Panic on a Plane

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love. — Julian of Norwich

The whole world closes in on me as the smartly dressed flight attendant seals off the door to the airplane. I look around enviously at the other passengers snuggling down into their seats, ready to fall back asleep. Who on earth thought a 6:30 a.m. flight to NYC was a good idea?

The familiar flush of fear pricks my cheeks as my eyes dart about from the nearest window to the bathroom. I’m not sure which one I need more. Historically, I do not do bathrooms on airplanes. I’m afraid once I enter the tiny water closet, I will not come back out.

Breakfast continues stewing uncomfortably in my abdomen, mirroring the anxiety climbing up my sternum.

The plane begins to push off, and the only thought resounding in my heart is “I don’t want to leave!”

Breathe, Kelsi, breathe.

I have successfully talked myself down from every other airplane-induced panic attack; however, this one is not going well.

Now the shakes. It starts with little jerks of my hands and my jaw, slowly taking over my arms and chest in a herd of shivers. My right leg jumps nervously as a chill I cannot name spreads throughout my core.

Oh, this is not good. Hours remain before touchdown…

Sweat is beading at my hairline, threatening to drip into my eyes. Prayers shoot to the heavens on shallow breaths, while I clutch my abdomen and demand peace.

I can’t take it anymore. Full of shame, I beeline towards the bathroom, closing the little accordion door behind me. Oddly, being sequestered behind a lock feels like a small comfort.

 God, you gotta do something!

Tears stream down my cheeks as the abdominal cramping and full body shaking intensifies.

Please don’t abandon me here!

What feels like an hour passes, and my body has righted itself enough to return to my seat. I see the black abyss just to the left of my mind.

Don’t step in the hole, don’t step in the hole, don’t step in the hole…

I sit slowly, so as not to blow the foul stench surely clinging to my jeans across the aisles to the other passengers. My husband grabs my hand and asks if I’m okay.

“Nope, I think we need to land the plane. Can you ask the pilot if we can land the plane? I can’t stop shaking, I can’t do this, there’s nowhere to go. I’m…”

Doubling over in pain, I quickly excuse myself back to the restroom, settling into what has become my new seat on the plane. More tears, more shaking, more crying out to God, “WHERE ARE YOU?!”

This feels like a bad omen. My husband and I are flying to Brooklyn to attend his best friend’s wedding and also scope out areas where we might live come February when his clinical rotation lands us in the heart of the borough for six months. I am a firm believer in following the peace, wherever it leads, but so far, the opposite of peace has been my meal for this trip.

Exhausted, I make my way back to my seat, anxious to sleep for the rest of the flight. My husband anoints my head with some miraculous oil he got from a church in Georgia and prays over me as I fitfully drift off into sleep.

I sense the Lord’s quiet presence hovering over me, maybe even holding me, as I wonder what this all means.

My security has been roundhouse kicked in the face, and I shrink back from the trip, resisting the impending changes for my family.

I dream about a thorn in my brain being plucked from the back right cortex, and immediately a peaceful cooling sensation, like cellular Ben-gay, courses from my head through my chest into my gut. The feeling lingers.

Finally.

I am acutely aware of suffering and deliverance existing in tandem—the gift of Jesus being presence and breath—not the removal of pain, not an unchallenged life, but the ability to keep going. I wake just prior to touchdown, knowing somehow shade will cover me when it gets too hot and light will find me when it gets too dark—two very beautiful ways God will walk beside me amidst all the mysteries of where and when and how and what.


Kelsi Folsom holds a B.M. in Voice Performance and has traveled all over the world participating in operas, musicals, jazz bands, and choirs. Now a mom to “three under three”, she currently resides in San Antonio, Texas. When she is not putting on her best Cherubino while changing dirty diapers, you can find her perfecting gluten-free recipes, *gasp* reading, enjoying a nap, or trying to make sense of her life over french press. Kelsi writes here.