Medical student... and more scared of flying than hospitals!!

Hi all,

Perhaps writing down why I am so petrified of flying may be of some help in overcoming my fear.

I am a third year medical student at the University of Manchester, and I have just started my clinical years. During the course of my studies and work experience I have seen all the kinds of things shown on TVs, only without the perfect make up and hair.
I have witnessed countless deaths, most through chronic conditions which caused the patients to slip away slowly and sometimes in agonising pain. Strangely, during the actual deaths (because death can take anywhere from seconds to days to unfold) I was calm, composed and cold headedly managing to do my job. Most people would see this as a feat in itself, and I am not unaware that it isn't for anybody.
But these days I board a plane, and promptly have a panic attack. It takes me months to prepare myself for a flight, and I now need high doses of valium to simply get through take off. I cannot express the anguish and fear that overcome me when I reach the airport. My hear rate hits the ceiling, my breathing becomes difficult and the colour drains from my cheeks. I completely lose touch with reality and go back to a state of infancy with no control over my emotions. I can no longer sleep on flights, and it takes me days to recover. I start smoking or nicotine therapy like clockwork when I know I have to fly and I feel stupid, weak and self indulgent just talking about this fear.
I have seen people face fear in ways which no human being should have to. Not only did these people face their fears, some of them overcame it.

I am begging for help to be able to do the same thing, because I fear that this is the tip of the iceberg. I fear that I have channeled all my fears about death and our mortality as humans into flying, because I see it as such an immediate and unavoidable threat to my life. I fear that this is going to have an impact on my future job, and that I won't be able to use my gift to carry out my job, and save people.

I hope that sharing the deepest of my fears will slowly help me overcome them, and I hope that by sharing this information with you that someone will, if not give me an answer (which I don't expect), at least be able to share with me how they managed to overcome or at least manage their fear, and face it like a man.

Thank you in advance, and please ask if you have any questions. Also, if I can be of any assistance to anyone who fears anything medical please do not hesitate!

Yours truly,

Marcello

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Hi Marcello
The first thing I think about when I read your story is how many years you have to train in order that you can save lives and make a career in medicine. It cant be easy, and I suspect only the best get through and make it.

Its the same for pilots. They (thankfully!) have to do alot of training before they get to fly a jumbo jet with 200 odd people on it. They wouldn't do it if they thought they were going die. The scenarios that most pilots are trained for are ridiculous and never happen. Look at that guy that ditched on the Hudson river - they are trained for it, but when did you ever read about that happening before?. Aircrafts these days use state of the art technology, much like most medical equipment, so if you can trust in your medical stuff maybe you can find some parallels with aircraft technology?

The other thing to say is that I totally feel your fear too. The bit about feeling as though you are state of infancy with no control over your emotions is EXACTLY what I feel. Its scary, and I hate it. I tried beta blockers when I flew recently (flew for the first time in 15 years), you obviously know more than me, but I think they helped with the physical side but the emotional side was still there loud and clear.

I don't have any answers, but this forum will, and I just wanted to say that I thought your post was very brave and honest and I hope that like the rest of us this forum you start trying to beat that fear!
Lois
Hi Marcello,

Thanks ever so much to you for posting such an interesting message.

I think that fear of something as safe as flying is always only the tip of the iceberg, and that it is so for everybody with such fear. I feel that your conclusion however is wrong, i.e. that it will have an impact on how you carry out your job. If indeed you can't control fear itself, you are the only one responsible for the impact it may have, and consequently you may want to work on limiting it.

Have you asked yourself why it would be that you would channel your fear of dying into this specific fear of flying, and not a fear of driving for example, or a fear of a disease? I've often asked myselft this but have no answer as yet.

Anyways I picked up a fear of flying 3 years ago and before December last year I thought I'd never get onto a plane ever again. I sometimes travelled for 3 or 4 days by train or boat to get to my destination. Then I met a man who lives in Greece and had to make a choice between missing an opportunity to be with a great person, and indulging into my morbid fear of flying. A choice between Eros and Thanatos, really, and I chose life! I've been committed to this choice ever since and have flown three times back and forth to Athens, in just 5 months, after 3 years of no flying at all.

I still cry every time at take off, but refuse to take any valium, because if we need to make an emergency landing, I want to be awake to evacuate quickly! I tell myself i might indeed die on the flight, but I shall deal with death once i am facing it, not right now. For this second i am alive, and the next, is irrelevant.

I picture myself in the pilot's cabin and imagine what great view he must have here above the clouds.

I force myself to feel priviledged to live in an era where we can do something as poetic as going through the clouds.

I value and respect my fear as a manifestation of my weakness as a human being, something that makes me complete, and a woman rather than a machine. It is an indicator of how much i love life, hence it is useful.

