Ever since I was a little girl, flying was my favourite thing to do. I didn’t care where I was headed or for how long, all that mattered was that I was going to be on an airplane. Take-off is one of my favourite parts about flying, not to mention I get excited when there is turbulence. I wouldn’t call myself a frequent flyer but I flew enough that I knew what to expect, especially during a long flight. Having already flown to Europe in previous years, Vancouver seemed like a no brainer to me, 5 hours, piece of cake. I arrived at the airport, and was excited for a new adventure that I was about to take on. I was hardly nervous but anxious as it was my first time flying all by myself. I deal with anxiety all of the time, but oddly enough that sinking feeling in my belly felt like a distant memory that day. I decided that during my wait time before boarding I owed it to myself to find a restaurant, with a bar, and maybe get a bite to eat. After two drinks and a full belly, I headed to my gate for boarding. Still at this point my nerves were totally fine, and I felt so proud of myself for keeping so calm. Not to mention that I was headed to see my best friend half way across Canada, it was hard to contain the excitement, but nerves, what nerves?
As I waited patiently to board the plane I finally made it on. As I headed to my seat, I had to pass through business class and it made me so jealous! I wanted leg room, I wanted a bed, I wanted a complimentary pillow and blanket. I mean, I could have had it if I really wanted to, I mean it only cost 699$ to upgrade on top of my 600$ flight. As I continued to wait behind the long line of passengers filling the over head bins my vision quickly changed from the beautiful business class cabin to the economy cabin, where every single seat was full. I had spotted 6 babies on the way to my seat, and there was still half of the aircraft that I couldn’t see. Still, I kept calm, I was on vacation! No work, no school, I was free! Prior to the flight I had paid extra to have an aisle seat so that I wouldn’t bother people when I had to get up to pee, which for some reason, on planes, was a lot.
As I arrived at my seat, I had three women who spoke no english seated beside me. Which was fine, but that meant no conversation, and being the social person that I am I still tried to talk to them, but that was short lived, just like the odd calmness I had before the flight. After take off, I felt fine, I picked a movie from the selection of new releases offered and began one I hadn’t seen. Then came around the food trolly, and I decided that mac and cheese was my choice of dish. I took one bite and it tasted so greasy and unappetizing that it made my stomach turn, and then in the blink of an eye, that feeling that scares me so much started to roll back in like it never left and I knew I was in for trouble. As a slow panic started to set in, I began to try to breathe and attempt to calm myself down before it became a problem. Anybody who deals with anxiety knows that there are basically 3 stages to anxiety attack, the first stage where you’re freaking out and that sinking feeling in your stomach is there constantly and it does not go away. The second stage is like the after shocks after a bad earthquake, you feel bad, but then you feel good, and then a second later your bad. That lasts a while too, and then eventually you get to the euphoria phase (if you are lucky enough to have calmed yourself down) where you feel relieved that the sinking in your stomach has no reached the surface and you can finally breathe again.
As I realized that this anxiety was not going anywhere and was only going to get worse, I got up from my seat to head to the washroom, but of course there were three people waiting before me. So I sat back down and tried to relax. This had to be two hours into the flight, and then suddenly the lights went off, and my anxiety just got worse. I finally managed to get into a bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and just started to cry. In that moment, I realized that I was out of reach of anybody that I knew or loved. I was on a plane with 500 other people who I knew nothing about, and who knew nothing about me. I couldn’t text my mom, or my boyfriend and this idea pushed me right over the edge. I knew that I had to head back to my seat as there must have been another line up accumulating outside the lavatory I was in. I made my way back to my seat, grabbed a couple of tissues and continued to cry. I was surprisingly happy that the lights weren’t on at this time or everybody would see how in distress I was. Instead, the people around me could not see me but they could hear me, a tiny wimper coming from 27 G.
Moments later, a kind gentlemen walked over to my seat and asked if I was okay, I told him I was fine and not to worry about it, it was not like they could necessarily do something about it, or so I thought. He asked if he should get one of the flight attendants and I told him that I would be fine. Surprisingly, I felt ten times worse after he offered to get somebody because now I felt like I was everybody’s problem. Sometimes, just sometimes, no matter how strong you think you are, it is never a problem to ask for help. After finally realizing that this anxiety attack was only going to get worse I caught the attention of one flight attendant and asked if she had a moment to just talk to me, to just take my mind off of that terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.Of course, flight attendants are trained to deal with anxieties and such, but i felt so stupid for freaking out over something so small. It makes more sense for someone to have anxiety attack because they have a fear of flying, not because they can’t contact anybody on the ground.
They reassured me that it was not ridiculous for me to be crying and that it was normal. Each and every crew member on that flight made an attempt to make me feel better. They offered me everything on the plane that they thought could help, they gave me gravol and told me it would calm me down. I was in the the first phase where that terrible feeling in my gut felt like it was there to stay. The flight attendants continued to rotate through the back of the cabin so that I was never alone. In that moment I felt that although my anxiety was still there I knew that these people were trying to help me and they cared about me. Then came the aftershocks and I made my way back to my seat to try to fall asleep, as I still had two more hours to go. I turned off the movie I was watching and turned of the map, so that I could just watch the plane slowly make its way to the little red dot on the map.
Finally we touched down, and I had never been so happy to be on the ground, the third stage euphoria. I had arrived, my best friend was waiting for me, and all was well. I was in a new city, far from home and I had an exciting week ahead of me. I couldn’t thank the flight attendants enough for what they had done for me. They did everything they could to make me more comfortable, and feel more safe. I had never been more appreciative of flight attendant until that day. Who knows how bad my attack could have gotten had I never asked for help. I plan to pay it forward and hope to see them on the flight back home. Little did they know that there small gestures had gone a long way.
I remember my first few flights when I was a kid, being trapped in a sardine can on wings but I found that distraction helped, plus seat by the exit to, more leg room, glad you made it okay in the end 🙂
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Thank you so much!
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Firstly, I hope you loved Vancouver. I’ve lived here my whole life and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Secondly, I can totally relate to your feelings of anxiety. I love to travel but my irrational fear of flying has stopped me so many times. http://thebestthingsinlifeblog.com/2015/01/18/fear/
It is the far braver person who asks for and accepts help, and you did just that. Be proud and know you have grown. Much of the pain people deal with is because they internalize it and feel no one can understand. While it might take you a few tries to find that one person (or flight attendant) that does understand, or at least takes the actions and says the words you need to hear right then and there, it is a step few have the courage to take, let alone revisit after dismissing it once. Good for you! Pay it forward!!! 🙂
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