Friday, September 18, 2009

setting off

I've recently experienced a resurgence of several chronic and crippling fears that I all but thought I'd defeated.  As these things typically go, they are all tied in together, but manifest in different factions.

One of the most oppressive factions of this fear brigade is aerophobia, which is (come on, etymology people) the abnormal and persistent fear of flying.  When I was younger this fear was so bad that I would spend the weeks (and sometimes months) preceding a plane ride in abject terror and certainty that I was going to die.

I would find ways to avoid planes.  I would skip out on trips I had planned (I'll never forgive myself for missing Bjork in New York City when I was 20).  I took a train from Chicago to San Francisco and a boat across the Atlantic Ocean to avoid getting on a airplane.  

Then something happened.  I went into therapy and pretty damn near close to conquered many of these persistent fears.  When I got to Boston, I remember I boasted I wasn't afraid of anything anymore.

Like many boastful twenty-four-year-old statements, this one only proved to be half-true.  For years I flew all over with relative confidence and a minimum of wimpering and hyperventilation, but this past year I noticed the return of the anxiety.

It might be because the press has been publicizing plane crashes this year.  It might be because I've experienced some success in my writing and am excited about where things are headed.  It might be because I'm generally pretty happy, have solid friendships and a wonderful relationship and am looking forward to seeing what the future has up its sleeve.  It might be because the there's a poem in the very book I'm flying to tour with about my Fear of Flying and the tour itself is called The Cruel Accident Tour, and I can never seem to talk my fear out of the certainty that fate is always looking for that ultra-ironic kick in the groin.

So I decided to write a blog about my fear, since in my mind writing about something and deconstructing its meaning and origins takes away some of its power (unless that assumption would somehow make it more ironic for the fears to come true - in which case, I'm in trouble).

Whatever it is, a lot of my recurrent fears, including that of flying, have been bubbling up lately. I know that most of these fears involve lack or loss of control.  Everyone knows your safer in an airplane than a car, but in the car you have the illusion of control.  On the airplane you don't.

When faced with these uncontrollable situations when I was younger, my OCD would act up and I'd make believe I could control the outcome of say, an upcoming flight by walking around trees on the left or tapping my foot behind each crack or doorframe I stepped over.  This would drive me crazy because I would have to know that I had done the ritual "right," or else it meant certain doom.  I always managed to convince myself I hadn't gotten it right, so I'd have to like, stand in a crowded door way with my head down stepping over the threshold again and again. This behavior typically does not make you friends.

Fortunately I'm better at coping with the fears now than I was when I was younger, but paralyzing fear is never a good time, and not very productive.  Maybe I've been thinking too much, retreating back into the ego, the "I" that I worked so hard to remind myself isn't the important part of what I think of as me.  Maybe it's like what my old Mysticism professor at IU, Mary Jo Weaver, used to say about getting older.

"You always think you work through your issues, but really you're on a spiral, and you'll keep encountering the same issues on a deeper and deeper level throughout your life.  It's like everyone gets a deck of ten cards at birth, and that's your hand, and all you can do is keep playing the same hand in different ways."

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