Panic on the way to Tuscany

I made reservations in early February for my husband Terrance and myself to fly in spring to a family wedding in Tuscany. When reasonably priced tickets became available with an online booking agency, I snagged them.

A minor mistake occurred during the booking. The wrinkle was a small one. I mistakenly entered my name twice when booking the flight. B. Zorina Zorina Wolf. I called the agency the next day. I was given the choice to cancel my flight, but there was nothing they could do on their end to change the mistake.

My husband told me to forget about it, that anyone could see it was typo. I let it go.

Finally, it was May and time for our adventure. Our first time to Italy!  We arrived at the airport early to check in. Something unexpected happened. My passport due to expire in July, but I was not allowed to travel three months prior to its expiration. Who knew? WHO KNEW? Some one knew, but I didn’t.

Although the travel agency requested my passport information when I booked our fares, and the dates on my documents didn’t trip any switches in their system.

From the moment that we were told that we couldn’t travel, things began to get weirder. The travel agency told us that to get a credit for our non-refundable tickets that we would have to pay a $300 cancellation fee.  Either that or we would lose our money that we paid for our tickets. And unfortunately, their policy would not allow us to reschedule our trip for 48 hours. We explained to them that this trip was time specific. We had to get to a family wedding. Sorry, this is our policy.

Despite booking new fares, the passport situation had to be dealt with.

Terrance and I headed out of the airport, luggage in hand, to get a passport renewal in Seattle.

We jumped into an elevator with four flight crew. The elevator stopped and the doors wouldn’t open!.

Moments like these are surreal. The flight personnel were shouting through the speaker in the elevator telephone.  The maintenance man took time.The crew, were at ease, bantering. I was aware of only one thing: the clock is ticking. I have to get to Florence!  I have to get a passport and I am stuck in an elevator!  The ambient anxiety in my body went up another notch.

Finally, the doors opened. Terrance and I hopped in a cab, off to Seattle.

On our way,Terrance called US Passport office to get an emergency appointment. He had my passport on his lap. But, as we were about to enter the building, my passport was not in his hand. I knew he had it in the cab.  Where was it?

I must have looked stressed, because my dear husband said was, “Calm down. Don’t lose it!”

There was no better trigger than those five words.

I began tearing through my bags. The more frantically I looked, the more panic-stricken I became.

Right there, on the steps of the Federal Building in Seattle, I lost it. I began crying and hyperventilating. Terrance calmly said, “We are not doing anything or looking further until you can calm yourself.”

I was ready to rip his head off. He was the one who had my passport! Where did he put it? I was looking for the cab receipt, in case we left the passport in the cab. I was out of control. There was no ground under my feet. What had started with a tense moment at SeaTac, was a full throttle dynamic. Now I was imagining the worst. No trip to Europe, no family gathering, no wedding. I was dislocated, discombobulated, disconnected to myself.

Eventually, my breathing slowed. And the passport was found, in a side pocket.

The rest of the story is anti-climactic.  The passport office was a pleasant surprise. Everyone was kind and helpful. They pushed all the paperwork through and an hour later, I had a new passport in my hand.

We went online and got new tickets. Big money. Flying the next day.

That’s my tale. Not a fun beginning, but a good outcome. We joined our family. We experienced the beauty of the wedding, important time with family and friends. After the wedding party, Terrance and I spent ten wonderful days in Florence, learning about the culture, art and food of Tuscany.

However, when I returned home there was something creeping around my psyche about that stress-filled travel event.

Although I have experienced difficult situations before, it is still surprising for me to become so blind-sided by stress. I have a library card, a voting card, for god’s sake. I exercise, eat right. Yet the impact of stress can turn me into a person I don’t know. 

In my earlier years, when faced with loss or trauma, I remember holding on so tightly in my body that my ribs would hurt. I was waiting for the shoe to drop. Whatever shoe, wherever it was, it wasn’t going to be good. Expectation of loss damages the present as well as colors the future. Color me anxious.

A logical voice asks, “Why would you do that to yourself?” I wouldn’t. But my unconscious fears inform my choices during stressful times.  

You have A) a situation B) a reaction, and then C) a reaction to the reaction.

When I become overwhelmed, or flooded with anxiety, I don’t have access to my analytic mind. As adrenaline and fear hits, I am temporarily uncentered in my body.  I am not sure I know where I am located. The instinct to flee, inability to reason–my limbic system is in overdrive. And worse, it is messy and embarrassing. Shame lingers and distorts the actual event, and making it global. The conclusion is, “You, Zorina, are not to be trusted. You could lose it any time.”

I noticed that shame and self-blame were still lingering in my thoughts and mood, even after I returned home.  I had to address those inner voices.   So, I stood in my kitchen, and said out loud, “ Back off! I did the best I could!”  I said it to any demons that happened to be listening. And me.

In those stressful moments at the airport and at the Federal Building, I lost my center, temporarily.I didn’t hurt anyone, besides myself.

And I recovered.

I forgave myself. I am sure I will have to again.

Life is unpredictable. So are emotions, including mine.

Will I have the means to deal with the next situation that arises? Maybe. I hope that I can ride the waves of chaos more easily next time. And, maybe not.

But it’s not losing my center that is the problem. It is how fast I can return to standing on my feet again.

Without blame without shame. Just the journey.
And don’t get stuck in the wrong elevator.