The doors slam shut and instantly I feel trapped. There is no way out – no escape.
I try to occupy my mind by reading a magazine but instead I wrestle with the pages, my sweaty hands sticking to the edges of them. I suddenly develop the hearing capacity of a bat. I can hear every breath, every sound, every word of every conversation going on around me. I need to urgently distract myself. I try talking to the person sitting on my left. “So where are you heading?” I try to sound calm and engaging. He doesn’t respond; I’m not sure he even heard me. I feel too embarrassed to try again and instead start to tap my fingers on my magazine over and over.
I realise I’m starting to become somewhat manic so try a routine to relax myself. I clench my hands and release them, tense the muscles in my legs, release, clench my toes, release. It isn’t working. I’m just focused on my tension, which is makes me feel worse.
The steward comes down the aisle and stands near my seat to begin his demonstration. Further behind him a stewardess also waits to show us everything we need to know. They start by explaining how to put on our seatbelts. Seriously if you dont know how to put on a seatbelt then how did you manage to navigate your way through customs? I mean even a walnut whip can apparently set off the baggage scanners.
The simple belt tightening exercise is followed by the inevitable and far trickier ‘and this is how you put on your life jacket’ – “You know,….” if the plane plummets to earth and lands in the sea…… I’m sure I will remember exactly where my life jacket is and how to put it on should such an inconvenient event occur – thanks a bunch.
Finally they finish off by recommending you look at the card in front of you. I’m sure it has horrifying pictures on it, although in all honesty I’ve never looked too closely at it. In all my years of flying I have never wanted to know exactly what I need to do should the plane crash. I dont want to think about that before take off – thanks.
The same people who just delivered the delightful ‘here is what you to do if we crash’ presentation, now proceed to walk up and down the aisles. Have you checked your table is up and your seatbelt is secure? Yes, yes, like a million times already. They start closing the overhead lockers and then all at once they disappear.
The silence is deafening. I hear nothing. Even the earlier loud chatter all around me seems to have abated. Everyone must be very engrossed in their iPad games or books.
Then it comes, the noise. I hear the engines start and the plane starts to move. The plane taxis to the runway. My anxiety steps up several notches as I realise we will soon be taking off and there is not a scooby doo I can do about it. That sense of being out of control, having to do something I really dont want to do is so intense. Yes I want to go on holiday and I knew this was the best way. But now the moment is here, I really really dont want to take off. Agggh, inside my head I’m starting to lose it although it’s not showing on the outside…….just yet.
The plane moves into position and moves onto the runway. The engines roar loudly and I feel the acceleration. The engines get louder and louder and I’m completely terrified. The fear is indescribable. I’m simultaneously aware of happy excited people around me (it must be alright surely?) and at the same time my own breathing is getting faster and faster.
The plane takes off. I start to panic. My thighs start to shake uncontrollably and I can’t stop them from moving, despite pushing my hands down onto them. The plane bumps as it climbs through clouds and I lose it completely.
All self control is lost.
My breathing is now audible to those near me. I can’t stop shaking. I feel like I will die. I can’t keep it together anymore and I start to cry. I’m now gasping and sobbing and the stranger next to me looks at me very concerned. “Are you ok?”
“I’m so so sorry”, I sob, “would you hold my hand? I’m terrified and it would really help.” The businessman looks at me slightly confused but then puts out his hand and grabs mine. “Its ok, it’ll be ok,” he says. “We are nearly up.”
I close my eyes and try to believe what he is telling me. I start to get my crying under control. He is right. We are starting to level out. My breathing starts to slow down and the shaking in my legs has stopped. I’m left feeling like I’ve run a marathon from the sheer physical effort of the panic attack. I start to feel calmer and feel the tension in my muscles start to leave bit by bit.
I let go of his hand and thank him. I try to laugh it off. “Sorry about that, I dont like flying”. Really? No shit Sherlock! Is that the best I could come up with? Surely I could of told him that the last time I flew the engine fell off or something.
It is at this point that I feel a new emotion – embarassment. There is nothing more shaming than everyone seeing you at your worst. I’d like to consider myself a brave person, a strong woman but in this moment I am weak and vulnerable. I sink slightly lower in my chair as I realise I have attracted too much unwanted attention.
The air stewardess comes hurrying along to my seat. I hadn’t realised but the businessman had called her over for me. “Would you like a little drink of something now?” I want to hug her and the businessman! What kindness people show. It makes me want to cry again but I blink and manage to avoid that moment. “Yes please, I would love a brandy. A double maybe?”
