When I read that the singer Ari Lennox has stopped booking shows overseas because aerophobia was “destroying” her health, I understood her dilemma.
The year I turned 30, I lived in New York City with my cello, two adopted tabby cats and my boyfriend, Brian. He and I ran a contemporary classical ensemble. We pieced together gigs and part-time jobs to support ourselves while focusing on presenting works by living composers. After securing artist management, we booked many concerts around the country for the upcoming season. I had also committed to a three-week tour in East Asia with another band. Finally, my dream of performing for a living and traveling the world to play music felt within reach. Yet something stood in my way.
For five years, I had not boarded an airplane because I felt too afraid. Until I was 25, I flew occasionally, but never comfortably. A psychiatrist diagnosed me with panic disorder as a teenager, and flying emerged as a top trigger. Every bit of turbulence made me brace for a nosedive. I trembled in my seat and stared out the window as though fixating on the earth would help the aircraft stay up. During a trip to visit a college boyfriend in Slovenia, I hyperventilated until a flight attendant asked me to lie on the floor with an oxygen mask.