As crazy as it sounds (you know, having a travel business and all) I actually had a massive fear of flying. Here’s my story and how I’ve been working through it…
As life passes by, it’s so interesting what pieces of information our body holds onto and what it disregards, what we are aware of and what lies dormant in our subconscious, waiting to be acknowledged.
For me, my first trip to Italy at 16 was filled with wonder and excitement. However on the flight back to Australia, I went through what people have nightmares about.
I’ve heard all the statistics, it’s safer to fly in a plane than to drive in a car and yeah I guess I’m still here to tell the story but at the age of 16, the traumatic experience of an emergency landing left me living in fear, in constant fight mode and enduring countless panic attacks and vomiting from extreme anxiousness, on every flight and even in the days leading up to my flights I was a complete mess.
From what I remember, I didn’t have a fear of flying before my flight from Milan to Japan. Towards the end of the flight we began to encounter extreme turbulence. Like nothing I have ever experienced to this day (and as you know I fly weekly). The lights began flickering and then the feeling of us literally falling out of the sky which then turned into shaking and what felt like inside down loops (but not the fun thrill-seeker type). Everyone was in sheer panic, including the air hostesses with a sea of vomit all over the isles and not a single dry eye on the plane. The announcements were in Japanese so it was unclear what was going on. This ordeal not only happened once. The pilot flew up higher again then about 10 minutes later, put us all through the experience again (that was just to get the lesson, thanks universe).
I remember being so still, scared to move. Silently praying, holding hands with my friends but also trying to come to terms with the fact that this might be the last living day I have. It’s traumatic thinking about this but read on (I promise it gets better).
We eventually did land. I’m not even sure if it was an airport or a field as it was dark and really late. We had to wait hours before they took us to another airport where we slept on the floor until the morning. We later found out we flew through the eye of a category 4 typhoon with winds up to 155km that also caused a landslide killing over 90 people (so I am thankful to be alive).
You can probably understand why this might have “triggered” my fear of flying. I have never allowed it to stop me pursuing travel but what a dichotomy right? The girl with a travel company had a fear of flying!
Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the gifts of different situations in traumatic experiences and up until a few months ago I thought I was going to carry this fear forever.
Over the past few years I have done so much work on myself around what this trigger brought me to realise. Funny enough, it’s never about the actual plane trauma but what feelings and emotions it bought up for me and what decisions I made about life in that moment. Themes around the fear of strangers and trust, which are all pretty common have been worked on but the main most recent one a few months ago was actually acknowledgement.
See, when we finally landed I called my mum hysterically crying, shaking and in total shock. She calmed me down and said “it will all be ok, you’re fine”. She was calm, didn’t really want the finer details but it was comforting to hear her voice.
But in that moment, with her calm voice, I made the decision that she didn’t care if I died. That even if things were so traumatic and terrifying for me, that it didn’t matter to her. Do I still love my mum? Of course I do! Did I know I was carrying this feeling? Not at all!
I made decisions around my mum and linked them to flying all those years ago. I had been carrying that fear, laying dormant in my subconscious, waiting for it to be acknowledged.
In May 2019, on the way to Greece with the help of 2 amazing friends, I got the realisation that this was in fact the link. I did call my mum, shared my realisation as stupid as it sounded and of course she cared. She said “isn’t it funny what your mind decides to make up?” And that’s exactly it. My mind created this decision based on the unsaid, when in fact my mum explained, she tried to stay calm to help me relax and calm down (of course she did)! But my logical mind didn’t take that on board. My ego, my subconscious mind made decisions and when I was on a plane, it reminded me of that fear, sneakily through creating all different scenarios that might happen.
I don’t know if I’ve “cured” by fear but I have worked bloody hard to overcome it. Since this realisation, I have taken 12 flights, not all have been sunshine and rainbows but for the first time I felt excited about taking off. My internal dialogue was like well this is a new feeling! Is it real? What’s going on?! I can sleep on planes without medication to numb the pain, I feel calm and relaxed and time goes way quicker when you’re not in fear the whole time!
I will of course continue to work on myself and what fears come up around flying, what feelings I feel on the plane (or before) but I hope this gives you some inspiration that trauma and triggers are all just feelings to be acknowledged and with work things can shift and change.
I don’t think it was “bad luck” to be on that flight. The universe is always trying to give us lessons and feelings to acknowledge and after we have those lessons, we can choose to let go of the fear and with awareness change your perception of the situations around you.
I’ve shared some strategies I use on the plane to help calm myself down in Conscious Travel Community Facebook Group. Check them out!