Have you ever claimed fear over something that was really a projection of something completely different?
When I was 17, I flew for the very first time. My parents sent me on a wonderful, 10-day educational tour of England and Scotland with my honors English teacher and three other seniors from my school district that I didn’t know. Leading up to our trip, the four of us would have “getting to know you” gatherings with our teacher, but I always felt out of place. Two of them were cheerleaders and the guy going with us was on the track team. As we learned more about our itinerary, I remember being worried about being able to keep up with the others. I also remember being soooo nervous about the long flight-- so much so that someone gave me a sedative before we took off. Once on the plane, I was happy to see there were very few people on the flight and I actually was able to grab a whole aisle to myself. Once we landed, I had an amazing time. I felt very comfortable with our teacher and spent most of my time walking and sitting with her. While I stressed about the flight back home, I was able to relax once I knew the plane had ample room. When I got home, I shared how much I loved the trip, but that I was terrified of flying.
Fast forward about 13 years. I had the opportunity to go on a cruise with a good friend of mine and 4 of her other best friends. We spent a year getting to know each other. When it was time to fly, I realized that not only was the plane entirely full, but I wouldn’t be anywhere near my friends. I was much heavier than I had been on that high school trip. As I boarded the plane, I could see from the looks on people’s faces that they were hoping that I was not going to be seated next to them. I immediately began feeling anxious. I found my seat and realized quickly that the seat was tight. I tried to put on my seatbelt and realized it didn’t fit. Now, I started to really panic. Did this mean I wouldn’t be allowed to fly? I was so embarrassed. Luckily, the thin woman who was assigned the seat next to me was quite kind. She showed me that I could lift my seat arm up and also called the flight attendant over to ask for a belt extender for me. I told her how terrified I was of flying. She patted my hand and told me not to worry, that she was a retired flight attendant and that I would be just fine. I appreciated her kindness, but I was already thinking about the trip home. Would I have someone as kind to fly back with?
I had a few more flights after that, all equally as nerve-wracking. And then, I had the ultimate nightmare flight experience. I was set to visit a former friend in another state. I was terrified to fly, but didn’t want to drive the 8 hour trip. While in line to check in, a personnel from the airline came over to me and asked me how many tickets I had. I told her just one, as I was travelling alone. She told me, “I am so sorry to tell you this, but our policy is that you would need to purchase a second ticket because of your size.” I ended up having to use most of the money I was taking for the trip in order to get the second ticket, both for that trip and the return trip home. I was embarrassed, humiliated. The people who had been in direct earshot had definitely heard the conversation. I got a mix of sympathetic looks and snickering.
But once I got on the plane with my two seats, I realized how much more space I had. I didn’t have to worry if I would be crowding someone else. I was able to actually relax a bit on the flight. I was able to breathe and enjoy my trip more, knowing I didn’t have to worry about the return flight back.
Since then, I’ve flown more. I’ve purchased double tickets when I’ve had to fly alone whether it was the airline’s policy or not, just to have the room. My husband is thin, so when we’ve flown together, I haven’t worried about crowding anyone. When it isn’t an outrageous cost, I’ve treated myself to flying first class, as the seat and space is roomier. I’ve noticed that I actually DO like flying, but I would get so anxious over who I would have to sit with, and how full the plane is, that my anxiety over that would take over and tell me I was afraid of flying. You would not believe how many opportunities of amazing times I have missed because I let this transference of fear hold me back.
Although I’ve lost quite a bit of weight, I am still in a more abundant body. Flying can still be a great source of anxiety for me, but I have learned that it is because I actually get nervous about how I will be perceived. I get nervous about making OTHERS uncomfortable rather than thinking about how I can make the flight more comfortable for myself. I realized that I wasn’t necessarily afraid of flying, but that I was afraid of being embarrassed, and being uncomfortable. I realized I was trying to make myself small to make other people comfortable. Over time, I have learned how to make MYSELF more comfortable rather than worrying about how I could make OTHER people more comfortable with ME. As an abundant woman-- and as a woman of color, I find this happens far too often.
Regardless of your size-- do you find situations where you feel the need to make others comfortable at your own expense of joy, or comfort? Do you find situations where you feel you need to quiet or mute your voice, allow your truth to be drowned out? Do you find yourself needing to make yourself small?
Beloveds, I say: Roar. Take up space.