So sorry to anyone who has to sit next to me on a plane.
It used to be so easy for me to fly that I could fall into such a deep state of sleep, I'd wake up drooling on the kind yet disgusted stranger next to me. I'm now the one being drooled on, as I have a series of hidden panic attacks with every jiggle of the plane (and non-jiggles, because it means a big one is coming).
What changed? I had a baby.
Mortality wasn't a big topic in my inner dialogue until I became a mom. Control has always been a headline in my life — I like control. My need for control, coupled with my newfound preoccupation with mortality, has equaled mayhem when flying in a metal death trap.
Before arriving at the airport, I now take screenshots of statistics to assure me the metal death trap I drive in is much more dangerous than the one I fly in. But I have control over the car. I obsess over those screenshots until my conscious mind is convinced that flying is safe, statistically.
I'm cool in the airport, thankful to have survived security with a toddler throwing his tiny Crocs at LAX guards, eager to get some comfort food that will hopefully numb my senses on the plane, and am generally distracted by my curious son weaving through the legs of oncoming traffic.
We board the plane, and I brush aside the hint of claustrophobia by eyeing my statistics again and the tiny bottles of wine in the beverage cart. We strap in and pull out the coloring book, tablet thingy, snacks, water, juice, wine (nope, not yet), magazines, tiny cars, a fresh diaper (because of course babies wait to poop until you're on the plane), and successfully clutter up our aisle before take off.
All of this activity serves to keep the paranoid creature living in my subconscious docile until we start moving — fast. Airplanes move so fast.
The creature is now awake and starting to ask questions as we begin our ascent:
"What's that sound? Does the plane normally sound like that?"
"I think we just slowed down ... Are we supposed to slow down during ascent?"
"Why is the wing shaking? Why did we choose seats over the wing? Isn't it safer in the back? I wonder if there are any free seats in the back?"
"When do they start the beverage service?"
When we finally reach cruising altitude and the panic-inducing "fasten seatbelt sign" is turned off, I leave my seatbelt fastened and breath for a second, shaking some blood back into my white knuckles.
All is good until I see my son's sweet face looking out upon the thousands of miles separating us from solid ground. That face is what started it all. When I think about something happening to this plane (which I have zero control over), and the now-thinkable unthinkable of falling to death with my precious baby in my lap, my heart stops, or at least starts to stutter.
I'm a white-knuckled, shrill-voiced, wine drinkin' basket case on calm flights. Can you imagine when we go through persistent turbulence brought on by a storm, or temperamental air?
On those flights I'm literally convinced the plane is going to crash. No amount of wine, statistics, or eye rolls from my husband will convince me otherwise, and I promise myself (and any invisible powers that might be listening) that I'll never put myself or my baby in a flying death trap again ... if we make it out alive.
Because my family demands the ability to travel places by air, I'm forced to break my mid-flight promises on the regular. I'm certain the airplane gods are now pissed at me for breaking those promises and continuing to litter their airspace with my panic, so I now sedate myself with self-hypnosis, deep breathing, and whatever my doctor will give me.
It works ... kind of. Not really. Are you crippled by the same crazy that I am? I'm sorry, and I hope you're never subjected to sitting by me on an airplane.
Here's hoping that if I have another baby, I'll be so busy being outnumbered by small humans that I won't have time to conjure endless plane crashing scenarios in my mind.