I’m on a plane over New Mexico right now (well, not right now right now, when I’m posting this or you’re reading this. I mean maybe I am. It’s just a highly unlikely coincidence.)
I’ve been saying to a lot of people lately that I’m not afraid of flying, and I see now that I was so, so very wrong about that. I thought I was telling the truth. But sitting on this plane right now, I don’t actually think I’ve gone a whole minute without being fully aware of a pervasive sense that I’m stuck in a poorly ventilated tin can death trap.
Let me give you (future me who’s reading this and trying to convince herself she’s really not afraid of flying) a few examples that I’ve come to realize do not connote a healthy level of fear:
1. As I sent that last-minute text to my husband before I had to turn the phone off on the tarmac, I wondered whether he would think to post my message to my friends on FB when I died so they could know the last sweet sentiment I said to anyone I loved.
2. I’ve repeatedly cycled through all my dozens of plane crash stories, trying to figure out which one best applies to my current flying environment and whether I’d die if any one of a wide variety of malfunction or human-error scenarios occurs.
3. When we lifted off I was looking out the window watching the city get smaller and smaller, and with every miniscule lag in acceleration (typical of even a successful takeoff), I was Zen-preparing myself to watch that ground start to tilt and get bigger again.
4. I was pretty convinced that the drawn-out grinding sound I heard on the ascent was an engine failing.
5. I practically ran back from the bathroom because there was a small jolt of turbulence and I needed to get back to the safety of my seatbelt before a panel ripped off the plane and I got sucked out the hole like that one lady did in that one Cracked article I read that one time.
6. When we landed on my first flight we turned into the airport at an angle, and all I could imagine was the plane barrel-rolling out of control and plummeting into the earth.
7. Whenever we went into a cloud I was ready for the moment another unseen plane collided headlong with ours, and I couldn’t decide just how likely I was to even know what hit me in the fractions of a second it’d take for me to get crushed or exploded to death. (I mean in a head-on collision, our plane and the other plane would each probably be going ~500 mph for an effective speed of ~1000 mph, or 450 m/s, and if our plane was in the neighborhood of 100m long, then at row 25 I’d be dead in about a tenth of a second and it’s arguable whether all of that sensory information could manifest a conscious acknowledgement in that time, although I have a sinking feeling I might get to enjoy a few milliseconds of perfect imminent-death awareness. P.S. that is why you learn algebra, my friends.)
I know that air travel is safe. I know this. I know that even if problems occur I’m likely to make it out just peachy. But none of that matters when you’re dealing with a phobia. Talking yourself out of a death phobia is pretty useless.
And I still fly. Regularly, even. At the beach I still swim out into water that’s probably deep enough to hold great white sharks and I inadvertently do my best injured seal impression trying to stay afloat. I’m totally willing to drive on the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway even though I’m pretty sure the bridge is going to collapse and I’m going to survive both the impact and the threat of drowning only to be shredded alive by a pack of ravenous alligators. I sometimes even lean against railings on high balconies, although that just seems foolhardy when I can get the same view just standing near the edge rather than risking death-by-shoddy-railing-craftsmanship.
It’s just I feel nauseous every single time I get on a plane.