It’s Not Rocket Surgery. It’s Separation Anxiety

Panic sets in when my feet leave the ground
illustration by RaStudio / Getty Images Plus


I have had two good friends talk to me about their extreme fear of flying, and I’m guessing there are a lot more of us out there, so I wanted to share my successful therapy experience.

I was a ritual flyer. If I had to get on a plane, I needed every bit of good juju I could carry.

My Xanax-induced stash included my lucky gold watch, a portable DVD player (little known fact: If you don’t make eye contact with the Grim Reaper, he’ll move to the people in the exit row), and cherry cough drops (I had never been in a plane crash while sucking cherry cough drops, so they were essential.)

In truth, I’ve never really had anything go wrong on a flight.

I’ve been through some storms and had some bumps — but never one of those experiences that cause folks to swear off the friendly skies.

The worst storm I was ever in was OK because I was sitting next to the Rabbi Garfein and figured he was connected.

My problem was that I would have overwhelming panic attacks.

Apparently, if you’ve never had a near-death experience on a plane (other than the food), your therapeutic prescription is different.

One regimen is to take a few flights with your therapist so that he can experience your trigger points and work you through the moment. At least that’s what I was told. I never got that far.

I quickly realized that my health insurance didn’t cover the series of flights my new near-death buddy and I would be taking together.

After calculating five round-trip tickets for two and realizing it would be cheaper to relocate my relatives to Florida, I went for the reduced-rate half-cure: learning to deal with the panic attacks.

This is where the therapy got pretty cool.

My psychologist asked me a remarkably simple question: Do I believe the panic attacks can kill me? I really had never thought of them in those terms.

Anyone who’s had panic attacks knows you feel like they’re going to kill you, but they never do.

Deep down, through the tight chest, sweaty palms, rapid breathing and graying light of a panic attack, you know you’re not dying. It may be eight minutes of hell, but it’s not death.

So, after I answered in the negative, he told me to just invite it when I feel one coming on.

Tell my panic attack, “Come get me. I know you’re not going to kill me, so let’s just get it over with. Give me your best shot; I’m ready to freak out. Let’s get on with it, because I have things to do when it’s over. So bring it on, panic boy!”

Look, I’m not a doctor, although I do occasionally wear rubber gloves. I’m only telling you what worked for me.

I haven’t had another panic attack, and today I fly without any problems — other than occasionally sitting next to a fat, sweaty guy from New Jersey or maybe North Dakota.

So you might want to give it a try. If it doesn’t work, I’ve got a DVD player and a package of cherry cough drops you can have.

I’m keeping the gold watch, just in case.


Gary Yordon is president of the Zachary Group in Tallahassee, hosts a political television show, “The Usual Suspects,” and contributes columns to the city’s daily newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat. He may be reached at

Categories: Opinion