You’re sitting in the back seat of a car, staring out at the mountainside. It’s early morning and life is crashing around you like a Martian dome hit by an asteroid.
You’re reviewing the road that lead to this particular disaster, wondering what you could’ve done differently.
You could’ve rented a car—if you wanted to play a fearsome game of Rollerball on 4 wheels. A mere 15 years ago it was easy…
…but now? There’s 2000 pounds of vehicle weaponry times a million flying past in streaks of red, silver, and the unusual color du jour chosen by car companies during any given year. Some days it looks like they took all their leftover paint, mixed it together and called it a palatable name like “wine” or “dark ruby” instead of what it really resembles: Bruise.
The mountain of anxiety growing inside you is threatening to blow like a super volcano and the only thing left to do is perseverate over the conversation with your gracious host that put you into this position in the first place.
YOU: “We have to be at the airport 2 hours early.”
HOST: “No. That’s what they tell you, but I’ve traveled a lot and…”
YOU: “We have to be at the airport 2 hours early.”
HOST: “Your flight is at 8:30am. If you get there at 7:30am, that’s plenty of time.”
YOU: “But…but…we have to be at the airport 2 hours early.”
HOST: “We’ll leave at 6. You’ll get there at 7:30.”
YOU: “but…this is an international flight. We have to be there…”
HOST: (laughs).”Don’t worry. You’ll be there in plenty of time.”
The scenery seems to go on and on and on. Haven’t we passed that fast food restaurant before? The theme to “Twilight Zone” echoes through your brain cells. Your host has just passed the last exit for miles when your mind screams, “Gotta go!”
YOU: “The over 50 bladder just hit with a vengeance.”
HOST: “Can it wait until we get to the airport?”
YOU: (thinking–Oh God…Oh God…if I don’t find a bathroom in 15 minutes his back seat is going to become hazardous waste). “The next bathroom would be better.”
Only 15 minutes later, you’re rushing into a skanky gas station with a unisex bathroom. The lid is up and you barely have time to get your zipper down. You’re squatting over the bowl, your legs shaking at the strain of holding your body over a toilet that was last used by a cross-eyed drunk. The stream continues on and on and on, an energizer bunny of pee that threatens to outlive the muscles in your legs. That’s when you wonder how many diseases are lurking on the rim or if the last person to use the toilet had crabs.
Finally! Your hands are washed, you’re out the door and sitting in the back seat looking at a cell phone that, outside of the US, is only good for telling the time. It’s 7:00am. Already?
YOU: “How far away are we from the airport?” (The adult version of, “Are we there yet?”)
HOST: “We have plenty of time. Don’t worry.”
That’s when the car stops. Who knew there would be a traffic jam outside of Montreal on an expressway on Wednesday morning at 7:00am?
Your friend and your host are chatting away, oblivious to the pieces of the Martian dome falling all around them. Your heart is pounding so hard you feel as if your chest is going to explode.
Time for a Mantra.
“I am the light I am the peace of the world…”
“I am the blight I am the fleas of the world…”
Not so good.
HOST: “You all right back there?”
YOU: “I’m sorry, the person you have dialed is presently having an anxiety attack. Please hang up and dial again when I’m sane.”
YOU: (Looking out the window thinking about the time you pulled on a partially open door, and a bucket of water fell on your head). “We’re going to miss the flight.”
HOST: “If you do, call me. You can try again tomorrow.”
YOU: “I’ll have to pay a penalty.”
HOST: “Don’t you have flight insurance?”
YOU: “Yes. It’s called getting to the airport 2 hours early.”
HOST: “Don’t worry. Once we’re over the bridge there won’t be any traffic.”
That’s when you start the deep breathing exercises—for the next 45 minutes.
The traffic lets up 5 minutes from the airport. It’s 8:15am and you try to keep it together as you say goodbye to your host and your friend leads you to the first person who looks like an official.
The official you weed out of a pack of people says, “It’s too late. You missed your flight.” Then he points to a corridor and says, “You were dropped off at the wrong exit. You have to walk about a mile to the other side of the airport to change your ticket.”
He wasn’t kidding. Both of you are dragging a 50 pound suitcase while carrying 14 pounds on each shoulder. Your friend walks ahead, leading the way. The nice lady at the Airline desk says, “We can get you on a flight to Toronto. You’ll wait in the airport for 4 hours then fly home. You should be there around 7pm.”
Had you been at the airport at 6:30am, you would already be on the plane and in the air for the 3 hour flight home.
“You’ll have to pay a penalty of $150 apiece.”
Most people say, “Oh well, these things happen. Put me on the non-stop flight for the same time tomorrow. I’ll just find a hotel room until then.”
Not the person in the middle of an anxiety attack. Some people scream, shake, cry, rock uncontrollably.
Once it takes its toll, you’re frozen, unable to make a decision, unable to do anything more than stare at the sky light and begin a mental mantra.
“Stay calm…stay calm…
what If a plane crashes through the skylight?
…stay calm…stay calm…
hold it together…hold it together…
We’re all going to die! We’re all going to die!
I am the light I am the peace of the world…”
Seeing you’re deep in an anxiety attack, your mind presently flash-frozen, your friend whips out her credit card, pays the penalty and arranges the flight while the theme to “Twilight Zone” plays in your mind over and over and over again. Not even changing the orchestral version to Kazoos makes a dent.
No, not all anxiety attacks are alike, but anxiety disorders share one major symptom: Persistent or severe fear or worry.
Anxiety produces a fight-or-flight response. If you’ve never been there, done that, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like for a person who fights with it each and every day.
Here are a few tips when you’re dealing with the anxiety-prone:
- The worst thing you can do is mess up their routine. It’s there for a reason—to prevent meltdown.
- Don’t slap him/her, s/he might bite and then you’ll have to get a rabies shot.
- Laughing at, teasing or dismissing the feeling of the person makes the anxiety attack worse. So unless you like standing in the middle of an airport watching a raving, screaming ball of human rocking back and forth on the floor–or being next to the person as s/he’s yelling obscenities at people in TSA uniforms– listen, prepare, stay calm and offer assistance.
- Don’t run as far away as possible screaming, “I don’t know that person!” Everybody knows you do and that you’re a wuss.
- Medication and behavior therapy don’t work for everybody. And meditation can only go so far. It’s best to do everything possible to prevent the anxiety attack from happening in the first place.
- Which takes me back to the first point: Never mess up a routine developed over a span of decades unless you like being embarrassed out of your mind when the inevitable meltdown happens.
At the end of my last post I wrote, “… I’m still having an anxiety attack over missing the plane back home. How I managed that anxiety attack (or didn’t) is best left for another post.”
You’ve just read why. The day Vickie and I left for the airport to fly out of Canada, that was the scenario.
When it comes to anxiety attacks, I have day to day experience. Humor helps, but it also helps to have a friend like Vickie who handled my meltdown in the same way she would teach a horse to jump over a hurdle…
…very, very carefully.