Sunday, January 18, 2009


One of my goals for this mid-life crisis is to cast off some of the fear and anxiety I hold around me like a security blanket. My nickname is Neurotic Nelly. I’m a self-confessed control freak. If I’m not in control, I’m likely huddled in the corner, a quivering mound of insecurity. I don’t want to be Neurotic Nelly anymore. I want to be Positive Paula.

I have a sort of bucket list of things I’d like to do before I die. Most of them strike a cord of terror in my gut. Which would explain why I haven’t done them already. Here’s the condensed version of my list:

1. Go to Australia.
Sounds pleasant and rather exciting, don’t you think? Not so easy to do when you’re phobically afraid of flying. Now fulfilling this goal would require me to be suspended at unnaturally elevated heights for an extended period of time, at a high rate of speed. We’re talking minimum 18 hours here, depending on the departure point. Being a Canadian living in Scotland, I have flown over the ocean quite a bit over the last ten years. My coping method included large amounts of alcohol and graduated to large amounts of alcohol mixed with valium. Got so as I was pretty drunk when I landed. I was in Rome once with my husband, and when I de-planed, I naturally had to pee really badly. I rarely make it as far as Customs or the baggage carousel without having to run to the nearest toilet. Come to think of it, I drink so much before I get on the plane, I always have to pee before take-off, when everyone’s getting settled in their seats. So, we had just landed in Rome and I got to the ladies room and commenced my business, so to speak. Well, I locked myself in the toilet stall. Could not figure out how to get out. I don’t think there was anything particularly difficult about the locks on the toilet stalls in Rome, I was just too pissed to figure it out. I’m shouting “Hellllooooooo…..heeeelllppp me pleeeeeeasseeee”. I’m not upset, if anything I think it’s hilarious. Two German girls had to talk me through unlocking the toilet stall door.

Funny story. I am not a good person to sit beside on a plane. If my husband could get away with it, he’d settle me in my seat and go to the opposite end of the aircraft. I can be embarrassing. I always advise my seatmate that I’m a scardey-cat flyer and ask them to please ignore me and tell them I’ll be fine. Well, I was seated on the isle (naturally, so I can be the first one out in the event of a crash landing. And also 'cause I have to get up to pee so much) and there was a really sweet fellow to my left, and his wife was on his left. Drink service had passed and I had a happy glow in my belly and I was wondering what’s so bad about this flying thing anyway? Dinner service begins and thankfully, it includes free wine. We’re all getting along famously when we hit a really bad patch of turbulence. BAM, we drop down a few feet. I immediately become hysterical. It’s what I do. We’re all clutching on to our trays as the plane bounces about. In the mêlée, the sweet man to my left grabs my hand and holds it through the whole thing, comforting me. I’m declaring loudly that this is not normal. “I’ve flown a lot” I say, a note of doom in my voice, “and this is not normal”. I’ve got the sweet man beside me terrified. Of course, things eventually settle down and I look around and take stock. I am not dead, the plane has not crashed. I’d like to finish my wine to celebrate not being dead, but it’s nowhere to be seen. The sweet man beside me looked sheepishly down at his lap and confessed that he drank it. Turns out he didn’t have enough hands to hold his wife’s hand, my hand and make sure my wine didn’t spill over during the turbulence, so he sucked it back! Bless him.

This story actually has a somewhat happy ending. I realised it was getting pretty bad after the above incident. I was at risk of being arrested for being an obnoxious drunk on a plane. How embarrassing would that be? Last year, for unavoidable reasons, I had to fly something like six times in two weeks. I reached a few conclusions. Bars in Canadian airports aren’t open at 6am like they are in Scotland. They won’t serve alcohol on a Canadian flight before something like 10am!!! It’s physically impossible to maintain that level of terror when you have to fly that many times in quick succession. Once these fates conspired against me, I had to accept that I would be unable to control what happened once I got on that plane. And I will not stop flying. I may be frightened, but I have never let my fear of flying keep me grounded. I still get scared, but I seem to have let go of most of the abject terror. Turbulence and I are still mortal enemies, but I no longer get stinking drunk just to get on a plane. Since then, I have actually flown without having a drink! Ok, it was a one-hour flight. But a one-hour flight is like seven hours in phobically-afraid-of-flying-time. So perhaps a little jaunt to Australia is in my future after all….

