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The fear of losing control

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To calm me down, he takes me on a midnight walk through the wind-bitten city, our boots trudging the line between West Gate and the battered end of West Broadway.

"You're not going to die in a plane crash," he says in a sing-song voice, a bemused melody to pair with the pounding in my chest. Ten hours till take-off.

Phobias are not logical. If they were, we would call them reasonable survival strategies.

So forgive me this: instead of fresh words, this is an adaptation of something I wrote more than three years ago. It was thrown on a personal blog the last time I had to take a flight, and adapted here for the circumstance that panic snuffs all words to muse another chapter in this quiet prairie life.

"The Boeing 737-600 is part of the manufacturer's Next Generation series. While only launched in early 1997, the series boasted the second lowest fatal-event rate of commercial aircraft until 2010, when a crash in Ethiopia bumped it down to third."

Most airplane fatal events occur due to inclement weather or navigational mistakes near challenging high-ground terrain. Flying is the safest form of transportation. You are more likely to die in your shower than an airplane, or death by a goat, or something like that.

Fear of flying is the fear of losing control. The Boeing 737-600 is part of...

The Boeing 737-600 is the last place, I fear, I will be seen alive. Specifically, on Thursday, the day after I paste this into a column. Boarding 9:50 a.m.

I flew dozens of times as a child. I loved it. Craved the window seat, tore open packets of peanuts and scattered them into smiley faces on the tray. That changed when I was about 19: I read a story. Something about Swissair Flight 111 and Rubbermaid containers.

Phobias are not logical, and they cannot be quickly controlled by charts, statistics or helpful information. They are not "jitters," and they're not "nervous." They are terror, sheer unimaginable, unfaceable, unsurvivable, run, run, run terror clenched around your heart and bitten-off fingernails.

To write this is therapy. It's also a time-waster: I have approximately 10 hours of intermittent panic before I start loading up on the Ativan. It was helpfully prescribed by the doctor who understood what I meant when I said: "Look, I don't like taking drugs. But these aren't for me. They are to vastly improve the lives of the other 150 people on that plane."

óè óè óè

I made a promise before the panic set in, a promise to a place in which I deeply believe, where (full disclosure) I volunteered for a little over a year.

Sunday marks the beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and this topic needs some light, while people are dying in the dark.

Food is personal, but also political, and so is size and weight, and there are corporations waiting at that juncture, ready to profit from selling shame. In the United States alone, the weight-loss industry cashes in for $66 billion a year, and they feed that back into relentless ads telling us what to hate and what to fear: our own bodies mostly, our own thighs. Through them, we learn to make scalpels out of our own eyes, standing in front of the mirror and slicing our flesh to shreds.

According to studies referenced by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (, 0.9 per cent of women, and 0.3 per cent of men, will suffer from anorexia at some point in their lives, and about one in 10 of them will die within a decade. It is the most deadly mental illness, but it is also not the only way that people slip into a sickness around food and weight: bulimia and binge eating disorder are even more common than anorexia.

You cannot tell who has an eating disorder by looking at them. But you can learn to see the signs and to bring hope.

This week, the Women's Health Clinic is hosting two special events to help educate on eating disorders. Starting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, everyone is invited to a free forum at 603 Wellington Cres., where WHC specialists will help anyone understand the complexities of eating disorders, recognize symptoms and search out treatment options.

On Tuesday, the WHC is hosting a special session for parents and caregivers to help learn how to encourage children to have healthy attitudes about their bodies. That workshop starts at 6 p.m. at the Birth Centre on St. Mary's Road. Advance registration is required by calling 204-947-2422.

*  *  *

"Pan, pan, pan, this is WestJet One-Two-Six heavy, over. Tower, we may have to, uh, declare a state of emergency due to the looney-barn passenger in seat 13C, over."

Roger One-Two-Six. What's, uh, what's the nature of the problem? Over.

"Tower, she's been screaming for the last 90 minutes. Something about Rubbermaid containers. Other passengers have been asking if they can be moved to sit next to babies instead."

Roger that, One-Two-Six. Sounds serious. Uh, you have clearance to, uh, just dump her into Lake Ontario. Over.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 0

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