operation chill-the-heck-out-about-flying | week 1

by lani

[ey-vee-uh-foh-bee-uh, av-ee-]
1. fear of flying in an airplane or other aircraft.

the reasons i have aviophobia are convoluted, hard to understand, and difficult to explain. it has something to do with statistics and sky’s death and flying to get ash, and the randomness of post-traumatic stress and anxiety. i’ve already written about five introductions to this post, struggling to encapsulate a consuming terror into a few paragraphs of justification and backstory.

and i give up. let’s just jump in the middle of this story, to the part right now in which i’m scared to death of flying.

but i have an opportunity, a beautiful opportunity to make a dream come true. and for this opportunity, i have to fly.

i have to get in a tiny metal capsule with strangers, and that capsule is going to leave the ground and somehow magically flout gravity until it doesn’t anymore, and hopefully we all walk away from it. and i have to do this more than once!

my fingers are sweating on the keyboard.

anyway …

and so, on a sunny late afternoon, i commenced operation chill-the-heck-out-about-flying. we piled the babies into the car, and set off to find planes to watch. desensitization, for the win.


i brought my camera to document this first step in my 10ish week journey from freaked out to flying, partly because i process through photography, and also because documenting the story of overcoming a phobia seems like an interesting photojournalistic effort.

after going to several locations, all of which cowered under looming “no parking” signs that threatened fines significantly higher than our “anxiety and phobias” budget category, we ended up on the top floor of the parking structure at pdx with two children who needed to get out and run.


they ran, and i watched planes. and took pictures.


being in photographer mode was a lot less nervewracking than watching the planes, so i decided to have fun with the winter sunset light and take pictures … while i was supposed to be watching planes … with kids who just wanted to run … yeah.


i got one decent shot. one.


and then, at some point, i realized that i was using my camera and photographer mode as a shield between myself and the discomfort of the anxiety. with a camera between me and the planes, it was easy to distance, to objectify, to disengage. darn sneaky phobia will hide behind anything if given the chance.

so i took a deep breath, handed the camera off to joel, and commenced to chase the little runners around instead of watching planes. darn sneaky phobia.


in these pictures, the planes are mostly behind me. i am watching planes out of the back of my head.

so i learned a few things this time.

i learned that fear likes to hide. behind a camera, behind running children, behind a husband, behind a beautiful sunset. the fear will hide if i give it a chance. i have to face it head on, and keep it in my headlights, shining brightly on it as it slowly (hopefully) evaporates.

i learned that even just watching planes with the knowledge that i am going to get on one makes my stomach flop. i really didn’t think i was that far gone in the land of aviophobia … but i guess i am. i suppose it’s best to know where i’m starting from.

i learned that confronting fear can happen all at once, but it doesn’t always have to. confronting fear can happen by baby steps, one toddle at a time. i took my first little step toward that transcontinental flight in a few months, and it felt tiny and insignificant. but that’s ok. i don’t have to be the hare; the tortoise finished the race, too.

i learned that, just as my daughter will be by my side on that dreamed-of journey, my family is by my side on this journey of conquering fear. and i believe that, with their support and the wind at my back,

i can fly.