Travelogue Part Two – In Flight Adventures


So I’ll be honest with you. I was not happy to be sitting on that first plane before 7am in the morning.

As the aircraft sped up to takeoff speed & gradually lifted off the ground, soaring upward towards the clouds, I felt waves of anxiety coursing through my body. I figured that I had two choices: freak out the whole way to the Carribean or do my best to accept that I was going to be 35,000 feet in the air for a few more hours and get as comfortable as possible.

I thought about my tool belt of coping skills and started saying to myself, “I want this anxiety. I want it to get stronger.” And, you know what? It was working. I couldn’t make the symptoms any stronger than they already were.

Then, I thought about Dave Carbonell‘s “Rule of Opposites” – doing the opposite of what feels “safe” in an anxiety provoking situation. So, instead of pulling down the shades & pretending I wasn’t on a plane, I started looking out the windows. I found that I really do like to see the tree tops, little tiny houses, and the outline of roads. Who lives in those homes & what is their story, I wondered.

Something else that really helped was the Truth Based Technique I read about in David Burn’s book. I wrote in my notebook:
*How many times have I gotten so anxious that I ran down the aisle of the plane screaming?
*How many times have planes had to land for me because I absolutely couldn’t handle symptoms of anxiety?
*How many times have I curled up in the fetal position under my chair & cried until it was all over?
Ahem, I think we know the answers to all of the above.

There were more moments with waves of fear and extended periods of time where I felt that pit in my stomach , but it was all manageable & my skills came in handy. Before I knew it, we were in Atlanta & preparing to board our second flight.

For our second flight, the longer flight, our seats were in the back of the plane. I’m not sure why the back of the plane is worse, but I kinda feel more claustrophobic back there. Our flight time was 3 hours & 12 minutes (but whose counting) & in my head I felt like a 2.5 hour flight would be so much easier. Isn’t it funny how our brains make up rules about what’s safe & what’s not?

Once we found our seats, we looked at each other at the same time — we were definitely in the “party” section of the plane. Three babies were in the back with us & some rowdy folks were starting the party early with cocktails. I wondered if some of them were drinking to cope with their own anxiety. A moment before take off, the 5 year old cherub behind me started to giggle & said, “Hey Mom! What if the plane catches on fire & we crash? Wouldn’t that be cool?!”

Hey kid – who asked you? Huh?

Finally, we landed in St. Thomas, USVI – just a ferry & a few taxi rides away from our final destination, St. John. The whole plane cheered & clapped at the successful landing. Steve & I stepped off the plane, walked down the roll away staircase out onto the tarmac & just kept grinning. This was going to be a blast.

So, let’s recap. What helped?

*Showing up & being willing to try something that creates anxiety
*Paradox/Bring it on mentality/Make the symptoms stronger
(Reid Wilson, Don’t Panic – newly revised)
*Truth based techniques (David Burns, When Panic Attacks)
*Rule of Opposites (Dave Carbonell, Panic Attacks Workbook)
*Supportive mate
*Engaging with others/humor
*Being ok if none of these worked

Stay tuned! The next installment will be about our adventures in paradise!

Travelogue Part One – Getting on the plane

Friday night before the big vacation takeoff:

I am feeling excited, shopping for last minute beach towels & sunscreen, packing into the wee hours of the morning. I write little notes for my girls and fight the urge to say things like, “If we don’t make it home, I want you to know. . .” and fill up their journals with memories and dreams for their futures.

I crawl into bed & the anxiety steps things up a bit. Adrenaline becomes my bedmate & I know I’m not going to get much sleep. I remind myself that this is to be expected. I expect to sleep terribly and feel anxious, even panicky. I haven’t flown in almost 3 years & I’m leaving my children behind for a week – something I’ve never done before. Next to my bed is a pad of paper for notes & I write down, “I want this anxiety” – just in case I forget when the alarm goes off. I snuggle up to my man & try to ride the waves while he snoozes with ease. Thank God only one of us runs anxious!

Saturday morning – 4:30am:

I wake up with a real sense of dread. I feel nauseous & panicky. I look down at my “I want this anxiety” note with a smiley face & say “screw that – what a stupid thing to write”! In the shower, I’m weepy and yell out to my husband, “I changed my mind. I don’t want to go. I just want to stay home. I feel terrible.”

It’s so hard in that moment to believe all those coping statements and truths – that flying is much safer than driving; panic always goes away with time; panic & anxiety are uncomfortable, but not dangerous; it’s very likely that I’ll be able to relax into the flight once we get going & if not, I will survive.

