What Flying with Meniere's Disease Taught Me About Anxiety

It's been awhile since I posted here.

Shortly after I decided which direction to take the blog in, now that Harry Potter is awake and looking around, I had a massive vertigo attack. Meniere's Disease is often progressive, with 50% going bilateral within 15 years, and I guess that I've been chosen to be among that group.

Many celiacs, not just super sensitive ones, have more going on biologically than just celiac disease.

I am no exception.

I have several autoimmune conditions that I've acquired over the years. Since I'm a super-sensitive celiac, I live in what most people would call a bubble. I'm basically a recluse.

At the moment, the distance between me and the rest of the world is allowing the body to heal. As a result, we don't go out to eat, attend very few family gatherings, if any, and most of the socializing I do is online.
Delta Commercial Aircraft: Flying with Meniere's Disease

However, our unexpected vacation this year forced me to step out of my comfort zone.

Leaving the security of a completely gluten-free home behind, hubby and I got on a Delta airplane, at the end of June, and flew to Texas to visit three of my four sons, a daugher-in-law, granddaughter, and niece.

That week was a life-altering experience.


I learned a lot about myself that I didn't know before, but I also learned an important lesson about anxiety. Since anxiety triggers the hyperthyroidism, I am always on the lookout for ways I have made things important, so I can keep anxiety levels low.

Up until our recent vacation, I had always associated anxiety with making something too important. However, the experience of flying brought out a whole new aspect of anxiety I had never realized before.

Will Flying Make the Meniere's Disease Symptoms Worse?


This wasn't my first flight.

I traveled from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles when I was 18, but with the symptoms of the fairly recent vertigo attack still alive and kickin', flying to Texas was going to be a much larger challenge than I originally anticipated because the trip was planned several weeks before I had the attack.

As the date of departure got closer, and the Meniere's symptoms didn't improve, everything I'd learned about consciousness and staying awake was thrown into a tizzy:

I started listening to those little voices in my head, and as a result, I started to experience anxiety.

Meniere's disease causes a feeling of fullness in the ear, which most people sense as painful pressure, so the question that was bothering me the most, was:

Will flying make the Meniere's Disease worse?”

Logically, there was no way to know the answer to that.

The aircraft cabin is pressurized during the flight, so air pressure would remain constant – except during take-off and landing. While most people with Meniere's Disease have no trouble flying, there was no guarantee that I wouldn't get worse by going through that experience.

In addition, the rules, regulations, and hoops you have to jump through, post 9-11, in order to fly, only added to the stress. Those little not-I were really working on me.

I knew that.

In fact, at times, I even tried to tell myself that I was making the experience of flying, and things going horribly wrong that day, far more important than I needed to make them.

However, the irony in doing that was that I was actually listening to and identifying with the not-I that told me the anxiety I felt was wrong, and that I should be feeling something else. Since not-I serve the idea that nothing in our lives should ever be uncomfortable, trying to get rid of the anxiety was as much the work of the not-I as the anxiety itself.

I didn't see that then.

Without a dependable list of items that clearly spelled out what we could or couldn't take with us, I was nervous about making a mistake. Delta's website sent me to the Transportation Security Administration website (TSA), which then made me input each and every single item I wanted to take with us to get the specifications.

Some of Delta's rules contradicted the TSA rules, so I made a cheat cheat, in an effort to quiet down some of that nasty anxiety, but packing for the trip was still a nightmare.

In addition to only being able to take liquid or gel personal-care products in sizes of 3 ounces or less, according to the Delta airline information, some things like the phone charger or disposal razor had to go in checked-in baggage, while other things like the digital camera could only go in carry-on luggage.

The Cost of Playing the “What If” Game


Cost of Playing "What If" is Fear of the Future

Meniere's disease results in brain fog, tinnitis, and cognitive deficits, along with a chronic general dizziness and intermittent vertigo attacks, so I really didn't have a lot of faith in myself to seamlessly pull this off.

