Saturday, December 18, 2004

fear of flying

Tonight I stayed home and watched the movie, "Seducing Doctor Lewis". It was a cute story line - French with English subtitles. I also bought the movie, "Secret Lives of Dentists" which was 6.99, so I could watch it on the plane on my notebook. I cleaned, rearranged some furniture, weeded some songs out of my itunes, and watered the plants. It feels good to be doing the spring cleaning thing - or winter cleaning... Part of me is looking forward to going home. It is nice to be with my family, but I will miss my apartment and my balcony. I will miss smoking whenever I want. I will miss the quiet. I look forward to some home cooking, and seeing my friends and the new baby. I am happy not to be working. My brother has mono, so I can keep him company and help nurse him back to health - poor guy.

In the past, when I was preparing to go away, the chief concern for me was getting there. Since I was 8 years old I had an extreme fear of flying. At that time my parents brought me to my first therapist because I adamantly refused to go to Florida on our family vacation. The fear was likely related to the death of entire family that lived down the street from me. They had 2 kids close to my age that went to my school. They were killed in the Air India bombing back in 1983. I don't remember an explicit connection, but it was around the same time that this fear presented. It went through phases where it was more manageable, but in my late teens and early twenties, it got pretty bad. I actually took the train for 2 days once rather than fly a couple of hours, not to mention the number of times I just didn't go away. I took medication, I tried drinking, but nothing did the trick. It started to extend to other areas. I was afraid in cars, at first on highways and at night, and then it was just in general. I was terrified of the subway and streetcar. It was really quite immobilizing. There was a period of about 8 years where my life got progressively smaller. Of course this was reflected in my social and romantic life too, and just in the general quality of my life.

I decided to see a therapist. The first one I saw in my late teens should have called himself a pharmacologist (or better still, a drug dealer). Sadly, his practice is alive and well, in pediatric psychiatry no less. I know this because I have crossed paths with him professionally since - no surprise that he didn't recognize me.

Several years later I tried again, and this time I met Dr. Cognitive Therapy. His sessions involved listening to a tape of his voice conducting progressive relaxation bullshit while he sat behind his desk, typing on his computer - clearly an expert in the therapuetic relationship.

Finally, I was referred to a psychodynamic psychotherapist. I will refer to him as my therapist. His motto is, "you do what you do". He doesn't give advice, because he says he doesn't have all of the answers. Slowly I have grown to respect him because he doesn't pretend to know, even when it would be easier. This was very frustrating in the beginning, especially because I thought I wanted someone to take care of me and tell me what to do. Sometimes in the beginning it felt like we weren't doing anything at all.

If I don't talk, he generally doesn't either - a little disconcerting to say the least until you get used to it. I have been seeing him for 6 years. You might think that is a long time, and maybe even too long, but I have come to realize that all of my fears were just the outward reflections of some fundamental issues. I talk about my reactions to life and try to understand myself in a variety of ways and contexts. Slowly, the fears decreased, changed, or just subtly fell away altogether. This is not a dramatic process.

Not only am I not having weeks of anxiety in preparation for my trip, but I have flown to several exciting and exotic destinations in the past few years. I am finding an appreciation for life, but most importantly, I am figuring out how to be comfortable in my skin - my real skin. I am not yet there, but I have come to the realization that I am a mixture of intensity and passion, something I was never comfortable with. Now that I have gotten past many of the distracters I am starting to appreciate rather than suppress the life inside me. Good and bad, messy, and confusing. I would not trade that for the perfection that used to torment me.

My fear if flying was just that: a fear of soaring, of oozing, of loving it all too much.

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