Last Sunday afternoon, my 2 daughters, granddaughter and I were preparing to board a flight concluding a visit with my other daughter, my son-in-law and my other two grandchildren. It was a long anticipated well-planned and just delightful visit. All of us had been vaccinated and we had finally gotten permission from the pediatrician to travel with the baby. At each leg of the flight, we celebrated how well we had prepared contacts, distancing and sanitizing with tedious caution. We anticipated our every move from home, to the car, through the airport check-in, security, boarding of the airplane etc…
What we could not have possibly anticipated was what happened as we were approaching the boarding gate. As we approached, we stopped off for a restroom breath, and to fill a baby bottle with filtered water. I was the designated “filler.” As I approached the water fountain, a group of young people reached it first. I made note of how one young lady bending at the fountain feverishly quenching her thirst. She was very intense and I wondered if she was really okay. A few minutes into her “gulping” water she jolted from the fountain and jetted to a bench about 3 feet away to provide her some aid.
The metal bench was posited right next to where my family was sitting. While she thrust herself onto the bench flailing backwards, two of her group members ran to her side–as I did—inquiring about what she was experiencing. One of the persons at her side responded: ”She is having a panic attack. She has them often.” I noted the shallow quality of her breathing and knew that those short empty breaths would soon cause her to pass completely out.
I asked her name and then realized I was bending down into her ear saying her name (very loudly I might add) and insisting she look at me. This was quite an order given her eye-lids were rapidly opening and closing. As I insisted she did look at me, then I got real close to her face. I then told her I. needed her to breathe with me. I had to insist a couple of times mixing the demand “look at me” with “I need you to breathe with me.” At the time, with all of my family preparedness; I was wearing a mask and a shield. So, I pulled the mask down and again insisted: “I need you to open your eyes and look at me. Breathe with me.” She began to do as instructed. At the same time, I instructed the two group members on either side of her to raise and lower her arms in rhythm with our breathing. They obeyed. In a few minutes (more like a few seconds—she was breathing normally and her eyes no longer looked glazed over. The shallow breathing had stopped. The group and the young woman began to say something like: “that was the lord,” and to ask: “Who are you? What do you do?” (I felt like one of the Avengers or some other popular “Sheroe”). I proudly proclaimed: “I am a therapist.” Again, there was a chorus: “That was the lord.” I then told the young girl and the rest of the group that “deep breathing is something we can do all the time. You just have to breathe like you mean it. Breath is a free tool we carry with us all the time. It becomes especially important as one feels themselves slipping into a panic mode. Breath is a tool you have with you all the time. And it doesn’t cost you one penny.” We then said our good-byes.
Immediately, I was aware that my actions had caused another anxiety. It was to my family who was sitting on the bench next to the one the young lady had occupied. They saw me get very close to her and witnessed me taking my mask down. I could see the alarm on their faces. I had been scheduled to sit in the seat next to my daughter and granddaughter. I quickly announced I would sit in the seat my other daughter would sit in. I then took off the top I was wearing and rolled in inside out and put it in a plastic bag. I then sanitized hands, and other clothing. We went onto board our flight. I missed being able to hold my granddaughter during the flight (smile), but cherished what I now hold as that the memory of helping another human being find their wellsprings in the desert.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. For more about the power of breath and ways to breathe more fully follow my May blogs.