Content Warning: panic attack, epilepsy, seizure, anxiety disorder, social anxiety
I’m 23 and boarding my first flight on my own. A friend I’ve known since first grade recently moved out to Arizona, and while I’m not looking forward to sizzling pavement and permanent sunburns, I’m beyond excited to see her new place. She’s boasted about how large her room is and the corner of her kitchen that’s devoted to displaying her collection of shot glasses from exotic places. Her cats also have a room of their own, complete with several extravagant cat trees and a makeshift play structure attached to the walls.
Of course, in order to see all this I have to suffer through a four-hour flight with a crying baby behind me, who has started their tirade early. It’s not like I dislike flying, as I absolutely adore looking out the window and watching cities shrink and grow before my very eyes. But I am not a fan of cramped spaces and strangers getting a bit too comfortable in my presence. Last time I was on a flight, the lady next to me changed her tampon in her seat, while the man on my left sneezed wetly several times throughout the trip. I’ve also never been a huge fan of putting myself in scenarios that could potentially trigger a seizure, which I’m prone to.
S***, my seizure medicine, I forgot to take my medicine!
I scramble to get it out of my bag as the line moves forward, my mind racing with scenarios. In the past, not taking my medicine led to screaming classmates as I violently shook in the heat of my cotton band uniform during the city’s Memorial Day parade. The audience stared at me open-mouthed as my friend ran to get help, leaving me staring blankly into the sky as I shook under the sun’s intense glare and my instrument’s weight. It’s never a good idea to assign the girl with epilepsy the largest bass drum.
Of course, this situation would be a million times worse thousands of miles in the air and in the company of complete and utter strangers. I can only imagine the horrified looks that would be cast in my direction, my life dependent on someone having the decency to alert the staff. And the embarrassment that would ensue after the fact—the sympathetic looks, the gentle “how you feelin’?” remarks–would only confirm my identity as the medical emergency that disrupted the flying experience of hundreds of people.
“Where the f*** is it!” I mutter to myself, my heart beating out of my chest as my hands plunge into my pack, which is now on the floor. My throat gets clogged as tears fill my eyes. This can’t be happening. The room starts to spin, and I panic further, my breathing getting shallower by the second. My hands grasp my pills, but my fingers are shaking too much to retrieve them. Tears are rolling down my cheeks as my frustration heightens, convinced my inability to grasp my medication will result in death. Before I know it, I’ve collapsed to the ground, the bottle held tightly in my balled up fist.
The people around me step back, like I’m a bomb that’s about to blow. In the distance, I hear the woman at the gate ask if I need her to call 911. “No, no 911,” I say breathlessly, horrified at the prospect of causing a bigger scene. She tells me to move out of the way, to make my way to the seating area, so they can continue boarding the plane. I can hear the annoyance in her tone, but I can’t seem to find the strength to stand. I think about the people I’m inconveniencing, and my chest tightens further, humiliated as I endure the exact situation I was attempting to avoid.
An older woman with short brown hair approaches me and kneels down to my height. “Hi honey, my name is Marie, and I’m a doctor. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“Seizure…medication…” I manage between shaky breaths.
“You’re having a seizure?” She asks.
“No,” I shake my head frantically and shove my bottle towards her.
“Oh, you need to take your medication? Is that it?”
I nod, feeling like an uncommunicative toddler. The woman doesn’t seem to mind, and instead asks me in a gentle voice to breathe with her. I watch as she inhales deeply and do the same, exhaling at her signal and repeating the process until the room stops spinning. My heart rate slows, and I’m able to speak again.
“There you go,” she says. “Do you need any water?”
She offers her bottle to me, but I shake my head. “I have my own, but thank you.”
“Of course.” She pauses. “Are you going to be okay?”
I nod, and she wishes me well before returning to her party. I’m finally able to stand and make my way to the seating area, dragging my backpack along with me. The passengers continue boarding as my fingers grip my pills and toss them in my mouth, chased by the water in my bottle.