home
RSS
December 7th, 2010
08:14 AM ET

Confessions of a claustrophobic fighter pilot

In the Human Factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces you to survivors who have overcome tremendous odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Be inspired by their successes, as we have been.

Three years into my eleven-year Air Force flying career, my life changed when I almost died during a scuba diving trip in the Caribbean. Thirty feet under the water and already exhausted, I inhaled a lungful of water and had the most intense panic attack of my life. I literally thought I was going to die.

I immediately got out of the water, brushed it off as a very bad experience and put it behind me. A week later at my flying squadron in Oklahoma, I found myself back in the cockpit on a training mission in bad weather. Unable to see the ground or the sky, I felt closed in. My mask tightened around my face, my pulse quickened, and I suddenly had difficulty breathing. I became lightheaded and the panicky feeling I had a week before came back. “Get me out of this plane!”

From that day forth, I transformed myself from a confident, fearless jet pilot to a doubtful and anxious claustrophobe. For the next eight years of my flying career I had to walk around with that huge secret. If my fellow pilots found out, I would surely have my wings taken away.

Every training and combat mission I flew, I had claustrophobia as my companion, waiting to rear its ugly head and attempt to spin me out of control. But I fought it.

On four-hour training missions over the Sea of Japan, I fought it. On six-hour night combat missions over Iraq and Serbia in the cramped cockpit of the F-16, I fought it. It wasn’t easy. There were times on some flights when the panic and fear were so great that when I landed, I walked into the squadron with my wings in my hand ready to quit. But I fought it. And I won.

So how did I do it?

1. Mental rehearsal – I envisioned having my panic attacks in simulated flights while on the ground. Rather than fight it, I “befriended my fear.” I got used to the feeling in my mind and learned to cope with the fear by shifting my focus.

2. I focused on my wingmen: No fighter pilot flies solo in combat. We have wingmen who help us deal with emergencies and adapt to change. When I focused on the fact that I had my wingmen there to support me in and that they needed me as well, it gave me more courage.

3. I focused on what I loved: On every mission I flew, I carried a small silver set of angel wings that re-affirmed my belief in God. And I also carried a picture of my niece and nephew. They needed me to get back home. They gave meaning to my mission.

I never quit on any combat mission. However, things changed when I was performing my before take-off checklist on a flight from Spain to the U.S.  Seven hours flying over the Atlantic Ocean was too much for me to handle. I reached the limit of my courage. I aborted the flight before taking off.

What I learned from my experiences is that by stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing the limits of my courage, I could do anything. By facing my fear and not letting it strangle me, I was able to plant the seeds to a future of opportunities I never would have dreamed of.

But, it also taught me that my ego was more powerful than I realized. I learned that it’s OK to quit. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to beat every fear, overcome every challenge, or fly every mission.

And neither do you.


soundoff (739 Responses)
  1. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me

    http://loopbaan.dezorggroep.nl/redirect.php?from=https://ocrvcenter.com/rv-repair-shop-san-dimas-california

    June 19, 2021 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. RV Repair Seal Beach

    https://www.southampton.ac.uk/~drn1e09/foaf/visualizer.php?url=https://ocrv.pro/rv-maintenance-near-me/

    June 19, 2021 at 21:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Repair Seal Beach

    Itís nearly impossible to find experienced people in this particular topic, however, you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

    http://www.brivium.com/proxy.php?link=https://ocrvcenter.org/durastar-collision-repair-shop-near-me

    June 19, 2021 at 22:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Content Marketing Agencies

    https://divinecandlecompany.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=https://affordableranking.com

    June 20, 2021 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Noemi Sprengeler

    You don't get that with on-line poker, you just flip up and perform towards whoever is there. The initial of these advantages is the reality that you can perform from your own house. Humberto Brenes was born on 8th Might I the year 1951.

    https://downfight.de/winproxy.php?url=https://pridewv.org

    June 20, 2021 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jae Busbee

    http://2ip.ru/lookup/?ip=http://www.orangecountyheatingandairconditioningspecialists.com

