Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Big Thing I'm Dreading & Looking Forward To

I've alluded several times lately to a big thing coming up that I'm stressing about. I'm also very excited about it, so that is a little bit weird. I suppose I should finally tell this story.

Truth is, I'm going to be getting on an airplane in a couple of weeks for the first time in (I think?) seven years. And I'm terrified.

Let me back up a bit. When I was a youngster, my dad worked for an airline and we got 'flight benefits,' meaning that we could fly anywhere we wanted very cheaply. My mom would take me on frequent short trips and the occasional long ones. I don't remember being afraid of flying back then. I'm not sure I loved it, but I don't remember any fear.

It was two unfortunate events in adulthood that brought this problem to the surface.

In 2000, I won a contest at work and got a free trip to Seattle to see the Seahawks play, which was pretty incredible since I'm a lifelong Seahawks fan. However, as we approached Seattle, we apparently flew right into a terrible storm. There were 75-80 mile per hour winds, thunder, lightning and rain. The plane was jostling around every which direction and I was completely terrified.

At one point between several failed landing attempts, the plane dropped straight down for some distance that felt like 150 feet (but I'm sure it was only a fraction of that). People were screaming. I just KNEW that plane was going down. If I remember right, it took 6-8 tries before we got on the ground. As soon as the wheels touched down, the entire plane erupted in applause and cheers. I remember a guy sitting right behind me shouting, "what are you all clapping for, we ain't stopped yet!"

When we got inside the airport, I came very close to throwing myself on the floor and kissing it. Seriously. I'd never been so overjoyed to be alive. Then I realized that the power was actually out in the airport terminal. The baggage handlers tossed our suitcases down the vertical luggage chute and they landed in a big pile at the bottom. We also learned from one of the airport employees that our pilot was the only one that flew into Seattle that night - all others were willing to divert to Portland. I wish that ours had done that, too.

I was actually so traumatized by that flight that I remember threatening not to get back on a plane for the return trip. But I must have, because I'm not still there! I have no memory of it whatsoever. I suppose that means it must have been an uneventful trip back.

Four years later, nine days after I started working for the company I work for now, I was sitting at my desk after lunch, reading policy manuals when suddenly it was as if someone picked up my whole world, set it on its side and spun it very hard. Suddenly I couldn't tell which way was up anymore, or even where the level horizon was. It was the scariest, most bizarre thing I have ever experienced.

Long story short, I ended up in the ICU at 26 years old with atrial fibrillation. They say I almost died. My pulse was over 200. As a little time passed and they pieced everything together, they determined that I was hit with an attack of idiopathic labyrinthitis. This is an inflammation of the innermost part of the ear. It's not an infection; it's an inflammation, which can apparently be terrible. I know I had recently had a cold, but I had no clue anything was wrong with my ears. When I got extremely dizzy, I began to threw up. Apparently, I got so sick that I lost all the potassium in my body. Potassium, I now know, is what conducts electricity in your heart. When I lost all of mine, I went into atrial fibrillation, which is sort of a heart flutter instead of actual beats. It's bad news.

After a day or so in ICU and being pumped up with fluids and a ton of other stuff, I was moved to a regular room and then released from there after another day. My brain had to re-learn how to handle motion. Walking came pretty easily, but riding in a car was pretty weird for a while. A couple of months later, I was comfortable again in most situations. Ever since then, I have had occasional dizzy spells. Most of the time they are mild, but sometimes they are bad enough that I need to stay in bed and try not to move my head for a day.

Between the bad flight into Seattle and this crazy ear thing, I developed an intense fear of flying somewhere around this time. I really didn't need to fly, anyway... right? I have everything I need here in Alaska and plenty of places to go on mini vacations. Besides, flying in and out of Alaska is very expensive, so I don't often get the opportunity anyway.

Three or so years after that hospital experience, I had an opportunity to stick my toe in the water of flight. I needed to travel about 300 miles (within the state) for work. I decided to be brave and try to fly. I think the mistake I made was to white-knuckle it instead of getting something to relax me a bit. Before the plane ever moved, I felt dizzy. Looking back, I think that was probably anxiety, but I didn't know that at the time. I spent the entire hour-long flight in terror, complete with minor dizzy spells. The experience was so hard for me that we actually ended up renting a car and driving back home instead of flying.

I haven't been on an airplane since.

But here's the deal.

My son is 4. My grandmother is about to be 96. I have never introduced them in person. I'm ashamed to admit that MY fear of airplanes has kept that from happening. It's long overdue and in a rare moment of bravery a couple months ago, I decided I needed to stop standing in my own way. I needed to stop allowing fear to rule me and prevent me from traveling and taking my son on vacations.

I very much want to take the kidlet to Disney World in a year or two. That's about a 20-hour trip (two flights and a layover) from where we live. I really don't want that to be my first experience flying again. Better to take a short flight. Right? I sure hope so. My dad is a non-flyer and has been for my whole life, so I've never been outside the state with him. He wasn't there when we went to Disneyland or on our many other trips. That was a bummer. I completely understand my dad's fear, but I don't want my son to feel like I never went on vacation with him.

I've been trying all sorts of different things to get mentally ready for this flight. I think those will wait for tomorrow's post.

So, it's time.

Here goes nothing (in two weeks).

(Ahem, if you need me between now and then, I'll be over here panicking in silence so my son won't know...)

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