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Fear of Flying December 7, 2019

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Not sure how much this interests people, but… I’ve mentioned before fear of flying, which was very deep rooted, so deep rooted that it certainly constrained my travels, even if it didn’t stop them. I’ve often wondered why all this happened. One great irony is that a very close relative was a navigator on commercial and cargo aircraft in the 1960s. They were also involved in pioneering a branch of aerial research in the 1970s and early 1980s and a pilot friend of theirs took me up once. I have very vivid memories of being over Dublin City c.1974 in a low winged monoplane. Wasn’t so keen on it but I wasn’t terrified or fearful (though I do have a vivid memory of them doing the flight plan beforehand and mentioning four ‘souls’ on board – I wandered later was this a false memory but no…it’s a thing).

I’ve mentioned before that in 1975 or 1976 our class in National School flew to Shannon and then returned overland by way of Blarney to Dublin – presumably one aspect of the Shannon stopover and a means to fill up the flights for Aer Lingus. I remember enjoying that a lot. Indeed I remember sitting with my friends in Departures in Dublin Airport reading Bear Island by Alistair MacLean.

Then in my early teens I read a lot of books on air disasters and the next time I took a flight (and perhaps here’s a key fact, another close relative was very very anxious about flight and I suspect that rubbed off too) was in the mid 1980s from Heathrow, early in the morning having travelled from Dublin the previous morning and with no sleep in between. Tired, hungover and unprepared I still can remember the roar of the engines. I next flew in 1989 to the US and that was hardly any better. Then various flights to and from the UK and parts of Europe in the 1990s.

Now, I’d have to add that in my teens I developed anxiety and panic attacks along with depression. I’ve no idea was this worse or better than others, and I’m fairly certain it doesn’t much matter since flying merely was added to this mixture. So even travelling by ferry or car could make for anxious times, but that said nothing like as anxious as flying.

How bad was it? Bad. Weeks ahead of a flight I’d be thinking about it. I’d drink too much, often the night before (bad move). On the plane I’d be gripping the armrests throughout, close enough to white knuckles and grew to notice the weave of the fabric covers on a seat in front with almost forensic concentration. I’d be dizzy, sweating, hyperventilating, and anxious throughout. Anxious as in panic attack anxious. Any movement of the aircraft, change in pitch, sound whatever would have me thinking it was going down. Hands clutching the armrests, sweating through every second just wanting it to be five, ten, fifteen, minutes later. To get a sense of how bad it was no public speaking event I’ve ever done has ever induced even a tenth of that sort of anxiety.

Nothing much dented this – not books on fear of flying, not trying to think it through and rationalise safety. Not alcohol during the flight – that just made it worse. Did it limit my life? I’d say yes, to an extent. It wasn’t that I didn’t fly, just that I didn’t fly as often as I could have. I travelled, but there’s places I’d still love to go that I didn’t way back when. Berlin. Athens (I’ve been but many years ago) and so on. There’s an argument that this is no bad thing, given climate change, and when I had to fly I did.

So what changed?

Xanax was one part. From the start of the 2000s I made it my business to acquire some well prior to a flight. Take a dose the night before, avoid alcohol, and then take another about twenty minutes before take-off and that took quite a bit of the edge off. But that didn’t stop the pre-flight nerves in the weeks in advance. Or on the holiday. Indeed a dynamic I know others would have would be on arrival being almost overly exhilarated by safe landing, only as the days drew closer to the return flight for the fear to increase again.

Then for a number of years there were very strong personal reasons why there had to be a number of flights a year. That certainly helped too, along with Xanax.

Another part was – ironically – the security checks prior to boarding. Where others were complaining I was delighted. This was proof positive, tangible proof, that safety was taken seriously. If they were taking a passenger getting on a plane this seriously then they clearly were taking other aspects as, if indeed more, so. Another was having to just accept the reality that I was going to get on an airplane one way or another.

As time went on, too, I was concerned that my fear would transmit to the creature, why blight their life and limit their ability to travel? And so a new performative WBS came into being – one who chatted away through take off, who enjoyed watching films on the seat TVs or computer, who made a big deal of the hot chocolate etc and pointing out what was going on. Added to this was something to keep my mind occupied on a plane – rip some television programmes to the iPad. Have something new to read at all times. Make the experience appear to be a pleasure rather than a trial. And oddly the more performative the better I felt as some sort of feedback loop kicked in (almost entirely the opposite dynamic from back in the day when talking to others with fear of flying where the individual phobias would reinforce one another in a negative way). It’s very strange, because suddenly I was seeing flying as an experience as others who lacked the fear did.

