Turbulence

It’s been a weird series of ups and downs lately, with smaller peaks than troughs. Writing about it is a new experience for me, and I’m hoping it’ll provide a good outlet. Of course, that hasn’t been easy, because I’m not really sure what to write other than, “My body’s broken out into a cold sweat and I’m trying to take deep breaths to keep from completely freaking out.”

I’m reminded of a particularly nasty bout of panic I suffered for most of 2004, particularly in the summer. I had never had such a severe case of anxiety before, and I haven’t had it since. But 2004 was a bad year. It all started off with a flight.

I was headed back to the US after spending Christmas break at home. It seems a bit crazy to fly halfway across the globe just to spend a week and a half with family, but I did that up until graduate school, and it’s one of those trips I really looked forward to. With the break coming to a close, I boarded a flight on a wintry (or as close to wintry as it gets in Dubai) January morning, bound for Paris. From there, I’d take a connecting flight to Newark (or was it Philadelphia?) and then make my way to Penn State by bus.

As a child, I loved flying. Soaring through the sky, looking at the tiny cities below was a source of joy and wonder. I especially loved getting close to landing, when little toy cars would materialize on the streets and whole neighborhoods would look like homemade dioramas. One of the tragedies of my childhood was that we couldn’t really afford to travel much, so every summer I’d find myself lost in daydreams about flights to far away and exotic destinations, while surrounded by boring reality.

But that one flight to Paris was the roughest I’ve ever had. Up until that day, all of my flights had been relatively smooth, with just enough turbulence to shake things up, but nothing worrying. I hadn’t heard of, or ever experience, air pockets before. So there I was, on the redeye flight, chatting up a pretty girl next to me (who was headed to Houston) and then drifting off to sleep until landing time. Or at least, that was the plan.I was jolted awake by the plane jumping in mid-air. The plane. Jumped. That didn’t seem possible. Some people were murmuring excitedly and I panicked. The gentleman sitting on the other side of me said I should relax. It was just turbulence. He may as well have been speaking in tongues for all that did to reassure me. Despite all the bumps, the plane landed in Paris safely and, exhausted from all the panicking, I slept quite soundly on my connecting flight.

The damage was already done though. That instilled in me a fear of flying that I haven’t gotten over as yet. It also doesn’t help that the past couple of flights I’ve taken were also in fairly rough weather and had me fearing for my life. If I never have to set foot on a plane again, I will be a happy man.

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