Wednesday, November 27, 2013

When the beast of anxiety rears its ugly head at 30,000 feet.

I just returned from Philadelphia. I'd been wanting to go there for nearly 4 years now. Part of what we study in 5th grade includes the origins of Philadelphia. I had gone when I was 7 or 8, but had very few memories, so me and my traveling heart wanted to go see it again.

Due to a gift I'd been given, I was able to purchase the airfare, and you know me and, we (as in me and my computer) got the hotels at GREAT DEALS!

So, Friday after school, I headed to the airport and was ready to jet off on another adventure. This one had many purposes. One, was the one I just stated above, but another was that Cade is away this Thanksgiving, so it's perfect timing to go off and find some fun instead of sitting at home for 9 days. Another is I'm hoping to do some more summer trips with students, and besides Boston, Philadelphia seemed like a viable option.

What's funny about me and traveling is that I get anxiety when I travel. Many of you know that I experienced major anxiety years ago. I lived in it, with it, was treated for it, and then, after my divorce, what had remained, left. I rarely experience it anymore, but when I fly, it comes back.

I have to carry medicine when I travel. Sometimes I take it, sometimes I don't. Typically on the flights out, I get more anxious, so I'm usually better prepared for those. I make sure I've exercised, I have movies, I take a pill, I pray, and I get on, we take off, we land, and I'm fine.

I'm not afraid to fly. I'm afraid of having an anxiety attack while we are flying, and there's no "escape route" at 30,000 feet.

I'm afraid of the fear, of the anxiety.

Why is that?

Because I know how powerful it is. I've tangled with it before, and beating it is hard. It makes you want to throw up, it convinces you that you are dying, it tells you that if you don't get out, you're going to go crazy.

If and when that happens to me on the ground, it's fine...because one can get out. The monster is irritating, aggravating, discouraging, and disheartening, but it is manageable. It is beatable...on the ground.

But, at 30,000 feet, it's like fighting a monster with a Popsicle stick; and it feels like you are drowning in an ocean amidst a hurricane.

I've had some rough flights before. But my medicine takes care of it, I may not enjoy the flight, but I make it, it works, and I head out on adventure.

This flight...ya, this flight I was ill prepared.

Or, I guess I was, because this one was different.

I hadn't packed a single movie...which is a rookie mistake.

I had too much to take care of and I didn't make going to the gym before my flight a priority, so I was short on my natural brain fighters.

I hadn't drank much water that day, and I scoffed at the prospect of anxiety when someone mentioned it earlier in the day.

Thankfully, I did have my medicine.

Because the moment those cabin doors closed, the monster reared its ugly head.

The first wave came, and I took a pill. I talked to myself, closed my eyes, and began everything I knew to do. I started telling myself truths, reminding myself of reality, I asked the flight attendant for ice, I turned on my Ipod, I prayed...I took another pill.

I knew my limit on medicine, so I paced myself trying to see when it would kick in.

It didn't.

It wasn't.

My mind was panicking. I had 2 hours to go, and I couldn't get a handle on the monster.

My book made me want to vomit.

My mind was picturing me telling the flight attendant that we were going to have to land on that patchy grass below, or I don't know what would happen, but something would happen.

The beast grew; the waves kept crashing, and I couldn't catch my breath.

I took one more pill.

I knew my max was 4, and I still had one more leg to reach Philly.

I prayed. I begged.

I sucked down ice, the ice was dripping off my neck and I'm quite certain the man next to me was sitting half in the aisle and his head was beneath his coat.

He didn't know what was wrong with me, but he knew that crazy was next to him.

The flight attendant was so nice and brought me more ice sans a linking bag.

I never muttered the words anxiety. I knew the moment they came out, it would be all over for me. I knew the moment I stood to go to the bathroom, it would be all over.

My defense was my seat, my prayers, my medicine, and not muttering the words of fear.

Just keep my eyes closed.

then open.

speak truth and only truth.

beg God.

pray the medicine would take over.

pray that God would supernaturally take over my mind because the monster had it and nothing I did seemed to be working.

I kept thinking, if only a doctor would come sit next to me. Maybe I could ask the flight attendant for a doctor instead of landing the plane in the grass of Missouri below us. That would be better. That would seem less crazy. ;)

I kept playing that scenario over and over...if only a doctor were here with me, telling my brain that it was fine.

