During a recent layover while flying to California, my husband and I waited for carryout from a Chipotle near our gate before the plane boarded, which almost caused us to miss our flight. Racing onto the plane, food in hand, we were among the last few people to board, and we didn’t have pre-assigned seats. While not being able to choose my seat is a trigger for me to begin with, sitting in a middle seat on a flight causes me to feel instant panic. Especially when I cannot sit next to my husband. So as we walked down the aisle of a full flight, with only middle seats left, I felt the panic begin to ensue.
I chose a middle seat in between a man and a woman who did not appear to be together. They were both small in size, which gave me ample room in the middle, but the panic was still brewing. In my attempt to get settled as the flight was taking off, I was trying to shove my carry-on under the seat in front of me while holding my Coke from Chipotle, and the Coke slid out of my hand and fell top-down onto the floor, sending pop and ice everywhere. I grabbed the cup to scoop up as much liquid as I could, but then I noticed my iPad was in my carry-on on the floor near the spill, so I had to use my legs to prop up my bag. Amidst my panic and contorted position, I yelled, GOD DAMMIT, so loud that my husband text me from five aisles back to see if I was okay. Later, he will text me that I am a mouse with the roar of a lion, which will make me laugh.
Shaking and completely disoriented, I sat frozen, not knowing what to do. The man sitting next to me asked a flight attendant for some napkins and helped me clean up the pop on the floor, which made me feel so bad that tears welled up in my eyes. After the pop was cleaned up, I looked at my phone thinking that at least a half-hour had gone by, assuming we’d only have about 1.5 hours left on the flight. As soon as I saw an estimated 4.5 hours left on the flight, it hit me that we had booked a flight with a layover completely out of our way, which meant it was going to take us longer than usual to get to LA.
There was no stopping it now, I was in the midst of a full-blown panic attack.
All I wanted to do was run, flee, get out of where I was, and I had nowhere to go for the next 4.5 hours. I was trapped. So I fled my body. No longer in a conscious state, I fell victim to the reactions of my body. My clothes became soaked with sweat, and I started tearing off layers. Tears were pouring down my face, and I began hyperventilating, gasping for air. I’m not sure how long this went on, but when the woman next to me put her hand lightly on my arm and asked me if I was okay, it helped bring me back a little. Yes, I said, Sorry, it’s just anxiety.
Here is what I wrote in the moments that followed:
I’m left sticky with sweat, tears and sugar. A salty-sweet end. At least it wasn’t bitter. I’m pretty sure I’m punishing myself [by drinking] the tea. What I really want is a Coke, but I am too hesitant to order one because of the spill. Because I will be too nervous to hold it. I am not as nervous to hold the water, though it’s hot. But I suppose it’s good that I drink chamomile [tea]. To calm my nerves. Maybe halfway through the flight, I’ll get a drink. I need one, but I can’t afford any stimulant right now. The wetness of the pop made the bag break and when I finally decided to eat, my fork fell out of my bag and onto the ground. My guacamole and cheese fell too. I guess I should at least feel thankful that the lids stayed on. I asked the flight attendant for silverware and she said, Not since 9/11. The man next to me said I should ask again. That maybe the attendant thought I meant actual silver. For the flight attendant’s sake, I hope not. I now have a salad for lunch with no fork to eat it with. And then I ordered hot water and got ice water. Not my flight. It’s all right, I’ve hit one of those points when I’ve given up [on] satisfaction and satiation. I am desperately trying for sanity. And of course, the man next to me has a sandwich, a Coke and Doritos. 4 hours and 25 minutes and counting. Best not to look at the time or the flight [progress]. Best to pace myself and break up the day. Drink some tea to calm my nerves, watch a movie, order a drink and read some of my book, go to the bathroom. Hopefully by then, it’ll all be over. He has a handmade lunch. Like the kind my dad would have brought to work in the 80s. When my parents were still using plastic baggies and still eating things like Doritos and white sandwich bread. The woman reminds me of the favorite aunt of a friend I once had the pleasure of spending the weekend with for a wedding. She is delightful. And so this seat seems to be the best fit. Someone who smells or talks or does anything in excess may have sent me over the edge. It is a feeling I can only describe as falling through quicksand when the panic of the flight combined with seeing we had 4.5 hours left. I was sinking, unable to breathe. Holding on to the last bit of light, air and sanity all at the same time. Not sure or aware of which one to let go of first. The chamomile tea helps. As did the cute little girl on Ellen, and the same attendant who told me there wasn’t any silverware finding me a plastic set. People really do help when I leave the door open to it. If only it wasn’t so draining to let them in.