Have you ever experienced a panic attack? They are, in fact, so similar to heart attacks that many people have been hospitalized for the wrong one. Your heart beats heavy and irregular, you sweat and tingle and shake and can only manage shallow breaths, your muscles go numb, your gut churns and your head swims. And yet somehow the idea is brushed off as simply "anxiety;" it's social, it's psychological, it's not harmful. It's nothing. So you don't like flying? Have a beer and get over it, they say.
For some reason, the modern Western ideas about psychology are only just now coming around to realizing that psychological problems can physically harm you. "The danger, however, is no less real because it is imaginary;" Sir James Frazer wrote in The Golden Bough over a hundred years ago. "Imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid." But only recently do we see depression medications meant to treat physical pain as well as psychological pain, and the like. Many cultures around the world and throughout history have understood psychological problems to be intricately linked to the physical body; to a Chinese farmer, for instance, "depression" connotes just as much "stomach pains" as it does "sadness." And to me, being forced onto a plane is the same as having a gun held to my head. The response is just as real.
The irony is two-fold. First, if my fear comes to fruition and I die in a plane crash, then I no longer have to suffer my fear; the fear is self-defeating. Second, because the physiological response is so intense and so physically damaging, the fear itself has the potential to cause bodily harm; the fear of death is killing me.
We cannot continue the ruse that we are separate psyches trapped within a physical body. The pieces are irrevocably connected as a whole. And damage to the one can cause damage to the rest.
If nothing else, I have to write because it is calming; I hope that, in seeing my final thoughts on paper, the Fates play a joke on me and allow me to live to eat my words. But the reality is, I write because the rational majority of my brain can't override the emotional core, and so I spend my time convinced that I'm about to die. And every flight, every prolonged fear of death, is just the same as dying.
Maybe someday people will understand. Maybe.