My Most Illogical, Ridiculous, Embarrassing Fear

I’ve got 99 problems and 86 of them are completely made up scenarios in my head that I’m stressing about for absolutely no logical reason. -Will Ferrell in a recent tweat

Do you ever feel this way? I have an incredibly irrational (some might call it silly) fear that has been difficult for me to overcome. I am severely claustrophobic. This phobia is particularly difficult to deal with when I am on an airplane, and I do a lot of air travel. Although anxiety begins to build when the aircraft door shuts, as long as everything proceeds in an expected manner, I can deal with it. However, if there is a delay in any part of the process of getting into the air or getting to the gate after touching down, I develop a paralyzing fear almost to the point of believing I will go crazy. My chest tightens. My heart rate increases. My breaths become short and rapid. There are times I am right on the edge of my seat ready to shout, “If I don’t get off this airplane, I’m going to die!”

Consciously, I realize these feelings are completely irrational, and I feel embarrassed even revealing this to you.  Do you know anyone who has ever been stuck on an airplane for days, months, or years? Or do you know anyone, outside of victims of rare crashes, who has died on an airplane? I am absolutely aware that my fear is out of proportion, but that does not make my panic any less real.

What makes this so strange is that I do really brave and daring things in other parts of my life. For example, I travel all over Africa to places like Sudan and help people who are dying, often running from genocide. I have flown through no fly zones to put myself right in the middle of a civil war. You would think those would be the legitimate things I would be scared of, but they are not. I somehow can be very courageous in those situations and yet let an airplane stop on a runway and my mind goes crazy.

Why? What is it about this situation that drives my brain crazy?!

Just over a year ago while I was working on this chapter in The Rewired Brain, this fear reemerged. I had flown from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, where I boarded a connecting flight to Charlotte. I won’t mention names of any airlines, but this particular night three planes destined for Charlotte failed their safety checks. By the time I crawled onto the third one, it was midnight and the temperature had fallen below zero. The plane moved out onto the runway and then pulled over to the side. It sat there for over an hour without any information from the pilot.

Within the first fifteen minutes, anxiety set in.

Why aren’t we moving? Has the plane’s engine or hydraulics failed due to the temperature? Are we going to stay in this small plane in Cincinnati all night? Does anyone even know we are here? I’ve got to get off this plane! Do I fake a heart attack?

God really does have a sense of humor. I believe this was his way of using one of my greatest, and on the surface, most irrational fears to keep the content of my book real.

I believe God was saying to me, “If you’re going to preach and write it in your book, you are going to have to experience it just like everyone you are speaking to.”

Over the years, I have worked hard through extensive counseling to reflect on this fear. Where does it come from? Why does it appear? I believe it is impossible in many cases to know the exact nexus of such a fear, but based on my Self-exploration, I believe in my case two childhood events are prime candidates.

One, as a child, I was the victim of bullying by some older boys. Every time my family made its weekly Sunday trip to the local swimming pool, these kids got their kicks by holding me under the water, often until I passed out. Two, I was sexually assaulted as a child by a family acquaintance for several months. This individual held me down. In both cases, someone stronger and bigger overpowered and hurt me.

I believe these early events created a heightened and desperate need to be in control of my personal space. When I am not, especially if I am confined in a closed area, I feel the same panic I felt when I was being bullied and abused and subsequently transfer that emotion onto my current situation.

Most of us have been hurt and experienced bad things in our lives. They have created deep scars that leave many of us in perpetual fear and anxiety, with a need to control, and suffering from obsessions, compulsions, habits, dependencies, and addictions. In short, they can ruin our lives. My claustrophobia was yet a symptom of a far deeper emotional injury. However, the great news (And don’t miss this!) is that we can heal from our injuries and traumas. We were all given these incredibly beautiful minds that can be rewired with new brain circuitry that allows us to live with joy, purpose and FREEDOM. I wrote The Rewired Brain to help others move beyond their fears so they could live free.

Fear Meet Dr.Ski Mind Uncategorized

We Believe the Stories We Tell Ourselves

If I asked, “Who are you?” how would you answer? I have found the default answer almost always centers on career or parenthood. “I’m an accountant.” “I’m a mother.” “I’m an actress.” “I’m a doctor.” “I’m a writer.” This may be true, but even if you have the most important job in the world, like caring for your children, this is not who you really are. Take it from a father who dearly loves his four adult children. If you define your identity by your children, once they leave the nest, you will be lost.

Who we are is much more than what we do. It is about what drives us, what motivates us, what fuels us to wake up each day with joy and meaning. I believe it’s ultimately God’s purpose for our lives. In Strangers to Ourselves, Timothy Wilson says, “people are forced to construct theories about their own personalities from other sources, such as what they learn from their parents, their culture, and yes, ideas about who they prefer to be.

In other words, our perception of our Self is often based on a narrative we create from all the clues around (culture, family, social circles) and inside (unconscious feelings and behaviors) of us.

We may be so highly influenced by peer expectations that we shape a narrative that fits into what others perceive we should be. However, there is a major rub in doing this. When the story you tell about your Self is not authentic and not consistent with who you really are, you get confused and stuck between two conflicting worlds and create your own Self-generated chaotic matrix. Even worse, when you tell your Self a negative story about you, these very thoughts wire your brain to become who you think you are. That is why I always emphasize that:

We believe the stories we tell our Selves so be very careful what you consistently tell your Self.  

The trick is to find the real narrative, the one deep within you that represents who you really are, how you really feel, and what truly brings meaning to your life. Repeatedly telling yourself negative stories and perceptions driven by your fears and anxieties will only strengthen those pathways within the wiring of your brain. This in turn will prevent you from finding your real narrative and purpose.  For nearly twenty years, James Pennebaker, esteemed professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of several books, including Writing to Heal, studied the impact of writing Self-narratives on the mental and physical health of individuals. He discovered how the simple act of writing about our lives, including our honest thoughts and challenging experiences, is a pathway to healing, Self-development, and overall well-being.  Common threads of emotional dysfunctions and addictions appear, but patterns of purpose and passion also emerge, bringing to light a truer picture of our Self.

For me, writing my story helped me identify and name the primary emotional issues that were preventing me from living a life of joy and freedom.  It also helped me to understand my primary passion, and realize my joy comes from helping those less fortunate than me.

Once my life and daily activities were aligned with this passion, my life was beautifully transformed into what I believe God intended when He envisioned me.

Body Fear Mind Soul Uncategorized