And speaking of immersion, engage with all things aircraft. This was no great effort – I’ve always loved aircraft from when I was a small child, loved flight sims, etc. But in more recent years I found watching YouTube revelatory – particularly the reviews of flights on commercial aircraft, but not just them. The key being the sense of how normal air travel is, and to build a familiarity, even an excitement, about being on an aircraft going somewhere. And there was an interesting Australian radio podcast (Blueprint for Living: Toxic Cities, fear of flying, heritage restoration – 15/03/2019) which notes that YouTube is now an invaluable resource for those teaching fearful flying courses because there’s so many video clips of turbulence, etc that show how normal rather than how abnormal they are.

Finally, and this is a much more recent innovation – a couple of years old now, ear plugs for take off and landing. It is amazing to me how central to the experience of fear in flying the sheer sound of engines at take-off and reverse thrust at landing was. I can recall on holiday the sound reverberating through my dreams. Earplugs in as the plane taxies along the runway and problem solved. I can’t stress this one enough because I think it made a huge change for the better. But listening to various podcasts on fear of flying and reading up about it one thing that comes through is that it is a suite of anxieties and phobias that get wrapped up together so it is necessary to address them, if not individually, at least with multiple different potential solutions.

A good friend of mine once noted how when taking off he and anyone he was with on a plane would often fall asleep on take-off, or chat through it. When told that I didn’t believe it, now, I can do much the same. Well, not the sleeping.

I don’t want for a moment to give the impression that all is entirely perfect and I don’t know that it ever will be. I was in Barcelona around this time last year (and by the way thanks to all who gave advice on where to go and what to see) and without question there was a pensive moment or two standing at the Parc d’Attraction overlooking the city and watching the aircraft coming into BCN. On the other hand I was in Barcelona over the Summer and in the same spot and not nearly as pensive. And while I’ll still feel some moments of anxiety in the weeks ahead and even in the week away but the change is near incredible. So much so that I’ve taken flights with minimal or no doses of Xanax in the last year or so, and interestingly that makes for a slightly more nervy experience but the sense of achievement strongly outweighs that.

Recently I was on a flight which did a sudden go-around from about 100 feet above the runway as it approached and my only thought was – ‘hey, I wondered what that would be like’ (irritating and time consuming as it happens, given we had to stay in the air a further ten minutes or so, with none of the sudden shock I’d expected) which when compared with totalising fear is no small improvement. And that’s the key difference, the panic has almost entirely faded. I could be a little anxious or even nervous momentarily here and there during a flight, but considerably less so than being on, say, a cable car.

The ability to enjoy being on the aircraft, to realise how normal this all is (perhaps too normal, who knows what limitations will be in place down the line with climate change), to simply recognise what an incredible privilege it is to be able to move so freely internationally, is something else. Or even, and this is from my perspective genuinely incredible, to see others who are fearful and realise I’m much much less so.

Jack Williamson once wrote a wonderfully ambiguous science fiction novel called The Humanoids where human created robots step in and prevent people from harm in a manner most of us would regard as totalitarian. For those who dissent there is a sort of mind control resetting of their attitudes and there’s a passage in the book where one of the characters who has been through it remembers his hatred of the Humanoids, remembers the emotion and the reasons but simply doesn’t feel the hatred any more. I feel a bit like that on aircraft. I get I was near enough terrified at one time, but compared to the rawness of the fear then it is remarkable how minimal the anxiety is now. On the other hand I know it is key to fly regularly, that is at least once a year (though never to the UK even despite pretty useless ferry/rail links).

Speaking of the Parc D’Attraction the creature took the roller coaster there. Me? Not a chance. Get me in one of those yokes? I mean I like looking at them, but actually sitting down in one… C’mon, you’ve got to have limits.

Comments»

1. Joe - December 7, 2019

Great post WBS. I used to say I was afraid of flying but nothing nowhere near what you experienced.
I t
I’d suggest you returned from Limerick via Bunratty, not via Blarney. I think I suggested that the last time too 🙂

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Joe - December 7, 2019

Oh and I’m with you on the rollercoasters. Fair play to the creature. And while I’m with you I’m kind of envious of her as well.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

Me too.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

Sorry meant to say, yes Bunratty!

