I finally feel far enough past this that I can talk about it, so here is my story. Two and a half years ago I developed a food intolerance incredibly fast, which would go undiagnosed for six months. In those six months, I had quite a few horrible experiences where I was mid-meal at a restaurant and suddenly stuck in the bathroom being sick. It was embarrassing and scary. At the same time I developed an anxiety towards food. Like a weedy vine, this anxiety spread to many areas of my life, to the point where I could no longer sit in restaurants, be at people’s houses, or be around food without incredible stress and panic attacks. I also had one incident where I was sick on a one hour flight, and that was the end of carefree flying for me!
My next vacation involved a much longer flight which was preceded by a week of panic attacks and crying myself to sleep every night in dreaded anticipation. My lovely husband finally coaxed me onto the flight after many tears at the airport. I loved travelling, and was so sad that my life had come to this. On the way home I remember standing on the tarmac hysterically sobbing, looking up at the plane, knowing this was the only way to get home. I spiraled into depression, devastated that I had so quickly lost the life I had been living and all the things in it that I loved so much. I said goodbye to most foods, friends, socializing, and travel for six months. I couldn’t continue to live like this, not for myself and not for my husband. So in true stubbornness I knew I needed to get my life back.
I looked for jobs overseas and was given the opportunity to work in New York. Unknowingly my future boss asked me to fly over for the interview and I had to lie, saying that I was too busy to take the time off and that we would have to do it all by Skype instead. Lucky for me, I was still given the job. Now, confronted with having to fly to the other side of the world from Sydney to New York in six weeks, I knew I needed help. I booked 8 sessions with a psychologist…the best decision I ever made. We talked a lot about positive thinking and reinforcement, coupled with breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. One particular incident during this time stands out. I was instructed to pack a pretend suitcase and take a trip to the airport. I thought this would be a stupid exercise, as surely knowing that I’m not really flying would evoke nothing. I happily went to the airport and thought I was perfectly fine, until jokingly, my husband and I decided to pick the pretend flight we would take. Looking up at the board of flights and seeing the red flashing ‘boarding’ signal was enough to make my stomach sick. I burst into tears – this was beyond logic. I no longer had control of my body, let alone my mind. I knew I would need to work even harder than ever to overcome this, and I had a deadline to meet.
The therapy helped, the relaxation exercises and positive thought patterns got me to the point where I was still very anxious but not hysterically panicked. My repetitive mantra was that ‘if I stayed calm, my stomach would stay calm’ and to this date I must have repeated it a million times over! I made the flight to New York, I reset my life and now I willingly fly all the time, and every time gets a little easier. I will never truly be rid of the weed that is anxiety, it will be with me the rest of my life – I know that. It is, however, now a dormant seed planted in the back of my brain. I work hard to keep it from sprouting into the giant weedy vine that once tried to smother the strong and carefree tree I was trying to become.