Sitting at 36,000 feet above ground is not my favorite place to be. It takes a lot to get me airborne. The 24 hours before any flight is filled with tremendous anxiety and a need to finish every project ever imagined. I’m like a whirling dervish, coordinating and packing my tiny carry-on at the very last possible minute, because only that kind of frenzy can take my mind off the F word — Flying.
Don’t get me wrong — I love to travel. I just hate the crowds and commotion of airports, and flying in general. Long lines, stripping down and unpacking for TSA, and finding my “terminal” add to my already heightened anxiety. Terminal? Couldn’t they have thought that one out just a minute or two longer and used a more life-affirming word instead?
Before I board the plane I have my rituals. I kiss the finger tips on my right hand and press them to the outside of the plane as I cross the threshold. It looks like I’m petting the plane. Once inside, I give a quick peek into the cockpit to make sure the pilots look busy, fit and sober.
Then, I find my seat and immediately take out my stash of glossy magazines, snack bag and my low-dose Xanax, which I break into teeny-tiny pieces so I can pop them into my mouth like Tic-Tacs at the first sign of turbulence. I take my first one before takeoff as a preemptive strike. I do this until I’m feeling good — not Kristin Wiig in “Bridesmaids” feeling good — but just enough to take the edge off. Of course, I’m still in control, because you never know, they might need me to help fly the plane.
When the pilot comes on PA system and says “Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight,” I almost laugh out loud. Yeah, right! Just get me there in one piece I whisper under my breath. Years ago, I didn’t self medicate. I would sit there crying silently, paralyzed with fear, with a death grip on the armrests or the unlucky person next to me. Naturally, I did not want my kids to see me like this or pass my fear onto them or have a heart attack from the stress. Xanax became my trusty travel companion.
So as soon as the flight attendant says it’s safe to do so, I plug the iPod into my ears, listen to soothing music and I pray — especially if there is turbulence — because at this point, a little divine intervention couldn’t hurt. I also keep an eye on the flight attendants’ faces to judge how we’re faring.
When we hit the halfway mark on a flight, something inside me signals we’re home-free, because any flight that’s half over means they’ve pretty much got a handle (no pun intended) on what they’re doing by now. (I’m sure you can understand the deep logic in that.) You can almost hear me squeal, “Yay, we’re going to make it!” I become positively giddy. If I’m listening to music, there may actually be some shoulder bobbing at this point. I might even look out the window and marvel at the fluffy clouds and clear blue sky and wonder if this is what heaven looks like. I blame the euphoria on the fact I’m still alive. (And clearly, the Xanax has kicked in.)
Like a lot of women, I didn’t become afraid of flying until I became a mom. Yes, I know statistics show that flying is safer than driving, and air travel is currently the safest it’s ever been, but somehow that is lost on me while trapped in a small space at 36,000 feet.
If flying is so safe, then why are people always saying “Safe travels!”? Just say “See ya” or give me a wave, and pass me the Xanax.
— Linda Wolff
Linda Wolff writes the blog Carpool Goddess where she shares her adventures from carpool to empty nest. She no longer drives carpool, but that’s our little secret. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! Shine, Scary Mommy, Better After 50, Generation Fabulous and others. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.