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2. alanmyler - December 7, 2019

Very interesting WBS, and also good to hear people talking about mental health bumps they’ve had in their lives. Fascinating to realize the depth of the fear actually. Someone I know very we’ll isn’t a good flyer and anytime we do gly off somewhere I’m always mildly amused by her sweaty palms etc., but I’d have to say it would never have occurred to me that someone could have a dread of the scale you’ve described. I did an awful lot of business travel twenty years ago or so, mostly to the US. While I don’t mind flying at all, I actually love it, the takeoffs and acceleration, the technology, the whole beans, what I go have a completely irrational fear of is the ocean and I used to shit myself for the transatlantic flights to and from, but then be completely calm for the transcontinental flights east to west or back again. I got caught in a whopper of an electrical storm around the great lakes one time, huge turbulence, but idya great view out the window of the lightning flashes in the distance over the lakes and it was quite a spiritual experience, the whole power of nature thing. I think being an engineer sort of helps though, in the same way those security checks helped you, knowing that there’s a huge amount of effort put into making flight a safe way to travel. About the transatlantic stress, I found a couple of beers in the airport before the flight was enough to calm me down enough to get on the plane, so once it was up in the air there was nothing could be done about it at that stage, so a good book filled the void on the flights to the US and then jetkag induced exhausted sleep on the way back from Logan on the red-eye back into Dublin a week or two later. Now having said all that I did once have a panic attack, or it might have been a heart attack but I’m inclined to believe it was the former, on a morning flight to Madrid with my in-laws for a drinking weekend, after having a breakfast pint in the airport. Horrible experience, so I can genuinely appreciate how awful flying must have been for you during that period before you learnt the effective coping mechanisms, and fair play to you for flying at all when it had that effect on you. I’m understanding better your fascination with rail travel now too 😀.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

That’s very interesting, I did not know that re the ocean. But I can understand it completely. The spiritual experience, I get that high above the clouds – not in a religious sense exactly, more in sheer awe as you say about the power of nature. There any anxiety just melts away. I think too another thought is that in a way sometimes anxiety and excitement can be mixed in a way that is difficult to untangle, so I do think that for some of us the circuits get a bit crossed and what should be exhilarating kind of is but has a different edge too.

Re the heart attack, you did get checked after did you? I had panic attacks from my teens into my twenties regularly, then less often subsequently. I rarely if ever get them now, but… I do get nocturnal panic attacks which come and go ranging from waking up thinking I’m having a heart attack in the middle of the night, something that at its worst may happen a few times a night for a few nights on end then fading away to just waking up feeling uncomfortable a couple of times in the night, to that fading away again for weeks or months before it builds up again. It’s weird because I’m not hugely morbid in daily life or preoccupied or even very worried about my physical health in any sort of an anxious way. These started after my father died so I do wonder was it a sort of mortality thing though.

I agree completely re admitting to the bumps, one big problem is that everyone tends to be curtained off on this stuff and so coping mechanisms, or even just hearing, ‘hey, that’s like this’ is actually really supportive.

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3. An Sionnach Fionn - December 7, 2019

Great read. One bit in particular struck home with me and that was the idea of putting on a performance to hide or overcome your fears. I’ve struggled with crippling agoraphobia all my life, likely related to a series of incidents in my childhood, with reoccurring depression thrown in too for good measure (the metaphor of the returning black dog of despair really is an apt one).

However one coping mechanism for me has been to bluff my way through it. Going to an event or meeting you can’t get out of? Hammer your way through the gathering by acting, and it probabaly really is acting, as the most self-confident character there. Then no one gets to see the real you screaming inside to run for the door. Of course the side effect of this tactic is to be occasionally seen as an “arrognat dick” (quote!). Which is why I avoid most things.

Sometimes I go the opposite way and just disappear, fade into the background to be as small and invisible as possible, if I can’t summon up the fortitude to put on an act.

The anxieties have stunted my career and personal life but you find ways through it, even if not always the best ways. Most of my current colleagues would regard me as a witty and forceful character that people usually defer to when it comes to business decisions. Others in the past have seen me as quiet and reserved but reliable. But it’s all a bluff and usually the louder I am the more sick-to-the-stomach anxious inside I am.