    June 20, 2021 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Trena Dimitry

    https://www.local.google.com.kh/url?q=https://energygopep.com

    June 20, 2021 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. checkers near me

    Hi! I could have sworn Iíve visited this site before but after looking at many of the articles I realized itís new to me. Nonetheless, Iím definitely pleased I found it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!

    http://igiveabuck.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=bestservicenearme.com

    June 20, 2021 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RV Repair Near Me

    I like reading an article that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

    http://ace-counters.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvcenter.com

    June 20, 2021 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. pharmacepticacom

    tadalafil from india reviews https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 21, 2021 at 01:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. pcr covid test near me

    http://dead50.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=nearmyspot.com

    June 21, 2021 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Repair Huntington Beach

    http://www.wapmat.com/out.aspx?site=https://ocrvcenter.com/

    June 21, 2021 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. red lobster near me

    http://decora.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=quotenearme.com

    June 21, 2021 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. panera near me

    Very good article. I will be going through a few of these issues as well..

    http://shannonberrey.com/Redirect.aspx?destination=https://www.bestshopnearme.com/

    June 21, 2021 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. cheap apartments near me

    Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!

    https://www.nbmain.com/NetBooking.Reservations.Server.Servlets.Availability.SiteAvailabilityMainR?innkey=mcdaniel&bg=&formname=rdetail&s=BookMark&backpage=http://reviewnearme.com/&ikback=&pcode=&ik=0&months=3&month=December&day=1&year=2021

    June 21, 2021 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Sprinter Van Alignment

    You are so interesting! I don't believe I've truly read anything like this before. So nice to find someone with unique thoughts on this issue. Really.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

    http://brownandbunch.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=fleetservicesocrv.com

    June 21, 2021 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. RV Repair Santa Ana

    Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up and also the rest of the website is very good.

    http://judymiller.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrv.me

    June 21, 2021 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. https://topphimhot.net

    Best view i have ever seen !

    https://maps.google.cat/url?q=https://topphimhot.net

    June 21, 2021 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RV Collision Repair Near Me

    http://all-that-jazzbrand.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvmotorcoachsales.com

    June 21, 2021 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    http://ww17.ww.bigpictureagriculture.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=rvcollisionrepairpaintshop.com

    June 22, 2021 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sprinter Seat Fabric Repair

    http://ww17.luvaville.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=sprinterrepairnearme.com

    June 22, 2021 at 01:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. RV Collision Repair Near Me

    http://bowlahat.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrv.mobi/

    June 22, 2021 at 01:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Repair Parts Near Me

    After going over a handful of the blog articles on your site, I honestly like your way of writing a blog. I saved as a favorite it to my bookmark site list and will be checking back in the near future. Please visit my website too and tell me how you feel.

    https://marispark.ru/redirect.php?url=http://ocrv.info/

    June 22, 2021 at 01:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. adhd online training

    http://dicers.de/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=mastermindformen.com

    June 22, 2021 at 04:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. lifestyle group

    Next time I read a blog, Hopefully it doesn't disappoint me just as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, but I really believed you would have something useful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something that you could possibly fix if you weren't too busy searching for attention.

    https://moshtix.com.au/v2/ForceDesktopView?callingUrl=http://realchrisburns.com/

    June 22, 2021 at 05:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Camper Repair Places Near Me

    This site was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Thanks!

    http://www.youthatwork.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrv.vip

    June 22, 2021 at 06:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. ksr podcast

    Very good post! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website. Keep up the great writing.

    https://drunkenstepfather.com/out.php?https://backbonehunters.com

    June 22, 2021 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. RV Electrical Repair Near Me

    http://wifewoman.com/nudemature/wifewoman.php?link=pictures&id=fe724d&gr=1&url=https://ocrvcenter.com/

    June 22, 2021 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Fridge Repair Near Me

    https://www.pennergame.de/redirect/?site=https://ocrvcenter.biz

    June 22, 2021 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. 24 Hour RV Repair Near Me

