Sunday, May 11, 2008

Putting The Friendly Back In The Skies

My Aunt J has been taking some cognitive behaviour therapy classes which use different techniques to help people overcome fears and anxieties; claustrophobia, agoraphobia, panic attacks, phobias, fear of driving, post traumatic stress disorder, anticipation of a range of catastrophes, as well as stressful activities such as giving presentations and interviewing.

In her life, she has had some anxiety dealing with traveling; specifically flying. After months of completing small assignments such as taking the subway into New York City alone, or traversing long, panic inducing suspension bridges, the class has moved onto the larger task of taking a flight. Yes, on an airplane.

The trip would consist of a round-trip flight from New York to Boston. Total time in the air is something like thirty-four minutes. I e-mailed her before the flight to let her know I was thinking about her and then called today to find out how it went. Listening to her talk about the experience had me both proud of her for going but also in stitches visualizing all she was describing.

For a thirty minute flight, people armed themselves with magazines, DVD's, books, knitting, snacks, iPods, water, sleep-masks and the like. You'd think they were flying to Europe the way their carry-ons were packed. The group met at the airport before the flight. My aunt said that some people in her class didn't show up and one of the men she saw initially at the airport, never appeared the rest of the day. It's suspected that he never got on the plane.

They filed on the plane, looking for their seats and getting comfortable with their surroundings. They were even given a tour of the cockpit like eighth graders on a school trip. She said the other passengers on the plane appeared to be rolling their eyes thinking, "Great. Is this little field trip going to delay our flight??" Amid all the activity, decisions were being made. Who wanted to sit near their counselor. Who didn't want to sit next to the window. Who had to have an aisle seat in case they needed to make a mad dash to the bathroom, etc.

At one point, one of the stewardesses grabbed my aunt's hand and said, "I'm so proud of all of you for what you're doing. I understand how difficult this is for you. I have anxieties myself."

"Oh?" my aunt said, trying to be sympathetic.

To which the stewardess replied, "Oh yeah. I'm terrified of heights." Great. A stewardess afraid of heights. At the raising of my aunt's brow, she said, "Oh, no, not in the plane. Once I'm inside, I feel very secure. It's more like tall buildings or walking across a pedestrian skyway, that kind of thing. I even have panic attacks."

"You don't plan on having one today, do you?" my aunt replied. I'm thinking this just isn't something to tell a group of people who are anxious to begin with. The stewardess is supposed to be there for their safety, not to give them more things to stress over. She assured my aunt that there was nothing to worry about, as it was a short flight and they would all do just fine.

It's hard for me to identify with fears of almost any kind, because I don't really have any, and fear of traveling is just never something I've had to contend with. I'm actually a bit surprised I didn't inherit that gene, since my mother (and all of her sisters, this one included) seem to have anxiety about traveling or going out of their comfort zone. In talking with my aunt, I'm learning more and have been trying to relate on a level that helps me understand what these people are going through. Knowing Aunt J's history, I can't begin to even express to her how monumental I know this event had to be for her.

So when I called her today to wish her a happy mother's day, I immediately asked about her trip. She said, "Well, it was fine. I'm feeling a little jet-lagged though, so I'm just relaxing today."

Jet-lagged??? I almost fell out of my seat!!!

"What?" she asked, at my laughter.

"Aunt J...You cannot be jet-legged on a flight that not only took place in the same time-zone, but that was only in the air for thirty-four minutes!!"

She laughed at this and went on to tell me about the rest of her adventure. I'm thrilled at her baby-steps and asked her when her next flight was going to be. I even offered to buy her an all expense paid trip with ME as her guide, just to get her on a plane again soon, as you gotta keep riding that horse.

She said she'd think about it and get back to me. I hope she picks someplace further than thirty minutes away; I want to at least get through a Diet Coke and a bag of peanuts!

1 comment:

bleeding espresso said...

With airlines going bankrupt left and right, I think you'll be lucky if you even get a drink and peanuts....

Congrats to your aunt!