2. Go skinny-dipping.
Have you ever gone skinny-dipping? It’s fabulous. I’ve done it once during a family camping trip. I was 12 years old. I’m surprised I was that outgoing. I was not enjoying the whole camping experience. I spent most of the trip whining because there were no electrical sockets to plug my hair dryer into. (Wow, some things really don’t change!). There was nothing but trees around for miles! I was bored. At least I could go swimming. I don’t know what made me do it, probably boredom, but one day I got under the water and tugged my swimsuit off. I pushed off the bank and it was glorious. What a feeling of freedom and release. I’ll never forget it. I’ve never done it again. The closest I’ve come was to go sunbathing topless in Greece. That was almost as good. Very liberating. I resolve to cast off my inhibitions and go skinny-dipping as many times as I can as an adult. If you don’t like what you see, may I suggest you turn the other cheek?

3. Sing on stage.
I’ve always been told that I have a good singing voice. Now that I’m older, I realise it’s not true. People were just being kind. But I still love doing it anyway. I sang in school plays, in the chorus mind you, where I could hitch my wagon to the melodious, in-tune voices of others around me. One of my favourite things to do is to turn up a much-loved song and belt it out at the top of my lungs. My hairdryer is my microphone and I always finish the song to a standing ovation. (You realise this is in my head, right?).

Secretly, I want to be a pop star. In my heart of hearts, I know there’s not much call for middle-aged women who weigh 750 pounds and can’t carry a tune. Ok, there’s Rita McNeil, but she can carry a tune and what are the chances that the market can support two of us? Not that I hold a candle to our Rita.

My dirty little secret is that I love the American Idol show. I know that I could so get to Hollywood! No way would I be one of those deluded audition-ees who are simply gobsmacked when Simon smacks them down like the dogs that they are.

So, let’s recap. I’m middle-aged, I weigh 750 pounds and I can’t carry a tune. Sounds like karaoke night to me!

Finally, I'll share with you the reason I wrote about fear today. Today I went sledding (note the above description of my good self). As an adult, I have only been sledding down a driveway. Hugely fun, but not frightening in any way. Today I was invited to another sledding hill all together. It was high, it was steep, it was fast and it was icy. I sat down on the sled at the edge of the run. I contemplated my mortality. I decided that I was too afraid to do it. I was so very disappointed in myself. Once again, I was letting my fear rule me. I spoke sharply to myself, let out a gut-wrenching scream, and pushed myself over that “cliff”. It was fantastic. This time, I won the battle that I rage with my fear.

I took no prisoners.


  1. Fear isn't necessarily a bad thing. Is long as you contain it. I'd like to go to the land down under as well.

  2. I think I only have one fear and that's heights over water. Weird right? I'm fine over concrete and when falling out of trees, but on a high diving board over a swimming pool...and Donna, to me, you sing much better than Rita McNeil. I don't like her and don't think she can sing worth a damn. To me she's in the same class as Freddie Fender. I'd also love to go to Australia...maybe when we win the lottery?

  3. JR
    Oh, I agree. It's when the fear takes over and rules your life, that I think you need to take action.

    Awww...thanks. That part of the story really was a blatant attempt to get compliments about my voice. And yes please, we’ll head to Australia as soon as we cash in our lottery tickets. Perhaps flying isn’t so bad on your own private jet.

  4. Oh, and just to let you know, I have sung on stage and done skinny dipping. Australia is next.

  5. Kim, (anonymous)

    Is that you? When did you sing on stage? And when did you skinny-dip, you reckless fool, you? And is there anything else in your life you're not doing because you're afraid to try?

  6. Sister!! Just read all your blogs. You're bril!!! And you have a fabulous singing voice. :)

  7. When I was in Scotland and involved in Drama and had some bit parts, one of them was singing along with the cast, and when I was about 23, I went skinny-dipping up in cottage country...late at night of course.(Kim)

  8. Dear Neurotic Nelly,

    Your post reminded me of a quote by Marilyn Ferguson,
    "Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom."

    Nervous Nelly

  9. Dear Nervous Nelly,

    Never having had the guts to try get to the other side of my fear much before now, I had no idea just how much freedom is on the other side of it. What a great quote. That feedom is worth striving for.

    All the best,
    Neurotic Nelly