Wings Unpinned | Hannah Thoughts

Wings Unpinned

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Air travel always seemed nonsensical for a broad like me.  Sure, I travelled on planes as a young pup, but that was before my OCD and Panic Disorder swallowed me whole.  Airplanes cover the bases of several potential triggers: possibility of contamination, strange people, motion, being out of control, being trapped, et cetera.  I’ve surmounted most of my agoraphobia, but traveling on an airplane was untouched territory.   Subjecting myself to this terror was tempting, as I am driven by curiosity.  A cross country plane trip was unquestionably the biggest exposure I have faced in my recovery.

As the plane took off from the runway, so did months of preparation from my memory.  The more altitude we gained, the more breath I had lost control of.  When we leveled off in the sky, I was in a full blown panic attack.  This was not what my therapist and I had visualized.  And we still had 4 hours to go.


Hannah’s First Solo Flight


A vocabulary shrunken down to the size of: “Please.” “No.” “I can’t.”

A trash bag filled with ice sitting on my chest courtesy of the flight crew.

A lesson in deep breathing exercises courtesy of, “Do we have any medical doctors on board?”

An elderly man in the adjacent aisle reciting a prayer out loud for me.

A neck pillow – worn for the duration of the flight.

A medical report – filled out by yours truly.

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Phoenix, I began planning my remaining years.  Transferring jobs and finding a new apartment was distinctly more practical than boarding my connecting flight.  Turns out, I was fond of Phoenix immediately.  It met all of my requirements for a livable environment: it was on the ground.

If it wasn’t for herd mentality, I would have been sending my Christmas card from Arizona. Go Cardinals.

But there I sat, willingly, on another plane just 30 minutes after my first one landed.  I was bright eyed and bushy tailed – ready to receive whatever bone this flight was about to throw me.  The worst had already happened.  I panicked, for 4 hours, in the sky.  Physical exhaustion was my solace.

I successfully flew 3 more flights without leaving a lasting impression on the flight crew and those seated around me.  Hashtag habituation.

I once gave my disorders the consent to limit me.  I once assured myself that I could spend the rest of my time on earth abiding by a flightless lifestyle.  It worked out so well for the Dodo birds.

Now, I’ve been gifted with the knowledge of how unfortunate it is to sit next to someone who felt it wise to bring fast food aboard the plane.  I know what a lightning storm looks like when you are floating over top of it.  I’m familiar with the disappointment of sitting on the floor because all of the seats at your gate are taken by grimacing businessmen on their laptops.  I learned what a flight attendant’s face looks like when you beg her to please ask the pilot to land the plane.  I know what finding out your flight is delayed for 3 hours feels like.  I am accustomed to the pleasant feelings of flying at night.  I’m able to recognize the joy of landing back in your city after a 2 week vacation on the other side of the country.  I know what it’s like to once be without the experience of these circumstances and the incredible feeling of now having them as my own.  After years of captivity, I’m versed in the glory of having my wings unpinned.


2 Responses to “Wings Unpinned”

  1. emmy burchard

    Hannah, I love this. I went through a lot from 13 to about 20 in terms of anxiety attacks. I went to Mexico when I was 17 and had a similar panic on the plane. I even took an Adivan before the flight and didn’t wait until it kicked in, took another, and ended up drooling all over the flight attendant (cute). Couldn’t sit still in a classroom because I was always afraid someone was going to throw up. Couldn’t sleep anywhere besides my own bed and missed or on a lot of social gatherings. Never joined friends for trips, even it was just to the mall or a town nearby for a show.

    A combo of going to college, running, and meds helped me in the long run. Although I’m no longer on meds, I still have to push myself into uncomfortable situations. Honestly, I’ve learned that sometimes the anxiety and panic itself is worse than the pain of the dreaded situation itself. Sometimes I laugh when I am riding in the car with a coworker to lunch or I’m shopping and don’t feel my mouth drying out from panic, just because the old me would have never envisioned doing those everyday things. It makes me happy to see that you are doing that, because it will only help you to look back someday and think, SHIT, I can’t believe I used to not be able to do this. Rooting for you.

    • hannahz

      Thank you for sharing your story. I can definitely resonate with the moments of being amazed at something you are doing without panic. It allows you to appreciate life on a whole new level. I am planning another flight soon, so I am somewhat dreading the panic – which as you said, is definitely the worst part of the scenario. And what a paradox it is! Fearing the fear is such a cycle, but I try to embrace it more because I have seen wonderful things come out of it. Thank you again for reading and for your inspiring words.


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