What Are You So Afraid of? (or: My Adventures in Phobialand)

Do you really get more scared as you get older?

I swear I didn't used to be terrified of heights or spiders or planes - but now the very thought of seeing a spider or flying on a plane at 38,000 feet (or, worse, being on a plane WITH a spider!) freaks me out.

I remember flying on planes quite a lot when I was young, particularly when we lived in Russia. Someone else can confirm this, but I don't remember it bothering me at all. But sometime around junior high or high school planes began to freak me out. And recently I've been finding that it's not just planes that bother me, but heights in general.

I discovered this latest fear just a few weeks ago, when I went to the Utah Symphony for the 11th or 12th time in the past eight months. But this time, instead of sitting on the orchestra (ground) level like I had during all the previous shows, I found myself being ushered up... Up... Up... UP to the third balcony. Which might have been fine if I had been sitting a few rows back - but instead my seat was on the sides of the balcony, right up against the 50-foot drop to the orchestra level. 

Suffice it to say, I couldn't handle it. I immediately felt myself getting dizzy as I looked down at the performers in the symphony. I had to clutch on to the sides of my seat and keep my eyes closed for much of the performance. Even then, I found myself getting lightheaded and breaking out into a sweat. I was terrified I was going to pass out and somehow fall over the 3-foot railing. Or maybe there would be an earthquake, and the balcony would collapse and I would go flying into the eternities. When I walked back up the aisle during intermission, I had to keep one part of my body touching the wall at all times (I probably looked drunk to the other concertgoers who saw me staggering up the aisle, clutching to the wall for safety.)
Abravanel Hall: I was on the highest balcony, right up against the edge.

I almost left during intermission, but mustered up my courage since it was a concert (of John Williams music) I had really been looking forward to. I still spent the rest of the concert terrified, but I was proud of myself for enduring it.

That's the thing about phobias - they're completely irrational. I was never in any danger at the concert - the chances of something catastrophic happening were approximately .0000003 (I put myself in considerably more danger when I got in my car to drive to and from the concert.) And there's also a big difference between a phobia and a regular old fear. I don't like snakes, but they don't make me want to scream and run in the opposite direction like spiders do, and they don't make me spend the next hour flicking invisible creepy-crawlies off my body. I can rationally tell myself that as long as I keep an appropriate distance from a snake, then I don't have anything to worry about. But I can't do the same with spiders - even if the horribly evil-looking spider is in a very well-secured glass cage (at a zoo, for example) it will still freak me out. Even if it's not a poisonous spider that could ever do me any real harm. I can read all the statistics about how airplanes are considerably safer than any other means of transportation, but it doesn't change the fact that cars and boats and trains don't frighten me while planes still do. One part of my fully realizes that it's irrational, but I can't seem to help it.

This is one of the most terrifying images I have ever seen. Ever. No, he's not using a harness or any ropes.

And so you say: "Well, ok, most people have some sort of phobia. You just learn to live with it and to avoid the things you're afraid of as much as possible." But that's the problem - some of the things I love to do the most require me to do the things I'm afraid of. I really love to travel, and I dream of month-long tours of Europe or Southeast Asia or South America - but how am I supposed to do it if the thought of being transported to those places makes me break out in a cold sweat? In an ideal world where I have unlimited time and money, I would just use alternative means of transportation to get everywhere - however, boats are kind of slow, and they still haven't invented trains that go under seas (thanks, shortsighted engineers!)

I mean, how do you prevent phobias from keeping you from doing the things you want to do? Two of my friends live in Phoenix and I'd love to visit them - but even though round-trip tickets are only about $100, I still can't gather up the courage to get on a plane. I'd love to go spend a long weekend in Florida or Washington state - but, well, planes! Metal tubes at 40,000 feet! Not my idea of a good time.

I will, however, force myself to get on a plane the next time an opportunity to spend time in Europe presents itself. Maybe.

(Ok, so I don't really know what the point of this blog post was. I'll just sum everything up and say: Phobias suck.)

The end.