Flying Drug-free

I am a phobic flier. I am armpit-pricklingly sure I am about to die.

I start to get nervous before I leave home. One way I cope with this is I do not look at my itinerary until the last possible moment. I’ve never bought my own plane ticket, usually a man in my life takes care of that (isn’t that old-fashioned and cute?). That man knows my schedule and tells me the day and approximate time of day I will fly.

It doesn’t seem weird to me until people start asking me, “So when do you leave on Monday?” and I have to answer, “I don’t know, it’s in the afternoon.”

When the car hits the exit for the airport, my stomach starts to hurt and I have to pee. I ignore these warning signs. I know it’s irrational, I’ve read the books. I know the whole the-drive-to-the-airport-is-the-most-dangerous-part-of-your-trip deal. I’m phobic, not stupid. All that ever did for me was make me nervous about driving.

In the airport my face starts to feel numb, and my hands and feet start to sweat. It’s weird. I feel like I’m about to be in really big trouble, and there’s no escaping it. And once I’m at the airport, there is no escaping it. I kind of like going through security. Kind of like being scanned, taking off my shoes, etc. That feels to me like a sort of momentary reprieve from my ugly fate. I suppose I’m the ideal customer. I actually hope they find something dangerous on me. Hope they pull me into a room and strip-search me. Hope they pull up my dossier on the all-seeing-bush-o-tron and deny me entrance onto the plane. But they never do. This is about the time I like to take my Ativan.

On the plane, I still have to pee, even if I already went in the airport. And my stomach is full of prehistoric butterflies from hell. My feet sweat more, my hands get clammy. Once the Ativan hits my system, I feel like I’m going to die, but well, aren’t we all? And probably I’ll be asleep. I doze and stare into space. I shop the sky-mall and find things I really, really need. It seems unfair that such important and wonderful things are only available on a plane. Aside from some pestering little terrified homunculus whining in my ear about tin tubes carrying people way up in the sky, and what a long way it would be to have to fall, I’m pretty calm.

My last flight was drug free. Jodi from Normandale (who is both brilliant and kind) offered to sit next to me and hold my hand. She hardly had to at all. We talked a little about our kids and schools. I warned her that I would be counting while we took off and for a while after that and would only be able to answer questions with numbers.

There were only a couple of questions she had to answer about , “What was that noise? Why is it doing that? Are we on the wing? ” Jodi was a trooper. “No, we’re not right by the wing. That noise was the blahblah system, they were just testing it, they do it all the time. Doesn’t it sound kind of like a dog barking?”

She lied about the wing. Probably figured I’d obsess about it if I knew. I had way more important things to obsess about than the wing. I counted to 400 while we took off. If I lost my place, I had to start over. It got me through take-off without blubbering. I wanted to write on the computer while I flew, but every time I went to bend over to get my laptop, I’d get hit between the eyes with dizziness and nausea. I had to sit back and close my eyes.

Eventually I was able to get the laptop by reaching down without lowering my head. I pulled up some photos of my last trip. Jodi had me tell her about my trip, my kids, my neighborhood, my schooling. We talked politics and religion and the demography of the suburbs and the city.

I used the bathroom once, whereupon Jodi said I was very brave. She was way afraid to use a plane bathroom because she was afraid she’d get sucked out of the plane. Thanks a lot Jodi.

As we approached the (lovely and wonderful, sweet-smelling and wholesome) Twin Cities, the pilot announced that there were “A few thunderstorms in and around the Twin Cities area. We’ll be shifting our approach just a bit on account of those storms. Flight attendants, I’m going to ask you to be seated and fasten your seat-belts.”

I started deep breathing (in through the nose, out through the nose as well) and counting with my eyes closed. I did these things while holding on to my seat. The back of my seat. I had my hands on the back of my seat, my head bowed, my elbows bent. I was covering my ears with my arms.

It turns out those pesky storms were in the process of eating Hugo and a pieces of suburban MSP. Andy says he was watching the plane on the computer, so he’d know when to come and get me. He saw it heading for the airport one minute, then turn 90 degrees, and 90 degrees again. We were avoiding tornadoes.

It was so, so loud. And so vibratious. And so long. I breathed. I counted, but backwards. If I lost my place, I had to start over at the last number I could clearly remember. This time I have no idea how far I counted. I think I started at 400. I couldn’t tell exactly when we landed, it was all so bumpy. But eventually we slowed and Jodi patted my hand.

That’s when the trembling started. I couldn’t get my hands or legs to stay still. I should have been elated to be on the ground, but I was upset. I was sure I was going to cry. Jodi asked if I was OK and I nodded. The guy across the aisle from me kept looking at me like he was worried. I tried to be busy gathering my things, but the more stuff I had on my lap (purse, laptop) the more obvious it was that I was not at all OK.

Cassie (also from Normandale), two seats down from the worried guy looked over and said, “Hey Lisa, you did it! And you seem much better than before we left.”

Worried man looked at her and said, “Are you you kidding? Look at her. She’s shaking all over. She’s not better than anything. Are you OK?”

I nodded, but I was afraid I might cry. People being nice when I’m upset always makes me want to cry. Then where would we be? “I, I, I don’tliketofly.” I told him quickly.

“Oh well, you did fine.” He insisted I get off the plane before him. He was very nice.

I didn’t cry until I got into the truck with Andy, but I only cried like, two tears. I don’t have a good theory about why I didn’t get really upset until it was all over. I suppose there’s a technical reason. Since I am never traveling again, we have no need to think about what I will do next time.

In case you forgot, “It Is OK, Many Things Do Not Fly. Rocks, Trees, Sticks…” Me.

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5 thoughts on “Flying Drug-free

  1. Ang Jia Cong says:

    i read your entire post and i thought it was very real and truthful. Hey, you did it. 🙂

    -lands a pat on your back-

  2. Thanks. That’s what I try for.

  3. “…I still have to pee, even if I already went in the airport. And my stomach is full of prehistoric butterflies from hell. My feet sweat more, my hands get clammy.”

    Quoting a great American hero…. “That’s Hot!”
    — Paris Hilton

  4. emily says:

    my RSS email feed thingy promised me that when they were bought out they would transfer all my subscriptions for me, but they lied. i didn’t notice until yesterday, hence i’m reading this post today. my comment:

    TAKE YOUR MEDS!

    just assign yourself a babysitter who’s patient and kind, and who doesn’t let you call people or write things on the internets until the next day, and who for god’s sake does not describe you to yourself when you’re sober.

    alternatively, ask your doctor to introduce you to one of the many other fine meds out there. how about just a plain old tranquilizer? you shouldn’t have to choose between terror and mortification.

    say, they should have a nitrous-oxide service on airplanes! maybe even a special section: “will you be flying first class, coach, or nitrous?”

  5. Thanks Emily for the tough all-caps love. I think you are right that I should inquire about other less stupid-making drugs. The way I see it, if there are drugs that are fun (I haven’t found any outside the hospital), and I have a legitimate need, then I should get them.

    I am sure to have to fly again some day. And watch this space for how I handle it.

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