This thing I discovered

The last time I flew on a jet was when I was 12.

Fast forward 35 years, and what almost seems a lifetime of web design and development, I finally landed my dream job – User Interface Designer at Automattic, the company behind

Automattic is known as being “the” distributed company. Based in San Fransisco, yet with almost 400 employees all over the world. Being an Automattician means every once in while (~4 times a year) you need to get on a jet and fly to somewhere remote for a “meet up”.

My first meetup was six weeks after I started. The Grand Meetup. The meet up where Automatticans from all over the planet hop on a plane and gather in one place for a week of awesomeness. I was so stoked and so looking forward. My first Grand Meetup was in Park City, Utah, over 20 hours flying from my hometown in Melbourne Australia.

I’ll admit I was nervous about flying. In the lead to my trip I read up everything I possibly could about the planes I’d be flying on. I researched everything to the nth degree. I upgraded my seats for extra leg seem (I’m 6 foot 2). Would there be Wifi? (Yes there was). How do I pack to get through security?

My “nervousness” first came to head one week before the the flight when I got seriously “nervous”. In hindsight, I got seriously anxious.

So I researched and booked a doctors appointment.

I read that the drug of choice for anxious flyers was Xanax. I read about a U.S. sportscaster who hated flying and only overcame his anxiousness after being prescribed it. I explained this to my GP and she agreed it’d be the thing to do.

On my GP’s suggestion, I gave the Xanax a shot four days before my flight.

Wow. I was in flight-dream-love-land! This was going to no problem. What so ever.

Unfortunately, four days later, on the morning of my flight, on the drive to the airport, after having taken the suggested dose, I lost the fucking plot.

I was going to die.

My breathing was shallow.

I was going to die.

I would never see my wife and two boys again.

I was going to die.

I was going to die.

I was going to die.

I didn’t know it, but I was having a panic attack.

In hindsight, I had all the symptoms. I was completely freaking out. I was irrational. Everything was blown out of proportion. It was flight or die.

The problem was, my body was correctly responding correctly. It was running as fast as it could away from the threat. Unfortunately there was no threat. The threat was all in my head.

And so I didn’t catch my flight.

I missed my very first Automattic Grand Meetup. 🙁

My checkin luggage only contained gifts. Tim Tams. Twenty five packs.

The following week was difficult. As a distributed company, we all use Slack (and Twitter). Seeing my colleagues having so much fun was so painful I largely switched off. Plus I was embarrassed. I was so embarrassed.

Fortunately flight anxiety is a treatable condition and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Apparently roughly 20% of the population have some sort of anxiety/fear of flying.

I’ve now found a psychologist who specialises in fear of flying, so combined with some work on my part, I hope to kick this soon.

I might have missed out on my first Autommatic Meetup (the Grand Meetup of all things!), but I’m definitely aiming to not miss anymore.

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