Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fear of Flying: Isn't There a Pill for This?

I don't travel as well as I appear to. Really. Terrorists. Turbulence. The entire duration of flight, my head is filled with death or near-death scenarios, and while I try to explain practical measures to myself or recite safety statistics, fear wins, like it did Sunday when the nose of the plane I was traveling in suddenly pitched downward 45 degrees and to the right-- when it wasn't supposed to. I was completely unprepared. Tea flew out the little hole in the safety lid of my styrofoam cup so that even though I hadn't actually urinated in my pants, I looked like I did. I found myself clutching the big, meaty arm of the fellow on my left, who had braced himself against the seat in front of him. Laughing, I let go and said, "I think I need to re-examine my relationship with Jesus."

"Well, I just called on him," said the lady on my right. I think Jesus had a whole line of us to address that night. I kept hoping I was toward the front of it and he was feeling kindly.

Later toward the end of the flight-- a flight that had started poorly due to a pre-take-off roach who had been trying desperately to hide in my purse only to run away and then return to dance across my feet-- I turned to the guy on the left and patted his arm.

"It's almost over. Hopefully the landing is better."
"I have never experienced anything like that," he said referring to the turbulence, "Never."
"At least you didn't scream like a girl."
"But I wanted to. I really wanted to scream like a girl."
I turned to the woman on my right; she was doubled over in laughter. "Took your mind off the roach, didn't it?" I said.

My fear of flying is usually handled with a nice bourbon and coke pre-flight or on the flight, but knowing that the rule one in the air equals two on the ground applies doubly to me, I don't partake of alcohol if I know that I might have to drive myself post-flight. And so this time, I tried soberly and desperately to shove aside my tendency to profile for terrorists and pray for no thunderstorms.  Earlier, I had changed seats with a gentleman so he could sit with his wife in the exit row. I turned to him and said, "I expect a superior performance from you in case of emergency." He thought I was kidding. I kind of wasn't. I had already read my emergency pamphlet and was deliberating, in case of crash landing, whether or not I should lay the 40-50 pound door across the bench row seating or toss it out the plane. And then I thought that everyone would be in the way of laying the door across the seats anyway, and why was that an option. And then I wondered if maneuvering the door would be like picking up my son, as he is about 43 pounds and getting a little tough for me to wrangle. I thought I had escaped the exit row dilemma altogether when I noticed that, having traded seats with the other passenger, I had only moved up one row and was still technically in the exit row. The people beside me-- were they fit enough to handle this? Would they like a bourbon to take the edge off too? Isn't it a bad idea to have a bourbon if you are expected to remove a 40-50 pound piece of equipment and potentially fling it out the doorframe so you can save 100 plus passengers? At one point, I turned to the lady on my right and said I should probably get a prescription for anxiety pills just for flights. I know they exist. I used to take them. Damnitol or whatever.

I sat shaking and shuddering in the airplane that shook and shuddered across air pockets and thermals, and thought that one day my kids would really know how much I loved them to fly two roundtrips in two weeks to spend time with them during their full-summer visit with their dad. The wet pants would have to be proof, pee or no pee. So would the therapy bill incurred from dealing with flight anxiety.

But I did survive. We had a decent landing. My pants were dry by the time I got off the plane. The next day, a co-worker recommended that I book morning flights, as they are usually smoother. I wondered about trains briefly, but they take at least twice as long as driving and then there was the whole Spain thing.

I'm doomed. Just doomed. I should get used to the wet pants.