That all this, was just a mirage. It was fear of a fear, and it would end.

But I had reached my end, so I took my final pill.

Only once before had I taken all 4, and it had been years ago.

I couldn't remember the last time I needed that much to calm me.

That alone, caused me angst.

That alone took me to a place that I hadn't traveled to in a while.

That lonely place that makes you feel helpless, hopeless, never getting better, failure, ridiculous, vulnerable, and humiliated, and alone...

But then, I opened my eyes, reminded myself of reality one more time, turned my head to my neighbor and asked the woman if she was from St. Louis. (our connection)

I asked because I wanted to know how far of a drive it was to Philly. I knew I had maxed my medicine and there was no way on earth I could go through this again. I was in a nightmare and I couldn't escape it.

I certainly wasn't going to walk onto another one.

The lady turned to me sweetly, told me no, and asked how I was feeling.

I told her not good. I hadn't felt great for a couple days (which was honest) and I thought it was just the business of teaching before a holiday, getting ready for a trip, and getting prepared to be away from Cade for 9 days. All of that is heavy, and I assumed it was that. But, apparently, there is something more.

She asked what I taught and we spoke for a bit.

I asked what she did.

Her response, "I'm a nurse."

I could feel the monster slither back a bit.

My brain immediately thanked God and thought, "this whole time Lord, this whole time I was begging in my mind for a doctor, and you had seated a sweet nurse next to me. I was fighting the monster alone, with my eyes closed, within my head, and I hadn't even looked to the person next to me."

Maureen and I continued to chat, my heart began to slow, my mind began to quiet.

God had reminded me that He was there...right next to me.

The waves would still come, but they were easier, would pass quicker, and Maureen was so sweet to let me stop mid sentence and then finish whatever it was I was saying after the wave went by. She never flinched.

The time began to pass, and St. Louis was soon below the airplane's tires.

As soon as I could turn my phone on, I texted about 9 friends and my dad. I told them what I had just experienced: the worst anxiety attack in recent memory, and I didn't know what to do.

I did know my medicine was finally kicking in: everything was slower and I was sleepy. Thankfully it was getting late, and so I was naturally tired as well. I asked one of my doctor friends if Tylenol would be okay to take as well, and she said yes.

So I begged them all to pray for me: for calm, for sleep, because I had 2 more hours to make it to Philly.

The gate people were so sweet, because after they informed me the flight wasn't full, they let me pre- board so I could sit in the back by myself.

If I was going to freak out, I wanted it to be alone, where I could curl up and ride it out.

I bought me one of those plane pillows, handed my boarding pass to the ticket taker, walked down the gateway, found the furthest back aisle, thanked God when no one sat with me, let the prayers of my friends wash over me, and the next thing I knew, I was almost to Philadelphia.

I didn't even remember taking off. Sleep had come before we left ground.

You can't imagine how thankful I was to have made it, for that to be over.

It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. I couldn't even think about it. I just wanted to pretend it had never happened.

But it had.

All 3 days as I toured, I tried my best to soak in all of Philadelphia, Lancaster and Gettysburg, but I couldn't get in my groove.

What had happened haunted me.

That monster, the one that came on November 22nd, had messed with me, had taken something from me, was threatening to take something that brings so much joy to my life - traveling.

As I travel alone, I am always texting my friends, my brother, my dad, and sharing things I'm seeing, pithy stories, or funny observations, but it wasn't until day 3 that I could really get into it.

And by day 3, my evening flight was looming. I had asked for prayer all day, and I knew they were all praying.

I could feel it.

I was relaxed enough to have some fun, joke around, run up the Rocky steps, tell the local news tipline guy that Philly had a severe deficiency in the number of Starbucks.

But, 6:00 eventually came, and I waited for the monster.

I wondered what I would face.

But this time, I came better armed.

For one, I had stopped at a Walmart and bought 3 movies...action packed movies.

Two, I walked tons that day and drank lots of water.

Three, I prayed, and kept telling myself that at the end of this flight was my bed, was home.

Four, I had confessed to my friends that I needed them, that I couldn't do this without them, without their prayers.

Five, I remembered something Jon Acuff had said at Love Does, "Bravery is in the moments that make you want to throw up. It isn't easy, and it is not fun as it is occurring."