As for pubs and clubs, socialising, making new friends and partners. Er, no thanks, the effort is too exhausting. Wearing the fake persona is too heavy a burden for every hour of every day. Long walks on the beach with a dog I can do. Just don’t try and talk to me! 🙂

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

That re performativeness in work etc, I get completely. Partly due to social phobia of some sort. And the bluffing too. It’s that sense of having to pretend to enjoy oneself. Do you find in small groups of long time friends that’s an issue? ie is there a comfort zone of people you’ve found that you can genuinely relax with?

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

And re relationships which is another area which is far too under considered in these things, it’s unbelievably fraught. I know there’s a tendency these days to diss people who find it difficult to make them, for whatever reason be it isolation, anxiety, lack of confidence, incorrect self-image, but from first hand knowledge of how for example anxiety and panic attacks can impinge on them in my twenties it’s a real problem and the sheer misery that it entails is desperate. And I do find the lack of empathy and the focus on people who find all this easy kind of irritating.

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An Sionnach Fionn - December 7, 2019

Yeah it can be a real killer for relationships, especially when you come off as a bit of a misanthrope because you struggle to cope with other people beyond your immediate partner and family. It’s very hard for a new girlfriend to understand that there are some social interactions, meeting her family and friends that you need to ease into over a period of time and some that you’ll never be comfortable with. So it pretty much kills things early on. Especially if you are honest and upfront about it. One girl I was with liked me because she thought I was super-confident only to discover that it was a mix of the real me and the me struggling to cope. She wasn’t up for the silly stuff like driving out to Dundrum for shopping and me not being able to walk up to the cashier because something just clicked inside and I couldn’t do it myself. Laughable really but it happens.

So I’ve been single now for a good few years as its not fair to expect someone to accommodate your baggage, especially when they think they’re getting something different. Plus, very hard to meet someone when you struggle with talking to anyone other than those you’ve known for years.

In terms of groups, 4 or 5 is the max group that I’m sort of comfortable with. Sort of. Depends on the nature of the people, relationships and purpose of the gathering too. I know now which situations to avoid. Which again limits say your career options or whatever as you know there are some situations that you can’t deal with.

Most of the time I get away with it and people just think, well he’s a supercilious prick. Which is better than the alternative! 🙂

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

It’s not laughable, it’s very understandable. And must make for really difficult social interactions. And it’s a huge weight. I went through periods in my twenties where I had to have a cigarette in my hand when out just walking through the city in one particular spot close to O’Connell bridge – more than a touch of OCD there. It was on one level absurd, having to have it as a sort of ‘prop’ that if I didn’t I felt so self-conscious I almost couldn’t walk about, would wind up getting breathless. I could have taken another route but… I couldn’t. Now I look back and realise of course no one cared except myself, but isn’t that the thing about this, that’s almost beside the point, the brain has decided on this course of action and it’s incredibly difficult to break that. But even today in work I’m uneasier to go outside the building, or sometimes even in the building around it, and it’s a comfort zone thing.

That’s a difficult difficult situation, are there groups of people who have this, whether milder or more severe? Is that an option I wonder in terms of burden sharing or meeting people?

4-5 isn’t bad. But I know what you mean re the nature of the people. And career. Yeah, don’t get me started (just on flying that definitely changed my course, perhaps in the long term for the better, but… ).

I tend to the opposite dynamic in groups, particularly work, keeping my counsel. I kind of have this image in my head that I’m the person offering the occasional useful advice but not seeking to dominate the meeting… but… then again… who knows how it comes across 🙂

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An Sionnach Fionn - December 7, 2019

Funny that you mention a prop. One of mine is a bottle of water, which I can sip from or play with when I start feeling anxious in a meeting or whatever, where taking out the work or personal mobile would be inappropriate. Though playing with the phone is a great way of distracting oneself without looking out of place in a group situation. Mobiles are both a curse and a gift.

The other is my beanie hats. People laugh at me for it and the habitual nature of it but unknown to them of course, I find that if I pull a beanie hat or baseball cap low over my eyes it almost helps me shield myself from others. Purely psychological of course and a sort of comfort blanker but it works. And being so tall and distinctive-looking I tend to draw attention so it helps me be less conspicuous. Well I pretend it does. It is all nonsense really as no one is looking or cares except the five year old in my head.

