Have you ever sung opera on a plane? I have. Have you ever sobbed uncontrollably on a plane for no reason? I have. Have you ever had a perfect flight in perfect weather, and when asked at the end of the flight, “Did you enjoy it?” replied rudely, “NO, I DIDN’T!!” Yep, I’ve done that too.
I’ve only flown twice in my life - both times a few days apart in October 1994. Ed and I were flying from Tennessee to Maine to close on our Victorian house. We had tickets to fly from Nashville to Boston, change planes, then fly to Bangor. We had plans to reverse the trip exactly on the way back. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. The flight was without turbulence of any kind. It was even years before 9/11. Yet I freaked. I didn’t have the foresight to visit my doctor to get an anti-anxiety medicine, so I tried to make do with a Tylenol PM. It didn’t work. I was totally in panic mode. I tried everything I could to distract myself. I sang opera (in a very quiet way). I recited poems. I cried. I tried to read a book. Then I cried some more. Finally, the guy in front of us turned around and said in an exasperated voice, “Lady, if you see me break this window and jump out, THEN you can panic. Until then, just SHUT UP!” I was so anxious, I had not even considered the fact that other people were paying attention to me. When we were exiting the plan in Boston, the flight attendant smiled, handed me a plastic pin and said cheerily, “Here are your wings! How did you like your first flight?” I said truthfully, “IT WAS TERRIBLE!” Well, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was terrible. Ed decided then and there to just lose the money on the second flight tickets and we rented a car to drive to Maine. He said, “No way am I getting on another plane with you until you've had a few days to calm down!”
On the way back, we retraced our steps and drove the rental car to Boston, and managed to survive another panicky flight home.
OK, so I'm scared of flying. A lot of you out there (my cousin, Tim, for one) think flying is as easy as taking a taxi. But it freaks me out. I have nightmares about it. My palms get sweaty just thinking about it. Hey, I can watch a detailed surgery on Discovery Health and can look at pictures of open sores and horrible skin conditions in a medical textbook and say, "Cool!" Just don't ask me to get on a plane!
Fast forward to 2008. In all these ensuing years, a lot has happened. 9/11, for one, changed the very fabric of flying. The government has fined airlines tons of money because they’ve been neglecting or ignoring safety inspections and requirements. Each year I am more aware of my mortality. And into this quagmire of anxiety I go again.
I’m leaving with my son, Matt, and daughter-in-law, Sarah, on Wednesday morning to fly to Memphis (changing planes at Newark). They had planned on going to Memphis to visit family by themselves, but asked me to accompany them on the spur of the moment. (This was before they knew the details mentioned above, and before they were totally aware of the extent of my panic attacks about flying). And just on the same spur of the moment, I said, "OK!" Ed was agreeable to my going (which shocked me), and Uncle Sam’s rebate check allowed me to buy a ticket, and I soon thereafter went to the doctor to get a lorazepam prescription. I had to buy luggage with wheels (didn’t need any before on car trips), had to buy some of those travel size toiletries for security inspection (didn’t have that much security on our trip in 1994), and, of course, print a copy of my obituary just in case (it’s sitting on my sewing machine). Matt and Sarah gave me two professionally designed coupons that they lovingly created, each good for one “freakout” - with specific instructions in fine print not to copy or reproduce them (and don’t believe I didn’t think about it!). They advised me to ration them, maybe use one on the way down and one on the way back, because when the coupons are gone, they’re gone. They assured me they would emotionally support me through two “freakouts,” but after that, they will pretend not to know me.
So here I am - full of two competing emotions. I’m insanely excited to see my family and surprise my mother - and I’m scared to death of getting on those planes. But I’m determined to get through this with a good attitude, because, even though there are many things about the trip I cannot change, my attitude is something I can certainly control. I’m going on this trip with the attitude - even if I feel as if I’m just acting - of this being a great adventure and exciting and, yes, even FUN, and I am going to concentrate on the positive part of the trip and downplay the negative. If I go into it with the idea that it will be scary and I will be unmanageable, I’m sure that it will play out that way. So I’m going to act. They say when you feel depressed, if you smile and try to act like you’re happy, your amazing body and mind will actually start to come into line with happiness - in other words, fake it enough and you won’t have to fake it anymore. So that’s my plan. I'm going to act as if I'm up for an Academy Award. I'm going to be the most joyous, excited, fun-loving plane aficionado that anybody has ever seen.
I’ll post next week on how everything turned out - if I’m still around. I’m not such a bad actress, either. All in all, I’d rather be acting the part of a carefree traveller than a dying opera singer. The curtain goes up at 6:38 a.m. next Wednesday. Wish me luck! (More importantly, wish Matt and Sarah luck!)