    Aw, this was a very nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to generate a superb articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I hesitate a whole lot and don't seem to get anything done.

    http://action.ae911truth.org/dia/logout.jsp?killorg=50694&redirect=http://ocrvcenter.com/

    June 23, 2021 at 02:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RV Repair Center Near Me

    Good site you have got here.. Itís hard to find quality writing like yours these days. I honestly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

    http://click.app4mobile-services.biz/storeLink/?url=http://ocrvcenter.com

    June 23, 2021 at 02:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Content Marketing Experts

    Your style is unique in comparison to other folks I have read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just book mark this blog.

    http://udotoo.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=consciousgrowthmarketing.com

    June 23, 2021 at 03:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Video Marketing Near Me

    Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It's always useful to read through articles from other writers and practice a little something from other sites.

    https://www.multiple-listings.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=consciousgrowthmarketing.com

    June 23, 2021 at 04:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. RV Mobile Repair Near Me

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may revisit yet again since i have book-marked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.

    http://gals.graphis.ne.jp/mkr/out.cgi?id=04489&go=https://ocrvcenter.com/

    June 23, 2021 at 04:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate informationÖ Thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!

    http://craftcrate.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvmotorsports.life

    June 23, 2021 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Digital Marketing Specialist

    https://www.wdcep.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=consciousgrowthmarketing.com

    June 23, 2021 at 08:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. RV Repair Shop Near Me

    After going over a number of the blog posts on your web page, I truly like your way of writing a blog. I added it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site as well and tell me your opinion.

    https://webmineral.ru/forum/go.php?http://ocrvcenter.com/

    June 23, 2021 at 08:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Repair Shop Near Me

    I seriously love your site.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you build this website yourself? Please reply back as Iím trying to create my own personal site and would like to know where you got this from or what the theme is called. Kudos!

    http://funmovie.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvmotorsports.biz

    June 23, 2021 at 10:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RV And Camper Repair Near Me

    Everything is very open with a clear description of the issues. It was really informative. Your site is very helpful. Thank you for sharing!

    http://www.suddencardiacarrest.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvcenter.com

    June 23, 2021 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. SEO Marketing Services

    https://wonderwaresoutheast.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=consciousgrowthmarketing.com

    June 23, 2021 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Guadalupe

    can i add hemp oil to my blunt

    http://139.159.252.49/upload3/home.php?mod=space&uid=298859

    June 23, 2021 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. RV Repair Service Near Me

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to revisit once again since i have bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.

    http://gointramuros.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrvmotorsports.biz

    June 23, 2021 at 17:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. korean bbq near me

    http://brica.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=masternearme.com/

    June 23, 2021 at 17:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. thai near me

    Aw, this was a really good post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce a great articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I put things off a lot and never manage to get anything done.

    http://www.worldjewelry.biz/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=quotenearme.com

    June 23, 2021 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. petsmart near me

    Hi, I do think this is an excellent blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to come back once again since I book marked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.

    http://os-avio.net/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=masternearme.com

    June 23, 2021 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. RV Body Repair Shops Near Me

    http://www.nopublicity.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=www.ocrv.xyz

    June 23, 2021 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. SEO Marketing Firm

    http://socialleadwizard.net/bonus/index.php?aff=https://www.getmoneytraveling.com

    June 23, 2021 at 21:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. RV Roof Repair Service Near Me

    Greetings, I do believe your blog could possibly be having internet browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however, when opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to provide you with a quick heads up! Aside from that, wonderful blog!

    http://ww31.arraich.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=ocrv.vip

    June 23, 2021 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. cold stone near me

    http://ozarklist.com/__media__/js/netsoltrademark.php?d=bestshopnearme.com

    June 23, 2021 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. 24 Hour RV Repair Near Me

    http://www.wildthumbs.com/cgi-bin/atx/out.cgi?&s=57&c=1&u=https://ocrv.me/

    June 23, 2021 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.