It’s a serene October night in Cleveland, Ohio. There’s a cool breeze coming off of Lake Erie, so I have my bedroom windows cracked to let it in. You can hear the breaking of the waves on the cliff behind my apartment and the sound of the breeze gently swaying the wind chimes one of my neighbors have on their balcony. It’s a beautiful night, calm and relaxing, the very reason why I love living where I do. I should be in the middle of a deep, refreshing sleep, from which I will awake fresh and reinvigorated. Instead, I’m sitting up in bed covered in a cold sweat. My pillow is damp, my heart is racing, and I’m breathing in slowly, deeply, trying to prevent the anxiety that is currently creeping in from taking grip and causing a full blown Panic Attack.
It’s been a while since things have gotten that bad, not since High School have things gotten to the point where I’ve totally lost control over my body and let the anxiety take over, but this is a sensation that I’m all too familiar with. The sensation of being blind-sided in my sleep by some deep-set fear, of having to fight it back into the dark recess of my mind from which it came, and of then having to somehow calm down enough to find some sleep, however little, so I can get through the following day.
Over the years, scenes like this have become less and less common. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve explored these anxieties and faced them head on. I’ve analyzed them with the hopes of figuring out what it was about my life at the time that led to moments where, at the edge of sleep, my mind would become overwhelmed by fear to the point where I would lose control. With enough reflection, I finally realized that it was because I was throwing myself into my work at the expense of my friends, family, and relationships. I found myself on a path where, while I was certain I would succeed in life, I knew deep down that I’d be lacking in the things I truly wanted; experiences, adventure, love, friendships. So I made adjustments, went out of my way to leave work at work, to expand my interests and to pursue things I had given up on years ago. I started writing again. I finally got over an awful breakup and started meeting new people. At the age of 24, I essentially started over. And now, two years later, things have never been better. I’m happy. I feel fulfilled. I’ve living the life I want to live. Those long nights of fighting my internal demons are mostly past me.
As much progress as I’ve made conquering my anxiety issues, there’s still one hurdle I can’t get over. I know exactly why these feelings are coming back to me. I have a business trip at the beginning of November. While a simple two-day business trip seems like nothing to most everyone, to me, it’s anything but. Why is that? Because I’m terrified of flying.
I know that this is an irrational fear. I know that, statistically speaking, I’m significantly more likely to be involved in an accident if I drive out instead of fly out. I’m also aware that the flight involved is merely an hour and a half long, whereas the drive is nearly ten. While I know that many of you reading this find getting onto a plane to be a routine, mundane part of your lives that may be a mere inconvenience at worst, to me, it’s a disruptive ordeal that drains me for weeks in advance. It looms in my mind, ever-present, coloring every interaction, every thought, everything about my life for weeks. It keeps me up at night. From that point on, my life is demarcated, there is before the flight, and there is after.
Simply by just writing that paragraph out, I can feel my heart-rate begin to speed up and I already know that I will be driving for this trip. The thing is, I’m not actually afraid of flying. There is nothing about the act of boarding a plane, taking off, flying through the air, and landing at my destination that I find terrifying. It’s actually much deeper, and much simpler than that. I’m afraid of dread. While dying in a plane crash is a terrible way to go, I’m not afraid of the actual crash itself. I’m afraid of the moments leading up to the crash. Those moments when you know you’re about to die. When the oxygen masks tumble out of the ceiling and hang there in front of your face, like a hangman’s noose, a hollow symbol that cannot change the inevitable fact that your life is about to end. Those moments when all you can do is reflect back on your life, all that you haven’t accomplished, all of those things that you wanted to do, or see, or experience. All of those things that will never happen. It’s a fear of having to examine an unfulfilled life. Having to live with the knowledge that there are things you’re never going to do and that this point is going to be made in a violently chaotic way.
That’s what I’m afraid of.
The biggest problem with this fear is that it’s a vicious circle. The more I go out and do, the more my wanderlust grows. The more I live, the more I want. I want to go to Europe. I want to kiss the girl I love on some street in Paris. I want to be able to book a flight to New York City on a whim for a weekend or to fly out to California to visit my friends on the West coast. I want to visit my family in Italy and see where my ancestors lived. I want to go to Japan and get totally lost. I want all of this. But the more of these things I want, the more unfulfilled my life is staying put. This in turns makes the dread of having to confront my mortality all that much worse, which makes getting onto a plane all that more difficult, which then feeds into that un-fulfillment. I don’t know how to break this cycle, but I wish I did. I wish I knew where to start. Or that I could just throw myself into a situation where I’d have to get over it.
This is why I admire Royce White so much. I’ve been there. Hell, I am there right now. And while some writers out there will call him a “head-case” when he has to stay behind and can’t make it to training camp, I look at him and see a man who is doing something remarkably brave. He’s thrown himself head-first into a lifestyle where he’ll have to confront his fears if he has any sliver of a chance of making it. And while there will be bumps along the way, and there will be times when he can’t do it, at the end of the day, he’ll do it. And that in turn gives me hope that I can do it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go calm down.