“What if we never get out of this airplane?”, I ask Italian playfully. Our Boing 747 lands softly in Amsterdam after seven hours of cramped space and refined carbohydrates. Now, the plane rides and rides for miles, seemingly with no intention of stopping.
“What if this will be our life, and we will just ride down the runway forever?”, I continue musing. As far as I am concerned, this just turned from a flight into a road trip – down the endless tarmac, on and on. Are we driving to Rome?
“Well, we will run out of fuel eventually”, Italian is reasonable, as always.
“But, what if we won’t? What if this plane will just magically re-fuel itself, and we will be stuck in some sort of fucked up Stephen King’s novel?”.
Well familiar with my trips down random rabbit holes, he just pats me on the shoulder.
Another endless moment, and we come to a stop. People start getting up, but there is no sign of opened door.
“Baby…”, I say in a strained voice, a familiar tightness in my chest.
The fans are off, and the temperature in the cabin rises noticeably. I would really like to get off the plane now.
“Baby, I think I am starting to freak out a little bit”.
The heat, the people, the confined space – perfect recipe for a panic attack.
I am rummaging through my bag, trying not to panic, looking for my phone . Headphones are already plugged in, as I launch my meditation app, and go to the “breathe” tab. A circle appears on the screen, inflating and deflating rhytmically. I place my hands on my knees, and put my phone between my knees, bending over and staring at the screen, trying to match my breaths with the circle.
We have been standing in one spot for what probably has only been minutes, but what seems like hours. Most passengers remain on their feet, breathing, moving, talking – a living wall of social stimuli that in conjuction with oppressive heat in the cabin is getting to be just… too much.
I think people are still standing around. Inhale. Teenagers to my right are giggling. Exhale. What was that sound? Are they opening the doors? Inhale. No matter. Exhale.
“Kate..”, Italian gently places his hand on my shoulder. “We can go now”.
The doors are finally open. Few people are waiting for me to get out of my seat, but I need few moments still. I try to maintain the breathing pattern as I put my phone away. The crowd starts to thin out.
Ok, I may ride this one out yet.
I put my phone away, and get up, only to be pulled back by the seat belt. I forgot to unbuckle.
That simple sensation of being restricted is enough for something to snap. I helplessly lower back down into my seat, and break down crying.
The flight attendant looks on sympathetically, and asks my husband if she can bring me some water. As I hear her words through my own mental fog, I think that this is probably a fairly frequent occurrence in her world. How many panic attacks has she witnessed?
He assures her that we are ok, and just need a minute.
I understand what is happening. All I need to do is to unbuckle the freaking belt, and then I can get up and get off this damn aeroplane. It takes me few minutes to collect myself.
This is 747-400 – the biggest plane in their fleet. My seat assignment is 61b. That’s sixtieth row. I feel like I am walking across a football stadium. If a football stadium had rows and rows of seats, that is. And a really narrow walkway.
This plane will never end.
I imagine an actual neverending plane – it’s like walking through a mirror, a reflection of more and more rows, as the walkway continues forever. You will never get off.
The funny thing is that I am not even a King fan. What’s with the creepy imagery?
Finally, finally – I step off the stuffy plane and into the big airy halls of Schiphol – my favorite aeroport. One more flight until we get to Rome.
Anxiety is not fun. It’s especially not fun on a plane. Or on Valentine’s Day, or when you are headed to Europe for a month.
Nothing is ever JUST rainbows and unicorns. [Come to think of it, rainbows and unicorns would probably give me an anxiety attack on their own].
Travelling is amazing, but also stressful.
Remote work is great, but also chaotic, and tiring.
Having a baby is life changing, but also exhausting.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, it became the norm to only share the good news, to only talk about the good things. Disagree with someone, and you are a troll. Say that you are having a bad day, and you are a downer. Express constructive criticism, and you are a complainer.
And yes, part of me still feels like I should not be writing about this. But, anxiety is also part of life. While it is not fun, it’s just here. It lives with me. I live with it. And we co-exist, we learn to manage – like dealing with a roommate you do not particularly like.