Note – several names and places have been changed throughout this text in order to keep my story somewhat private. Thanks for understanding that need. I hope you will tell me what most interests you from my story so I can focus on that moving forward.
Although I had had no prior fear of flying, my first episode of bipolar illness was in a tiny airport near my Ivy League college (hereafter known as Ivy College). While I was waiting for the plane to get ready to taxi off the runway and take me to my first interview for a job after college in advertising, I was consumed by runaway thoughts. My thoughts were anywhere but on my interview for an Account Executive position at Chicago Avenue Advertisers. I had no specific directions for my fears but I took out some papers I was working on for my undergraduate thesis at Ivy College and was writing and writing furiously in and around the margins of the pages of the papers I previously had written. The thoughts seemed to co-mingle with the characters in the fiction as well as characters or people I knew in real life. The writing was fast and furious until I finally heard the flight that I was to take to Chicago on the puddle-jumper called.
For some reason I did not feel safe in myself enough to board the plane once the flight was called and I came to the conclusion that the plane was going to crash. I did not communicate this fear with anyone. Instead I determined that I did not want to get on a plane that was going to crash, so I got my suitcase together and asked the airplane attendant if I could check my bags on the plane but not board the plane myself. For some unknown reason, the contents of my suitcase were of paramount importance. I recall a navy suit that I had packed and feeling like that suit should reach a friend who I was going to see in Chicago. The label on the suit became extremely important at the time – it was an Evan Picone double-breasted navy wool suit. The airport personnel immediately got suspicious and asked me why I was putting my suitcase on the plan and asked me to move away from the plane with them. When I refused, the safety patrol man exerted more force and tried to get me to go with him. In my fears, I turned to run down the runway away from the scene of the fears and ran completely down the airport runway up into a stand of pines, one shoe flying off in the process and resting in the snowy runway. I recall exactly what I was wearing – a plaid pleated wool skirt in muted tones, a long sleeve silk blouse and a double breasted woolen gray or taupe sweater. I don’t recall a coat or over-coat. The safety patrolmen at the airport followed me into the woods with snow all around and made a chair with their arms for me to sit on. I was in some stage of delirium and thought they were providing me some sort of throne to safety.
Instead the next thing I knew I was being handcuffed to the backseat of a patrol car with the patrol lights flashing blue and white and was being escorted to the police station down the road. When I arrived at the police station I kept telling the police that I was a Senior and straight A student at Ivy College and they must have made some mistake. On the walls there were pictures of wanted criminals – I kept trying to figure out what the pictures meant. There were three pictures: a young woman who I thought looked like Ayn Rand, a man with a long beard who looked in my state to be like a long-haired Jesus and one other picture of a youngish man whose face I cannot recall. What I do recall is feeling like a criminal and being treated like a criminal until a kind policeman named Michael started to ask me questions. Once I started to talk with Michael I began to calm down.
After what felt like days of swirling and runaway thoughts and a myriad of questions, the police finally called my family and called the school clinic and I was escorted there. Soon after, several of my college roommates arrived to be with me while the admission process continued. After talking briefly with the clinic staff, I was transferred to the local hospital’s Psychiatric Unit.
Within the next few hours my parents arrived in town and tried to begin to make sense of what had happened. I recall my parents visiting me in the hospital mostly my Dad whose anxiety I could sense was through the roof. Within a couple of days, we made arrangements to go back home to Augusta, Georgia. I unenrolled from classes and moved back home to live with my parents for the spring and summer of 1985. No one was sure yet if this was a temporary reaction to stress as a Senior and as a Senior thesis writer or the beginning of a lifelong behavioral health diagnosis and challenge.
One thought on “My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Fear of Flying”
How frightening that must have been for you and alarming for your family and friends.