Where is this road going? I ride around yet another hairpin as the road snakes up and up, higher and higher. I’m on holiday with my husband in Mallorca. We set out to do a ‘nice’ 50k ride and appear to be lost. At least I assume we are as I’ve been told this route isn’t really that hilly. ‘We must be nearly at the top’ he says.
Don’t get me wrong, I dont mind going up this hill. It’s only 5% and I’m actually pretty good on that kind of gradient. But I’m terrified of steep downhill cycling or downhill cycling with mountain drops to the side and I dont want to do either. What goes up must come down and I’m scared of what is around the corner.
It’s 10 years since the panic attack on the plane. A fear of flying course, some relaxation techniques, an understanding of NLP and the slow reintroduction of some positive flying experiences where I didn’t panic and I’m over it. I truly do not feel afraid now, unless its really turbulent on landing but then who does like that right?
We finally get to the top of this climb after 10k. Hmm, its a decent hill by all accounts. Unfortunately my fear has meant heightened levels of adrenaline for some time now and I’m shattered. I chow down a gel.
We start the descent and my husband pulls away from me. That’s fine I want to go at my own pace. I manage an accceptable yet slow pace on the early sections but as soon as it gets steeper and I can see how high up we are I grip the brakes tightly. So tightly in fact, I could probably walk down this hill quicker. I see my husband ahead. He has pulled over mid descent and is waiting for me. “What are you doing? I’ve been waiting ages!” He isn’t aware of my fear at this point, certainly not the enormity of it. I snap at him and he looks hurt.
Fear makes you do that. When you are lost in a phobia there is no real way to explain it to someone. To them and most people its irrational. If you are terrified and there is no need to be and no one else feels it then how do you explain that? Feeling that scared and yet not being able to convey it to anyone is highly stressful. All you really want is for someone to say “I know this is hard for you”. At the same time you don’t want them to see how scared you are as it’s so embarrassing. I opted to be quiet. In that moment I had to just dig deep and get down the hill.
My husband looks at me and realises that I’m going through something even if its not something he can understand. He pulls in behind me and we move down the hill together slowly in silence. When we finally make it to the bottom I feel many emotions at once. Relief, shame, alone. Physically I have cramps in my hands now after gripping the brakes for 8k.
That was 5 years ago.
Since that time I have taught myself to ride downhill without fear and am getting quicker with every passing year. It took a lot of time and patience. It was not something anyone could help me with. I started with a small hill, then a bigger one and built it up slowly by taking on ever greater gradients and adding more speed, a bit at a time.
3 years ago we went up the same hill in Mallorca and I descended without fear averaging 25 mph all the way down the snaking road with the drops at the side. It’s not fast but I’m none the less very proud; I was able to do this with a smile too. My husband who understood my fear by then waited and applauded me when I got to the bottom.
I’m standing at the top of Kinder Scout. I need to run down the steep hill in front of me.
I look down and decide to climb down the tricky uneven path in the middle. Its really rocky and wet. My husband has taken a small grassy path on the left but its muddy and right next to the drop. My trail shoes are not good on mud and I don’t fancy getting it wrong so close to the edge. I opt to make my way down the stones but they also prove difficult and slippery.
I feel it gripping me – the fear. I take a few slow stumbling steps. Then I have a moment where I stop completely. I am incredibly frustrated with myself. I have run hard today and set a good pace uphill and now I will lose it all taking forever to get down this descent. I have conquered my other fears, why can’t I conquer this one?
It’s no good, the fear simply won’t go. I take one step at a time, sometimes down, sometimes sideways. It takes so long to descend the hill, time seems to stand still.
I take a swig of sweet berry drink from my Salamon soft bottle and a bite of malt loaf from my pocket. The sun is shining but the ground is still wet and glistening from the downfall of rain yesterday. I look briefly down the hill and realise I am so high up I cant even see the bottom from here. I start to run forwards remembering to tackle only what is in front of me. I look ahead to check the next 10 metres, keeping an eye out for holes, roots and large rocks as I go. I switch off my overactive thoughts and focus in, only on this moment.
I start to build speed and feel myself flying down the hill, tackling every obstacle in my way. I’m in control and I’m excited at the prospect of catching someone up in the race and passing them, knowing that I will get to the next checkpoint at the bottom of the hill in good time. The rush of adrenaline is exhilarating. All my fears are gone.
This story is set in the future. I have not mastered this fear yet but I intend to. It’s life’s greatest challenge to take on our fears. I just need to work out how………to make this happen.