As you may remember from an earlier post, I had not been on an airplane since October 2001. But a scheduled vacation was looming and my stepping foot on a plane had become eminent.
At the advice of a friend who had a fear of flying and with the approval of my doctor, I began taking a half a Xanax at night as soon as I started feeling some anxiety about the trip. That timeline is now sort of blurry because it was also on the heels of general holiday stress, but I think I really started thinking about it about a week out. The Xanax at bedtime achieved two things: 1) it helped me get the best sleep possible. The silence of night can sometimes be overwhelming if you are dealing with anxiety, and 2) waking up with less anxiety helps decrease the anxiety throughout the day. It’s sort of like taking an allergy medication at night to help with your allergies during the day.
The day before we were scheduled to leave, I went online and checked in and confirmed our seat assignments. So glad I did as I saw where we were sitting and hated it. This, I thought, is something I can control in a situation where I feel I have absolutely no control. The diagram of the plane showed a row of three seats and then a row of two seats. Perfect. Just me and my husband in our own little row. That eliminated all the anxiety about the unknown person who would be sitting next to us. The option to pay extra for the exit row, which has a little more room to stretch out. Excellent. Reduced the feeling of being locked in, smooched with strangers. Just being able to pick, and have the option to select a “better” seat-even at a charge-really did give me a very important sense of control.
The night before we left, I took a whole Xanax and slept as best as I could. I got up early to allow time for a trip to the Y to do a cardio workout (exercise is incredibly helpful for my anxiety). Home to shower, finish packing and wrap things up at home so we could head to the airport.
I am not quite sure how to explain this to someone who doesn’t have anxiety, but when I am super anxious, there is a very loud conversation going on in my head. Maybe not even a conversation, but lots of “noise” that makes it difficult to focus. That noise makes it difficult to talk with others or process information-it’s just too crowded in there. I become extremely sensitive to sounds, smell and light. It’s a physical reaction to a psychological issue. For example, Jeff was unloading the dishwasher, which usually is a welcomed self-imitated task, but this time, the clanking of the dishes was amplified ten times and every crash of a plate reverberated in the tight space between my ears.
It’s difficult to hold conversations when I feel like this and of course, at this moment, my kids are all three simultaneously talking to me. I had to escape as quickly as I could before I became overwhelmed and let those feelings take over. Once the anxiety takes over, it’s difficult to regain control.
Then, soon I found myself actually on the way to the airport.
I listened carefully to advice from others. I had a light load for a carry-on and wore comfortable clothing, including a scarf that would allow me to sort of curl up next to the window and create a cocoon. I started a new book I was eager to read and I was fairly confident would hold my attention. I had my headphones and a good playlist. I had handi-wipes and hand sanitizer galore in case I felt something was covered in germs and it would make me feel better to clean it. And believe it or not, I even had a mask in case something gross happened and I needed to protect myself from germs. I knew that the odds of me actually putting the mask on were like 1:99, but just having it reduced my anxiety and provided an answer to many “what ifs” that were swirling around in my head.
This was it. I was going to fly.
Once we got through security and to our gate to wait it out, I would estimate on a scale from zero to ten, my anxiety was hovering around a seven. I took a quarter of a Xanax. Now, my doctor has told me before that a dose that small probably doesn’t really do anything, but for someone with anxiety, just the act of taking it makes me feel better and more in control. Once they started boarding, I took an additional half of Xanax. I could feel that one working before I even got on the plane.
Once on, I felt pretty good (with the exception of the detached molding on the exit door) and within minutes, we were up in the air. I set the timer on my phone for the projected flight time so I knew how long was left along the way. The flight itself was fine. I was fine. I did it.
And, as we all know, our fears about things are often much scarier than the reality. Indeed, that was the case here. I had created an experience in my mind that was so much worse than the reality. The universe also played along and made sure this first return flight was on time with no delays, nonstop and on days with good weather. The plane didn’t feel dirty and the seats are like pleather instead of how they used to be cloth (aka germ traps). It doesn’t matter how it happened, I am grateful I completed the mission.
Once we landed, got through customs, collected luggage, found our transfer, boarded a bus to our hotel and completed the drive, we were greeted with this view and I was so glad I made a commitment to overcome this obstacle at any cost.