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A psychologist's funny account of airplane anxiety, humor

I’m a psychologist, and as such, I try to present myself as being mentally healthy. That facade will be put to rest today.

There are only two things that make me anxious and I experienced them both together as I traveled home from a speech tournament with my oldest son yesterday.

The first thing that gets my OCD juices flowing is public restrooms. I really, really hate using them. It isn’t so much that I am afraid that I will pick up germs from someone as it is that I’m grossed out thinking about who has been in there before me and what they’ve been doing. I am not going to try to justify my abnormality. I tell you this only to explain the events of the day.

As I boarded the plane, I was feeling the call of nature mildly. I have an exceptionally big and strong bladder from years of avoiding using public restrooms. I figured I could certainly make it until the plane landed, at which point I would be forced to use a public restroom at the next airport. Later is always better when you’re anxious.

I smartly refused all beverages on the plane, but it was too late for my bladder because I had had a coffee drink before boarding. I debated with myself for a good hour about whether or not I could survive more than a three-hour flight without using the restroom. The stakes were high. Literally. While I have a distate for public restrooms, I have an all-out aversion for airline bathrooms. I believe in all my 43 years, I have used one once. The experience imprinted upon me the necessity of avoiding a repeat performance.

Anyone who shares my disgust for public toilets does not need me to explain why I was flipping out at the prospect of having to use the bathroom on the plane. But for the rest of you, I will give details.

  • Men are using the same restroom
  • It’s the size of a casket
  • The flush is a massive suction effect that threatens to take you with it
  • Poor ventilation
  • Impossible to hover
  • No bathroom attendant keeping things neat

The other horrors I got to experience firsthand. As I saw over an hour left in the flight, I knew that the misery of holding it had surpassed the misery of the airplane toilet experience. I got up and started making my way to the back. Right then the man sitting behind me decided he would go too. Wonderful. He was in front of me. Standing up made me realize that I really, really had to go.

The toilets were both occupied. For. a. long. time. The only thing that made it better was that the man who was going to use the toilet before me looked just as uptight as I felt. Finally one opened up and he entered. Meanwhile, a sizable line formed behind me. Another bladder age passed and I was finally able to get in there. That’s when my second source of anxiety kicked in: turbulence.

I hate turbulence. It brings to mind all those horrifying airplane crashes I’ve experienced with Tom Hanks, the cast of Lost, and others. The worst turbulence I had experienced personally was a dramatic loss of altitude after flying out of Philadelphia immediately post-9/11. People were screaming. My anxiety level was a 12 on a 1-10 scale.

In that frame of mind, I locked the door and felt like I was in an outhouse connected to the back of a speed boat. The ride was so bumpy that I was doing well to stand up at all. There wasn’t any way I could even get my pants down. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that I better get busy or the anxiety would finish the job for me, toilet or no.

I’ve already mentioned that you can’t hover in an airplane restroom. I was hopeful that I could at least put toilet paper on the seat. As I tried in vain to get the paper to stick, my third fear kicked in. I wondered what on earth the poor full-bladdered souls in line were thinking of me. As the plane continued to bounce through the air, I realized that any germs I would get on my hiney couldn’t kill me because the plane crash would get me first. I sat down, did my business, cleaned up, and made my way back to my seat, physically and emotionally relieved.

I was actually kind of proud of myself for overcoming my fear. (Pathetic, I know, as I was forced into it). The turbulence calmed down and in no time at all, we prepared to land. That’s when the pilot came on the intercom and announced that there was “weather” at the airport and that we would be in a holding pattern.

Fear number four kicked in: tornadoes. Our airport was recently damaged in a tornado. I wondered how terrifying it must have been for the passengers who were on planes as those storms went through. I reassured myself that we were safe and sound in a holding pattern. Until the turbulence kicked in again.

I called to mind all my psychology tricks to get me through the next 30 minutes of turbulence and announcements that we still couldn’t land because of “weather.” I wondered if this was akin to calling cancer a “health matter.” I praised God from A to Z, imagined myself back home and hugging my kids, took deep breaths, relaxed my tense muscles, and reassured myself that crashing wouldn’t be painful. Hopefully. All of these things really did help and we were finally able to land without incident.

I headed to the restroom once in the terminal, delighted to see that they had automatic plastic covers on the toilets. I sat down gleefully and relieved myself. After I stood up, I read the instructions for the plastic covers indicating how to get a new clean cover–instructions that I hadn’t used. Oh well.

I praise God that He got me home safely to my beloved family last night, dirty hiney and all.

Can you relate to any of my fears? If so, do you have any tips for dealing with them?

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