Sometimes You Have To Face Your Fears

I’m afraid of a lot of things: illness, failure, birds, the mouse living in my roommate’s wall, interacting with strangers, the list goes on. But I’m only human! It’s natural that I have a lot of fears. What’s important is that I’ve been trying very hard to overcome my fears. Well, at least the ones that negatively impact my life. My fear of birds isn’t hurting me, so there’s no need to fight that one.

If you let it, fear can take over your life. I’ve been there! I let agoraphobia control me for three months (I’ll tell that story some other time) before I realized it was getting in the way of achieving my goals. When your fear starts to control you, that’s when you need to step in and do something about it. It will be scary and stressful, but it has to be done.

Last year, I overcame one of my biggest fears: Flying. My fear of flying started on a family vacation to Disney World when I was five years old. I don’t remember much about the trip, but I do remember overhearing my mom say she was afraid of flying. At the time, I thought my mom was fearless, so if she was afraid of planes, they had to be terrifying death traps. Why else would my mom be scared? For 16 years, I shared my mom’s fear of flying. (Mom, I’m very sorry to blame you for my fear of flying, but it kind of was your fault.)

As I got older, I found reasons to be afraid of flying other than “because my mom said it’s scary.” I’m a control freak, so being on a plane terrifies me since I have absolutely no control. At least when I’m a passenger in a car I can see through the windows and warn the driver if I see danger. I can’t warn a pilot about danger! I have to trust the pilot with my life, and that is horrifying. That’s a whole lot of trust to put into the hands of a stranger.

Also, turbulence freaks me out. When I was 16, my parents and I flew to California to visit my brother. During takeoff, there was a lot of turbulence, and I spent the entire trip still feeling shaky from the bumpy plane ride. When we got ready to board the plane to fly home, I had a full-fledged panic attack. A flight attendant tried to explain to me that there was nothing scary about flying by describing the mechanics of the plane, but that made my panic worse. No amount of science and technology can make me believe that an airplane can stay up in the sky. I’ve convinced myself that planes run on magic, and I refuse to believe otherwise. Eventually my parents managed to calm me down, and I made it from Los Angeles to Philadelphia without dying from my fear, but it was a huge wake-up call. My fear of flying was controlling me, and it had to stop.

After the plane-induced panic attack, my psychiatrist prescribed me medicine to ease my fear of flying, which helped. Thanks to the medication, I managed to fly to Spain on a class trip, and a few years later, I flew to London for a semester abroad. With the medicine, I could fly with no fear.

I thought I was cured of my fear until I decided to fly solo. While studying abroad, I took a trip to Italy with a few friends, and my plan was to leave them after a few days to travel with some other friends to Ireland. To do so, I had to fly alone from Bologna, Italy, back to London. I had never flown alone before. I always had my parents or a friend next to me to hold my hand if I got scared. This was going to be a brand new experience for me, and not only would I be alone, I had to leave from a foreign airport where I didn’t speak the language. I was terrified, but I had to do it. My ticket was booked, my bag was packed and my friends were waiting for me. So I went to that airport and made my way through security. While I waited for my plane to board, I listened to a playlist I made of soothing songs and took some deep breaths. I was shaky, but I was no where near as anxious as I was when I flew home from California. I boarded that plane and told myself I was confident. I even tricked myself into believing that! At one point, I traded in my window seat for a middle seat because a daughter didn’t want to sit away from her mother, which gave me a lot of Airplane Karma points. I landed in London feeling fantastic and ready to fly across the world solo.

A few months ago, I flew from Philadelphia to Boston alone and without any medication, which was a huge step even if the flight was 45 minutes long. There’s even a chance I will fly from Boston to San Francisco by myself next year. I will definitely be medicated for that, but that’s still a long flight to be alone. I’m making progress!

Next on my list is to get over my fear of the ocean. A few years ago, I was frolicking in the ocean with friends when a large wave knocked me over and pinned me down. I felt like I was going to drown, and ever since then, I’ve been terrified of waves. Even standing ankle-deep in the ocean makes my heart race, but I love the beach! It used to be my happy place, and now I’m afraid of it. By next summer, I want to be able to frolic in the waves again, and if I can get over my fear of flying, I know can get over my fear of the ocean.

If you want to face any of your biggest fears, here are a few tips:

  1. Fake it. Tell yourself you’re brave and confident, and you might be able to trick yourself into believing it.
  2. Sing a song. My roommate and I developed a new trick for when we’re scared: Singing the Degrassi theme song! There’s something comforting about belting out “Whatever it takes, I know I can make it through!” If you’re not a Degrassi fan, any other uplifting song will do the trick. Listening to a relaxing or uplifting song also helps.
  3. Use the buddy system. Bring a friend or family member along when you try to face your fears. Having someone to talk to makes it so much better. Eventually, though, you’ll have to do it alone.
  4. Distract yourself. When I fly, I bring books, coloring books, a deck of cards and two iPods (just in case one dies) to keep myself occupied. Taking your mind off your fear will keep you from remembering how scared you are.
  5. Consult a professional. I wouldn’t have been able to move past my fear of flying without the help of my psychiatrist. If you’re really afraid of something, talk to a therapist about it. They’ll have great coping techniques!

Facing your fears can be scarier than the fear itself, but it’s totally worth it! Knowing I can travel anywhere I need to by myself is a huge relief, and I’m so glad I managed to get past my fear of flying. Yeah, I’m still scared, but at least I’m able to face that fear now.