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What was different about this flight?
In the run up to the flight, I didn’t spend as much time dwelling on it or panicking, and I think the course had a lot to do with that. There wasn’t as much to speculate about and I could answer a lot of questions that came up on my own. Having said that, in the week before there were a couple of days when the nerves did hit, and badly! I probably crammed a week’s worth of fretting into two days. My mantra for the week was, ‘there’s nothing to be scared of. You know this!’
On the day before the flight I was incredibly stressed but, weirdly, not about the flight itself. I know I can get on a plane and be terrified for 3 hours. It was more like I was worried that all the time/effort I’d put in to overcoming this fear wouldn’t work and I’d let myself down and I’d just hate myself for it. Still, rather than go down that road I just tried to accept that yes, I probably would feel nervous. But so long as I felt less nervous than I had done on previous flights then it was still progress.
On the morning of the flight I was very nervous. I had my phone out and was on the verge of calling Keith for a bit of last minute reassurance. But two things stopped me. The first was that it was 5.30am and, nice guy as Keith is, I don’t know anyone who likes being woken at 5.30. The second was that I didn’t know what I wanted him to say. Did I want to hear that my flight would be completely fine? No, because I wouldn’t have believed that. Did I want to be reminded of diaphragmatic breathing and other techniques? No, I remembered all those. Did I want to be told to pull myself together? No, that would’ve made me cry. I sort of realised that this was the point at which I had to take on this fear on my own. As Keith has said many times, he can’t cure a fear of flying; he can only give us what we need to deal with it ourselves.
So, the airport was busy and stressful. I was nervous and filled the time buying stuff I don’t need with money I don’t have. When my flight was called, I started to go through my strategy. I was lucky that waiting by the gate I could see both runways so I watched planes landing and taking off and tried to focus on how routine it all was. Once I’d sat down on the plane I remembered Keith’s words about reading the safety leaflet thing so did that, telling myself, ‘this isn’t tempting fate, it’s just in case… also I could draw way better pictures than these.’ I had a jolt of fear as the plane was pushed back from the stand, so focused on the safety video (again with the goofy cartoons.) As we taxied out to the runway I did the breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. Then take-off – the ‘worst’ bit. I looked out the window and thought about the take-off video. Usually I count to try and keep my fear under control. This time I was thinking, ‘pilot sets take-off power… they know it’s going to take-off… still room to stop… still room to stop… rotate… up we go… wheels up… clunk… another safe take-off… oh wait, I should be counting…. ‘ I got to about 20 and then we were in the clouds and couldn’t see anything.
‘We’re probably banking now but I totally can’t tell… how cool is that, the plane could be on its side and we’d never know… it probably isn’t, though.’
I got to about 150 before thinking the whole counting thing was a bit redundant. I was more intent on listening for the engines going quiet as we levelled off and feeling all the sensations that go with that (and feeling smug for recognising them.) Coming out of the clouds was a bit disorientating as we were banking. So I went from seeing nothing and feeling like we were level, to seeing sky and realising we weren’t. But it just didn’t scare me for some reason.
As soon as possible, I got my ipod out, put on the ‘calming music’ track from the CD and started reading. I’d chosen a book I’d read before. Funny, light-hearted and easy reading. And that was it… I wasn’t on the edge of my seat watching and listening for any little thing that might signal danger. I was actually relaxed! How weird is that?! I didn’t have the meal but more because I wasn’t hungry and it smelt grim. Later on I had a beer. That’s sort of food, isn’t it?
As we started the descent, I listened to the tracks on the CD explaining descending and landing. As we descended, we entered the clouds and it got quite bumpy. The plane was turning a lot and bumping around and I had a really weird feeling. I thought to myself, ‘this should be scary.’ I knew that this would have scared me in the past. And then I realised that getting scared wouldn’t actually make the slightest bit of difference to anything. It was like I then had a choice between being scared or relaxing and letting the pilots do their thing, and I was able to take the second option.
After we landed, I didn’t let out a giant sigh of relief like normal. In fact, my mind was already on getting through passport control and what I was going to do when I got back to my flat. But eventually it dawned (I can be a bit slow). That had been a good flight! No panic, no tears, just 2-and-a-bit hours of calmly sitting and reading. Okay, so it took quite a bit of effort, but still! That was awesome! So I celebrated by having a nap, going to get some beers and giving Keith a call to say thanks.
I really don’t think I could’ve done this without the help I’ve had from this site and the course and I’m massively grateful. It’s 11 weeks until my next flight and hopefully I’ll be able to remember everything that worked today and have another good flight.
Sorry this has been a bit long!