Fear of Flying

barbMy crippling fear of flying stems from a traumatic event that occurred to me when I was 10 years old. Decades later I’m now a fully qualified skydiver with over 20 dives to my name, this is how I conquered my fear.

Back in 1961, flying was not as cheap or as common-place as it was today. However, by this point travelling around the world was starting to be claimed by the every-man. No longer was flight an unreachable luxury, reserved for only the richest of businessmen and musicians. Commercial airports were beginning to crop up all around the UK and young families were starting to take their first faltering steps into the world of the package holiday.

couple 60sI was fortunate enough at the time to have parents that both earned a considerable amount of money. My father was a manager for a local car dealership and my mother was one of the few female car salesmen in the country. A winning team in marriage and business, they loved nothing more than lavishing us with holidays. Up until that point we’d been to Scotland, London and Cornwall – all of which felt like exotic places when compared to our industrial Sheffield.

However, when 1959’s financial year came to a close, my parents’ business had pulled in more money that ever before, and they wanted to celebrate. A package deal, one of the first of its kind, was booked to Barcelona and we were all ecstatic. Neither of my parents had ever flown before, yet they were confident in the safety of flying (despite Buddy Holly’s death in early 1959) and were glowing with pride as we pulled up to the airport with myself and my older brother.

With airport travel being such a novelty for most British people at the time, there were a lot of inexperienced flyers in the terminal that day. As a 10 year old child, unused to large crowds, I found the press of people claustrophobic. The combined stress and worry of the couple of hundred people, queuing before the security terminal, had my heart racing. When it came to passing through the security, I was shouted at by one of the officers. My parents, bless them, were little comfort as they started to become just as edgy and nervous as the other people.

60s planeWhen it came to boarding the plane, I was a nervous wreck. I had decided to be grown up and not cry, but the tension was building inside of me. The air hostesses could sense my fear, but there was little they could do as the other passengers, by this point, had whipped themselves into the closest thing British people could get to a frenzy.

The engines started with a choke and splutter. My parents, assuming I was now fine with the whole ordeal, put me on the window seat right above the wing. Once the engines were pushed to full throttle the sound was deafening and I felt like the very bones in my body were being shaken. By this point I had resigned myself to death, silent tears were falling down my face and I was visibly shaking – but no one noticed. So lost in their own heads, were my parents, that they took no notice. I’d never felt more lost and alone.

Four hours later, we had landed and were fine. But the 2 weeks we spent in Spain were overshadowed by the catatonic state that I had fallen into. Unwilling to communicate or look anyone in the eyes, I had retreated into my own head. I believed that I had died, and could not come to terms with the shock of being hurtled through the air at thousands of miles per hour.

That day scarred me for years.

airplane2If I saw a scene involving an air plane at the cinema, I would have to leave the auditorium in a cold sweat. Just the sound of a plane passing over head would send my heart racing. I had to carry medication around with me, in case a panic attack was unexpectedly triggered.

It took me five decades and years of therapy to see a plane in the sky and not fall back into a state of panic and fear.

Around 2010, my son went travelling around the world. On his gap year, he’d not been allowed to travel on planes up til this point due to my nervousness, I could no longer stop him from exploring the world. He took eight long distance flights in the space of a year. He called after each and everyone to tell me that he’d landed safely. When he came back home, he was breathless with adventures and excitement – I knew that I needed to conquer my fear.

backpackerI was 60, and I’d only left the country once. Both my children were about to leave home and I’d barely seen the world outside my home city of Sheffield.

It was my therapist who suggested the skydive. I’d been seeing him for years, but after I’d told him about my son’s experience he must have seen the determination in my eyes.

When it came to the first jump, my husband was holding me firmly by the hand. Ironically, it was the taking off in the plane that was the scariest part. The plane was small, and I was shaking before I’d even stepped up to the door.

Once the door was slammed shut, and the engine had been pushed to full throttle I was practising my relaxation techniques and focusing on the comforting embrace of my husband.

The jump was one of pure liberation.

Not only was I doing something that most 60-year old women would never dream of attempting, I was celebrating my conquering of a fear that had ruled my mind for decades.


