At twenty-six years old, all of a sudden, I have developed a paralysing fear for airplanes.
I have evolved from happy passenger, enjoying last-minute flight bookings to petrified travel-only-where-trains-go-to kind of person. The dread was so bad that my cheeks would erupt in a bumpy red rash in the run up to boarding the plane. I would get my body temperature down to snake levels, shake and swoon exhausted.
This psychosis happened overnight, literally.
I believe it had a lot to do with my lack of results than with flying itself, in fact. This is when I isolated myself studying up to sixteen hours per day, getting more and more frustrated for not being able to pass university exams at civil engineering. Ultimately this is when I refrained from hanging out, having fun, dancing, do all those things one must do before growing up. I thought I didn’t deserve them, as I had no good results in my hands: I was thought you can’t get a prize if you didn’t do your homework. The feeling of having no control over my student life seized me, overpowered me completely. This new condition also changed the way I travelled dramatically, for you don’t take a train from Rome to Colorado: it was ‘no visible horizon’ all the way. I balooned, as I wasn’t feeling awkward enough.
Soon I became very uncomfortable in cars driven by others as well. I could envisage the accident happening at each curve, the tragic jump of a truck from its lane right over our vehicle, the blood, the pain, the smashed bodies, the suffering of my loss caused to my beloved ones. Same reasoning applied shortly to buses, which are longer and less stable cars, often driven by tipsy men. The fright finally extended to ships as well: isn’t the sea a sort of heavier sky plus monstrous creatures?
So, I was left with trains.
I got convinced that this modest, solid machine would not fail my trust. I fabricated many different theories to justify this exception in my transport nightmare and they made as sense as those consolatory speeches people give you when you suffer from an airplane panic attack -don't you know how lower the frequency of flights accidents is compared to that of cars? I do know, thank you so very much, but repairing a bumper is not quite like recomposing a human body after a plane crash, is it?
So. The train, a solid rectangular string of metal, made of compartments, with wheels that stay right on the ground. No wings nonsense, no imitating the birdies, no carriers for creatures with gills, no traumatic death.
“If terrorists blow a bomb in one carriage, I yet have a possibility to be in an other one, maybe far, or I can jump outside of the window” - I used to think - “and whatever happens I won’t have to develop wings to escape the flying object, nor I will have to punch sharks in the face in order to maintain my limbs”. I did have a point.
The whole syndrome expanded. So did my now bloated face.
I started sleeping on the open side of my lower bunk bed, just in case an earthquake came, in the attempt to save my upper body from squashing - we can still survive without legs, we definitely can’t without a torso and a functioning brain. I watched carefully those women on hills in the summer, for they could cut my toes away with their stilettos if they stepped on my feet. I would not walk under a terrace with flower vases. I wouldn’t let anybody step on manholes - you can fall down and die you crazy! I never got to this point where you won’t hold people’s hands in fear of germs nor I shared this self-induced mental disease with anybody, however I feel I wouldn’t have been out of place in a psychiatric hospital, at least for a while.
I moved to Vellano, at this point, a small tuscan village composed by a few hundred inhabitants, and gave up everything: university, chances of work, sport, travelling - everything.
That question I had been avoiding for all those years, had finally come back to be asked: who are you and what do you want to do with your life?
I wanted to format my own hard disk.
I wanted to re-educate myself to a happy life, one where you do not attend civil engineering because is cool, one where you don’t present yourself as somebody: you are somebody, of a sort: your sort.
So I started with the old-people diet: only freshly made bread, loads of vegetables and local wine. Keep it simple Juanita, make it right. I had to talk to myself with clear short sentences, I had to take control again. I actually talked to myself with loud voice a lot when alone, to make sure I was being reasonable. I learnt to listen. I wrote torrents in my notebook and learnt how to express my feelings without distorting them.
Pure fear, it was.
This is when I started my blog and chose not to lie (to myself) one post a time. It still burns my stomach to go back and read those fabricated sentences, those absurd vortices of words, that complete lack of clarity. I leave those posts up there on the website as a memento.
In the Vellano village I met a lot of people of any age and nationality. Nobody seemed particularly impressed by the fact I didn’t have a degree, however they were happy to spend time with me. I wasn’t that bad after all. I got involved with the local Art festival, started looking after some agriturismo (farmhouses where you can sleep) in the surroundings using my web design skills and then moved to villas - they are more fun and, generally, prettier.
So I have ended with a job I wake up happy for, a villa rental company, I fell in love with an American and we are blessed with a little girl who has swept every transport obsession away. The idea that she can be hurt, that is the one fear that paralyses me today, but I have accepted the fact that we do not control anything, so living in acceptance of what might come appreciating every minute of it could be the best option.
Everything I have built, I owe to my fears.
So when young people ask me what is the best thing they can do to build their career, I tell them to analyse and embrace the roots of their fears: ‘why am I afraid to fly’ is a much more important question than ‘what could I do to avoid flying’.
Fear conditions the way we behave, it provokes hatred and blocks the sight of our visible horizon. Dread distorts our perception of the surrounding world, including that of those who love us: when we take off those funky glasses we can acknowledge our own faults and become ready to concede those of the others. Nobody can no longer threaten us, we become these audacious creatures, good friends, better lovers, great colleagues. Racists and swindlers live in fear, we shall not.
Becoming accepting is the best long term strategic choice one human being could ever possibly do.