I’ve never been a fan of flying. When I was in middle school, I flew with my mom to see my grandparents on occasion. Other than that, for family trips, we would mostly drive. There were 6 of us traveling, and I imagine nobody wanted to deal with all of us on an airplane! It wasn’t until senior year of high school on a choir trip to NYC that I flew again. My mom was head of the choir booster club, and she and my dad wanted to go on the trip as chaperones. I remember being nervous about the flight, but I had so many friends around me that I didn’t really think about it. I did have bad associations of being away from home (see previous posts) - mainly fears of having panic attacks, as the agoraphobia had not quite developed yet. So the high school trip was a positive experience!
During college, my anxiety and panic attacks got increasingly worse (more on this later). My family planned to attend my cousin’s wedding in Florida and make a family vacation out of it. I dreaded the plane ride this time and didn’t know why. This would be the second time going to Disney since I was very young when I’d had a terrible experience. All of the old feelings began flooding my thoughts, and I kept trying to suppress them. It was like waves were hitting my chest nonstop, even when I would think about it. We were going to the beach! And Disney world! And seeing family! These are all things I would LOVE to do, but when you have anxiety, it clouds all of your thoughts. Surprisingly, the flight going to Florida was OK. I had medication that I took to help ease my racing heart. I was definitely tense and anxiously awaiting the plane to land. I would say the trip was fun. I remember having bad headaches and knots in my stomach from time to time. I should’ve had the time of my life, but I was caught up in the vicious cycle of anxiety and panic attacks, and I didn’t understand how to “get out.” Most people don’t, especially when you’re in the middle of it.
The night before we left was the wedding, and it was stunningly beautiful. Everyone was dancing and having the best time, but I suddenly remembered the flight was the next morning, and it completely sucked all the joy out of me. I told my mom quite a few times that night how nervous I was - thinking that talking about it would help - but for some reason, I couldn’t shake it. The next morning, I took medicine like I was supposed to do and listened to music but NOTHING HELPED. I was pacing around the airport with tears in my eyes dreading the flight. We got on the plane, and I sat between my sister and my mom. Takeoff is the worst part for me. I don’t like rides in general, and the sensations make me dizzy. Pair that with the “fight or flight” response, and it’s a terrifying situation. It started on the takeoff - I panicked. We had already left the ground. I was stuck and couldn’t get off. If you have not experienced a panic attack, some of the symptoms include: shortness of breath, shaking, tightness in your chest, and feeling like you are “out of control of your body.” I was in fact shaking uncontrollably, laying on my tray table for the entire flight. I know I definitely freaked out my sister, because she was watching the entire time, feeling helpless. This flight was stopping in Birmingham, Alabama. I got off the flight, and I burst into tears of embarrassment, failure, confusion, and TERROR. We had another flight immediately after, and I was still processing what had just happened. I desperately didn’t want to get on. I started begging my mom. I kept telling myself, “It’s only an hour and a half. I SHOULD be able to do this!” We got on the plane again, and as it was pulling away from the gate, I panicked and stood up and said “I NEED to get off.” They pulled back up to the gate so my mom and I could get off the plane. Lots of looks and frustration were around me, but I knew I couldn’t stay on.
We ended up renting a car and driving the rest of the way home. I laid down in the back of the car and continued to have severe panic attacks, shaking the whole drive home. I wasn’t able eat for a few days after. My thought was, “I’m going to live like this for the rest of my life.” It was a vicious cycle, and I thought something was terribly wrong with me. Why would it be lasting this long? I was stuck. I didn’t have the perspective I have now. I now have the coping mechanisms to understand panic attacks and fully deal with them if/when they occur.
I was FIGHTING the panic attack. I was resisting the feelings. They are scary, and I felt like I was dying, to be completely honest. After doing therapy, I know my triggers, and I take certain steps before certain stressful situations (like flying) that allow me to talk to several people, pray, and do devotionals. But, everyone is different. It was through these different trials that I was able to figure out what works best for me.
I had PTSD from this Florida trip and couldn’t even talk about it in therapy for quite awhile. It was back in 2013 after a lot of therapy and understanding of what happened that I grew some confidence to try a short flight. I flew with my parents to Houston to see my brother for the weekend, and it was quite the success! Next up, I flew with Max in 2014 to South Padre Island to celebrate our 1 year anniversary, which was the first time I flew without my parents, and that was also a success!
Next up was our honeymoon in Mexico! I didn’t want a super long flight, but I was determined to do this! I mean, an all inclusive beach trip?! I had never experienced anything like that before! We had a 12:30 PM ceremony, meaning we had that night to relax, and I could de-stress for the flight the next morning. It was definitely after our honeymoon that I got the travel itch!! I still do 😊.
Flying by myself has always been on my list, but I always had someone to go with - a “safe person.” So, I took the next step and flew with Max’s parents (instead of Max) to go see him perform in PHANTOM in Connecticut! Now that he’s been staying in New York, it seemed like the perfect time to go up there and see him (all thanks to flight credit! 🙌🏻)... and I DID IT!
I realized I am capable of doing things on my own. Everyone’s journey is so different, and my journey has certainly done some “off roading,” but I did it. I’m not saying I wasn’t nervous and that I won’t be nervous in the future, but I know that whatever comes my way, I have the tools I need if I were to have another panic attack on a plane. Now, I seek adventure. I’m finally stepping out of my comfort zone - where I have lived for most of my life. But, each step I take is NOT wasted - it’s only preparing me for the future. My faith and trust in the Lord have grown so much in these past few months, and I know I would not have overcome any of this without Him and His promises.
“I alone am the Lord; only I can rescue you. I promised to save you, and I kept my promise. “ - Isaiah 43:11
Go seek adventure! Do something that scares you - big or small! IT ALL MATTERS.
Thank YOU for all your support!