Skydiving in Catalonia

emmaThree years after my first skydive for charity, I had over twenty dives under my belt. I’d passed the first three levels of the AFF qualifications, and started the first Skydiving Society at my University. The skydive bug had dug its teeth in deep. After my first skydive for charity, all I’d wanted to do was to get back in the air and make the leap once more. My close friends thought I was crazy. I’d gone from being a girly girl, living for the weekend and going out to a studious, skynerd who saved all her pennies for her next dive.

Luckily, I’d made a heap of friends whilst starting the Society. Jumping out of a moving plane at 5000 feet tends to bond individuals, no matter how disparate your personalities seem from the start. This was ideal, as my next plan for my skydiving escapades would take me far out of the United Kingdom and into uncharted territories. Catalonia was the destination that I had in mind, I’d read in magazines about the gorgeous countryside and it sounded amazing. There were loads of Skydiving Companies out there who all had good reps online, so it was just a matter of booking the flights and getting out there.skydive

We very nearly didn’t make the flights, if it hadn’t been for my Mum forcing me to book parking from Edinburgh airport (airportparkingmarket.co.uk has the best deals!) we would’ve missed them for sure. We were so busy thinking of insurance, currency and accommodation that we never thought of it. After waiting half an hour for Toby to drag his ridiculously oversized luggage to the car, and getting stuck in traffic for another twenty minutes; we were close to running late. Thank the Lord, my Mum forced us to book a parking space. We breezed in to the car park and just about made it through security in time. I blamed Toby, Toby blamed the traffic – we all thanked my Mum.

catalonia landscapeSunny Catalonia was everything that the magazine pictures promised and more. The magazines didn’t feature the wonderfully friendly locals who helped us find our way to the airfield; the magazine also neglected to mention the stunning food that totally blew our minds. If you’ve taken a few sky dives and enjoyed them, I wholeheartedly recommend taking a dive overseas. The combination of exploring a new country and jumping out of a plane to get the ultimate panoramic view makes for an absolutely awesome experience!

A Sky Dive Was The Answer To My Need For Adrenaline

jasonWhen I first got into skydiving, I was at a crossroads in my life. In my mid-30s, I had plenty of money. My job in recruitment had put me in a stable financial position however, due to the large amount of hours that I worked, I was single and without a family. Now many people would argue that I had all the time in the world, that my money and job made me desirable – and that I was easy on the eyes. I wouldn’t feign to disagree with these people, but it wasn’t a partner and family that I was seeking in my thirties. No, after nearly 15 years of office work and board room meetings, I needed adrenaline.

driving-fast-637x408Now, I had tried a lot of the typical extreme sports already. In fact, in the years before my first dive, I had experimented with surfing, rock climbing and had a brief love affair with very fast cars. Although these proved to be worthy distractions to my ennui, there was an itch that had not been fully scratched. Nothing felt visceral enough, there were either too many safety precautions in place or the danger just didn’t feel real enough.

My first sky dive was a gift to me from my sister. She’d watched haplessly as the Porsches came and went and as my garage filled up and emptied of an assortment of ropes, hooks and pulleys. I’d dismissed skydiving up to this point as a novelty, an expensive time-consuming hobby with a fleeting high. How wrong I was. The training and induction took an entire day, although I found it tedious for the first hour, every minute leading up to the jump my excitement began to mount. As individuals were led away, one by one, to the planes that were taking off and landing all day, I felt something that I was not accustomed to – fear.

sky diveI had driven cars at hundreds of miles per hour, I’d been paddle-board shark fishing in the Pacific but somehow I found myself scared at a simple jump. A jump that I had seen pensioners performing just earlier. The fear that built was an innate one and it only grew as the day wore and my time finally came to take the plunge. I had taken many flights before, but not in a plane so small. As we took off, a wild eyed kind of panic took hold of me. My eyes must have betrayed my emotions as the instructors on board asked me if I was alright. I nodded my affirmation and took the plunge, and what followed was one minute of sheer unadulterated adrenaline.

shark thresherA sky dive is ‘one of those’ experiences. Something that can be described and elucidated, but never fully communicated. Even if you don’t have the same need for speed that I have, I can guarantee you that your first sky dive (even if its your last one) will be an experience that you will never forget.