I sort of can’t believe what I have dubbed my 2012 West Coast Tour is actually over. Ten 5+ hour flights in four months. When I booked all of these trips at the end of last year, one long flight after another, I just didn’t think about it. I shut my brain off, booked the trips, and decided to deal with each flight one at a time. I know a lot of people travel much more than this, much further distances, but six years ago I was not even able to get on a plane. Although I have been flying since I was a baby and had made numerous treks across the pond, in my early twenties I became so paralyzed with fear that when John and I were house hunting in New York City, I just refused to get on a plane. So we drove six hours from our home in North Carolina to DC and took Amtrak from there. And for a long time, I was a train rider – twelve hours down to North Carolina to visit my family, twelve hours back – instead of taking the one hour flight.
Eventually – somehow – John coaxed me back into the air. Short flights at first, and then in 2008 he finally got me making transatlantic flights again. But not well. I held the plane up the entire ride – I couldn’t sleep, watch a movie, or read a book; I was so focused on keeping this metal tube in the air. I just knew if I relaxed for one second, it would plummet to the earth. And I cried during every take off. That’s pretty much the state I was still in when I began my epic 2012 West Coast Tour in February with my trip to Vegas for WPPI.
Yesterday afternoon as my plane took off in Salt Lake City, I was a different person. Sometime in the last four months, I’ve just realized it’s too exhausting being scared all the time. Especially on long flights. I don’t have the energy anymore. I’ve read books, watched movies, and even slept on planes this year. I don’t feel like I have to hold the plane up. I don’t hold my breath through turbulence. Sometimes I’ve actually found myself enjoying being in the air. The worst part is waiting to get on the plane. Once I’m on, I’m fine. I take pictures of clouds and think about how amazing it is that I can be across the country in six hours; eat pretzels and make friends with my seatmates. And feel a rush of excitement as the plane eventually begins descending because I get to visit someplace brand new. (As opposed to fear that the pilot is going to miss the runway.) I just can’t be bothered to worry anymore. If I’m going down on a plane, I’m going down. I can’t do anything about it. But it’s pretty dumb to let a fear hold me back from my favorite thing to do: see the world.
Of course, somewhere deep down inside, my subconscious is laughing, “You know, now that we’ve gotten over this thing, we’re probably going to be in a plane crash.” My subconscious is such an annoying idiot. So I will still wear the prayer beads that my dear friend, Ken, brought me from Thailand and gave to me on my wedding day, and which I wrap around my wrist whenever I travel anywhere further than an hour from my home. I will still continue to tell my family I love them before I board any flight. I’ll still thank the pilots for getting us there safely as I get off the plane. And I’ll still probably pop two dramamine to take the edge off things. What can I say, I’m not really afraid to fly anymore, but I’m still a little superstitious.*
I didn’t set out to cure my fear of flying when I decided to do all this traveling this year. But I had hoped that by the end I’d be a little more comfortable. I’ve realized that fear is a choice. And I have decided not to let this one control me anymore. John and I want to go to Australia in 2014. I’d like to take a ride in a hot air balloon sometime. Fear just dulls these experiences for me. And it’s not welcome in my life anymore.
Sunday, Allison and I went shopping in Park City. I walked into a shop, and the first thing I saw were these earrings. They were the only pair left, so I had to get them. A small gift to myself at the end of a really long journey. A journey much longer than four months.