Thursday, 13 April 2017

[ get me out of here ]

Until you've experienced something for yourself, it's really difficult to say how you'll react to it.

I'm not taking about getting a tattoo or breaking a bone, though those examples do get close to the feeling I'm talking about. These are initially physical pains however, and though there is obvious mental strain to go with them, the physical tends to be the forerunner.

Mental experience makes you see things in a different light, I've found. It reshapes your reality somewhat, colouring how you feel and act going forward. There can certainly be physical elements here, but I'm getting at the ones where the mental anguish hits you straight up and keeps pushing.

As someone who has had some hard core life experiences already - both physical and mental - it came as a pretty sharp knock to realise I'm not great with long haul travel, missed flights, and being stranded so far from home.

In fact, I think it knocked me right out of the park, to be honest.

I'm a decent flyer. Turbulence, unless it's really rough, doesn't worry me too much. My longest flight has been 6ish hours, I've had flight delays and cancellations, and I've sat in my share of airport lounges, bored to frustration, desperate for a cuppa and a shower. 

For quite a few years, I also worked in hospitality and as a shiftworker. Add being an insomniac to the mix, and sleep deprivation isn’t really a new thing to me.

Until now. Now, it all feels like some new version of an old nightmare, where the parameters have changed dramatically, and I don’t quite know how to deal with it. All my defences got torn down like paper, and I was left in tears and bewildered every few hours for 2 days.

It’s like a new form of torture for yourself. The CIA would be delighted.

If it all sounds a bit dramatic, maybe it is. Maybe, especially for those of you who have or still do travel a lot, it sounds a little bit prima donna.

However, I’d ask you to consider the first time you travelled alone. Was it 22 hours and 2 flights from home? Was it without any real knowledge of how absolutely awful airport food can become when that’s all you’ve eaten for 36 hours? Was it with that deepset anxiety that it may be yet another day before you get home, to your own bed, your own clothes, and your own food? Did you worry about running out of money and what you would do if you did?

These aren’t trick questions and I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone who travels without a care in the world, every trip, every time. What I’m trying to do is get you to understand.

I’ve been in pain and I’ve been afraid. I’ve stayed awake for 28 hours at a stretch and been so dizzy with lack of sleep, I started seeing things that couldn’t possibly be there, and not seeing things that were right next to me.

Call it fear of loss of control, a panic attack, or being thrown in the deep end. It was all of those. And I’d still take some of my worst days over this.

Asked exactly what the most distressing part of the whole disaster was, and I’d be hard-pressed to narrow it down to one element. The combination of events really made for a gut-wrenching sort of panic that I'd never known before.

In these situations airport security are either your best friends or your worst enemies, and it can be a complete roll of the dice as to which one. Baggage claim can be a nightmare or a daydream, also reliant on said dice.

Being stranded anywhere is never easy and being stranded at 2am, even in a city that never sleeps, is like your car breaking down on a deserted highway and your phone battery being dead.

For me, it was almost exactly like this. The airline put me on the next flight, but due to the decision allocated to air traffic control instead of weather, no one helps you with accommodation.

And my phone wasn't willing to connect to the internet unless I stood in just the right spot, without any planes going over, didn't make any selections too quickly, and the planets were aligning... which was about every 35 minutes.

I cried. A lot. Security got uncomfortable. Customer service became bewildered. Strangers became distressed for me. Complete public awkwardness does not even begin to describe it.


Again, if this is all starting to sound a tad dramatic, it really was. 

Because, to be fair, I've got myself out of some major scrapes. I've fought inner demons and corporeal bastards and, crying included, I've managed to weather so many experiences that not much takes me by surprise anymore.

But surprised I was, and it will only ever happen like this once. I finally got my chance to miss Sydney and boy, did I miss it so much when I was in LA.

In the end, this is more a cautionary tale and a reassuring nod to those who FREAK RIGHT OUT when something goes wrong on holidays. Knowing what I know now - including having the commencing flights go reasonably well - I'd still change the itinerary.

Firstly, any flight longer than 12 hours will include a stopover. Notwithstanding my previous condition, 12 hours in a flying metal canister with no way to escape is - in hindsight - ridiculous. It just is.

Also, the stopover will be an actual stopover, including a night in a hotel. It's hard to stay truly anxious when you're ensconced in a quiet room with clean sheets, room service, and endless cable.

With so many hotels, including those with 24-hour shuttle services and so close to the airport, it's strange to think this didn't occur to me earlier. But there you go.


The point is that fear is a slippery beast and you can't firmly grasp when or how it will sneak up on you. 

There's an old episode of Charmed where the villain, Barbas, uses the sisters' greatest fears against them. Losing a sister turned out to be Phoebe's greatest fear - something we can all relate to. 

But more than that, I think we fear being away from our family, being away from the things we love, having our options taken away from us, especially when we know they're so close.

I guess situations like this show you elements of yourself you may not have known. Something I didn't know about myself; I don't deal well with being away from my loved ones, away from my fortress, the sanctuary, I've spent years and years creating for myself. 

Fighting is something I will never stop doing, and I can do that fiercely or quietly. But take me away from the things I love - the things I need - and I go a little troppo. 

So I suppose the moral of the story is this; I can face anything at all, at any time, in any headspace, if I'm here and in my element. 

But take me physically out of my zone, and I'm going to need to drop my bundle like a hysterical three year old for a minute. Then we can get on with it. 

Life lesson learned. Not happily, but learned all the same. 



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