At a dig in Egypt in 1898, an artifact was unearthed dating back to 200 BCE. It was named, “The Saqqara Bird.”
The small light weight “toy” (if it should be called such a thing) was shaped and carved to appear like an aerial vehicle, an airplane or glider of some kind, with the face of a bird chiseled into the front where the cockpit would be located. The trinket was made of sycamore wood and on parchment found nearby inside the tomb it was discovered in, were written the words, “I want to fly.” The story fascinates me to no end.
Even more than 2200 years ago, people wanted to be in the sky.
I am absolutely terrified of flying. Heights don’t bother me. Commercial flight, on the other hand, is something I try to avoid. Flying in a plane is one of three fears I deal with.
One phobia is, ticks. The kind that painlessly burrow under the skin and spread disease. Chewing through the flesh like a mini drill bit; cramming it’s nasty head inside.
The third is having the inability to complete my goals.
Many moons ago whilst living the old life, I had to board a plane and travel from Portland Maine, to Maryland. An idea I did not take well. I suffered in silence and fought overwhelming anxiety.
I subtly debated. I sought alternate venues. I wished to instead load the car with three days of luggage, and just drive the damn thing. It wasn’t that far.
Nonetheless, airline tickets were purchased and I was destined to be confined inside a long metal coffin with wings, traveling at speeds of hundreds of miles an hour, thousands of feet off the ground.
I know… I know. Flying is considered the safest mode of travel. I get it.
But… I don’t understand the fear of spiders, clowns or water slides. The fear of the dark, or thunderstorms. We all have our phobias to face. Mine happens to be air travel.
Some avoid their fears altogether. Some tackle them head on. Despite the fact I suffer with a few, I have managed to kill some phobias in my forty years.
Roller coasters that go upside down and loopy loop. My fear of heights and deep ocean water. I once conquered a fear of driving during a blizzard at the peak of a Maine winter. I’ve always avoided driving during storms, and instead stock and prepare the home before hand to ensure I could stay put and hunker down. I was scared to death of becoming a side of the road fatality.
The household needed medicine, therefore the trip was necessary. Once I was able to navigate the slippery ice and snow covered streets with more ease, and find some comfort behind the wheel, by the end of the excursion I was doing donuts in the parking lot and sliding sideways down the empty roads by ripping up on the emergency break. Ahhh. The good ol days.
Flying was mandatory. Up until that point in my life, I was able to avoid air travel. I never found a need to be inside a plane. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If it’s possible to walk, boat, train, drive, bus or bicycle… that’s the method I desire. Call me old fashion.
The anxiety was so intense, I made an appointment to visit my doctor. The only information I provided on my paperwork detailing the reason for my visit was, “consultation.”
Sitting on the exam table, just thinking about the events yet to come, I was sweating through my shirt and chewing my nails till my fingertips bled.
The doctor came in rifling through his clipboard papers and didn’t make eye contact for a time. He seemed to shuffle through the room and making obvious attempts to ignore me. As though I was wasting his time. Finally he spoke after a minute of silence, “So… what can I help you with today?”
“I have an abject fear of flying, Doc. I know it sounds stupid. The idea and thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. I’ll be in the sky next month and I dread the idea to the core of my being.”
He paused mid stride and turned to glance me over. “Really? I’ve never treated a phobia before. Flying you say? Being in a plane?”
I was back to ripping skin from my thumb with my teeth, and nodded my reply.
He pondered my situation, “OK… OK… I’ve read a peer review paper on such a thing, and if I remember correctly there was some good ideas in the pipeline. Hang on a second. Let me look up something really quick.” He sat at his computer and browsed material on his screen.
I wiped sweat from my eyes.
“Yes. Right here. I found it. OK. We can go a couple of different routes with this.”
“What do they say?”
I laughed, “Drugs? Really? I’m not big on pills.”
He double checked his source, “Jeremy, I’m going to prescribe you with (name) and I’ve never told a patient this before, but you have my permission to experiment with (name). I want you to take a minimal dose of one at first, see how it feels, then up your own dose until the day of travel. I’m allowing you to find that balance that suits your anxiety, and you’ll have enough to get through until the return trip home. How does this make you feel?”
“Experiment?… This is weird.”
“Yes. After you pick up (name) wait a couple of days, think about flying and being in a plane, and if the anxiety disappears after one small dose, then you know what the limitations are. You can set your own boundaries.”
“Ummm. I suppose. If there isn’t anything else you can recommend.”
“You’ll have forty tablets.”
Experiment I did, and I had thirty days to figure it out. I tested my anxiety and prescribed my own doses. Sometimes I’d go days without it, but when the need was warranted, I’d pop a pill or two, find my balance and levels of tolerance and the anxiety would vanish. Indeed a unique experience.
Sitting at an airport eatery on the day of the trip, waiting to board, I was so nervous I popped four pills and drank a double gin and tonic in two gulps. All that was left, was to wait to enter the plane.
I stumbled into a small shop to purchase a magazine for the journey and when I finally crossed the threshold into the flying metal death machine, I was seated directly over the landing gear beside a circular window. I buried my face into the pages, kept my head down low for the entire flight and hoped it was smooth and incident free.
It was over before I knew it. I don’t remember the take off or the landing. I never once stole a glance out the window and every word that came through the plane’s cabin speakers were, “Wa wa wa. Wa wa wa wa wa waaa. Ba ba ba, wa wa wa wa.”
I remember nothing. I don’t recall what I read in the magazine. All I can manage to visualize was a science fiction character on the front cover.
As a result of not remembering the trip above the clouds, I was convinced my fear was conquered. Therefore, once settled in Maryland, I dumped the remainder of the pills down the toilet.
Oh, how I regret discarding my prescription.
The entire trip home to Maine was a personal nightmare. A white knuckle grip on the arm rests. Bouncing knees, stress headache, my stomach assaulted with nausea and unrelenting butterflies, bloody fingertips from compulsive nail biting and I felt every air bump, crosswind, tremble of turbulence and convinced I was a dead man. I must have looked crazy to the other passengers. My fear was still very much alive. I may have even kissed the ground upon arrival.
So, with that said, come spring or summer of 2017, I will be venturing to our Capital airport and look into flying lessons. After some dialogue with a friend, who is working toward a license, after the initial starter lessons are completed and the plane is in the air, the controls are then handed off to the student. I don’t have to take off, I don’t have to land. All I will do is fly.
I think I need to be in control of the craft in order to conquer my fear. I don’t want to pop pills and pound down liquor every time air travel is needed. I may be wrong in wanting to spend a little money to get over my issues, but it’s an experiment I’m willing to try. If it doesn’t work… I’ll try something different. Maybe hypnosis. My own bridge to cross if unsuccessful. I am determined to make this happen. I need to kill my phobias.
After the phone call at the safe-house and the invitation, traveling to a family member’s home with the dog beside me at nine at night, my fight or flight issues kicked into high gear. I decided I didn’t want to be a charity case. I didn’t want to discuss my current problems with loved ones. I didn’t want to be coddled and told everything was going to be fine.
Instead of pulling into the driveway, I screamed by the home at one hundred miles an hour with Zeppelin cranked as loud as I could handle it and continued driving into the night. It was time to consider the life of a vagabond.
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