Why hello! I have returned from my holiday to Madeira, and I have loads to catch up on! While I’m intending to write a post specifically about what we got up to on our trip, I wanted to write a little about the flight itself. Originally, I had intended to have this included in the whole holiday post, but once the words got flowing, I realised it was probably suited to a separate one so that I don’t end up boring you senseless. As I like to draw my experiences from a mental health perspective, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my thought process when it comes to something particularly anxiety provoking for me. Now, I’ll say up front, if there are any fellow sufferers of emetophobia reading, there may be a trigger or two in this post, but don’t worry, I’ll tell you in good time!
Our flight was at a reasonable time for the first time in 2 years, so we headed off to Birmingham Airport to catch our flight at 15:25. I’d only ever flown from Bristol before, so it felt a little strange being in a different airport, especially when it came to security. I know these days security is much tighter at airports, and rightly so, but considering my husband got to saunter straight through, I clearly must have looked dodgy. In addition to being shouted at because I stood under the metal detector for too long (because there was someone in my way), they also put me in the rather scary looking body scanner and swabbed my shoes for drugs. Clearly evil carries a Cath Kidston backpack.
Now, I may have mentioned in passing before that I’m a nervous flyer. A VERY nervous flyer. While it’s partially the irrational fear that something could go wrong with the plane, it’s mainly related to my emetophobia, and my fear that I’ll be stuck next to a passenger who throws up. Of course, in the flights that I have been on, this hasn’t happened, and ultimately, the last time I’d flown I was actually starting to make my peace with it. How things can change.
For those who don’t know, emetophobia is the irrational fear of vomiting. The most common response to this is “no one likes being sick,” however in the case of someone with emetophobia, it can be highly debilitating and causes a significant impact on their day to day lives.
So, we boarded the plane, and for the first time I had a window seat instead of an aisle seat. Having the aisle seat generally feels better because I feel less trapped, however I’d started to come round to the idea of a window one because it meant I wouldn’t have to keep getting up every time the person next to us needed the loo. Anyway, I kicked back and started chilling with my magazine, convinced that I had this in the bag.
Trigger Warning: Emetophobia, or for those easily grossed out
I didn’t pay much attention when the elderly gentleman sat next to my husband and I, with his wife and friends in the seats on the other side. He sat down and started reading the paper, and I popped my headphones in to make take off a little bit less anxiety inducing. All of a sudden the man started coughing and something…came out. I instantly crapped my pants and held my magazine up to my face and turned up my music. My husband gently nudged me and told me that the chap wasn’t sick and he was just coughing, although by this point he was looking very unwell and the cabin crew had come to his aid.
I drifted in and out of what was being said but the man’s wife told the cabin crew that he had been eating a lot of sugary sweets before the flight – so perhaps it was some sort of hyperglycemic episode or something. I’m not sure, but it didn’t stop my mind from constantly asking whether or not he had some sort of bug and that this could potentially ruin our holiday if my husband and I caught it. Because of this, I continuously prodded my husband to ask for reassurance that he definitely wasn’t sick. Meanwhile, one of the flight attendants chose to ignore my teary face and shakiness, and but they had no problem asking me to remove my headphones. I get it was probably something to do regarding take off, but the last two airlines we’d flown with didn’t have an issue with it.
Anyway, I decided to be a rebel and shoved my headphones back in while the man next to us still looked rather poorly. Once we were off the ground I tried to go back to my magazine, but all of a sudden the man started coughing again. I looked up from my magazine and saw the man’s wife fumbling around with the sick bag, so I attempted to push my headphones further into my ears – I swear I would have pushed them all the way into my head if I could have – while trying to keep calm. It didn’t work. Despite having my music turned up to full volume I still heard enough to send my anxiety soaring through the roof.
