It all started when I was seventeen years old and heading to Rio de Janeiro. In the middle of the night, all passengers onboard were woken up and told that one of our engines was failing and that we would be making an emergency landing in Caracas. Later I learned that our plane had two engines and that really we were just fine, but for the following hour until we landed, the lady next to me screamed and cried about the tragedy of her infant daughter losing her life at such a young age. A couple of years later, when I was traveling between Toronto and Vancouver, we had a fire on the plane. Each of these stories along with other not so fun flying moments has created a real fear for me.
I have lived with this fear now for almost fifteen years, and for a person who loves to travel, visit friends and lives abroad, this has been quite a struggle. Some flights have gone okay and others are quite anxiety provoking and problematic. At times I am actually able to look out the window and enjoy what I am seeing below and other times I am so anxious that people around me start to get worried. On one flight in particular to Seattle, a fellow passenger asked me if I knew something that she did not know about the plane.
Furthermore, I am unsure as to whether or not my obsession of plane crash stories in the media assists or hinders my flying anxiety? Whenever a plane goes down, I spend hours researching who was on the plane and finding more about their personal stories, what happened to the plane and how it went down.
I have utilized a variety of methods to help work through this fear. I have read books and have statistics memorized as to how safe planes actually are compared to other modes of transportation. I have gone to counseling, use essential oils (so much so that other passengers have gotten sick from them), take anti-anxiety medications and try to have activities planned that will keep me busy and occupied. I ask everyone I know to pray and send positive thoughts my way.
But despite all of this, it really has been and continues to be a struggle. It is a struggle that I wish I could overcome. Every time I buy a plane ticket, I wonder if I clicked on the wrong button. And before each flight, I start to worry about a week in advance, the day before is especially hard.
While I often wonder why I struggle with this and feel so helpless in it, this struggle has given me insight into individuals – both friends, family and clients who struggle with anxiety. It may seem silly to me that someone has anxiety going out in public or that a client absolutely cannot break from their compulsive and obsessive behaviors, but after struggling with my fear of flying, it makes sense. It is debilitating and often leaves one so fearful that they don’t feel like they can make a different choice. I am grateful that my anxiety only occurs when I fly and is not something that I struggle with day in and day out.
The difficulty of flying has only compounded here in Nicaragua. Part of my job requires me to travel around the country. For my first trips, I decided to be economical and take the bus, but I was also avoiding the flying part. I did a round-trip bus ride in seventy-two hours that others fly in two. While I am grateful for the experience of seeing Nicaragua through a bus window and the money that was saved, I was told by my bosses that this would not be recommended in the future. It is too risky for a white woman to cross the country via bus alone.
So you can imagine my stress a couple of weeks ago when I booked another flight on La Costeña to head from Managua to Rosita. I would be taking a twelve-seater plane, a plane where you feel every cloud and a plane that's normal flight pattern involves some free falls. But I got on the plane, or as I call it, the flying minivan.
Come back next week for Part 2 of my story.