I sometimes appreciate the absurdist nature of the condition. I remember doing a fancy PowerPoint presentation to a room packed with reps from a potential customer and glad-handing them for the day in work. It went great and my reputation skyrocketed. But that night I went to do my weekly shop in Clare Hall at 2am back when Tesco was opened 24/7 because I couldn’t handle the crowds during the day. Kinda mad but it is what it is.

I’m sure I could seek remedial help but I just get on with it. Like honestly it’s a way of life now and if I didn’t have it then I wouldn’t be me. The good and the bad. And I have siblings who help when it gets ridiculous. But that is pretty rare. Most of my colleagues or people who know me haven’t a clue. But sure who knows what demons they are walking around with? It does make me a lot more empathetic that way, I think, when I detect stress in others and defensive on their behalf when I see the corporate sharks move in.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

Hats, hats are great. It’s a uniform, isn’t it? Not beanies in my case though. And you’ll laugh at this, but I always have had my hair long to provide a fringe. Jesus and Mary Chain haircuts were great because they covered the eyes, goth likewise, but even general purpose metal long hair served the same purpose. Now it’s thinned out to the point I have to brush it back rather than forward so enter the hat! Next stop shaving the whole damn lot off but encountering resistance to that.

“’m sure I could seek remedial help but I just get on with it. Like honestly it’s a way of life now and if I didn’t have it then I wouldn’t be me. ”

This resonates hugely. It’s a real driver of other stuff. Because the energy (not to sound all new age about it, I don’t mean it in that way) or creativity or something is expressed differently. And again re flying I did wonder for a while if the fear fading was a sign of some kind of illness on some psychological level (once anxious, always anxious).

And 100% about how it generates a different attitude to others.

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4. Joe - December 7, 2019

Janey, WBS and ASF both, and to echo AM, fair play to you both for being open about mental health issues.
You both do my mental health a lot of good with your websites and postings.
I remember Eoghan Harris’s RTÉ documentary on bipolar illness in general and his own struggles with it. I remember he said something like “No matter how deep down low I might be, a general election would shake me out of it”. I guess it’s important to be interested and passionate about something – even if yis are both way off in so many ways about the north 🙂 🙂 🙂

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alanmyler - December 7, 2019

+1 to all of that.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

It’s the one thing I’d tend to have sympathy for EH for. And I do think it explains a lot about him. Re elections, sure tramping around Coolock and Darndale for the WP surely helped with depression. And similarly with TG later around DC. It’s what ASF says about performance. When you arrive at someones door it is a performance and you have to put on a face and I always found that (and in fairness another factor was the comradeship of people like yourself around in the WP and later DL and later again TGs people) took me out of myself hugely. In a way it was what was mentioned above, there’s a sense of achievement and that boosts what can be fragile self-confidence. Or maybe even not boosts because I don’t know if the self-confidence really improves but more that you know there’s another aspect to stuff.

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5. Joe - December 7, 2019

And speaking of creatures, I have one too. And this is the song I hope to sing at the wedding, if there ever is one.

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alanmyler - December 7, 2019

Jaysus Joe, that tune should come with a trigger warning in all fairness, I’m in floods here. I’ve two daughters myself, I get you.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

+1 Alan.

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6. roddy - December 7, 2019

Mrs Roddy and myself were returning from Italy one time when the pilot made 3 attempts at take off.He would be nearly at full speed for take off and then stand violently on the brakes.There were women shouting for water and I never seen as many people blessing themselves.There mustn’t have been a protestant or an atheist on the plane!

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

That does sound scary. What was the problem do you know?

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7. roddy - December 7, 2019

Dunno,nobody ever told us!

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

Thta kind of event, they should, shouldn’t they?

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8. Colm B - December 7, 2019

Back in the day, as international youth commissar for the WP, I flew to various places Soviet in the company of the late Sean O Cionnaith. I’d be sh****tn bricks as the aeroflop tin can bumped through the sky like a kulaks cart, which Sean always found highly amusing. He told me that Seamus Lynch had once resorted to the rosary on an particularly turbulent flight to Poland.
I think what cured me was going on long haul flights where you got so tired you didn’t give a damn what happened as long as you got sleep. That and going to places where the destination was scarier than the flying!
I refuse to watch Joe’s video, I’m already far to sentimental and protective when it comes to the Wee One.
And I’d echo Joe in taking my hat off to WBS and ASF. As someone who went through a real tough patch with the end of a marriage, I know it’s no easy thing to talk about such things but the fact that you do is a really positive thing.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

Thanks Colm and as you say partnerships ending is not easy either and can be very isolating.