Oddly enough, the only thing I wasn't playing the “what if” game about was how hubby and I were going to prevent getting glutened all week. Maybe, that was because I just expected to get glutened, and maybe, it was because hubby had assured me he'd just buy anything we needed at the other end. I don't know.

I just know it was getting on the plane, as well as the plane ride itself, that I was most concerned about.

The result of entering into that anxious state of mind was that I didn't sleep very well for the last couple of days before we left. That didn't help, obviously. The mind was even more foggy when I tried to check us in at the airport computer terminal.

The inability to comprehend what the computer program was asking made me feel more frustrated and not in control.

Part of the anxiety I felt at that moment was because I thought a real-life person would be checking us in, and I was disappointed to see that check-in involved a row of computer terminals and not a real live person behind desk. The other part of the frustration I felt was due to my cognitive defects.

Luckily for us, airport personnel was right there to help us check in. After explaining my inability to understand the software program, the old man simply said, “That's what I'm here for.”

He helped us print out the two boarding passes we needed, which surprisingly declared that we were “pre-check” passengers.

Since I didn't understand what that meant, the elderly man explained that we wouldn't have to take our shoes off or have our liquid personal care stuff checked out at all. We could just go to the airport gate that we'd be leaving through.

Somehow, when I had gone to the TSA website to see what we could bring with us, I had accidentally registered for Pre-Check Privileges.

The man pointed out on our ticket the gate we needed to get to, but as we walked in that direction, we realized that wasn't quite right. We needed to check in one of our bags first.

The airport was pretty confusing. Thankfully, we stumbled onto a sign that guided us toward baggage check-in, but getting to pre-check was even more difficult. There were no signs to help us find our way.

As someone brushed past us, hubby asked them if they knew where pre-check was. They did. It was up a flight of stairs, and since they were going that way themselves, they helped us find the right place.

From that point on, things got easier.

What Happened When We Boarded the Plane


Once we were safely through all check-out points, we sat down near the airport gate.

We had to wait over an hour before we could board the plane, since we'd arrived at the airport two hours before the flight, but we didn't mind. We just felt grateful we had made it that far without any major problems.

Boarding went smoothly, since I wasn't as stressed as I'd been when our friend first dropped us off that morning, and less stress meant I was better able to adapt to environmental concerns.

Airplane Passengers Walking Down Narrow Aisle Between Seats
For example, the circular tube that goes from the airport to the plane was a bit disorienting. I had difficulties walking, since it was unfamiliar and felt constrictive, but I simply took it slow. The balance mechanisms in both ears don't work, so visual cues are essential to my ability to walk. Hubby often helps me in those conditions, but he had his hands full with the carry-on bag.

The plane was smaller than I expected, but the narrow isle worked to my advantage. I was able to use the backs of the seats for support. Once we found our seats and buckled ourselves in, it wasn't long before the plane began to taxis toward the runway.

What Happened During the Flight? Did the Meniere's Symptoms Get Worse?


Most of the advice about flying with Meniere's disease recommends that you take an antihistamine or decongestant, such as Sudafed, before boarding the plane. Since I am already on meclizine and Zyrtec, I only added a Valerain, a calming herbal supplement, for extra protection. And nothing else.

In fact, I didn't eat or drink anything that morning, other than half a travel mug of coffee, because I didn't want to get nauseous if I had a vertigo attack on the plane.

Although, some people find chewing gum helps to equalize the pressure in the middle ear when the plane descends, I've never had problems with the middle ear not working correctly, so I didn't bother with that.

The first half of the two-hour flight was a bit turbulent and uncomfortable. That's the best way I know how to describe it. 

There was additional air pressure and lots of dips, which caused adrenaline surges, but no real dizziness. It just felt like I was stuck in slow-motion, continuously falling over and over again, for at least an hour. I had trouble hearing and the early morning sunlight pouring through the window was problematic, as I'm extremely sensitive to bright lights, but that was easy to fix.

I simply pulled down the shade.

I found it easier to handle the pressure and all of the up-and-down waves by keeping my eyes closed. I also didn't fight against the experience. Although the extra pressure made it feel like a heavy storm was on the way, I simply relaxed and allowed myself to experience what was happening.

