Messy hair (don’t care), bright coloured heels awry, outfit perfect (but hours old): this is the photo someone snapped when you weren’t expecting it, but thought it cute to share anyways. These are the photos we share on social media of our wild nights and exhausted mornings. Imperfect, but planned. We laugh about these moments, when things didn’t go perfectly. These are what we say are our happily shared “behind the scenes” photos.
These can, and should, be compared to our second exhibit: photos post panic-attack. Messy hair (from being fanned by a worried flight attendant), bright coloured mask (allowed to be removed to help with breathing, but kept on because of COVID anxiety), outfit perfectly planned for the airplane (but completely irrelevant to the panic): this is the photo you take to remind yourself of how it felt. I was in it. It was me who scream-cried on a crowded airplane. Me, who could not breathe. I gasped for air, clutching the overheating scarf like a life vest. The world spun and my eyesight blurred. The flight attendants assured me I wasn’t dying; I knew it but did not believe it.
A little over 2 weeks ago, I boarded a plane traveling back from South to North America (an eleven hour flight). Despite my best efforts to pay and upgrade my seat, I sat in economy where both my eating disorder and I quickly realized I did not fit in the chair between the two immovable arm rests. In actuality, the objective reality of “fitting” or “not fitting” does not matter. I potentially could have squeezed in. All I knew was that due to my body size I was not perfect for the average seat. Add to this excruciating sciatic pain, leg spasms triggering medical anxiety, and the stress of two weeks of traveling. After two attempts to quietly barter for support from busy flight attendants, I had a panic attack.
Now, being equipped with an army of flight attendants while mid-panic attack provided great insight into what worked, and what doesn’t work, for me in those moments. Enjoy a brief ranking.
Attendant #1, fanning me with a safety pamphlet: 6/10, the sweating and claustrophobic thoughts appreciated it
Attendant #2, holding my hand: 5/10, no better or worse for it
Attendant #3, telling me to “be calm”: 1/10, thanks, hadn’t tried that
Attendant #4, asking repeatedly if I needed to get off the plane before departure: 2/10, the anxiety was terrified they’d kick me off no matter what I said
Attendant #5, sneaking me food from first class: 8/10, bottled water meant the water wouldn’t shake out of the cups in my hand and the brownie was great
Attendant #6 and #7, briefing each other on the shit show going down: no ranking, potentially the same as previous attendants but I wasn’t keeping track
I took this photo, hungover from the true terror I experienced moments before, as a tool. I could write about this attack as a therapeutic exercise. All I want to do is delete it. Forget that I couldn’t fit in a seat, forget that I embarrassed myself, forget that it ever happened.
This is not an ode to a more inclusive world built for all. Nor is it a memento of strength and perseverance. This is, simply, what I want to see. I want to know I’m not alone; not alone in not fitting in seats, not alone in panic attacks, just…not alone.