Friday, October 9, 2009

And the thunder rolls...

Well…I made it to Illinois…but not without a little hysteria along the way.  We haven’t delved into the depths of my psychosis here, but another piece of the fear puzzle I mentioned last week is my fear of storms.

When I was in college at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, what began as a normal March day turned into one of the most unforgettable days of my life.  It was a Saturday, and my roommate, one of her little sisters, and a few of our friends had piled into my stylin’ gold Dodge Aries to drive up to Little Rock and shop for the day.  With the carefree spirit I’ve long since lost, we were just off to do our own thing, not paying any attention to what was going on around us.

Little Rock was about an hour away, and I still have a picture in my mind of looking down at the fog on the water below an overpass on our way out of town and thinking the weather seemed strange that day.  As we got on the highway and started our trek, the rain started coming down, and I started feeling a little uncomfortable about driving this carload an hour down the highway in my old bucket.  We all agreed that maybe we should turn back and just rent a movie and stay in for the day.  So we pulled back onto one of the main roads in town and stopped at the creaky little old house that served as the video store.  We all piled out and hurried in, and as we sorted through the movies, we were taken aback by a loud siren outside.  One of us asked what that was, and the clerk informed us that it was a tornado siren, and it was about the third time it had gone off.  Apparently the giggling, talking, and singing of the gaggle of girls in the car had drowned out all other noise. 

We all rushed back into the car and determined that my roommate’s parents house was the closest place to take cover.  Just as we stopped at a red light before turning into their neighborhood, all the lights went out.  The stoplights went blank, the WalMart across the street went completely dark, along with everything else in sight.  It was a surreal moment as we realized that we were actually in danger.  It had stopped raining at that point, and everything was still.  There were no other cars out, and we seemed to be moving in slow motion as we hurried the rest of the way to the house.  We ran inside and were greeted by my roommate’s mother, who was relieved to see us.  We huddled in the hallway with pillows over our heads (and I believe a mattress too) as a tornado touched down just blocks away.  There was one moment of comic relief when one of my roommate’s sweet sisters heard me say I thought I was going to pee my pants, and brought me a towel - just in case.

We wanted to get home to the dorm as soon as possible, so once we had the all clear that the storm had passed, we headed back.  The first shock came when we were barely out of the neighborhood and found trees and power lines down.  We saw more damage as we drove, and by the end of the day we learned that a string of tornadoes had occurred that day – the largest traveling right up I30 – exactly where we would have been driving had we not turned around.  That tornado was an F4, and it devastated the historic downtown area of Arkadelphia, wiped out a mobile home park and various neighborhoods, took 6 lives in town, injured over 100, and took 19 more lives across the state that day.  We knew that we had been spared.

I had always been afraid of storms growing up, but that day in Arkadelphia took my fear to new heights.  And it’s a bit strange – because I was protected.  I was right in the middle of the devastation, and I wasn’t even touched.  So you might think that would give me confidence, but that’s not always the way our minds work.  Instead I developed an incapacitating fear.  I couldn’t drive in the car in a storm without having a panic attack.  I became obsessed with knowing what the weather was going to do at all times.  If there was severe weather of any kind – I did everything I could not to leave home, kept an eye on the weather, and had my tornado shelter room ready.  I’ve really worked on that over the years, and I still have a lot of it in me, but I’ve improved.  You can’t live in Texas and never leave the house when there’s a storm, it’s just not possible.  So over time I’ve learned to cope and manage my fear a little better.

All that to say this…

Tuesday night when I saw the forecast for the St. Louis airport the night I was scheduled to fly in, I immediately had a panic attack – and I don’t have those all that often anymore.  It was two days ahead of time, but I was paralyzed with fear.  There was a 90% chance of thunderstorms at the time we were scheduled to land.  NINETY PERCENT.  I don’t like those odds.

Let’s look at a little equation, shall we?

Fear of flying + fear of severe weather = Sheer Terror

Bingo!  The first math problem I’ve ever gotten right, folks.

I tossed and turned that night, and still felt the same panic the next morning.  I kept repeating the mantra, but we were beyond rational at this point.  I really wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to physically get my body on that plane without having some kind of breakdown.  I’m sure this sounds completely nuts to all of you normal people out there.  While I joke about my funny little neuroses, there is a serious side to it, and this is it.  Just the thought was dissolving me into tears.  I also knew people who were on this flight in 1999 - and that does not help my situation.  So what next?

After talking to Amelia and verifying that she didn’t mind if I changed flights (I think she was actually grateful for the reprieve!), I managed to schedule myself on the same flight that Beth was taking the night before.  No foul weather in sight - I was set.  Now all this did require me to take an extra day and a half off work and do all kinds of shuffling and rushing to get things done, but my boss, husband, and my traveling buddies were all understanding.  Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get around the crazy.

I can look back and see where I’ve been, and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in getting where I am today.  But it’s weeks like this that remind me that there’s still work to be done.  And it’s weeks like this that make me thankful for the love and understanding and support of my family and friends, because I KNOW how hard I am to deal with when the crazy rears its head again.

And just so you know, Amelia made it safely here on the flight we were scheduled on together, just as I knew she would.  They had some turbulence that I'm thankful I didn't have to endure, but in the end all was well.  The flight I made it on a day ahead had a little light turbulence, and a bit of a rough descent, but I made it!  Beth can attest that I handled it pretty well.  I think I was so relieved not to have to get on the flight with rough weather that it took me down a notch for the other one.  And I did use the mantra to get through the turbulence, and it helped!

What was it I said last week?  Ah, yes…baby steps.


  1. I'm glad you made it! I hope you had a fun time!

    The moment when Jan's sister handed you the towel was such comic relief. I will never forget that. :)

  2. I love that you remember that moment too Jen :)