Hawaii











Would you believe it? A shoe store capitalizing on the false nuclear alarm in Hawaii. Sorry, Famous. Bad taste.

You may know that I have a little annihilation anxiety, most of us do. But I’m still conscious of it, having had it most of my life. For years, as a little kid, then well into my adulthood, I had a recurring dream about home invaders, two big men climbing through my bedroom window or banging down the front door of our home. I could see them through the little triangular windows of the front door, used all my might to keep them from getting in. I'd wake up in a sweat. 

The dreams persisted once every month or so, until, as a middle-aged woman, as a responsible mother, they just faded away. There were too many other things to worry about, like the safety of the family, my children.

That, or the dreams stopped with the empowerment of Master Han, a Tai Quan Do instructor. I was too uncoordinated to do Tai Quan Do so he just gave me a couple of private lessons. Master Han taught me to bang an attacker's nose with my head, smack a groin with my knees, and box ears, if at all possible. Use your whole body, he told me.

That helped, and when I walk alone I flex my muscles, open and close my fists. Smack them, ready. But I still worried, even after Master Han, when I got on an airplane, that it would go down, worried to the degree that at one point I wrote last requests of my children, deep thoughts, a kind of a will. I found it recently and boy, am I glad I didn't die. They would have thought me beyond help. Dead, but beyond help.
Do not open unless I'm not here any more. 
I tore it up, irrelevant so many years later. Sometimes I think about this blog and think: I should take that down, too. 

Once, before getting on a plane to Israel, I glimpsed someone I recognized, also boarding, a teacher, a woman who contributed to the community's intellectual and spiritual growth, every single day. I was in awe of this person and thought, We’re good. This plane isn't going down. It was a great trip. I never relaxed as well.

And flying hasn't been a problem since.

Have I told you, that despite the nuclear scare in Hawaii, we went anyway? I started this post before we left but decided to wait to post it because the pictures would surely be worth the wait. They're going up in the waiting room. 11 x 9's.

The thing about Hawaii, what makes it a big deal, is that it is the kind of place we've wanted to visit for decades. I do mean decades. You get older and say, decades. We'd joke around and say, One day, before we die, we should go to Hawaii. But it is so expensive, and being committed to spending our tourism dollars in Israel (and seeing family there) we usually head the other direction, assuming there's time and money, a big assumption. So Hawaii was really kind of a dream.

But the miles build up, flying to Israel, taking domestic business trips. Then one day last October FD proclaimed:

"There's a conference in Maui. Why don't we go?"

Maui, as in Maui Hawaii?

Yes.

Book it, now! 

So no to Costa Rica, no to Barbados and St. John. No to Viet Nan or Thailand. Although I have been to China without him for a wedding, and we have been to Paris for a day and London to see relatives, also on the way to Israel, but that was years ago, decades even, so. .  .

YES to Hawaii, even with the stupid nuclear alert, and that it is so close to Korea, such a sweet, happy target. And YES to the new world view—It is the regrets, at the end of your life, you regret the most.

Between October and early February, however, the universe still conspired, fanned my latent annihilation anxiety, the nuclear alert in Hawaii a big part of it. But there was also The Crown.

BIG SPOILER ALERT!! If you haven't seen this docu-drama about the Queen of England, try to find it one day. We're about to ruin an episode is in the second season, the one where Charles goes to a physically taxing boarding school--Phillip's insistence, Elizabeth's objection. It was HIS school, Phillip's alma mater, thus the son must go. If you haven't seen this and think you might, then SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. You have been warned.

We flash back to Phillip as a child, away to this school. He hates it and is moody, oppositional and punished for that, not allowed to go home at semester break to see his beloved sister and her family. We're in Nazi Germany, pre-war. Since he isn't free to go home, his sister goes on holiday elsewhere, and we see her and her family on a small commuter or military airplane, not sure which, but there's terrible turbulence, and screaming, and it doesn't look good at all, and FD turns to me and says: Not the sort of thing we should see before a long trip, I suppose. And I think, Well, no, probably not. It ends badly for Phillip's sister, one of the only sympathetic people in his life.

So for about half a second I reconsider Hawaii, then recover my sanity. 

Young mothers and fathers feel this paralysis when they entertain the notion that something could happen to them, leaving their children orphans. They hold that baby, that child, and think: What will this helpless creature do without me? Good G-d, I have to stay alive!!

And it is true. We know, quite well, that it is horrible to lose a parent young, a nightmare. We need our parents, especially the really good ones who love and love and then love us some more. It is a universal nightmare, the idea that we will die, will leave our dependents because face it, nobody could possibly nurture them the way we do. The thought of abandoning children keeps parents on their toes. They say no to the third or fourth drink, and when the joint is passed and they're driving, decline that, too. Young parents, even older parents, are wary of danger, and when they travel, say extra prayers, some take out extra insurance. (Is there still flight insurance? I don't think so, but my mother did that).

Knowing that anxiety is a family thing, and that we are little sponges as children, that we absorb our parents' feelings, I think I always knew, at some level, that this would be a personal lifelong curse. It seemed likely that my annihilation fears, which have generalized to worrying about everyone close to me, FD, my brother and his family, extended family, certainly my children, would linger despite the irrationality. We're all going to die, are we not? It is an uncomfortable feeling, anxiety, so I've learned to talk myself down, naturally, and mastered a thousand other ways to reduce anxiety behaviorally, never took a Xanax in my life. Without all that work, my thinking, I would be that apple that falls close to the tree, my mother's daughter. For her anxiety, especially about us, my brother and I, never faltered until the day she died.

What are the statistics of dying in an airplane crash? I only looked this up on Google, not the psych databases, because I had to pack for a trip and didn't have time. And now that I'm home, sorry, I'm too busy studying other things. But once I really did look it up for a patient. I can't find the results of the literature review right now, sorry, but learned that the best treatment for a fear of flying is virtual reality therapy, or desensitization, VRT. Get one of those head sets and a professional to hold your hand, or use your other tried and true interventions, breathing, muscle contraction, Headspace. The odds of dying on a commercial flight are 1 in 11 million, by the way. So bet on the pilot.

You get older and it isn't so scary anymore, the idea of dying, not that you want to abandon your kids. Even if it isn't scary, however, it isn't what most of us want, not having finished what we've started, fulfilled our dreams. We have more work to do, even if we're almost at retirement age. Some of us can't even conceive of retirement. Some of us. (And can't afford it, probably).

So did I worry about dying on that airplane?

I don't think I did. The anticipatory anxiety was all I needed, which is why the paradox intervention, even if you see it coming, still works. If you fear flying, be sure to do your preventive worrying regularly. If you're already doing that, kick it up a notch. Worry harder.

We started this post with that clip from an email advertisement from Famous Shoes, This is not a drill. . . It is likely that the CEO of Famous knew of Tom Leher. Mr. Lehrer, a satirist, wrote some great lyrics about nuclear war (see the video below to the end).

One more thing. Mr. Trump? If you're listening? Or Kim Jung Un? What about a little detente, some good relationship therapy. I'll take your insurance. Donald, you might have to apologize for what happened in the Korean War, just a head's up.

Oh, and both of you need a visit to Hawaii. It is a must before you die.

therapydoc


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