild cases - but for everyone, no matter how difficult the problem.

Articles on how fear of flying CAN be conquered are at

bigsoxfan said...

I'm impressed as all get out by your commenter. SPAM can be a good thing. I'm with the rationalization crowd. I focused on the plane crashes, read the reports, and while scaring myself silly, came to the realization that too many things have to go wrong to worry about it. You could spend your time thinking about it, but too many other things are much more likely to do you in. What is the word for fear of everything? Have a fun trip and maybe look up the Captain while you are away.