Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Journey from Oz

Monday morning Eric and I woke up early, before the time I set on my alarm to make sure we'd make our shuttle. We had no desire to eat at the hotel, considering how expensive it was. We figured the airport food would be an improvement in both price and taste. At least we'd have more options. So we scheduled the shuttle for 9:20 a.m. and got up and ready in plenty of time. We walked to the lobby and checked out, then waited for the shuttle.

We got to the lobby a little early, and the shuttle was a little late. The driver, Deirdre, was fantastic. The shuttle to the hotel nearly made me as sick as the plane, but the ride out was comfortable and smooth. Once at the airport, we got our tickets printed at the automatic booth, then considered our options.

The problem was that we didn't know what was beyond security, while there were a lot of food options on the non-boarding side. I asked an official-looking guy, but he wasn't sure (as it turned out, he couldn't have known what was behind each gate). His uncertainty decided me, and Eric and I stayed on the non-boarding side to get a breakfast at Jack in the Box. It was both cheaper and better than anything we could have gotten at the hotel.

Next up was security. I hoped I was ready, so we got in line and it went fairly quickly. I was stopped and told I had a "groin anomaly" and the lady who was scanning me apologized and said she was going to have to pat me down in the groin area with the back of her hand. She seemed genuinely sorry and asked if I wanted a private screening. As I didn't see a quick pat-down as likely to be a problem, I said she could just do it and braced myself. She quickly and gently patted the areas the little screen was showing as odd (there was an outline of a human body and two squares on it showing "anomalies"). Then another agent swabbed my hands to make sure I hadn't been handling whatever it is their machines are looking for. I was remarkably calm about it all. I didn't find the pat-down to be particularly intrusive. Twenty years ago it would have humiliated me, but I guess I'm old enough I just don't care anymore. So, there's a security nightmare I went through and survived. Yay me.

After going through security, we took an escalator up to the gates and found two small restaurants, a deli selling overpriced boxed food and a little bookstore place with flickering lights that gave me a headache. JitB had been a good choice and we were glad we ate before going through security.

At the gate, I went to the counter and chatted with an Alaska Airline agent whose name I should have gotten about possibly getting a window seat to help with my anxiety and nausea. She told me the flight was overbooked, so there might not be much chance, but as she looked at who had the window seat in our row, she looked startled for a second then said, "This might work." She promised to let me know a few minutes before boarding. I settled down to rest with Eric, tried to read, and then the anxiety began.

I had somehow managed to block out all thoughts of the flight completely until that moment. I was feeling slightly nervous, but no more so than any other trip I might take. But once I was at the gate and waiting, my anxiety crept out from wherever it had been hiding and I started to get really uncomfortable. I wanted to walk around, and did so for a bit. I tried to normalize my feelings and just act like it was an everyday thing for me. But whenever I looked out at the planes, I saw them crashing into the ground or burning or exploding. My brain was manufacturing disasters at a rate that made me sweat. I finally focused on my iPad and tried to ignore everything around me. I got a story read, and played some Doctor Who: Legacy. But the attack was ready to hit at a moment's notice.

The plane arrived and people started to disembark. The agent I talked with called a woman up to the counter, talked with her for a moment, and then called for me (actually Eric, but I saw what was happening and approached before she had to pronounce "Gjovaag"). The lady who had been called up had agreed to switch seats, taking the aisle seat. I heard the agent promise her some frequent flier miles for "helping her out". I thanked both the agent and the lady profusely, and was sternly told by the lady that I should not get sick in her row. I laughed weakly and went back to Eric. Then they started boarding.

We were in row 15, and apparently that would be one of the last rows to board. I waited as long as I could stand, then the full blown panic attack started and I got in line for the gate, despite it not being time for us yet. I explained to the gate agent, she waved us on after scanning our boarding tickets, and we headed down the ramp. I was sweating and shaking and really felt like I was going to attack something or run away, I wasn't sure which. The flight crew stopped me at the door, explaining that "someone is swimming upstream" and they wanted to give him room to get off the plane. I was mostly fine with that, but I found myself leaning against the outside of the plane and shaking. One of the crew asked if I was ok, and I explained that I was having an anxiety attack. They were immediately concerned, asked if I needed anything. I said I just needed to sit down on the plane soon.

Once the guy swimming upstream got off, the crew pointed me to my seat and said they would bring me some water. I got to the seat where the lady who had switched with us was already sitting. She saw my face and quickly got up and out of the way so I could sit. As soon as I sat down I started crying and shaking and just basically fell completely apart. They must have boarded everyone else while I got through most of my attack, because Eric helped me with my seatbelt and I got a cup of water and then we were ready to leave. In short, dealing with the anxiety attack passed the time quickly. The lady who switched seats with me offered Eric and I some Starburst candy, which we took.

The flight itself wasn't too bad. I saw at least two wildfires, a bunch of lakes that were outlined in brown... an effect of the drought, what I think was the Columbia River, Mt. St. Helens and finally Mt. Rainier. I slept a little, but I would nod off and start dreaming that I was falling through the sky, strapped into my seat... I'd jolt awake in terror and be in my seat and have another jolt of terror until I realized I was safe... then I would stare at the horizon until my stomach settled and I managed to get my breathing even again. I don't think I screamed. No one seemed too worried about me.

We were in the seats right in front of the emergency exits, which meant our seats couldn't recline. I think there might have been an extra inch or so clearance between us and the seats in front of us because of that. The people in front of both Eric and I reclined their seats, but I hardly noticed unless I compared them to the person on the aisle seat. In short, the Alaska plane was MUCH more comfortable.

Coming into SeaTac we did a u-turn over Seattle, basically over the Space Needle, in fact. I also spotted the Tacoma Dome, which was the first landmark in the Seattle area I recognized from the air. The descent was a little bouncy, but I was mostly ok with it. Once we were on the ground, the anxiety vanished like a puff of smoke. All that was left was relief.

SeaTac is much bigger than San Diego's airport, and we almost got lost trying to find our way out to the designated meeting spot with my mom. Once she arrived, we jumped in and she gave Eric and much-desired Cherry Coke and me a Fierce Melon Gatorade. Life was good. I survived. I won't have to fly to the Oz Con next year... it will be in Portland, Oregon, which is a mere three-hour drive from home.

We still have to drive back home from my folks' place today, though my understanding is that we'll be starting out by traveling down to Olympia to see Eric's folks. So, lots more traveling ahead.