I don’t want to go into the full story right now, but I suffer from an anxiety disorder. As this is supposed to be a fun happy blog, I’ll just say there were some dark times before I got it under control. Who knows, maybe I’ll write about the full story one day. But for now, I’ll just give you a sample to help you understand how my anxiety has affected my fear of flying to Orlando.
I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in summer 2014, after I’d had a serious panic attack where I was convinced I was going to die. It was so bad I even kissed a photo of my nephew (who passed away in 2011) and told him Uncle Carl was coming to see him soon. It was one of the worst nights of my life.
I’ve always been a bit of a nervous person and looking back, I can remember certain events in my life and see some kind of anxiety in them. The way I used to deal with bad news was always a little off and if someone didn’t reply to me within five minutes I’d convince myself they hated me. I could sometimes end up in the corner of my room crying over friendships I thought I’d lost. Of course, as soon as I got a reply I’d be as right as rain again, but it was pretty intense and I never understood why I reacted that way.
So it should be no big surprise that I’ve always been afraid of flying. I didn’t step foot on a plane until I was 16 and I’ve been incredibly nervous before every flight, but back then it was nothing that a couple of beers couldn’t cure.
Just before the panic attack mentioned above, my parents booked an apartment in Spain for two weeks and invited me to fly out there to join them. So I booked a flight and was set to jet off on a holiday with my folks that was practically free.
As soon as I booked the flights, about two months before I was due to travel, it started. I would have nightmares about planes crashing which quickly developed into an obsession I spent almost every second thinking about. I started watching planes in the sky convinced they were going to crash, explode or just disappear before my eyes. It was all very irrational, but that’s what my fear of flying is. It’s an irrational fear, and it’s one that goes hand in hand with anxiety.
After the attack, I decided I wasn’t going a plane ever again. I even went as far as booking a 60hr round coach trip instead. Imagine choosing a 30hr coach ride over 2-3hrs on a plane, it’s madness really. But I’d decided that if I got on that plane, it would crash and I’d die.
About two weeks before I was due to travel, I had a change of heart and refused to let it beat me. So I went to the doctors and asked them for help. They prescribed me with diazepam which allowed me get on the plane and have a great holiday. At the time I thought I’d be ok for the flight home. But as soon as the end of the holiday drew closer, it became clear that just wasn’t the case. As soon as I got home I decided that was me and planes done, and if I had to take heavy duty meds to get on one it just wasn’t worth it. Then I met Charlotte and everything changed.
There were three of us in the relationship to begin with, Charlotte, me and my anxiety. It must have been really tough for her as for a while, I was a mess. I couldn’t get a shower without having an attack and contemplated going to A&E every few days to make sure everything was alright, but she’s an amazing woman and helped me get through every second.
Charlotte loves a holiday and it soon became apparent that I’d have to face my fears again and get on a plane. We went to Crete in 2015 (I was so out of it due to the diazepam that I used my brother in-laws girlfriend’s foot as a hand brake during turbulence) and Spain in 2016, and I managed both flights ok with the drugs. However the build up still brought me nightmares and constant thoughts of impending doom.
The problem is, the airport is a part of the holiday for Charlotte (as for most people I think) but for me it’s basically hell. Every time I get on a plane I’m 95% certain it’s going to crash. It’s harrowing but the airport is like queueing for my own death and I go really quiet and pale white. I’m not fun to be around, it affects Charlotte’s enjoyment and I absolutely hate that. I don’t think that will ever change, but the one thing I can do is try to embrace it and get as much excitement as I can at the airport.
The honeymoon brought a different perspective for me. As we’ve said before, we spent a week at Disney and a week at Universal and it’s somewhere I never thought I’d be able to go. It’s Charlotte’s favourite place in the world – she’s been on a few family holiday’s to Orlando – so her glee at the thought of going back gave me a very happy feeling. There were a lot of things that were different from the other holidays I’d been on, and they all had a positive impact on me and provided distractions from the thought of flying.
From the excitement of a 13 month build up, to the brilliant My Disney Experience app – where I could check what the queue time for It’s a Small World was at 7pm, just for the hell of it, plan the route around Disney Springs, book restaurants and fast passes and decide how we would spend each day – the detail needed to book a Disney holiday helped keep me busy and stopped the flow of constant burning plane images from entering my brain.
We also did the airport differently. We flew from Manchester and stayed the night before at the Radisson Blu Hotel. Our room had a runway view so I could stare at planes to my hearts content. In a strange twist of fate, I can watch planes all day if I’m not planning to get on one – I’m equally as fascinated with them as I am terrified. Waking up the next morning without the rush of getting to the airport really helped me relax.
We had a free upgrade to the Virgin Lounge as a congratulations on our marriage and I think that also kept me calm. It was nice to have a couple of beers and chill out in a non-stressful environment before the flight. All these things combined helped Charlotte get a bit more enjoyment out of airport too, which was my goal to begin with.
Instead of thinking ‘my plane is going to crash’ my thought process changed. I argued with my brain and for the first time convinced myself we were going to be fine. We were going to Disney on our dream honeymoon and I was going to ride on attractions I’d always dreamed of. I was returning to my favourite country and seeing a city I hadn’t been too before. Charlotte’s excitement played a massive part too.
I didn’t have many nightmares. The awful thoughts were few and far between. A simple change of perspective and the way I was thinking made me realise we were going to be fine.
A few weeks before we flew I decided I didn’t want to take any medication. I wanted to have a beer in the airport before my honeymoon, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t try using anyone’s foot as a hand brake.
I got the medication from the doctors – just in case – but I’m delighted to say I did something I never thought I would do – I got on a plane without diazepam. I managed the whole flight without it and flew to bloody America unassisted.
Don’t get me wrong I was terrified, I was still quiet in the airport and squeezed Charlotte’s hand every time there was a little bump. But I did it.
On the way home I had one tablet before we left. It wasn’t quite as exciting going home and due to the airline splitting me and my wife up on the plane – they actually moved us together once we mentioned my fear of flying –so it chilled me out a bit and I don’t think it really matters that I had to take one on the way home.
On the way there I did it without, and I’m really proud of that.
Do you have a fear of flying to Orlando? How do you combat it?