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Upon inspection—over brunch with friends, late at night with my husband—the psychosis seemed straightforward: The more my life began to resemble Amanda's, the more my phobia had increased. She died in her early 30s; I'm nearly there. She'd worked at a magazine, as I do, and published a novel, as I'm about to. She was happy and successful, and I was starting to be, too. When I stopped to investigate my terror—instead of deeming it unfixable, permanent, beyond my control—I finally saw it for what it was: the suspicion that once your life starts becoming what you hoped it would be, everything gets taken away. Simply articulating this brought unexpected relief.

For good measure, I began packing my carry-on more strategically—with brainteasers. It's physically impossible to focus on the weird sound the engines are making when you're trying to figure out which two-word anagram of dominate might appear on a ticket (the answer: admit one ). I also took a Web seminar for aviophobes, which really helped. You learn to breathe (in through the nose; as you exhale, say "relax"), watch videos of cabin turbulence, and acknowledge that aviation is the only industry in which whole teams of people are working to keep you safe. You're asked to consider that while awful things do happen—planes crash, and people die, and that's just how it is sometimes—this fact can't, and shouldn't, deter you from living. I decided not to let it. In the past eight months I've flown six times without crying. And the absence of tears feels like a kind of truth.

How you can face your demons: Donna Brazile's advice for living without fear

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