Yesterday evening, we discussed briefly our plans to undertake another Blues Trail through the US. We went there in October last year and drove from Chicago to New Orleans. It was an amazing holiday and we are keen to go back. The question is: how will I handle the flight this time?
You see, I hate flying. As a matter of fact, I have a terrible fear of it. Sometimes, I can handle it and I just get more than a little restless. Other times, I am sitting there with a twisted expression on my face, yelping like a puppy whilst grabbing my arm seats so hard, my knuckles turn aspirin white.
Though on the way to the US, it had been bearable; there was the occasional drumming session, (usually Seven Nation Army), on the cover of my e-book each time the seat belt sign would go on and with regular intervals I would tap on my husband’s shoulder for him to take off his headphones so I could casually ask him whether he also thought we were about to crash. Then I would focus again on the noises of the engine. I must say, I managed pretty well. However, on the way back to London, I completely lost it
I was so scared, I was in ’brace’ position for a third of the journey. Now, that plane had to endure a fair bit of turbulence but my reaction to it was way, way over the top.
“Please let me get off,” I shouted out when we were cruising at high altitude over the Atlantic Ocean. To which my ever so calm husband responded: ‘I don’t think this will be an option.’
In the end, the flight attendant came over to me. She kneeled down and arched her eyebrows, then she said to me: “I had no idea you were so scared”.
Her approach took me by surprise. What did she mean by that? Had I looked all hard when I boarded that plane? I couldn’t remember walking into the cabin with a swagger, flicking my fingers going all ‘yo yo yo, ya’ll bitches!’
But she was nice though and offered me a gin & tonic - which I stupidly declined.
It was definitely one of my worst flight experiences ever but I am sure I can praise myself lucky that I am still able to get on a plane. So many people can’t. There is for instance, Dutch ex-footballer Dennis Bergkamp, who suffers from extreme flying fear; he would travel anywhere by anything as long as it wasn’t a plane.
I know it’s an irrational fear to have and this despite being high up in the sky with no control over your life. Flying is still the safest way of travelling. The chances to drop or getting involved in a mid-air collision are minimal.
The reason I know all this, I must add, is that I watched the last three complete series of Air Crash Investigation, right up to the moment we flew to the States. Which may not have been the best solution to my ever increasing fear of flying. Yet, there was me thinking it would help me if I’d fed myself fear in order to combat the fear. Like with people who are terrified of spiders and are finding themselves petting a big, fat tarantula, as part of their therapy.
Of course, I realise that some ‘phobias’ may just be a particularly strong dislike. As, I do not think that a Belgophobe is someone who gets a panic attack whenever he gets within proximity of a Belgian citizen.
Then there is just the fear we all feel for certain things. Not the extreme kind where your fear is irrational but the type which makes you squeal in cartoon-fashion, the moment you see a spider speeding past the radiator. Then when you have killed it or like me, have scooped it up in a glass to put it outside, you’ve already forgotten you were scared. But the reality is that, a phobia, can result in a fear so intense, it may leave you gasping for breath. In reality, that fear poses little or no danger at all. Yet, that fear, even if most of us realise it is totally illogical, becomes this Wes Craven-like motion picture where you end up playing the starring role.
Now coming back to my main fear; Aviophobia, it is a phobia that is shared by a lot of people and being scared when up in the air, is usually better understood by non-sufferers. You are after all flying at 550 mph in an aluminium tube at an altitude of 35.000 feet. Add to that the fact that you are sitting in a cramped seat within an enclosed space where you are made to breathe in recycled air. But most of all, there is that total loss of control that nobody likes to hand over to another person. Even though we all realise that the pilot also wants to return back to his family after his shift has finished.
Nevertheless, when that phobia takes over, any reasonable thinking goes out of the window. In your mind, you will see that plane crash, explode and collide. Before, during and after the flight.
Other ‘common’ phobias are claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and acrophobia. Like with aviophobia, we grasp why a small, enclosed space, the fast paced outdoors or a certain height may provoke fear in a person. But the ‘unusual’ phobias such as fear for marshmallows, fear of knees or books are perhaps not so well understood. As where do they originate from? The National Phobics Society explains that these phobias can be triggered because of stress, physical factors, biochemical imbalances, it could also be due to genetic predispositions. Of course, some phobias and fears can result out of a childhood trauma. Sometimes it’s a combination of factors. Other times, there is just no trigger at all.
When I was a child, I had another phobia. A peculiar one: I was afraid of the colour yellow. Whenever I saw the colour, I would panic to the point of getting sick. That seemed to happen especially when coming face to face with ‘yellow-in-motion’; like a yellow car or a yellow carrousel. I was 5-6 maybe but I remember one instance in particular where a battered yellow car came driving from around the corner, went past my mum and I, and parked in front of our block of flats. I broke out in a sweat and was sick on my shoes. Yellow became the enemy. Luckily, I stopped suffering from xanthophobia after a couple of years.
We never investigated why this happened but thinking about it more and doing my own pocket psychological analysis, I think it may have been due to an accident I was involved with when I was five. I was in the back of my aunt’s car when she slipped and drove into a tree. The car consequently plunged into a small ditch. It was a yellow Fiat. I can’t remember how I felt afterwards but I know I was unhurt. It was also around that time that my grandfather, who I loved very much, died. Still, these two events may have created a bio-chemical reaction in my brain causing me to react with such strong emotions to the colour yellow. I might be wrong but It would make total sense.
Looking at the list of different phobias, it is clear that everyone can get scared of anything, and it is interesting to see that there is always a name for every phobia under the sun – because it is taken seriously. However, it has to be said that the researchers and medical world could have chosen a more suitable name for people who fear long words. You’d think they would have carefully selected a name made out of three, four letters maximum. But no, they settled for hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia . How cruel they were.
Some phobias, can more or less be avoided and for people who are afraid of one of these (or all), they should be okay as the London pavements are not exactly brimming with clowns, horses or toads. As such, life can be managed by the person suffering from this type of phobia. Although it must be added that for some, seeing a spider in a magazine, can also cause them to react violently to it. I know the feeling, I can burst out in hysterical exclamation marks when seeing slugs myself and it doesn’t matter if they’re crawling near my feet or are printed on paper.
Other phobias, prove much harder to control and will interfere with the day to day activities of the sufferers. You may find yourself planning your whole day around the fear for using a public toilet or when you suffer from Chiraptophobia: the fear of being touched. I guess it would be impossible to live in London where an ordinary tube journey during rush hour can make you yearn for an après- cigarette – or a thorough scrub.
Of course a phobia is not a laughing matter but laugh, we can’t help at times. It’s like that moment in the Big Brother house when the late Jade Goody went ballistic when someone squirted a bottle of ketchup at her. She had a ketchup phobia. The thing is, for her that fear was very real, just like it was for that woman who once made the headlines for fleeing restaurants in a panic whenever she saw peas served on a plate.
Yet we laughed, forgetting that most of us will fear one thing or another at some point in our lives.
But I am really looking forward to that blues experience again. So, as always, I’d have to try and get over it. Some measures have been taken already as I no longer watch any air crash programs or read up on plane crash statistics (only when necessary – obviously). I may also go with the G&T option on board. Will it help? Who knows.
To conclude, here is a quote of Franklin Roosevelt who once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. I do not agree with this myself but it is interesting to see that he was describing phobophobia. As, everything can be feared to the extreme: cars, clowns, dogs, dolls, woods, water, whatever – so in a way, it is re-assuring to know that even fear can be feared.