The first step is making it out the door. Then, driving to the airport where I take .25 mg of xanax & review my options – “If we get to our first connection & I feel terrible, we can always come home, right?” Walking into the airport feels familiar – it’s been a while, but I’ve done this before. After going through the security lines & randomly having my shoes checked (are my Keens too stinky? I ask) I rush over to the gate attendant, tell her about my flying fear & ask for seats closer to the front. At first she says that the plane is full, but at the last minute I am called up to the desk & the lovely Miss Tina from Delta changes our seating to bulk head. I think I love her.

As they call our flight to begin boarding, Steve & I wait & I take another .25mg. The funny thing about many anxiety superheroes & meds is that we’re actually a little afraid of taking them. From the extremes of — “What if it’s too much & I stop breathing?” to “What if I take it & it doesn’t work?”

Finally we take make our way through the line and warm tears roll down my face as we board the plane. As we buckle up and they seal the doors, I close my eyes and remember where we’re going.


More to come:
*Travelogue Part Two: In flight adventures
*Travelogue Part Three: Island Mama

Learning to fly

I’m preparing for a trip & am choosing to fly after not flying for almost 3 years. Here I am a few months out & I’m starting to feel the anticipatory fear already. You know, some images here & there of the plane going down in a fiery ball & me thinking – Oh no, if I knew this was going to happen I wouldn’t have come – it’s not worth my kids being raised without their parents! Yikes!

Luckily, it’s not consuming, but it is somewhere in the background of my mental landscape & comes up when I start to think about the trip. Rationally, I know that it will alright once we’re off the ground and the flight is underway. I am really looking forward to getting away with my handsome man. And, I know that air travel is much safer than driving a car. But anticipatory anxiety & an active imagination team up to get me into trouble sometimes. So, I’ll be writing about this current anxiety & how I’m preparing. I’d love to hear your feedback about what works for you when it comes to anticipatory fears or flying.

Here’s my prep plan so far:

*Write down affirmations
*Take time to listen to my fear of flying CD
*Plan as much as I can to be comfortable on the flight
*Talk to my doctor about an Rx to relax (I don’t love taking meds, but flying is an exception!)
*Begin sitting with the anxiety – not spiraling into the what if thoughts, but sitting with & inviting the anxious symptoms that accompany the thoughts.
*Use my imagination to call up images of having fun & thoroughly enjoying the adventure.

Where are we getting with chronic anxiety?

I must have a dozen books or so on the subject of anxiety. All of them tout that panic and anxiety can be cured or treated without drugs and that cognitive behavioral therapy is the gold standard.

Since I’ve become more open about my anxiety, I’ve found out that many people in my life have the same or similar issues – teachers, social workers, lawyers, doctors – people from all walks of life. Many are taking SSRI’s, recommended by their therapists, and feeling like anxiety still takes the better of them more often than not. Many are also seeing therapists who they really like, but aren’t seeing the real, lasting results they want. I can relate. I’ve taken meds before. I’ve been through therapy. And, even though I work really hard at facing my fears and strive for acceptance & surrender, I’m still not where I want to be. Fear still slips in and can throw me for a loop and I can work myself up irrationally in anxious anticipation and end up feeling pretty miserable. Like Jack Nicholson said, in the classic movie, “Is this as good as it gets?”

So, why do so many people struggle with this on again, off again anxiety or constant, underlying anxiety that grips their lives and can’t easily be shaken? The self help books say ‘quick & extremely treatable’, life experience & observation says ‘years in therapy, medication and just getting by’. If it’s really that treatable, what’s going on?

David Burns’ book “When Panic Attacks” is subtitled “The new drug-free anxiety therapy that can change your life.” I’d like a few sessions with him to find out what I’m missing here as a student of anxiety.

Because, I truly believe what the books say — that even severe anxiety can be effectively treated to the point that, when it rears its ugly head over the years, a person has the skills to handle it – that with acceptance, exposure and a confidence in your skills, feeling anxious becomes no big deal.

Perhaps, we as clients need to be more willing to do the hard, often scary work of facing fears. And, perhaps more therapists need to become experts in anxiety, get out in the field with their clients, and be creative in their approaches, sticking it out until they figure out which treatment mode is working. It’s not one size fits all. Most of the people I know who have quit going to therapy weren’t “resistant”, it just wasn’t helping them to feel better.

With some 40 million Americans struggling with anxiety disorders, surely we can work together to do better.