Aeroflot. Externally they were good, internally… hmmm..
I was on a flight not so long ago filled with teens from Spain, some of who were visibly terrified. It was odd trying to reassure people!

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FergusD - December 8, 2019

I flew Aeroflot within the USSR back in the 80s. The planes did seem to rattle a lot and I could swear I could see daylight through gaps in the fuselage. Can’t have though. Apart from that I was OK with it. I liked a lunch of bread, salami and apple juice!

My late in-laws had a holiday in the USSR, also in the early 80s. They were waiting to take off on one occasion when my father-in-law looked out the window and saw two crew holding up the pilot, walking him around and pouring coffee down him! How scary was that!

But after the end of the USSRit was even worse:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airplaneski!

As for mental health, indeed fair play to all here who have opened up. My issue is health, sometimes I can get real bad health anxieties which can be hard to control. Usually set off by something real but then spins out of control. Google only makes it worse. And the pictures online – Jeez!

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9. Gearóid Clár - December 7, 2019

Thanks for the post, very interesting.

The fear, and the ways it affected you – all the way up to the xanax being a game-changer – is a perfect fit for my father. He’s a regular flier now, anytime he can find a cheap flight somewhere nice!

I’ve never had a problem flying, but had the panic attacks and serious social anxiety in my teens. It largely faded as I hit my early twenties, except for one aspect: eating out. How you describe the fear of flying is how that is for me. If there is a planned outing to a restaurant, I will think about it for days or even weeks in advance. It sounds minor, but it has a big impact on socialising, professional life, traveling and date nights with my wife. Going to conferences with colleagues, I come across as anti-social.

I have tried CBT with limited success, and now take beta-blockers to assist the CBT which is still only helping a little.

I can do public speaking to big crowds with little more than a bit of nerves, but tell me I am going to a white tablecloth restaurant and I’ll start shaking.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

I have a bit of that. I get very anxious even meeting friends if it is a place I’ve never been before. I’ll have indigestion, nerves, etc and if it is meeting strangers or mostly strangers… 😦 . Not panic attacks, nothing as bad as flying was, but again it’s a sort of social phobia, but as you say, lecturing, talks, presentations, not a bother. I think the ego thing kicks in there if one is fairly sure about what one is saying then all is grand. It’s the sense of being under an invisible microscope.

That’s interesting re CBT and beta blockers. I used to shy away from all pills, but mild doses of Xanax, or whatever, even close enough to placebo levels seem to work for flying.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

just on meeting in places. Just thinking, if I go somewhere new, I’ll check it up online not out of curiosity but to get a sense of the place so it’s not unpredictable. How much is food. What does it look like inside. What’s the layout. Where exactly is it. How long does it take me to get to it (It’s not as if time is an issue, but I need to know that stuff for some reason). I hate walking in on my own. It’s as if there’s no or as few surprises as possible. I know writing this down that sounds strange, but it does take the edge off, a bit. In fact I think back to when I was first prescribed Xanax the doc I had said ‘this won’t cure anything, but it will take the edge off’ and I figure that was quite good, the sense that it’s not going to be 100% but it might be 50% which is an improvement and then I work from there.

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10. alanmyler - December 7, 2019

