Planes, Trains…and anxiety

Last month I had the pleasure of spending a week with a friend in Los Angeles. She was having surgery and I got picked (YAY!) to be her companion through the recovery. It ended up being a very relaxing week for me. She rocked her surgery and the recovery was better than we could have expected.

The night before my trip home, I logged in to check into my flight. On a pure whim, and completely out of character for me, I decided to upgrade my seat to the front of the plane (not first class but the Spirit Airlines version). This is very out of character for me as I complain about airlines constant ability to get away with asking you to buy a BETTER seat after YOU ALREADY PAID THEM FOR A SEAT. But, here I was, paying for a bigger seat on Spirit Airlines.

As it turned out, that “whim”, was God whispering in my ear.

I got on the plane the next afternoon with a very “my job is done here” attitude. I know better than to do this. God has a great sense of humor when I get all puffy about myself. He usually has something bigger up His sleeve when I get like that.

So I sit down in my seat next to a woman in her early 20’s. She is trying desperately to fit a dog kennel under the seat in front of her. And this kennel is about three inches too big for the space. It’s not gonna fit. The bells start to go off in my head…she is on her way to a full panic attack.

So I gently grab her hands and move her to face me “The kennel is just fine where it is – you are on the plane now. They won’t make you get off with your dog. It’s going to be fine. Where are you traveling? Must be fun if you are going with your dog! I love dogs.”

We breathe together. I tell her I have some experience with anxiety and I can see she is struggling. We breathe together some more. I remind her the panic won’t last and to stay with me. We sing a song. We start to breathe normally. I hold her hand.

She doesn’t let go of my hand for three hours.

Her story: This is her first time on an airplane ever. First time ever leaving LA. She is scared and she is afraid her dog is scared. She is leaving LA where she grew up. Her boyfriend is struggling with drugs again and she knows she needs to make a change. She is going to live with her Mom in Missouri. It took her two years to make the decision to move. Two years of agonizing and rehashing the decision. Over and over again.

She has always had anxiety. The anxiety has been bad at times – she got through high school but it was hard, she never learned to drive, she didn’t go to her prom, she got accepted to college but couldn’t manage registering for classes so never started. No money, no support for any therapeutic tools to handle the anxiety.

But here is what she was doing. She bought and/or borrowed every book she could find on her illness. She had a book on meditation she’s read six times. She struggles but she is finding her peace and healing herself.

She will go down as my favorite seatmate of all time.

Here is the funniest part of the story. She bought her seat 15 minutes before I upgraded mine. Not kidding. We compared tickets.

People with anxiety/depression/other mental illnesses always amaze me. The strength and inspiration of people handling their mental illness is something people that don't have it just cannot grasp. That they get up and do life everyday with a monkey on their back is to be commended. Most days I think they deserve a standing ovation at bedtime.

So here is what I learned (am learning...) from this experience: I am working on being more open to the gentle nudging’s in my head. I am listening for God’s voice. I have a better understanding of why I am drawn to writing on this blog.

Thanks God.

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