Last week, aboard a 747 bound from LAX to JFK, I almost stood up and asked the flight attendant to turn the plane around à la Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, “There is a colonial woman on the wing, I saw her! THERE IS SOMETHING THEY’RE NOT TELLING US!”

In general, I am the sort of person who likes to at least appear to be in control, calm, composed, collected, and I don’t like to make a scene unless it’s a Broadway re-enactment. But on that morning, my panic had reached a fearsome boiling point of inner-hysteria, and I feared that if I didn’t get off the plane right then and there, I’d become the protagonist of the next airline YouTube scandal. “Woman Loses Her Shit on Delta Flight 815: Pilot Forced to Make Emergency Landing, Destroys Poverty-Stricken Farmer’s Last Remaining Cornfield.”


Last month, Lady Gaga released her latest hit, “The Cure.” I love this song not only for its cross-y undertones, but also because it is imposing. The chorus doesn’t ask, or give alternate options. It demands, “I’ll fix you with my love,” a nearly perfect illustration of a mighty and capable God.

So where was this mighty God now?

I sat gripping my knees in my middle-seat, panic attack full-blown, and employed my own cure: positive, upbeat self-talk I learned from my therapist.

“This is just panic, Charlotte! You know what this is. No biggy! Ride it out. It’s just a panic attack. Juuust a panic attack.” #nailedit

But my expert-level self-talk was interrupted by these quiet, gnashing jeers. Things like: “Maybe, actually, you’re dying.” “Just get off the plane.” “God is not here, otherwise you’d probably be fine.” “You’re likely going to die today.” “The flight attendants won’t be able to save you.” “God doesn’t seem to be intervening.” “Obviously this means there is no God.” “You can’t survive this.” “You’ve never had a panic attack on a plane before. Probably actually does mean…you’re dying.”

I fought back. I dug deeper into my arsenal of hyper-intellectual anti-anxiety techniques:

  • pop rubber-band against wrist
  • gnaw on peppermint gum
  • hold something cold
  • breathe

(This is a “unique skill-set” I’ve honed over several years of grappling with unpredictable onsets of panic.)

As I debated whether or not to fling myself onto the tarmac, the battle continued to beset. I snap-snap-snapped my rubber-band. I tried to ignore the voices. I fought. As the minutes ticked by, it occurred to me that the plane was pulling away from the gate. My chance for an inconspicuous (non-iPhone-recorded) escape was narrowing by the second. Disconcerting foresights into my future viral hit only elevated the madness. Would they carry me out on a stretcher? Would I go out in the arms of an extra-fit physician? In a straight-jacket? Or would I just dive through the door in a gesture of operatic drama onto the blessed husks of the now-singed cornfield?

By now, I had written off God altogether. He was clearly a no-show — better things to do, or he was teaching me a lesson I didn’t want to learn, or worse, he was just letting me suffer. I was hanging out to dry (or die). I couldn’t breathe. I shook uncontrollably. I had sweated straight through my padded bra. I was alone. And the entire plane, if not the whole world, was about to know it.

Then, two inexplicable things happened right in the middle of the ravenous typhoon swallowing up my brain and body. In the span of no more than 60 seconds, the large man in the aisle seat beside me moved into the single remaining open seat on the plane (where there was more leg room). I was no longer wedged in the middle. Then, the wheels of the plane left the ground, and I suddenly fell asleep before we were even ten feet off of the ground.

That’s right. I — an insomniac since childhood — fell asleep.

I’d like to say that from then on I was all Kristin Wiig in Bridesmaids, post-Xanax: “I’m exciiiited and I feel relaaaaxed and I’m ready to paaaaaartyyyy.” Unfortunately, my day seemed to devolve into more struggles, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating. The panic continued to beat on my door with a sharp-knuckled rap.

But here’s the thing of the thing…panic attacks are like any foxhole really; there is no way out barring real, divine, imposing intervention. And rescue and relief often look weird, like unseemly morsels of grace we wish we didn’t utterly require. They come to us in the form of brown bags, in-flight movies, a cool-ish bottle of half-drank water, an empty seat, a spirit-induced slumber worthy of a Disney cartoon, and — most perplexing of all — the execution and resurrection of a poor Nazarene.

If I can’t find the cure, I’ll
I’ll fix you with my love
No matter what you know, I’ll
I’ll fix you with my love
And if you say you’re okay
I’m gonna heal you anyway
Promise I’ll always be there
Promise I’ll be the cure.