Hiding under a plane seat
By Magnolia Fay
I have become afraid of flying. When I fly, I feel like I'm floating in the air, untethered, unsupported. To some, that feeling might be exhilarating, empowering. To me, it makes me want to crawl and hide in the space under the seat. Sometimes I pretend that's where I am. The illusion of a narrow space somehow makes my base feel more solid, more tangible. Less unstable.
This is a problem because I fly at least once every two or three months. And in the past two years, every small turbulence or unexpected movement has triggered a near-panic response. All internal, mind you. I do my best to shove it down. I did confess to a stewardess once, during a flight where I nearly had a panic attack. Luckily I was sitting in an empty row. The stewardess was kind and reassured me that all was well and I had no reason to be ashamed. She explained they always know the weather conditions beforehand. I often think of her when I'm scared during a flight, and it helps somewhat.
I fret when people are late in answering messages. Especially when I need to set appointments. Waiting is draining for me. When I do get an answer, I don't get a rush of relief, I don't feel like a burden had suddenly been lifted from my shoulders. The anxiety trickles down, like from a clogged sink, painfully slow. And I'm left tired like an old helium balloon.
I see a therapist for my anxiety. I have been for about seven years. Always the same therapist. She knows me well, and I think we are a good match, but I often get impatient and frustrated when the results are not immediate. I struggle to keep up with self-care protocols.
Three events have radically affected my mental state in the last three years.
The first event came at the end of 2019: I stopped taking hormonal birth control. At first, because of planned surgery. Then, because I didn't want to go back to it. I felt like my world, both inside and outside of me, had been switched from black and white to technicolour. Everything felt more intense: sounds, colours, ideas, feelings. My life's palette had never been so vivid; that included the darker colours.
The second event was the pandemic, which affected me in many ways similar to how it affected most of us. I felt more isolated, insanely worried for my parents working in healthcare, and I had to postpone my wedding twice. Home office mandates saved me because they let my husband (we had a small civil wedding in September 2020, but are still planning the proper one) be there for me. Even on the days when I was on the sofa for hours on end, scratching the bottom of the shame barrel and wanting him to leave so that I could wallow freely. Having someone there besides myself gave me a modicum of grounding even at the times when I would dissociate and feel like my body was a robot and I was a tiny entity trapped inside in some deep, dark corner.
The third event came in the second half of 2021. In a year and a half, I had totalled three long anxiety and depression episodes lasting a few weeks, I had lost a cousin to breast cancer and received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I was just starting to ease back into myself. I had started taking calming drops to help me sleep after a month-long streak of 1-3 hours per night. I was completely vulnerable and flayed open, all coping mechanisms and structures I had built over the years were gone. Burned to the ground. That's when my therapist suggested we try EMDR. I had no expectations or ideas whatsoever on how this would work. I feel like I am still in the middle of it. I started shedding mental weight, getting reacquainted with the sides of myself I had buried under layers and layers of shame. I still feel raw, tender, skinless.
Here I am now, having lived through all this. Afraid of flying, stressed by slow responses to messages. Wondering just how much extra worry a body can sustain throughout the years. A coach told me I am still in the germinating phase. The seed has barely sprouted; it is fragile and soft, sensitive to every tiny change in its environment. I need to nourish my roots and protect my delicate leaves. Yet I am here. I am out of the soil. I came through. I am determined to become a fucking dazzling flower.
In the meantime, I live through it. Our wedding is this September. And after that, we're flying to Australia for our honeymoon. That means four long-haul flights. Almost 40 hours on planes. It doesn't matter. I have wanted to see Australia ever since I was a child and watched The Rescuers Down Under. Will I be terrified? Most likely. But will I do it anyway? Absolutely. I will go to Australia. Even if my mind has to hide under my seat to get there.