“There are only two emotions in a plane, boredom and terror” Orson Welles
So once again my air travel begins with an adventure, thankfully I am doing better and have learned a few things about traveling with PTSD over the past few years.
Air travel, especially having to go through crowed airports still terrifies me. Today I am traveling to Houston for a chaplain training symposium, part of which will deal with PTSD treatment. While there I will be touring to VA Medical Center and I have been tasked by my Commanding Officer to see what they are doing in regard to dealing with Peer Support to PTSD injured personnel and to their families.
The family piece has been slow to develop and the military, VA and others are now just beginning to wrap their heads around the issue of how to deal with the impacts of PTSD on the family. I think that part of the reason for this is that the military has had to figure out PTSD all over again since the current wars began in 2001. Since most of our previous experience came out of Vietnam where the majority of soldiers were single draftees who left the service after doing their time we did not really have much experience dealing with what happens when a soldier makes multiple deployments, is traumatized and has to deal with family issues while remaining in the high stress world of the military.
Of course I can testify that it does have a huge impact on the family. My marriage was in bad shape after Iraq as Judy and I both tried to figure out what the “new normal” was in our marriage. Even when I started to get better the process of re-setting the relationship was incredibly difficult and required a lot of adjustment. Since we have known each other for close to 35 years and been married for almost 30 I can only imagine what a newly married couple, or a couple married just a few years with young children go through. I see a lot of these young men and women in my work and know their stories and difficulties so my interest in this is quite personal on a number of levels.
Anyway, returning to the trip. I got to my flight and of course it was overbooked. That is par for the course, at least the Norfolk airport was relatively sedate today. However, they airline needed to board a flight crew and was getting ready to force passengers off the plane. They offered a $500 voucher and meal coupons and promised to get me to my destination this evening. Since the flight that I was booked on was running late and my connection time was next to nothing at Dulles Airport in Washington DC I volunteered to take the voucher. Most of my worst experiences flying have occurred at Dulles and I never enjoy making a connection there. They booked me on a later flight that goes through Newark which puts me in about 5 hours later than I would have arrived if I was able to make my connection. The layover allows me to relax a bit between flights and not rush. I can handle that.
When I fly I am almost always in a panic mode. I no longer enjoy it. Air travel today is like being a steerage passenger on the Titanic unless you have lots of money to fly First Class. Crowded flights, bad baggage service and less than friendly airports are the norm. If I had the time to take I would drive almost anywhere rather than to fly. I have flown First Class a couple of times, but only because the airlines upgraded me. The best was a British Air flight from Madrid to London where I flew with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. They actually give you really metal eating utensils, plates and glasses.
My last couple of flights have been filled with more drama than I would like, so in light of the fact that I was having to connect through my least favorite airport in the world I don’t mind the delay.
You ask me how I cope with air travel now. Don’t say that you didn’t I heard you. Now the fact that I have raging Tinnitus and my speech comprehension is in the lower three percentile, meaning that even most deaf people understand speech better than me has nothing to do with it. I know what you said.
So how do I cope? The answer is simple. Beer, a good microbrew or if one is not available maybe a Sam Adams, Yuengling or Stella. I could take a Xanax. My Doctor prescribes them for me, but they taste terrible and don’t fill me up. Besides, even though beer is loaded with carbs it is a fat free meal.
In addition to beer I try to make sure that schedule my flights whenever possible, if no direct flight is available to go through airports where there is good food, good beer and if I do get delayed or forced to overnight it, a place where there is something to do. I have learned in such cases to pack a pair of underwear and a clean shirt appropriate to the time of year and weather in my backpack just in case I get delayed. I went through Dulles once, had to overnight it and was forced to go to a mall that triggered every living nerve in me just to get underwear and a shirt. That my friends sucked like a Hoover.
So at the moment I am sitting at the airport bar having a half liter of Sam Adams and a bowl of Chicken Tortilla Soup while waiting for my flight. A man sitting next to me said that flight is now delayed. More from Newark or Houston as the trip develops.