I wrote earlier this week about planning my trip to Boston in April. I made a joke about riding a horse on the subway, because humor (at least the attempt to be humorous) is how I deal with Anxiety.
I spent a couple days smh thinking that spending 17 hours in a car almost sounded better than a 2 hour flight. No I am not a masochist! What I am is ‘experienced’. It’s sad to say, but dealing with people at the airport can be just as mentally and physically draining as making a 17 hour drive. Often times, people are pushy, judgmental, and downright rude, especially to individuals with “invisible illnesses”.
In the past, I have let other people’s opinions, push me to try to handle more than I could. I have fallen numerous times at the airport because I insisted on trying to “do everything myself”. The LAST time I tried to go without assistance, I ended up falling and breaking my arm. (Go big or go home?) For some reason, I insist on learning things the hard way :(. I didn’t have a choice about using a wheelchair on the way home after that.
I have requested wheelchair assistance each and every time I have flown after that, but it still stresses me out so much. I HATE the stares I get because “I don’t look sick”. I hate that because I become so uncomfortable, I think I make my companions uncomfortable. I want this time to be different! While I can’t control other people’s ignorance, I am determined to control my reactions to their ignorance. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again?
So….This morning I put pen to paper (so to speak) to try to lessen my anxiety. Here is what I came up with.
Requesting wheelchair assistance when you “don’t look sick’?
A Series of Hurdles
LOCATING a Wheelchair. When pulling up to the curb….there are police everywhere, hurry hurry get out of your car…. um I can’t... past experience has taught me that it is better to plant my ass right where it is while someone brings me a wheelchair. I have notified the airline ahead of time that I need wheelchair assistance., but to be honest, they are usually not prepared. So I will sit and wait. After waiting 5 or 10 minutes (which will feel like an hour) for a wheelchair to be located. I will stand up, take two steps to the wheelchair and sit down. My bags will be handed to me and I will be ready for the next hurdle.
HURDLE # 2
Now the staring and judgement begin. (if it didn’t already when I took two whole steps). 100’s of eyeballs will be on me. She doesn’t look sick, why is she using a wheelchair? She must just be lazy etc etc etc. I can literally feel the eyeballs combing every inch of my body looking for some outward sign that I have a disability. (after experiencing this so many times, is it any wonder I no longer possess even a shred of modesty?)
Getting in line to check in. While I am going to do the online check in thing, and print our boarding passes before we leave for the airport, for one reason or another, I often end up having to go to customer service. The biggest hurdle that this poses is additional time, (gone are the days of arriving at the airport 20 minutes before your flight leaves) but OK, ALLOW Extra time….CHECK!
Now to navigate the airport. I used to ask my friends, kids, etc to push the wheelchair through the airport because I felt selfish asking an employee for help when there might be someone that needed it more, But people do not pay attention to wheelchairs. So many are busy dealing with their own stresses, they do not realize that they are standing right in the middle of a walkway. (Someone tried to yell at my daughter once for running into her even though she was the one that walked right into me, and even dropped her water in my lap….yeah that didn’t go so well) So now I let the airline personnel do the “driving”. I have learned that there are fewer confrontations and angry words this way.
As I began writing this today, I remembered reading a fellow “mser’s” blog about Traveling with MS as a companion, so I paused to look for it. I’m glad I did, his words about trying to navigate an airport with balance issues summarized it better than I could. In his blog he says,
“You see, people inside an airport are clueless. They wander around, either looking at their phones, looking for their gates, looking for something to eat, somewhere to sit, or rushing through the crowd like a running back picking a hole to run through, and they are all oblivious to who or what is in front of them, in back of them, or around them. That is not a good feeling for someone with balance issues, so I simply steered to one side of the terminal and stopped or slowed down when someone threatened to invade my orbit, using my cane to secure my space if necessary. It felt like walking through a mine field.”
He is absolutely correct. I DO NOT need that headache. Here is the link to the full blog post, if you would like to read the entire thing. I recommend it! (hint hint)
Hurdle #5 Dealing with the Dreaded Airport Security- or TSA agents
To some, calling someone “a TSA agent” could be a worse insult than calling them an “Asshole”, maybe they are synonyms? Even though I know these agents are there for our protection, most people see them as another hurdle. For me though, even though very time consuming, this is the least stressful part of the whole airport experience. The last time I tried to go through security the “normal way”, they asked told me to STAND STILL in the full body scanner….lol me stand still?!?!? Yeah right!!! I tried 3x and kept touching the inside of the machine (balance issues).
I did almost accomplish this ONE time, but still had to go through a pat down because they questioned the bag of pee strapped to my calf. (More about that another time though) So now I just request a pat down. The fact that I have been “delivered in a wheelchair” saves time answering questions.
If you really think about it, the pat downs really aren’t so bad. I assure you the agents that have to do them are way more uncomfortable than you will ever be and it is for your protection. ( In today’s society with all of the lawsuits and people that are so easily offended, I would be terrified of losing my job every time I was forced to touch someone)
I found this card this morning while checking out TSA’s website. Maybe it’s helpful? I might print it and take it with, but I assume it’s just as easy to request a pat down. The site is interesting enough if you have time to check it out.
Okay pat down complete now to find the gate. (I really should stop asking the agents for a kiss when they are done….I’m sure they have heard that joke one too many times)
Getting to the gate is relatively easy, if the agents are doing the driving. Then its just a matter of waiting. I anticipate a few more angry stares when I get out of the wheelchair and WALK to the bathroom. (even more if I stand facing the toilet in a woman’s bathroom to drain the catheter bag) A few more when the airline “let’s” me board with woman and small children…… but really who’s problem is that?
^^^^ took me two days to write. As I did, my anxiety about the upcoming trip “melted away”. I typed, I cut, I typed again….etc etc. I reread my own words numerous times. The only question I have left, is “Why do I care so much, what other people think?” I tell people all the time “you do you”. Maybe it’s time I listened to my own advice?