Edited version. Full version is here on my other blog.

I was nervous going into this course. Normally, when I get on a plane and I’m scared, I do everything I can to block out the fear and the negative thoughts and try to ignore them. But today I was actually going to face them and not block them and it seemed like it was going to be a difficult thing to do.

But despite being nervous and really hoping nothing would come up that would make me feel any worse, I found that I actually appreciated the moments that could have seemed harsh but were just… realistic. I think that was the biggest thing I took away from the day.

The first part of the morning was very informal, and a lot to do with putting us at ease. Just chatting about our fears and asking questions and making many, many notes for later. I don’t know that I was ever that easeful (it’s a real word!) but it was a nice start to the day. Then we went out to the plane.

I was totally unprepared for how real it felt in there. All the noises and the same sensations, and I guess that that element of surprise made it a bit more intense. I mean, when I get on a real plane, I’ve usually been hanging around in an airport for a few hours and watching planes, thinking about the flight and mentally bracing myself. Today it went from sitting in a café in a field in Alton, to being on a plane. Keith talked us through all the preparation that goes into flights and all the things that pilots plan for. There were loads of questions and answers. Then muscle relaxation, breathing and elastic band pinging while watching videos.

Again, one of those little things that clicked in my brain and made a big difference was the element of facing reality. I guess that, being afraid of flying, by asking so many little questions we’re kind of looking for reassurance that the things we fear the most can’t ever happen, or even confirmation that we’re right to be afraid. And when, in response to one of these worries, someone says, ‘yes but the chances of that are one in a million,’ it can feel like they’re avoiding the question. It doesn’t take your worry away at all. An absolute answer, even if it’s not the one you wanted, is much more reassuring. Of course, that’s just my point of view. I think that one answer (to a question I can’t even remember) finally hit it home that nothing is risk free, but flying could be one of many things in life where you consider the risk, then feel you can safely ignore it.

Lunch was more questions and answers over sandwiches and cake and then in the afternoon we looked at the things that happen in-flight, the sensations we feel as passengers and what causes them and how different reality is from what our brains tell us. We also spent a lot of time on the very specific issues that each of us had brought to the course. I found it easier to participate in this part of the day, I suppose because as I fly fairly regularly it was a lot easier to relate to. I guess this is where the personalisation element comes in, as I imagine this part is quite different depending on the people on the course. Still, most of what we talked about linked back to the morning and the amount of planning and level of control over all aspects of a flight. It took most of the day, but it really sunk in that absolutely nothing in flying is left up to chance.

And then what I think was the most useful things we did. We looked at different scenarios and tried to think them through in the same way pilots do. When a question occurs, as it frequently does, and we don’t have a tame pilot around to answer it for us, we can think it through ourselves and come to a rational (and hopefully correct) answer. Then we moved onto actual strategies and again, I think this was where the individualised element of the course really came into play. The three of us had very different issues but Keith made sure each of us had a concrete strategy we could follow, even if it was just one thing we needed to do. Not necessarily something easy, but something real.

I drove away feeling like my brain had been completely scrambled, but not in a bad way. I arrived home and it struck me that it was more worth telling everyone that I’d driven safely from Alton to Andover, than it had been telling everyone I’d safely taken a flight from Kiev to London.

So what can I say in conclusion? Keith and Vivienne run a brilliant course! They did absolutely everything to make sure the day was useful, not stressful and gave us everything we needed. It was so great being such a small group and having the day so focussed on the stuff we needed. I’m pretty curious to see the effects in two weeks when I fly back to Kiev.

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