I have a rare medical condition known as airport anxiety. It’s so uncommon, it’s not even an official diagnosis. The symptoms include a near panic attack on the freeway while trying not to miss your exit that leads to the airport, a near panic attack when you check your baggage, wondering if you’ll ever see it again and if all that ironing starched creases into your pants was in vain, a near panic attack while you try to find your gate, wondering if you’ll accidentally end up on a flight to Hong Kong, and you won’t speak the language and no one will be able to help you order takeout.
It also includes a veiled attempt to remain discreet while scrutinizing every commuter crowded within four rows of you, trying to identify the safe people in case of an in-air attack.
I’ve decided the folks who look safest are probably the biggest threats to civilized society. The guy in front of me with the Mohawk, covered in tattoos and scalp piercings? He’s the guy I want on my side in a rumble. The cute four-year-old behind me who talks more than a Teddy Ruxpin with new Eveready batteries? She’s a pawn, sent to distract us all so the bad guys—whoever they are—can take over the plane(t).
And then there’s the overhead bin anxiety, where you can’t open the door to stow your carryon for fear that thousands of collective pounds of strangers’ skivvies and anti-wrinkle cream will crash down on you or worse . . . snakes. There’s an actual movie about snakes on a plane. It could happen.
The truth is, I’m a big fake when it comes to navigating anything about the adult world. And let’s face it; airports are about as adult as it gets. Every time I have to fly somewhere alone, I wander around feeling like an orphaned six-year-old, waiting for someone bigger and more capable to take me by the hand and lead me to safety. But since that doesn’t usually happen in airports, and if it does, it’s probably not a good thing, I just white-knuckle my boarding pass and my poise, paste a confident grin on my face, and carry on.
Last week, I went on an airplane to Los Angeles, all by myself. Despite my anxiety, despite playing out every gruesome world-altering event in my mind, not a single bad thing happened, other than some really bad coffee—which is a tragedy in itself.
I arrived at my destination unscathed, my luggage—and my dignity—intact.
I even managed to help another fake adult (takes one to know one) navigate the rocket-scientist-designed vending machine in the terminal.
I don’t know why I waste so much of my oxygen time being scared, but I do. Most of my wild, freaked-out imaginings never come true. My time would be so much better spent just enjoying the actual events of my life instead of blowing a gasket about things that will never come true.
I’m a writer, for land’s sake. I could easily transfer all those wild mind-stories into fiction books instead of convincing myself they’re fact. I could write a NYT bestseller, which could be turned into a blockbuster movie, which would then provide me the funds to hire someone to drive me to the airport.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep faking the grown-up thing. I’ll keep moving forward, clinging to my self-respect, and remember that I don’t have to orphan my way through this thing called airports—or this thing called life.