Years ago, when I was an actress, I had my first panic attack in a plane that was landing in Cincinnati. Just as the pilot was dipping his wings, my heart began to race uncontrollably. I could barely breathe. I thought that I was going to die.
Somehow the plane landed and then I got back to New York, but I never, ever again would get into an airplane. If I couldn’t go somewhere in a car, taxi, train, boat or sled, I didn’t go! It was a small price to pay for safety and peace of mind. The irony was that previously, in one of my incarnations, I had briefly worked as an airline stewardess. Now I couldn’t fly.
From the sidelines I saw my friends going to wonderful and exotic places. Not me: I was grounded, shot down in my prime. Time passed. I became a therapist. And one day the publisher of my first TalkPower book called to tell me that my book was one of their lead books for the season. I was to be sent on a national tour, flying from New York all the way across the country and back, with the tour lasting four weeks.
I was thrilled. Of course, in my heart, I knew I would never go. How could I? Now I was a mother. I had a little girl: my darling Colette. How could I put her in jeopardy of becoming an orphan? Which, of course, I was sure would happen once I set foot in a plane.
The tour would not happen for six months, and living in the moment, I decided to bask in the glory of my alleged national tour, just for a few weeks, just long enough to tell all my friends and to feel like a celebrity. How I enjoyed the attention and the status of being an author with a first book, about to go on a national tour!
Time went by, and I began to hear voices of conscience urging me to pick up the telephone and call the publisher. It wasn’t fair. They were making so many plans. They had even hired an outside public relations person and arranged glamorous breakfasts at the Brasserie just for me.
I had to tell them: I simply couldn’t go. How could I do that? Would you? I delayed. Another month went by... You understand. I just couldn’t let go of it. Sleepless nights obsessing about catastrophes in the sky collided with dreams of book signings and TV interviews. I was going mad. And here I was, a therapist. It was so embarrassing. But I didn’t tell anyone.
I too said, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” Finally, it was too late to refuse. A voice deep within me said, “Natalie Rogers, if you are going to die in an airplane you might as well, because life is no longer worth living this way.” And this is how it was settled. The tides of embarrassment and desperate ambition had sealed my fate: I was going. No turning back. I had eliminated my conflict, but instead I was hit with waves of anxiety, anticipating the panic attacks, the terror, the fear, the possible end that lay in store for me in the air, day after day, on a national tour. I kissed my daughter good-bye, seriously wondering if I would ever see the dear child again.
The first flight was a nightmare: flying to Chicago in November with the wind chill factor (whatever that is) as low as only Chicago can get. I curled up in a fetal position with a blanket over me, belly breathing my little heart out, watching the scrambled eggs on my neighbor’s tray bounce twelve inches into the air again and again.
What did I get myself into? Help!
And so on... as we traveled from Chicago to Minneapolis, to Texas, Indiana, and California, from city to city, landing and taking off every day for four weeks. How I survived, I will never know.
Obviously, I did. I took note of the fact that the minute we landed and the wheels touched the tarmac, the interior of the plane seemed to brighten. Other times, when we were about to take off, the plane seemed dark and foreboding.
Finally it dawned on me that the danger was in my head. That my terror was based upon some madness that had nothing to do with the plane I was flying in. It was an intellectual observation, but interesting nonetheless.
To be continued...