I'm writing this from a plane.
I never thought I'd write those words. Six months ago, when I flew from California to NYC after Christmas, I threw up before takeoff. It was during our taxi away from the jetway, the seat-belt light brightly illuminated. With a stranger on either side of me, I reached for the plastic-lined bag in the seat-pocket in front of me—a bag I'd heretofore assumed was mainly for chewing gum disposal—and, as quietly as possible, retched. Faced with sitting between my two disgusted seatmates with a bag of warm vomit on my lap, I chose the only marginally better option: I rang the call button and handed a (understanding, but visibly repulsed) flight attendant the bag of sick. My shame in the moment was alleviated only by my assuredness of the nearness of my death; this is how afraid of flying I was.
After my parents got divorced, I spent much of childhood flying by myself between states, meaning that time spent in airports and in flight was typically accompanied by the distress of leaving one parent and the general insecurity of a life spent in a state of between. I don't remember a specific catalyst for my fear, but I do remember driving through a thick white fog in the eerie quiet that's so evocative of an early morning flight, and asking my mom to take care of my cat when I was gone. I was 9 at the time.
As a newspaper columnist (and a fervent lover of travel), I spent years traversing the globe and tried everything from vodka to prescription anxiety drugs to lavender essential oil to magnesium to make my in-flight time palatable. But nothing worked—the vodka left me drunk and anxious; the drugs, incoherent and anxious. The lavender smelled nice but not nice enough to calm my churning stomach, and the magnesium, which I swear by in my day-to-day life, suddenly seemed to have the efficacy of a sugar pill.