the story of the potato peeler
when we last left our heroine…
i was having an ‘incident’ at the airport. You can’t just refuse to reboard your own plane. everyone else was seated, waiting. I was quite calm, i went to the counter, crying, and i said “that thunder storm scared me. i’m not ready to get back on right now.”
this becomes an ‘incident’ in an airport. And the counter agent calls for help. Security sends out a nurse and a policeman on a golfcart scooter. The nurse is there to medicate me (i declined medication). The police guy’s job is to write up the ‘incident report.’ Are you on any drugs? do you have any psychiatric conditions.
No really, I just don’t to fly right this second. Yes, I was crying. but mostly from being freakishly overtired, and i was crying in that way you get when you start crying and can’t stop.
The counter chick checks and there are no later flights available. The nurse finally talks me into going down to talk to the pilot. She walks through the boarding tunnel with me, drops me off in the cockpit. I talk to the pilot. He says: “that storm was a bit rough? well, you know we wouldn’t do something that wasn’t safe.”
I say: “it’s not about what’s safe, it’s about how i feel.”
they settle me into a new first-class seat, with no one around me, and assign a first-class stewardess to ‘take care’ of me. (they don’t want to risk that i am psychiatric and might start screaming “help me help me we’re all going to die” on the plane. I didn’t.) mostly i just cried.
I arrive, wrung out. and i swear to myself that i will never fly again.
And after that, i didn’t fly for two years. i drove 9 days cross country (alone) 4 times, instead of flying.
and really, by then, i had talked myself into a big gigantic anxiety loop. i was afraid of everything. being a passenger in a car, riding the ferry.
After two years, i decided that i’d had enough, and i called up a psychologist who specialized in panic and anxiety. After a mere 5 hours of one-on-one talk therapy i was mostly fixed.
Well, fixed enough that i could fly again.
I loved my therapist guy. he was smart and very hilarious. after even the first session with him, i felt like like my very firm ideas about my well-earned and (naturally) correct self-preservationist anxiety about flying were going to dissolve. It’s like i had a tight gridwork of ideas, and after just one session i could see the puzzle of ideas wasn’t made of concrete, it was made of Jell-o. and he had started to push on one corner of the puzzle and now i could see gaps in my logic.
two great anecdotes from my time with him:
(1) Potato Peeler
one activity was to describe what was the worst thing that could happen. I said i was afraid of flying, and of having a panic attack, and that i’d lose control in some way while on the plane.
He rolls his eyes and says: “i wish i could show you the transcripts i have in this drawer here. Everyone with a flying phobia says the EXACT same thing. Lose control. Now tell me Belle, when you’re making dinner, do you ever peel potatoes?”
“Do you use a potato peeler?”
“Do you ever take the potato peeler and jab yourself in the eye?”
“Of course you don’t. you don’t ‘lose control’. on a flight, you might feel bad, and so what’ll you do? you might start crying. no one will notice. They’ll think that you’re missing your boyfriend back home. They’ll think you’re traveling to a funeral. No one will care.”
(2) Toilet handle
When i tried to justify that my phobia was based on real facts, like planes do crash you know, he countered that with logic and statistics.
and he said, “you should come with me sometime when i do group therapy with my compulsive hand-washers. They think their phobia is logical, too. I have this activity where I take the whole group of them into the bathroom, and i TOUCH the toilet flusher lever thingy … and then i RUB my hands all over my face! They start shrieking and groaning!”
we laugh. of course, their phobias are ridiculous. aren’t they.
OK, so maybe i’m a particularly good poster child for therapy. Yes, some people need more help, need medication, need longer therapy. need different kinds of ongoing treatments. I was clearly in the right place, with the right guy, at the right time, and I was motivated to change.
and now, thankfully, i not only can fly (!) but i also feel quite solid in realizing that our self-destructive and limiting thoughts don’t have to be listened to. It’s like a mis-firing, a weirdness that gets started. but that doesn’t mean we have to give in. “I feel like a glass of wine” does NOT mean “I will drink a glass of wine.” a thought is just a thing that flits past.
and i wrote this to heidi: yes, your brain may have thoughts, but they’re not truths. they’re just thoughts. compulsive thoughts are irritating, they’re the wolf, but they’re not the truth. you just look in the mirror and look in the eyes of one of those babies. the truth is in there.
Fuck You Wolfie.