Really good discussion going on here. O never thought of the CLR as a men’s she’d for Lefties but there we go. I’d like to echo all the feats about socializing. I’m a complete introvert, I find parties in particular quite stressful in the run up, almost a dread, but I’ve found that a couple of quick beers and performing to be a practical strategy for easing into the situation. I honestly thought that was completely normal, that social anxiety, until I met my now wife who’s a total extravert and realised that there was no such thing as normal, everybody’s different and has their own demons and fears. There was a very interesting article on the Guardian recently where the writer, a young woman and introvert, documented a week of acting as an extravert. It very closely matched my experience of performing, it created very positive and enjoyable outcomes but was totally draining. I’m wondering if over the intervening decades whether I’ve become less introvert. In my 20s I would have avoided social occasions, quite content if perhaps a little melancholy to sit in reading instead, but now I do genuinely enjoy and get a buzz from some social occasions, in particular college reunions with guys I knew 35 years ago, the CLR get togethers, drinking weekends with my in-laws, but never work occasions, I haven’t been to a work Christmas party in 20+ years. Another aspect of this is that I find I enjoy the company of women generally more than men and find the customary male female split at parties sometimes hard work. Now having said that there are exceptions and I was very relieved at a recent 50th party, for a member of my wife’s book club, to spend the night chatting to her male neighbour about the DDR of all things. I’ll aim up by saying that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to herself for instilling in me a healthy dose of anti bodies to my introversion over the years, and the constant war if attrition in combatting its worst excesses, which has been beneficial to my own outlook and sense of self worth. I’d like to think that has been a two way street of course. Anyway comrades it’s good to share this stuff, it’s not my revolution if we can’t do the man hugs thing and have a little cry or a laugh even every so often about how fucking hard and strange it is to be a sentient being.

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WorldbyStorm - December 7, 2019

A men’s shed for lefties. We’ve been called a lot of things… but that… hmmm. 🙂

It’s weird, like you say, close friends, the CLR events and a few others. I won’t go to work get togethers at Christmas. Just can’t do it either. The psychic stress is too great. What you say about how you took it for granted this was normal and then realising no, it wasn’t was a huge revelation. And that’s interesting too re the gendered thing. I find male get togethers oppressive (and that’s one thing about the CLR that with a few notable exceptions is curious).

It is the strangest thing being sentient. Just mad difficult.

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11. Stan - December 8, 2019

“I sometimes appreciate the absurdist nature of the condition. I remember doing a fancy PowerPoint presentation to a room packed with reps from a potential customer and glad-handing them for the day in work. It went great and my reputation skyrocketed. But that night I went to do my weekly shop in Clare Hall at 2am back when Tesco was opened 24/7 because I couldn’t handle the crowds during the day. Kinda mad but it is what it is.”

That all resonates – I was crippling shy in my teens and twenties, but weirdly perhaps, had no problem being on stage in front of sometimes 10s of people – or, rather, I would be anxious beforehand, but once up there with a guitar it was grand.
Just back from a conference, and I find them exhausting, but, again the least stessful bit is actually giving your paper. The rest of it – the ‘so what are you working on?’ the obligatory ‘that’s really interesting’ response, the finding someone to have lunch…. all takes it out of me much more

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WorldbyStorm - December 8, 2019

+1. It’s that performance thing. I hate the stuff around conferences too. I just want to get in, say my piece and get out. Of course a guitar is a prop too!

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EWI - December 9, 2019

Just back from a conference, and I find them exhausting, but, again the least stessful bit is actually giving your paper. The rest of it – the ‘so what are you working on?’ the obligatory ‘that’s really interesting’ response, the finding someone to have lunch…. all takes it out of me much more

I find large groups to be similarly exhausting. A few close friends present, in order to escape into their company, makes a huge difference…

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sonofstan - December 9, 2019

Yeah – not knowing anyone can reduce you to being feeling like a 7 year old that no one will play with, and the effort involved in cold-starting a chat with a stranger can be paralysing. At the conference I was at this weekend, over lunch, one of the few people I did know there walked passed me without a shred of recognition. I bumped into him later after he’d given his presentation and he confessed that he’d been shaking with nerves beforehand and had been unable to speak to anyone coherently all day. So sometimes, it’s not just you…..

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Joe - December 9, 2019

“So sometimes, it’s not just you…..”

That’s the thing I use to give myself a kick up the arse on these occasions or when I’m worrying about work stuff or whatever. The people you think are ‘looking at ya” or judging you or whatever, they’ve all their own stuff going on, they’re worrying about their own stuff, maybe even worrying about what you are thinking about them!…
So, it’s sometimes ‘Get over yourself Joe, nobody else gives a flying fook about you or what you look like or what you are saying’. And I suppose, if they do in any kind of bad way, fook them!

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12. WorldbyStorm - December 9, 2019

Just a quick word to say thank you to everyone on this thread for contributions, thoughts, advice, experiences and support. I was very reluctant to post this after writing it because I am wary of the ‘me, me, me’ aspect of blogging online, but it is very moving to find so many of us in the same boat or similar boats or having been in similar boats over the years and to have that shared. Genuinely appreciated.