About half-way through the flight, everything in my head evened out, and I started to feel better. The falling sensations and adrenaline surges stopped, and I almost felt normal.

Not normal, as in I might actually have a good day, but honest-to-goodness – NORMAL!

Although the airplane cabin was still pressurized, the low-grade dizziness I experience every single day was gone, and so was the brain fog.

An hour later, we started to descend into Dallas, but I didn't feel anything out of the ordinary. Sure, there were a few dips and turns, as the plane lost altitude and turned toward the airport, but they didn't affect me like they had before.

We were sitting toward the back of the plane, almost on top of the engines, so we waited for most of the passengers ahead of us to leave before I tried to stand up.

While I did feel a bit lightheaded, the spacey feeling quickly dissolved as we left the air-conditioned plane and were hit in the face with a blast of hot, humid air. The temperature difference between the plane and the late Texas morning stuffiness was a bit unsettling and nearly knocked me off my feet, at first, but the body adjusted quickly.

Before I knew what was happening, we were walking through the airport toward the luggage conveyor where my oldest son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter were waiting for us.

I admit, I felt like I was in a daze, but that surreal feeling like I was in a lucid dream didn't last long. By the time we had walked the short distance to the car, I was feeling almost normal again.

What I Learned About Anxiety


Kitten Filled with Anxiety About to Attack

Looking back over that flying experience, I can see that none of the things I was dreading before the trip came even close to happening. All of the anxiety I experienced beforehand was a direct result of setting up a few false expectations and believing that some of the stories told by not-I might come true.

For days, I had worried about things that could happen while trying to check in, as well as what could happen on the plane, but none of those fantasies ever materialized. In fact, even my feelings of insecurity proved to be unfounded because someone was always there to help us take the next step.

While the plane ride wasn't uneventful, it wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I expected it to be.

I had no vertigo attacks, no loss of self-control, and it didn't make me feel sick to my stomach. I felt light-headed and a bit off-balance, sure. The strength of the pressure in the airplane cabin was stronger than I had anticipated, but it was a short flight, so it was over with quickly enough.

Returning home wasn't nearly as traumatic. Since flying was no longer new for me, there was nothing to be anxious about. I knew what to expect and how things were going to go down, mostly. Although it was a different airport with different ways of doing things, the fear of the unknown was gone.

Anxiety is the Fear of the Unknown


Up to this point in my awareness journey, I have always associated anxiety with setting up expectations or goals. While goals do bring on needless tension and worry, when plans don't go your way, I had missed the even larger connection that anxiety has to fear.

As one of the lower mental states that keeps us trapped in our conditioning, fear of the future is as harmful to our spiritual growth and development as reliving the past, over and over, can be.

In a sense, we are rejecting what is going on in our lives right now because we're focused on some future event that doesn't even exist yet.

Struggling to turn what might happen into something we have judged to be good and pleasurable is impossible. When we choose to serve Life, rather than the senses, whatever that future event will be is specifically designed to address our desire to awaken and stay awake.

If everything in our life is comfortable and pleasant, it is easier to fall back asleep because nothing challenges us to stay aware. 

Rather than fear what might happen, we can be grateful for the opportunity to evolve and grow, for the opportunity to experience something new, for the opportunity to be more conscious of ourselves and our surroundings.

In this particular case, I was grateful for that plane ride because it gave me the opportunity to spend time with my kids, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and niece.


The aim of staying awake isn't to serve comfort. The aim of staying awake is to serve Life and, thereby, become more conscious, understanding, and loving.

Comments

  1. Boy, this was a good article! I like how you went to the underlying meaning of what causes anxiety.
    I like what you said about the aim of staying awake is to serve life and become more conscious, understanding, and loving.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I had a restless night. My dreams kept showing me over and over again just how sleepy I am. I couldn't stay awake in my dreams, no matter how hard I tried! Thank goodness self-knowledge is the first step and we aren't expected to be perfect from the starting gate.

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