Anneliese Colwell Bristol 2013
Fifteen years ago I experienced an engine failure in a single-engine aircraft over a large swamp in America. It was an extraordinary event! Facing death is, fortunately, not an everyday occurrence and understandably will leave its mark. For me though it left me with a flying phobia that has gripped me for 15 years stopping myself and my family from ever travelling abroad.
I have previously tried hypnosis, NLP, a simulator trip, vodka, Valium, beta blockers (and a combination of them all)! My husband, a pilot, has explained the mechanics behind flying to me many times but I didn't really listen - I couldn't. The phobia would just take hold and say “yeah, yeah but you've had one bad experience, you won't be so lucky next time”. So many people tried to help, telling me all the statistics, the safety records, how to overcome it. Nothing made any difference. All their kind words hit a wall, a wall that obstinately insisted I was different, none of this pertained to me, I would die because any aircraft I went in would crash - even the air ambulance that came to pick me up when I broke my leg!
Then, last week I went on this fear of flying course and everything has changed. I am absolutely amazed. I read the blurb and saw the videos of ’cured’ people and still thought, “yeah, yeah, not me - it won't help me”. Well I was wrong and how glad I am to be wrong. Some very small thing shifted in me, when I read Mark's account of himself, that helped me book the course but I didn't realise that until afterwards and the course itself was remarkable.
Every person involved from Lawrence, to Mark, to Chris and the crew were fantastic. The energy of Lawrence, the experience of Mark, the calm, gentle authority of Chris, the kindness of the crew and the total goodwill and genuine wish to help of them all made me feel safe to try every stage of the two days. They made me question myself, made me realise that actually my phobia wasn't special and in fact it wasn't even “mine”, it was just a phobia and I shouldn't necessarily trust my brain- it can be fooled. They gave me tools and they took my phobia away.
Those few words are so quick to write but my goodness this course has changed my life. I am still slightly confused and bewildered because although I hated being phobic about flying I was used to it. I was used to saying I didn't like holidays anyway. I was used to telling people I was frightened of flying and used to hearing the incredulous replies when they knew my husband was a pilot. I was used to the triggers and responses I had when I saw aeroplanes. I didn't want to be that way but I thought I would be and it was all so familiar. It had become a defining part of who I am.
Now I can tell people I “used” to be frightened of flying and over the coming weeks it will all become a reality, I can once again be free. I went home after the ground school course on Friday and slept beautifully. I knew I was going to fly the next day but I kept having to say it to myself because I wasn't responding in the expected way - no nightmares, no sweating, shaking, horrible thoughts- terror. I went out riding with my family on Saturday morning and was so happy, so relaxed. I got in the car to go to the airport, no reactions, arrived, went in, checked in- still nothing.
I said to everyone that asked that I was fine and indeed I was. I didn't understand it but I wasn't lying, I was fine. I did wonder when it would all hit me and assumed reality would dawn at least when I stepped into the aircraft ( the first time in eleven years) but still nothing, absolutely nothing. I checked my hands - no shaking, no sweating and then the most incredible thing - something I used to do and so wanted again, I laughed as the engines roared and we shot off down the runway. I had visualised this and longed for it and there I was loving it, happy, exhilarated, excited, thrilled with my two little girls beside me experiencing their first ever flight (because I wouldn't let them fly either) and also absolutely loving it too.
What a gift. I set out to try all this for my children, they couldn't be the only ones never to have flown when their father was a pilot, and here I was able to be there and share their joy. There were moments when I felt some anxiety but very normal levels, similar to doing anything a bit out of the ordinary or even a bit exciting and I used the tools Lawrence taught me and listened to Chris explaining what was happening with the aircraft and I was back to being relaxed again. I walked around and wasn't worried when others did the same. I chatted, I looked out of the window, I laughed and I didn't even hear some of the sounds Chris was explaining - I used to hear every single sound, every change in vibration, tone, volume.
I realise now that I had a flying phobia but it wasn't “my” flying phobia and I don't have to live with it for the rest of my life. It's been taken away and now, a week later I can talk to my husband every day about what he does at work, I can ask where he's going and where he's been and even go with him. I can see aeroplanes in the sky and wander where they are going instead of worrying that they are about to crash. It's such a huge, huge relief and although I know I have had much to do with changing my situation I also know that without Lawrence, Mark, Chris and all the crew involved I would not only still be earthbound and terrified that my husband was going to die every day at work but I would also still have this terrible guilt of holding my family back and stopping them from fulfilling their lives. Thank you to all involved, you have given us truly a wonderful gift - opportunity.