The cabin crew jumped into action once again and rushed over with the oxygen mask and hurried the chap into the toilet, while my husband asked if we could change seats. Hell, by this point I was ready to jump straight out of the fucking plane. Despite the fact I was now having a full on panic attack, all one of the flight attendants said was that we could move after take off. I again persistently prodded my husband asking various questions like “did you get splashed?” “did he get it all in the bag?” and such, but he told me that the man wasn’t sick, he was just coughing stuff up again (I’m still not entirely convinced, especially given the sounds I heard). Of course, anyone with anxiety will tell you that when you seek reassurance, 99% of the time, you can’t accept it. Your mind won’t let you. This was what happened in my case.
Eventually, they allowed us to move to another seat, where we had a whole row to ourselves, so I felt much better settling into an aisle seat. My anxiety was still at peak, but simply moving away felt so much better. I tried to get back into my magazine while aptly listening to Taylor Swift’s You Need to Calm Down, and eventually, things began to settle. Despite the occasional need for reassurance, I was feeling better. Sadly, that didn’t last long.
Suddenly a woman was moved to the seat opposite me. She was clutching a sick bag. For fuck sake. I could not appear to catch a break on this flight. I’m not sure what was going on with her, but every now and again she’d start reading her book, which I thought was a bit weird because if you were feeling travel sick, why would you read a book on a flight? Anyway, needless to say, this was not a flight that I could relax on. I felt like a stalker because I was watching her every move. I’d feel slightly better every time I saw her open her book, but the second she closed it I was on edge. This continued for a good 3 hours. She didn’t throw up at all, but the thought that she could have was enough for me.
When we eventually landed, I still couldn’t stop asking my husband for reassurance. “Are you SURE that man wasn’t sick?” “Do you PROMISE me he wasn’t sick?” “You wouldn’t lie to me would you?” “We won’t catch anything from him will we?” This went on well into the second day of our holiday. On the bus to our hotel, my husband had listened in a little on the woman who’d been moved next to us, and she appeared to be suffering from a migraine, and was actually a bit annoyed they’d given her a sick bag. All I can say is I’m relieved that we weren’t flying with Ryanair, as the entire situation would have been a million times worse (context: Ryanair don’t do sick bags).
Anyway, when we finally checked into our hotel, it was a good hour before I felt settled, because I felt the need to Dettol wipe EVERYTHING that had been on the plane with me. I was starving hungry, but because I was scared I’d caught something, I didn’t want to eat. Meanwhile, my husband, who has a perfectly rational brain, was starving and desperate to get some dinner. He eventually managed to drag me back out in search of some food, and I caved and had a few chips (along with a gin and tonic!) and eventually, the nerves subsided.
Occasionally, the nerves would pop back up again every time I had to touch something that had been on the plane with us, but over the week, I stopped seeking the reassurance. Getting back on the plane for the trip home wasn’t particularly fun, but thankfully, we were sat next to a really nice man who chatted to us about gin.
While in the case of a ‘normal’ person, this probably would have been a situation with no drama whatsoever, I feel I have a few observations to make here. I’ll say right now that I don’t want to be selfish – the gentleman that was poorly 100% should have been (and was) the priority of the cabin crew, but once they had dealt with him they could have perhaps checked in on me. I’m incredibly thankful that they allowed us to move seats, however there didn’t seem to be any duty of care afterwards. I’m not saying I should have been given any special treatment, but I was clearly distressed (I was crying and shaking) and not at any point was I asked if I was alright. Admittedly, maybe I should have told them about my phobia, or simply the fact that I was a nervous flyer, but let’s face it, you can’t exactly have a “private word” with someone on a plane can you? I don’t know. Maybe if they’d known the reason why I asked to move seats in the first place they wouldn’t have moved the second lady next to me, I don’t know.
Apologies if anyone has found this triggering. I just felt like I needed to get this all out because it was a particularly traumatic experience for me and I knew I wanted to share it just to give an insight into what it’s like being in my mind! Stay tuned and I’ll be posting about my trip to Madeira – which thankfully, wasn’t as traumatic as this flight!