It seems stupid that getting on a flight was a moment of bravery in my life. Pitiful really, but for me, traveling is a passion, a desire; adventure is something that feeds me in ways I can't explain. The time I get with God, the air I breathe, and the world I see opens up, and having something stand in front of that is disheartening.

The idea that fear could close that world down for me is maddening.

So, at 6:00 Monday night, I walked down the terminal, awaiting the beast.

I stepped onto the plane, reading the many text messages of prayers, and reminders, and Bible verses my friends and family had sent and were sending.

One, stood out.

It said, "May you know that Jesus is sitting right next to you and that He is mighty."

As I buckled, I looked up to see a man coming down the aisle and stop next to me. He pointed to the window seat (only 2 seats on our side), and said, I believe that seat is mine.

I smiled, and no kidding, I almost said OUT LOUD, so you are my Jesus tonight.

I knew it was Jesus.

Calm washed over me, because only Jesus would show up in the form of a 430 pound NFL player.

No kidding.

Any ounce of anxiety I'd had, was now gone.

God knew I needed a physical reminder of His presence, of His might, and by His grace, He gave me one.

We sat, we chatted, and he apologized for being so big and being in half my seat. I told him that I was grateful for him. I never felt small, and he made me feel small, and I loved it.

This man had no idea how God was using him.

As we talked he told me about his injury and upcoming surgery, and so I told him I'd be praying for him and be looking for him on the Packers.

I asked him if he believed in God, and he said he certainly did.

So I was about to go into what Jesus had done for me that night, but the flight attendant walked up just then and told him that there was a spot in business class for him to have some more room.

He looked at me and said, well, we were having a great conversation.

I laughed and said, I'm just grateful I had these few minutes, go enjoy the room.

He got up, the plane took off, and I eventually walked off, back in SA knowing that Jesus loved me enough to sit with me as I traveled through my own personal fire.

He sent a mighty man to remind me that He's bigger than anything I face.

He reminded me that bravery comes in all forms and for all sorts of reasons.

Saw this @ Franklin Inst. & thought Perfect pic of  friendship
He reminded me that fear is powerful, but His love has no match. That friends are the ones who know no bounds or distance, who walk with you when you feel ridiculous, humiliated, foolish, and scared beyond your imagination.

He reminded me that prayer is powerful, that it works, that even though some bridges can be scary to cross, the fear of fear is no reason to stop you from crossing them.

On my flight home, I listened to David Crowder's new song, I Am. I love David Crowder, and this song...this song, is one of the best.

There's no space that His love can't reach,
There's no place where we can't find peace,
There's no end to amazing grace.

Take me in with your arms spread wide,
Take me in like an orphaned child,
Never let go never leave my side.

I am... holding onto you
I am... holding onto you

In the middle of the storm I am holding on. I am.

Love like this,
Oh my God to find,
I am overwhelmed with the joy divine.
Love like this sets our hearts on fire.

I am... holding onto You.
I am... holding on to You.

In the middle of the storm, I am holding onto You.

This is my resurrection song, this is my hallelujah come, this is why it's to You I run.
This is my resurrection song, this is my hallelujah come, this is why it's to You I run.

There's no space that His love can't reach
There's no place where we can't find peace.
There's no end to amazing grace.

I am
holding onto You.
I am
holding onto You.

In the middle of the storm I am holding on.

I am
holding onto You.
I am
holding onto You.

~ Crowder

My prayer for you, and for me, is that whatever beast we face, whether one that seems ridiculous or not, that we will see God with us, we will see His hand, His love and His grace. And that if we need to see it more, that we will beg Him to make it even more real...because only God could have known, that what would bring calm to my night, was a 430 pound football player.

I would have never thought, or dreamed, or imagined that as I showed up with Popsicle sticks and trembling knees, God was willing to show up with the physical picture of might and even a sense of humor.

To the One who does far more than we could ever ask or imagine, to Him I give the glory.

In Him,

Next post, I'll actually tell you about Philly.  :)


  1. Speechless. Shelly, YOU delivered God's message to me tonight. Thank you. You have no idea...or maybe you do.


  2. So glad Sarah! Happy Thanksgiving!! Enjoy all that family. :) Tell Ginger I said hello.