My client was afraid of flying… really, really afraid…
She said that on her most recent flight, she spent the entire time on her mother’s lap. She was clutching her mom’s shirt so tightly she actually tore it… and she was 30 years old.
Generally, she avoided flying at all costs. On the few occasions that she absolutely had to, she had to be heavily medicated – her panic had been highly distressing to other passengers and crew, and she had been “in serious trouble” on flights in the past – like, nearly arrested trouble.
Her fear had caused her to miss out on many fun trips with friends and family. Her husband’s international work often accommodated and paid for spouses – but she had always declined.
Any time even the possibility of air travel came up, she found herself compulsively googling air tragedies, and watching videos of plane crashes… it helped her feel better about not wanting to get on a plane.
She knew she was suffering. She knew she was missing out. She was fed up, and she wanted to change – so she came to see me.
In hypnosis, she was guided back to the first moment she felt this overwhelming fear of flying… and watched it as an observer from a safe and comfortable distance. We explored what else was going on at that time in her life, and the underlying story of what was happening opened up…
In the weeks leading up to that moment, her life was deeply emotionally and logistically complex. An only child, she had recently finished her degree while living in her parent’s home, landed her first “real” job, and had moved into her first apartment.
Her grandmother, with whom she was closely bonded, lived in a city a few hours away. “Nanny” had been terminally ill for some time, and had recently moved out of her home and into Hospice for end of life care.
Her parents, wanting to be closer to “Nanny” at the end, and reasoning that - as my client had her own place now - they decided to sell the family house, and move to “Nanny’s” city.
Going into the last year of her degree, my client had planned a vacation with friends to a fun a warm place to celebrate her accomplishment for after graduation, and before starting “real life” - but as the trip approached, she felt powerfully conflicted. She was spending as much time with her “Nanny” as she could, and was planning to cancel the trip, but “Nanny” said that she hoped that my client would go – “Nanny wants you to go”.
“Nanny” said that my client had worked hard, and had earned that vacation. How could she not do what her dying Nanny had told her to do?
All of this was contained in a single image for my client… an infinitesimal moment in time.
My client was distraught as she sat on the plane, “Am I doing the right thing?”, “Should I be staying?”
She realized that by the time she got back, her Nanny might be dead. Her childhood home would be gone, her parents moved away… her whole life as she had known it would be completely different…
And then the plane moved.
In that single moment, all choice… all options… all control… evaporated.
Seeing it from this new perspective, my client realized that her panic wasn’t about flying at all – that the flight was just a trigger to all of the fear, and grief, and uncertainty she was experiencing in that moment.
The initial movement of the plane became an anchor to those feelings. Every time she heard and felt that plane start to move – she was right back in that painful moment.
My client realized that she wasn’t afraid of flying at all - she was simply doing everything she could to not have to feel all of that – all over again.
Going forward, our sessions revolved around addressing her grief, and reframing the changes she was going through at the time.
Shortly after our sessions, I received a note from my client after she had returned from a trip to Costa Rica with her mother. She had a fantastic time, and commented on how much she had enjoyed being able to watch an in-flight movie – a simple thing that in the past had not even been a possibility because she was always in such a panicked state.
She told me that her mother had appreciated being able to arrive with her clothing intact so much - that she had booked and paid for a weekend trip to Las Vegas for the two of them at the end of the month!
I asked her to send me a post card.