Ruthie vs. Airplane: On Overcoming Fear

Overcome your fear. I hear people use this phrase, but what does it really mean? My dad used to tell me I needed to overcome my fear of heights by going on a roller coaster. To date, I have only allowed roller coasters to take complete control of my body twice. Once, at Six Flags with my dad and best friend.  And the second time, I did it for a cute boy on a trip with the basketball team in high school. My sobbing and begging someone (“whoever was in control of this thing!”) to let me off “The Hulk” that ensued did not impress him. Mark my words: I will one day be the mom standing at the bottom of a roller coaster with all the lunch boxes and fanny packs and not feel left out AT ALL. Kids, don’t even try-I’m not going.

I’m still afraid of heights.  To add to this fear, I am now deathly afraid of flying brought on by two bad experiences with airplanes-both of which I was sure I would die. (I used a variation of the word ‘die’ twice in the last sentence. Usually I would edit, but in this case it feels necessary.)

It was a late night flight in China. Ominous feeling already, right? I was all alone, heading back to Chengdu, and we flew directly into a thunderstorm. The lightning wasn’t below us, it was on either side of us seeming to engulf the aircraft. I flipped rapidly through my Chinese dictionary as I couldn’t remember any of the crucial vocabulary for that moment. First I looked up turbulence. Then lightning. Then die. Dramatic, yes…but when you are on the opposite side of the world in a country where everyone thinks your hair is blonde (it’s clearly not) and wouldn’t know the first thing about getting in contact with your family-its scary. Trust me. “What the heck is going on? Don’t you see the lightning? Are we going to die?” I fumbled my way through the questions, using all the wrong tones.  The flight attendant with her white powdered face and red lips didn’t even acknowledge my question. I started bawling, thought about standing up to share the Good News with the plane, and wrote a goodbye letter to friends and family. The man next to me asked to move seats. I was interrupting his nap.

Flight Disaster #2: My sister Rachel and I flew back to Amsterdam from Ukraine. We were surrounded by Russians. As we began our descent, the plane LITERALLY flipped on its side. And started violently shaking. All the lights went out. I don’t remember much after that other than Rachel and I ducking our heads and asking God to PLEASE SAVE US. Everything over the intercom was in Russian and I could only imagine them saying, “We are going to crash. You are going to die today” as we plummeted through the sky. I thought the girl next to Rachel must have been a terrorist, because she did not even look up from her book as the plane was flipping through the air. Russian poker face at its finest.

So naturally when Thomas Nelson asked me to fly to Dallas last week, I thought to myself, “Perfect. I can overcome my fear of flying!” Wrong. I thought about plane crashes, dreamed about plane crashes, and almost told my team where my book manuscript was should I happen not to make it back. If you happened to have caught my husband and I saying goodbye to each other at the airport you might have guessed I was being deployed overseas indefinitely by the way I was crying and embracing him. On the tarmac, a woman next to me noticed my white knuckles gripping the arm rests and said, “Want some Zanex? It always helps me with flying.” Usually I don’t take medicine from strangers (I promise), but I was desperate. I popped a Zanex and talked with her the rest of the flight.

Fortunately for me (maybe not for them) I was with two of my bosses on the flight back to Nashville. As soon as the plane started to make screeching noises and bumping around in the sky, I asked Allen to kindly put down his manuscript (sorry editors) and tell me an interesting story. In between his story about meeting his wife and realizing she was “the one” I would intermittently duck my head and say something like, “Please God! Get this plane on the ground! Allen and Eric have children!” and then pick my head up and calmly mutter, “so you were saying…”. On our last flight from Houston to Nashville, I told our team, “If this turbulence does not stop in 2 minutes, I’m ordering a strong drink on the company.” To which Allen said, “Go ahead.” I decided to blog instead of drink, as I didn’t want to start a habit of drowning my fears with alcohol. We landed safely (duh because planes just don’t crash). On the ground it all seems so ridiculous.

Did I overcome my fear by flying to Dallas? Yes and no. If the definition of overcoming means I am no longer afraid of flying, then no. But I did overcome in the sense I didn’t allow my fear to control me or dictate my decisions. I knew the plane ride would be hard, but I didn’t allow my fear keep me in Nashville and away from the opportunity to travel and meet authors and readers. I still hate airplanes, probably always will dread flying in some sense, but the important part about fear is not necessarily overcoming the fear, but not letting your fear win. Ruthie 1: Airplane 0.

We are all afraid of something -whether legitimate or illegitimate. Whatever you’re afraid of, may you find the courage to not let it keep you from soaring to your full potential {pun-intended}.The trip to Dallas was well-worth the stress, especially hanging out with our incredible author Beth Wiseman.

And if you ever find yourself next to me on an airplane, I apologize in advance. Whatever I say cannot be held against me, because I will claim temporary insanity. Promise.

If you liked this post, you may also like:

8 Responses to “Ruthie vs. Airplane: On Overcoming Fear”
  1. Ruthie, I am in exactly the same boat. I mean, I wish it were a boat. :-)

    I am terrified of plane travel, and the few times I’ve done it in recent years, I’ve been on meds. This means I have to fly with my husband, so he can take my loopy self off the plane and I won’t end up wandering around a terminal in a Hare Krishna outfit offering people flowers.

    You might want to check out _The Fearless Flyer’s Handbook_, which I read some years ago (I’m pretty sure that’s its title). It’s published by Quantas Airlines, and it helped me understand a number of things about why I developed my phobia , as well as explaining the physics of plane flight and the noises we hear on planes. Though I’m not over my phobia, I am better able to handle it. And it’s very comforting to read a breakdown of the different fears that go into fear of flying, as well as the biggest problem in any phobia-the fear of the fear.

    If your experience is anything like mine, you may fear losing control, so you end up screaming and running up and down the aisles until you have to be brought down with an elephant dart gun. Realizing how much this fear-of-fear contributes to my problem was a huge step. ;-)

    • Ruthie D. says:

      Rosslyn, so grateful for your advice. I need to get the Fearless Flyers Handbook ASAP. Your comment made me laugh! I rented a car in Dallas under the influence of a sleeping pill and Zanex. Probably won’t do that again! :) Thanks for reading! I actually told an English teacher I met yesterday about Fairer than Morning.

  2. Brittany says:


    I have been meaning to comment on your blog posts :) Thanks for not being afraid to share your heart with others! I love to read the stories of your journey as a wife. Thanks for the encouragement in your blogging. I look forward to reading each new post!


    • Ruthie D. says:

      Hi Brittany! Thanks for commenting, reading, and subscribing. I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage. Best book on marriage? Love and Respect. It transformed Michael and my communication. :) So happy for you!

  3. Ashley says:

    Ahahaha! I almost choked on my carrot laughing at your blog. I can completely picture you ducking, reviving yourself and trying to act like it never happened and continue on with the convo. Classic.

  4. Ragan says:

    This made me laugh out loud and nod my head because I totally get it. NO ONE should even bother to ask me to ride a rollercoaster. Thanks for sharing so candidly. :)

Leave A Comment