JetBlue, Xanax, and Irrational Fears

I wrote this yesterday, when the perspective of 40,000 feet and Xanax made me aware of how ridiculous my fear of flying is.

I’m flying at 39,198 feet, tooling along at 533 miles per hour. And I feel pretty OK. Happy. Even a  little excited at the wonder of air travel. I’m somewhere over North Carolina, according to the handy seat-back TV screen map.

Air travel is amazing. What better way to travel, really? On my carrier of choice (JetBlue), it’s fun, despite the whole “taking off my shoes and fitting every lotion, potion and paste I own in a food storage bag” thing. I use a TrueBlue American Express, so this flight to see my cousin Michele’s new baby – and, of course, the rest of my family – cost me $11.20. Not too shabby. As of this post, soft drinks, water, and chips are still free on Jet Blue, I’ll save 50% if I use that same card. Plus there’s TV, radio, and genuinely nice flight attendants. If I get hungrier, I can buy one of those-cleverly marketed, protein-rich boxes of cheese and meats.

Those protein boxes are important, because I’ve had a couple of Xanax so that I can more fully appreciate this lovely experience. And by “more fully appreciate” I mean “not have a complete and total breakdown as I board the plane, if I even get that far.” I always prep for the flight with just one, because I have enough issues without a pill addiction. But, inevitably, by the time I get through security– and a special thank you today, to the red-headed asshole who didn’t apparently believe the whole “one hour before domestic flights” rule and had to be a dick to the TSA agents, which did a whole lot in helping my anxiety – by the time I get through security, I want another Xanax. Or a drink. I opt for the Xanax, telling myself no one loves that girl at the airport bar – the one drinking alone at 11:30 in the morning – including me.

Right now, those Xanax are allowing me to have a relaxed, happy flight. I really need to thank the makers of Xanax. Actually, the guy next to me needs to thank them, too. Because I’m a hot mess without it.

I don’t know why this persists. Growing up, I never flew. My first flight was to Jamaica; I was 22, and I seriously considered not going the night before. I didn’t fly again for another four years, this time to New Orleans. That was a 45-minute flight and, actually, delightful (Southwest is a great starter airline if you don’t have access to Xanax; they make the possibility of death fun.

From there, things could have improved, but they didn’t. I flew from Tampa to San Diego on September 8, 2001, and, well, I didn’t want to go in the first place – I had a wicked boss who insisted. Getting stuck there a few days later? Delightful. Really. So was the ensuing Greyhound bus ride home.

Things, as you may imagine, continued to spiral downward. I was already battling a not-insignificant amount of anxiety, borne of a cocktail of genetics and bad life decisions. I started boxing my way out of this a few years later, and another flight to New Orleans (from Tampa, so, yes, it was all of 45 minutes, but it was non-medicated) marked my turnaround.

I corrected my bad decisions, and I started flying lessons. This all should have helped with commercial flying.

Should have.

I am 42 years old. I have 24 hours towards my private pilot’s license, I have taken flight in some shaky small-engine planes, including the back of a banner towing plane held together with canvas, paint, and a welding job I chose not to question. And yes, I still need a Xanax (or two) to get on a big plane. But I do it, at least once a year for the past three years. It’s my therapy; my insurance against becoming that girl who won’t fly ever and misses Costa Rica (been there!) Puerto Rico (been there, too!), Europe (soon), and the South Pacific (soon, too, I hope).

My friends all fly. Some don’t like it; others don’t think twice about it. Leah, who can get me tranquilizers if I have no Xanax, (I don’t exactly keep the stuff around) loves flying commercial flights for precisely the reason the same experience triggers a “fight or flight” response in me (you have no control, Cathy, it’s in someone else’s hands, you don’t have to think).

But, as I mentioned, I am a 42-year-old woman. I am exhausted, simply weary in my bones, of being this girl who is petrified of large planes. I hate the Xanax because I love the Xanax (within an hour of swallowing the pill I see the ludicrous nature of my fears), and I want to not need it.

Part of what makes you an adult, I believe, is accepting the reality of life instead of rejecting it for what could be. The reality is, I will get on a plane. The reality is, I will be less traumatized if I take a Xanax. The reality is, my bucket list – and El Cap’s – includes travel. The reality is, I will fly.

What will make it so is what will make it so, and if I’m, on some level, not OK with that? Well, then, I’m OK with that.

Safe travels, y’all.