Fear can be our single biggest enemy. Imagine what we could all do and become if we weren’t scared of anything at all? Although, some things are meant to strike fear into us – like losing our children or running the other way if we encountered a lion. Without fear we’d almost certainly miss the kind of danger that would be the end of us. But too much fear or misplaced fear can rule your life in all the wrong ways… And don’t I know it! When I was younger I don’t remember being scared of much apart from a particularly menacing imaginary friend resembling Humpty Dumpty *shivers*. Then when I got a bit older I developed my first major fear… a fear of fire.
I think it all began when I watched an episode of “London’s burning” featuring a flat fire, followed by an episode of soap opera “Brookside” which featured a huge explosion. So those together with the incessant fire alarm that would go off in our block of flats because we lived above a club probably sparked the fear. Even when we moved and the fire alarms in the middle of the night stopped, it was too late. I’d developed an obsession about fire. The slightest noise in the night would keep me up and I’d go round checking all the plugs were out of the walls before I went to sleep, much the annoyance of my Mum who the next day would have to scramble under plants and cabinets just to turn a lamp on. Then our new neighbour set a chip pan (and his whole kitchen) alight, and I had my first real experience of fire. We couldn’t get the smell of smoke out of the corridor for weeks and it intensified everything. But a few years on, almost as suddenly as it had begun, my fear of fire just went. I can’t pinpoint when but one night I stopped sleeping with one eye open and could finally stay round friends houses without eyeing up their electrics or planning my escape route. That’s the funny thing about fear, it can creep up on you then leave you just as fast and until it’s gone you don’t realise how much it can dictate how you live.
So what next? Flying. Fear of flying was never something I thought I identified with… I first flew when I was 8 years old, which was a fairly boring 4 hour flight to Greece. I was fine there and back, thought nothing of it – as children so innocently do. When I was 10 I flew again to Cyprus and even took a fairly cranky looking plane to Egypt for the day. Again, no problems. Somewhere between that flight home from Cyprus and a flight to Germany when I was 14, I became nervous of stepping foot on a plane. I’m not sure if it was the sudden, more adult, realisation of what flying actually was or my awareness of things like airline security and the world post 9/11 – but something clicked. I spent that flight to Germany too scared to look out the window. I managed it though and afterwards I didn’t rule out flying completely, I just accepted it scared me. So when I went on a school trip a year later, I made it there and back (in the snow) without too much squeezing of my friends hand. Cue 2010… The year it most definitely went wrong. We had a once in a lifetime holiday to the Caribbean with the money my late Grandmother left us. It was roughly 8-9 hours each way. And that was that. I was so terrified, from hours before the flight even left, that at almost 16 years old I held my Mum’s hand for hours in the air (in any other situation that would have been the most embarrassing thing ever). I also refused to eat a thing all day, because I couldn’t. Even when we arrived I couldn’t eat all the amazing food for a good 48 hours. I remember being sick in the gardens and feeling completely and utterly rotten. My Mum was worried I was going to get ill thousands of miles away from home – and I suppose I was ill but in a way I’d never experienced. My fear had turned into a phobia. It lasted days and ruined half the holiday. Looking back, I must have been suffering from full blown anxiety for the 9 hour flight and that plays havoc with your body. I spent the majority of my “relaxing” two weeks on a beach psyching myself up to get on the damn plane home. But it made no difference and on take off I gripped the seat and played Alicia Keys on a loop for the full duration on the flight. I can’t listen to this album today without thinking of fear! The second I landed on English soil I swore blind I could never, and would never set foot on a plane again. I got home and was tearful for about a week afterwards (as well as half a stone lighter). It was all fear talking and true to my word, for the next four years I didn’t get another flight for anything or anyone. I would take the ferry to Ireland, we did breaks in the UK for holidays. Nope, no one was going to get me on that death trap again! But one day, your fear will begin to run your life.
So over 2 years ago I’d decided, Enough was enough. For what was essentially an irrational fear, it was ruining my life. I couldn’t go to gigs, on holidays, or even consider visiting a place I dreamed about – New York. I realised I had to become stronger than my fear. But how on earth do you reverse something so strong? By this point I had talked myself so far into this fear that I couldn’t watch a plane on TV without my mouth going dry. So I started where most with a fear of flying would never go – I watched as many episodes I could find of Air Crash Investigation. Let me explain myself! To me, the only way I could see myself getting over this was to educate myself. I needed to know less about how “statistically planes are the safest way to travel” because statistics don’t mean much when you’re at 37,000 feet. No, I needed to learn about planes themselves and the best way to do that was to learn what CAN go wrong with them and the inner workings too. To me, knowledge is power. So it began. National Geographic became my go-to channel every night where I would watch back-to-back episodes of Air Crash. The more smoke and flames and actors screams I absorbed, the more used to potential disaster I became. But it wasn’t the terror that started to sink in, it was the knowledge. Because behind every crash was a malfunction or bad training or a series of unfortunate events. And the programme would always be concluded with a change of procedure or the underlying faults being fixed. The main point being it would be extremely unlikely to happen again. And every time I heard the technical terms for parts of a plane, I felt like I knew just that little bit more about the ways in which it could actually fly and not fall out the sky. My Mum and I started joking that I was more like a 60 year old plane spotter but in reality I was a 20 year old who badly wanted to fly to America one day. So on I went – I even spotted a book about Boeing aircraft in Waterstones and bought it, much to the amusement of the person on the till. Embarrassing. I downloaded the Plane Finder app which to this day I look at daily to remind myself just how many planes are in the air – and safe – at any one second. At 20 years old I finally did it. I flew to Rome after four years of refusing to listen to my heart. And man was it hard. On the way there my heart was going and I couldn’t handle take off at all. But to my absolute surprise halfway through I relaxed and actually managed to drink my tea and look out the window a good few times. I felt okay! Not great, but okay. I was like a kid at Christmas! What had I wasted four years of travel for?! When I landed the anxiety was a bit like a delayed reaction and combined with the heat, I didn’t feel quite so good. But it was my first try and I was proud I had done it regardless. The flight back was a little more turbulent and I definitely felt more subdued than before. But I did it. And most importantly, this time I wasn’t refusing to go away again.
I no longer buried my head in the sand. And if that meant going to Heathrow the night before flights so I could watch the planes out of my hotel window, or watching air crash to educate myself on the fuselage or hydraulics then so be it.
And now? Not only did I completely conquer my fear, I’ve grown to love flying. Yes, love. My office has nicknamed me Miss Know-It-All when it comes to travel and airports. Things can change and your fears can fall away and turn into passions.
Whatever helps you through your fear, you have to do it. The only thing to fear – is fear itself. And once you realise that, the rest will fall into place. Take charge of your life or it’ll pass you by and one day be too late. And in case you were wondering, it’s never too late to make a change. Baby steps is all you need because that’s what I did and believe me there’s nothing scarier than that first step. But as long as you’re going forward you can’t go back, and there’s nothing in this world that makes me feel braver than knowing I CAN do the thing that used to scare me most.
I hope that what must be my longest blog yet helps just one person out there find the courage to face their biggest fear and take the first baby steps towards getting over it.
Love, hugs and a middle finger up to fear!