I also see it as an indication of how much i love that man who is waiting for me on the other side; if it were easy perhaps i wouldn't quite know how much i want to see him.

And when i'm not flying, i train my mind to resist fear or hardship. I exercise a lot and go boxing, to try and assess just how much resource I have. Even when i feel i can't run faster, I go up one level on the treadmill, which shows I was underestimating myself. I then transfer this self-confidence to flying: even when i feel i can't, i actually can, and so i do!

So we must face life before we face death, and fear is part of life. Enjoy it as being part of life, and face death the day you have to.

That would be my advice, but what do i know?

All the very best Marcello, thanks again for sharing.
Claire-Amandine
Marcello there are things that you mention here that are beyond the scope of this network. With regard to flying it is better to face the fear directly rather than use any sort of drug or stimulant.

As you say it's unlikely that anyone will be able to provide you with an answer...the fear is yours and you have to find the method to overcome it.

Keith
I was very moved by your posting
Dear Claire-Amandine,

What a fantastic way of living you have found yourself. Such capacity to live in the moment and to not let fear rule your life is the greatest gift you could have given yourself. You can (and probably will be) very proud on myself for dealing with your fear of flying the way you do.

Thanks for your stimulating share.

Nadine
Dear Marcello,

Thank you very much for sharing your feelings as open and honest as you did. It is great you took the first step to get over your fear, and that is looking for help.

I am very sorry to hear in your story your harsh feelings towards yourself. You are not weak because of your fear of flying!! When you write about people facing death because of illness and how they deal with it, and that you feel weak because you can´t face your fear of flying you are really bringing yourself down. One of the big differences between the 2 situations is that terminally ill patients really do face their death, there is nothing irrational about it so they have to deal with it. Fear of flying is irrational by definition, and probably that aspect makes it hard to deal with. In addition, you don´t really have to fly, you do have the choice, so it is easier to avoid than to face the fear. That´s also only human (I would rather run from a bear than fight it, and I think it would be a pretty clever decision). When truly facing death (because of illness or any other reason) you are forced to accept it and the fear that comes with it, and probably will do so.

I don´t know whether it will help to know why you channel your fear of dying into flying (assuming that is even truly the case), and the fact is± it doesn´t matter. Maybe freudian therapists would disagree with me, but I feel that you don´t have to know why you fear something before you can handle the fear. Basically, it doesn´t matter why you are afraid, the only thing you have to do is to stop being afraid. And ofcourse that last part `just stop being afraid` is not as easy as it sounds (or we would all not be on this board).

I too think that your fear of flying will not influence your job a lot, except for when you decide to get into research or something. As far as I know physicians do not have to travel that much. But this is only a detail. Your fear might or might not influence your job, but probably it influences much much more. And it should not influence anything. That´s just not worth it (mind you, these words come from a big fear of flying `sufferer` who knows what to see but not how to practice it for herself).

My main message to you would be that you are NOT weak. By looking for help to handle your fear you did face it `like a man` (I certainly don´t like this saying). I think you could benefit from some professional help and would encourage you to find some. Please also have a look into Mindfulness, it is a technique to keep you grounded and might help whenever a panic attack or negative thoughts come up. But it helps you to stay more relaxed in general, which can never hurt anyone.

Good luck and please feel free to share your fears and thoughts with us, we know how you feel.

Kind regards,

Nadine
Hello,

Firstly - thank you for being so open. I know a lot of us think there is only us who feels this way - knowing you're not alone is a comfort if nothing else.

I live in Manchester and have attended St Marys over a six month period for treatment and I was actually more scared of going there (finding a parking space was scary enough!) than of flying and I guess its because of not understanding. You have the medical knowledge to understand how, why and when things are happening but flying is out of your grasp.

Try to remember - if I came into a hospital where you were and I was terrified what would you tell me? You'd explain to me, reassure me, tell me its okay and not to worry.

We all need that reassurance sometimes :)

Jo x
Hi Marcello,

It was really interesting to read your message. I have been able, through this website and particularly through Keith's CDs, to fly without feeling that death was a certain by product of the journey! I have flown a great deal, all my life and recently developed a fear of flying. I never mentioned it, thinking that talking about it would make the fear more real, as well as feeling very silly about it! The thing that helped me was knowing as much as I could about the technicalities of flying, what all the noises and the feelings actually were as opposed to what I perceived them to be. The information on the CDs gave me facts to hold on to when I am flying and the ability to answer my own questions. I had been flying 'KNOWING' I was going to die each time for about three years. Now I still feel anxious about flying but I don't feel that death is a certainty. Flying without fear seems to be a bit of a journey in itself but I get better with each flight.

Really good luck with this. You've certainly come to the right place.
Katharine.

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