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Dr. Nightdub - December 9, 2019

Not sure if this comes under the heading of “expanding it out” or just “irrelevant off-topic”, but where you’ve got fear of flying, I’ve got fear of water.

I know where it started. Early 70s, my mum brought me and my brother for swimming lessons in the Ormeau Baths in Belfast. Excited, we came hareing out of the changing room, saw a swimming pool for the first time in our lives, and jumped straight in. Whereupon, we discovered that swimming pools have deep ends.

The Ormeau had a kind of grandstand, where doting parents could sit and watch their kids learning to swim. Years after, my mum told me she sat and watched her two sons start to drown, she went into shock and all she could think of was “I wonder which one will they save first?” Luckily the lifeguards dived in for the pair of us and eventually, I kinda sorta learned how to swim a width.

Fast forward to Dublin as a teenager and a bunch of us decided to go to the local baths. I pushed off from the side, halfway down the pool, thinking if I got tired, I’d be able to stand on the bottom and catch my breath. Except I’d pushed off from the side at an angle and when I went to stand on the bottom, there was no bottom, just me sinking and flailing. In comes the lifeguard again.

More recently, me and her nibs have been on various holidays in the Mediterranean where we’ve gone to idyllic beaches, she goes in like the little mermaid and I peak once I’ve paddled up to my knees. I can’t count how many incredible beaches I’ve missed out on really enjoying properly on account of this.

Last year, I came home from Spain so pissed off with it all that I signed up for swimming lessons in our local pool. Summer just gone, after four courses of lessons, I swam in the Atlantic while in Galicia. Not far out from the sand, but no lifeguards were needed.

Last Thursday, in middle of lessons course #6, the instructor up in Clondaklin got us to dive into the deep end, then swim to the far wall.

After three repetitions, I nearly felt like I could abandon the swimming and just walk on the water.

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WorldbyStorm - December 9, 2019

That’s fantastic – the sense of achievement must be massive. Just thinking about it what strikes me is how people go from no fear to fear so quickly shaped on experiences like yours and it’s all down to the individual. And there is a real loss in terms of experiences avoided.

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13. tafkaGW - December 9, 2019

Great post and thread everyone. My personal disability was severe depression starting from middle teens through to my 30s. In those days mental health problems short of institutionalization weren’t really recognised or treated, a situation that is, thankfully, getting better.

Being constitutionally a tree-hugging socialist, I struggle with despair over the state of the world, but paradoxically, finding strategies to cope with depression, also hopes in living hope without optimism, as someone said.

Sheer bloody-mindedness in politics, care of personal relationships, exercise, doing things other than politics, helps, I find.

And the reflection that humanity has faced times that have felt apocalyptic before, and somehow come through.

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tafkaGW - December 9, 2019

I meant to say strategies developed to cope with depression, helps in continuing to be politically active, despite the odds stacked against you.

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WorldbyStorm - December 9, 2019

Exercise is key, it really really helps. Just physical activity because despite the caricature depression can actually leave one with a lot of energy to be burned off, can’t it? Bloody-mindedness too… useful! 🙂

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14. CL - December 9, 2019

““The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”-Karl Marx.

‘the emancipatory potential of Fanon’s approach to mental illness…..
Fanon recognised mental illness as a real experience that people endure. But he also offered an understanding of it as being influenced by society as well as culture….
Fanon tackled the quintessential question of the relationship between the individual and social structure – especially when the social structure itself is oppressive.”
https://theconversation.com/what-fanon-still-teaches-us-about-mental-illness-in-post-colonial-societies-102426

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CL - December 9, 2019

“The juxtaposition of a class society and an ethos of individualism and personal development puts the burden squarely on the worker. Old notions of Social Darwinism still linger over the field: those who deserve to get to the top will rise, and those left behind are where they belong. The resulting fracture in self-esteem may actually be compounded by a rise in social status.”
https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-hidden-injuries-of-class-by-richard-sennett-and-jonathan-cobb/

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15. Joe - December 9, 2019

Ah Jesus lads (it is all lads isn’t it?). I’ve been blessed with only ever having the mildest of mild depressions. More ennui / cynicism might be the ongoing thing.
But fair play bigtime to all on here who have battled and overcome or continue to battle. Solidarity. I love yis all.

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