Monday, March 7, 2011

a line in the sand (almost)

The wine glasses pictured are the ones we drank out of all weekend at my friend Allie's condo in South Beach.  Note the "regular" size glass for comparison.  Yeah, it was a relaxing weekend (full of wine, sun, voracious reading, and some crazy wind).  And Allie cooked for me, which made the whole thing even better.  

So why am I drained, and still a little anxious?  

Lately I've been uncharacteristically forgetful.  There was the day I left the burner on with an empty pan over it long after I consumed the food cooked in said pan (and got a nice little burn on my thumb as a stern warning never to do that again).  Then I packed my bag for South Beach very efficiently and quickly....and left my camera battery in its charger IN THE WALL (it is now ruined).  Also in my luggage was this nifty interchangeable charger with the ipod and Blackberry attachments in the little travel bag...make that the wrong Blackberry attachment. While in South Beach, I dropped my phone at least twice, and now it won't hold a charge.  And today, I dashed out of the office to grab a cab to my late afternoon doctor's appointment and left my wallet sitting on my desk....which I didn't realize until the cab and I were nearly to the doctor, morphing what should've been a $6 or $7 cab into a $20 ordeal and causing me to seriously toe the line of punctuality. But most troubling is the flight anxiety ordeal that went down last night at the Miami airport.  

So let's back up a few steps.  As I'm sure I've warned you, I'm a nervous passenger. But after a nearly two-year hiatus from air travel, I've flown a few times a month since September.  I even managed to maintain my composure to and from Egypt, people.  And I flew basically without incident TO Miami.

Yet for some reason that I would love to have some insight on, I basically lost my marbles at MIA last night.  It certainly did not help matters that I was sleep deprived, Allie was flying out of a different terminal (aka no pre-flight chatting could happen), and my phone was dying (preventing me from calling someone else to chat and distract me).  It didn't go downhill immediately.  It was more like a slow motion disaster. 

Once I checked in (and silently thanked the American Airlines rep who put me in a window seat at the front of the economy cabin after I explained my irrational fear and subsequent coping mechanisms) and cleared security, I decided the key to staying calm was distracting myself prior to departure (which was still roughly 2.5 hours away).  This lasted for maybe 20 minutes, and then I decided I should set up shop at my gate and concentrate on calming myself while stationary.  I called my parents, and realized my phone was going to die any second (still hours from departure), so I trekked back to a techie store and forked over money for a charger (this is the second time in less than 2 months I've paid for an item I already own but neglected to bring to an airport, and wouldn't have even happened had I brought my proper Blackberry attachment).  

My phone and I then sat on the floor by a column with a power outlet, and I commenced crying.  Let's be very clear about this--I do not condone public displays of emotion or affection.  Typically my fear of flying is not easily detected by unknowing observers.  I tend to withdraw completely, and the most outward sign of the anxiety is wringing of hands.  But for some reason, yesterday I was particularly anxious.  At my mom's urging, I took my anti-anxiety drugs early (let's also be really clear about this--I do not typically take medicine unless basically forced to do so under duress, but the anxiety is so bad that I welcome any relief when it comes to flying). 

Even an hour later, I was still a mess.  I called my parents back, and I'm sure my dad owes my mom one for taking that call.  I don't remember exactly what I said for the hour leading up to the flight, but that could be because most of it was not coherent.  I'm sure my mother was ready to just tell me to get over it and get on the stinking plane, but, she kept it together impressively, even when I asked her to look up the times and prices of an Amtrak train back to DC from Miami ($220 and roughly 22 hours, in case you were curious).  

I think she and I were both surprised by the intensity of the fear this time.  If I were a betting woman, I would have put a huge sum on my not getting on that plane.  I said as much to my mother at least a dozen times. 

See, my fear is centered around turbulence, and there was some rough weather up and down the East coast yesterday.  So knowing that it was dark, we'd be flying over an ocean, and there might be significant turbulence, I was genuinely unsure that I could calm myself down and then remain calm for the 2.5 hour flight.  The absolute last thing I wanted was to be in full-on panic mode for 2.5 straight hours.  What if I needed to get off the plane and couldn't?  Knowing that I wouldn't be able to see the ground below (a strangely comforting thing for me during turbulence) was definitely getting to me.  But nearly equally disturbing to me were the implications of walking away from that flight and climbing on a 22 hour train. I was terrified that I would be drawing a line in the sand in terms of ever getting on a plane again.  And I've got a lot of life ahead of me to just throw in the towel on flying. 

Anyways, the crew of my flight arrived late, so boarding was delayed by nearly 45 minutes.  I think that extra 45 minutes made a big difference.  I had a chance to continue talking to mom, who did everything she could to calm me down (short of jumping through the phone and forcing me to take deep yoga-type breaths and drink some water).  And then I got on the stinking plane.  

Per mom's advice, I didn't go straight to my seat, I actually stopped right inside the door when I saw the purser (the head flight attendant).  I said something like "I need to talk to you really quick" (not my most articulate day ever, really) and the minute she saw me (again, a huge mess), she immediately went into protective mother mode.  She said "oh no, what is it? what's wrong? whatever it is, we can fix it!" and she pulled me into the galley, shut the little "privacy curtain," gave me a hug, poured me some water, and we talked about the fear of flying issue. I was mortified all around, but she assured me that they see many people as anxious (or worse) as me.  She distracted me by talking about where she's from (also NC) and where she lives now (near the Pentagon), and then she took me into the cockpit.  The pilots showed me pictures of their families (their impetus, in part, for flying as safely as humanly possible) and we talked about my turbulence issues.  I asked the pilots to estimate how much turbulence we could expect, and they answered honestly.  Then the flight attendant escorted me to my seat, and explained to my seat mates that they should keep an eye on me (embarrassing, but appreciated).  She also said she'd check on me constantly, and that I could come sit with her if I wasn't doing well.  By now, my whole body had stopped shaking violently, I was breathing like humans are supposed to, and I was committed to staying on the plane, but I was still anxious.  There were definitely some bumps, but the flight attendant kept coming by to reassure me that the airplane was fine.  When we landed, I got another hug, and was led to the cockpit again to chat with the pilots. 

I realize this all sounds absolutely ridiculous.  I'm 24 years old and I can't get on a plane without having a near-panic attack, despite nearly a dozen successful flights in the past 6 months.  But fear is not rational, and that makes it difficult to manage.  I did an exceptionally bad job of managing it yesterday.  And I'm incredibly grateful to the flight attendant and the pilots, who had absolutely no obligation to treat me as well as they did.  I might still be on a train on my way back from Miami right now if it weren't for them.  

I intend to try and think through what went (especially) wrong yesterday, but for now, I'm just relieved to be home.  I can't believe how quickly my time in Miami passed, and that tomorrow is my last chance to eat out before Lent.  Don't worry, I already fit in one last trip to Chipotle...

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry the flight was traumatic! But I am seriously impressed with the AA customer service...