I’ve been the girl vomiting uncontrollably in the aisle seat beside you. I’ve been the girl with a stack of barf bags handed up to her by various pitying passengers. I’ve been the girl taking deep, controlled breaths before take-off attempting to invoke some Zen, meditative state. I’ve been the girl frantically googling “how to get over my fear of flying” on her iPhone in the airport terminal, as if a web search could coax away a lifetime of neurosis with seven minutes to boarding time.
Only in some wild fit of masochism did this girl decide to attend a university on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, 3,500 miles away from her hometown. In late August, with my impending transatlantic journey all booked up, I began to freak out. Not a Van Gogh-reaching-for-the-razor-to-cut-his-ear-off kind of freak out, but some duller, subtler point on the freakazoid continuum nonetheless.
My mother, a shrink, thinks pretty much everyone could stand to be on .25 milligrams of something or other. I’ve always been resistant to that sort of thinking; insert the “our overmedicated, pharmaobsessed consumer culture will destroy America!!!” argument here.
But a new threshold of desperation led me to a psychiatrist’s office for the first time, stereotypical leather armchair and all. The session was quick, routine; the doctor’s medical degree hanging annoyingly at eye level on the wall opposite my chair. I’m super anxious about a long flight I have coming up, I told her. I have hesitation about taking prescription drugs, I told her. In the subsequent half hour, the white-coated woman accused me of being in denial of mental illness, questioned my ability to mother my hypothetical future children, pontificated at length on the piety of her profession. I don’t think I spoke more than three times.
I left that day with notably less self-respect and an illegible signature on a thin sheet of paper labeled Rx. I felt hustled. I felt I needed to visit a psychiatrist to recover from my visit to a psychiatrist.
Eventually the day came. Prescription reluctantly filled, I packed that orange bottle in my carry-on along with some paperbacks and trashy magazines. I set off for Dulles International. I rummaged through my purse at the check-in desk for my passport. I said my goodbyes at the security checkpoint, suppressing my morbid instinct to wonder if it’d be, you know, the goodbye. I lifted my arms above my head for the body scanners. I bought a Snickers bar and a bottle of water.
Time to kill in airport purgatory, I sat down in an empty gate. Surrounded by hundreds of empty, interconnected chairs, I contemplated my chances of survival. I asked myself if this trip to the airport terminal would be—brace yourselves—actually terminal. The fear of flying boils down to the fear of death. Fear of anything at all really boils down to the fear of death.
The overpriced mineral water was open beside me, as if begging for a pharmaceutical habit to enable. I unscrewed the child-protected lid and carefully shook a tablet into my hand. There, resting on my palm was one powdery white ellipsoid of Alprazolam. Tiny. Immaculate. Taunting.
Ten hours and 17 minutes later, my plane landed. Safely! On land! A few minutes ahead of schedule! There had been some peanuts, some awful chicken thing, and some Jennifer Aniston movies. I don’t have any evidence Jennifer Aniston movies were designed specifically for airplane viewing, but I’m 97 percent certain they were. I didn’t terrorize fellow passengers with excessive hyperventilation. I didn’t rip all my hair out in the aircraft lavatory. I didn’t maintain a 10-hour death grip on the armrest. I didn’t throw up (this time).
High dependence liability be damned. I popped that pill. And I’d do it again.