Recovery Stories are taken from my book: Overcoming Panic, Anxiety & Phobias: New Strategies to Free Yourself From Worry and Fear, Babior and Goldman, Whole Person Press
Jane's Story ~
You can overcome your fear of flying, too!
A strange thing happened to me on a short, one-hour plane trip. As the plane rumbled down the taxiway, my neck stiffened up, my heart started to race, and my mouth felt like cotton. Then my head felt heavy, but I also felt dizzy. The pilot announced we were all clear for take-off, and powered down on the throttle. I couldn't swallow, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't think. As the 727 lifted off the runway, I couldn't even make out the words my husband was saying to me. My brain froze and my body belonged to somebody else.
Then, in less than sixty seconds, the plane was climbing steadily, and I took a deep breath and shuddered, and I was fine again. Later, I realized it was a textbook panic attack, but for the next sixteen years, my panic experience developed into a full-blown phobia of flying. I did fly from time to time, but I continued to have major Panic attacks, so bad that for days ahead, I was nearly incoherent and nonfunctional.
Over the years, I fine-tuned my panic to a sixty-second period from the time the airplane tires lift off the ground to when the plane begins to level off to a more gradual climb. I could joke about it, but I was terrified of those sixty seconds. I tried everything to relax... I took Valium, I drank Scotch, I read trashy sex stories... I tried every diversion I could think of, but when those tires lifted off, I went into the ozone layer! My husband was wonderful, but he couldn't give me the magic words to stop the way I was feeling. What was I afraid of? After the first panic attack, I guess I was afraid that same feeling would happen and I began to anticipate it.
When it continued to happen, I developed a behavior pattern that I didn't know how to change, and it locked in.
The final straw came when I won a ten-day, all expenses paid trip to Europe and passed it up because I couldn't fly. I decided to get therapy and lick this thing once and for all. "Do you worry about other things besides flying?" was the first question the therapist asked. Ha! I could write a book on worry and anxiety. During the next few weeks, I discovered that my habit of worry was another learned behavior, and the anxiety I constantly experienced was the result of a steady flow of adrenaline, triggered by all that unnecessary worry.
The first time I flew successfully, I was ecstatic. I took gentle breaths, and gave in to the easy motion. I have the tools at my command now, but I don't want ever to slip backwards, and that takes practice with my newly learned relaxation techniques, imagining myself on a plane, and breathing steadily. These and other exercises have helped with everyday stresses and insomnia.
I was often very anxious. I had difficulty in crowds and difficulty being with people. I would perspire, feel uncomfortable, become anxious, and my heart would pound. I felt very uneasy and uncomfortable.
My career has gone very well. In the course of eight years, I had four promotions. But because I had this problem, I always wondered if I would be exposed or discovered.
When I was in charge of meetings, it was getting the meeting started that caused me to feel uncomfortable. I felt insecure and not in command of what I was doing. Once the meeting got under way, I usually was okay, bur I still felt that everyone was focused on me and that something I did would probably be wrong. I felt that people were looking at me, and I worried about my own inner feelings instead of thinking about the situation.
I was very frustrated. It was easier if people came into my office because that was my territory and I could control it better, but sometimes I would look at my calendar for the day and just not even want to go in to work. I could see that it would be one confrontation after another. My sick days increased, which was unusual for me.
I felt as though I was a fraud even though I wasn’t. I wondered if I really belonged in this position, at a fairly young age, with a lot of responsibility. I worried that everyone would discover that I was inadequate or incapable of doing the job or less qualified than my subordinates. I believed that future promotions would not be given to me, although that proved to be totally inaccurate.
One of the things I had to do to recover was not try to be all things to all people. I cut back on stress on the job and the number of meetings I attended — things like that. Stress management helped a good deal. I began focusing on what I was doing instead of on myself. That helped, and now I feel much better. My excessive sweating and trembling are past memories now. I still experience a few butterflies at times, but when I think about the fact that I have prepared well and have some good things to say, I can focus on the situation. I have learned to feel much more comfortable with myself.
To find out more about your anxiety and panic symptoms, visit my anxiety and panic symptoms checklist