Mexican Panic Attack

This week I had a Mexican Panic Attack.

I was returning to Mexico to kick off a project with a new client. Last time I visited this client, I traveled with someone who travels abroad regularly. I was impressed by how far my savior faire and Sesame Street Español took us, until we were safely in the company of our Spanish-speaking colleague.

This week, I traveled alone. No problem. I had done it before, I knew the routine. I arranged for an international phone plan (which didn’t seem to work, thanks, Verizon!), stuffed my passport into my laptop bag and a half-dozen dresses, three pairs of jeans, and four t-shirts into my carry-on (then removed two pairs of jeans and 3 t-shirts), and took off, completely confident in my ability to repeat the trip, which was great because then I could focus on the updates I needed to make to my kick-off deck.

Problemo numero uno: on my flight from JFK to Mexico City, when the man in front of me reclined his seat, the top of the little cubby where the seat-back tray lives smashed down on the top of my laptop screen, trapping and nearly crushing it. I made an inarticulate noise along the lines of urghk! and startled him into temporarily sitting forward, allowing me to free my laptop, but there was only enough room to partially open the screen, an impediment to PowerPoint design work.

Numero dos: I arrived in Mexico City, made my way confidently through passport control, back into the domestic terminal for my connection, and enjoyed a brief respite in the lounge, where I worked some more on my presentation. It wasn’t coming together the way I wanted it to. Finally, about 5 minutes before I needed to leave for my gate, it all came together. Now I just needed to squeeze about 4 hours of work into a 1 hour 30 minute flight. No problem. Right?

I calmly made my way downstairs and found my flight on the monitor. Hm, Sala “M.” As I recall, that means they’ll post your gate in a momento. The monitor also said it was still on time. I wandered down the concourse. A helpful porter asked me where I wanted to go and I explained. “M” is this wing, I think he said. (My strongest phrase in Spanish is “poquito” as in, I speak a “poquito poquito” amount of Spanish.) So I wandered that direction and watched as the other flights on screen three of the scrolling monitor were assigned gate numbers. As those flights took off, mine moved up the list of chronological listed flights to screen 2, then to screen 1, still with “M”. The whole time I’m regretting the possibly power-pointing moments that are passing by. The boarding time came and went – still marked “on time” – then the departure time passed. Still M, still on-time.

I’m too anxious about the flight to worry about the power-point. What if my flight got canceled and I had to spend the night in Mexico City? Since my phone didn’t work, I wasn’t sure how I would get Amex to find me a hotel, get me a car service, and rebook me on a morning flight. And I couldn’t send the presentation to my colleagues who had flown in the previous day because I hadn’t finished it yet. Wait, which anxiety is the one that is the real cause of my rising panic, which is just a contributing factor?

My flight moved up screen one until it was at the top of the screen.

Then it disappeared.

I started deep breathing. Calm. Calm. No need to panic. Maybe they rescheduled it and it was now tucked in amongst other flights later in the evening. I watched all four screens scroll past without seeing it, and scroll past again. And again. Nope, it was gone.

I turned and fled into the main concourse again, desperately searching for an AeroMexico information desk that I had a heard a rumor of. Nothing, nothing. But I knew there was an AeroMexico lounge on the mezzanine and suspected they could help me. When the elevator reached the upper level, I glanced about and saw a door with the AM logo on it and made a B-line for it. As I pushed open the glass door, I caught a glimpse of a dim room and messy wires. The guard behind the desk – I think it was some kind of security office – asked, in English because I am that obviously an American – if I was looking for the lounge.

“I’m looking for my flight,” I said. “And I’m very glad you speak English.”

She took my boarding pass, looked up my flight, jotted down the gate number, and handed it back to me less than 10 seconds later.

“Merci,” I said, in too much of a panic for my poor little brain to do more than recognize that I needed to thank someone in a language other than English.

Using my best NY pace, I rushed back to the M concourse, and past the place where I had been waiting so nervously, to that gate. Which, it turns out, is right beside the AeroMexico information desk where they could have answered my question.

I checked what time my flight was leaving, plopped down in a seat and started to work on the presentation again. Now I was really freaking. So much to do and I was not going to finish on time. So focused I barely noticed the man who sat down on the end of my conjoined run of seats.

Until he started jiggling. And the whole bench jiggled with him. And my laptop started jiggling, too. Not conducive to fine PPT deign elements.

Finally we boarded. My plane had four – count them four – stroller-aged toddlers on it. None of them, luckily, sitting beside me, although one was across the aisle. I will say this: these four Mexican babies were so well-behaved, compared to American Babies I Have Flown to Orlando With. While we taxied and took off, I read some ebooks I had recently purchased about stress-reduction. Great books except they felt the need to persuade you that stress was bad by describing all the ways it damages your body. I started to hyperventilate. Calm. Calm. No need to read, just meditate instead. My body started to shiver. Not with cold. With stress. Calm. Calm. Focus on your breath. Calm. Acknowledge all those stress-related illness symptoms that you are experiencing; bow to them, they are telling you that you need to relax. Calm. Breathe. Breathe.

As soon as the captain made the announcement that we had leveled off, I whipped out the laptop and started work again. I was making pretty good time and hardly noticed as my seatmate chatted with the young mom across the aisle. Then he got up, I thought to use the bathroom. But no, it was to change seats with the young mom’s mom, who was holding another toddler.

Well-behaved, despite the crazed mutterings of the strange gringo who made funny noises when the seat in front of her reclined, nearly crushing her open laptop. Calm, just breathe.

I kept going, madly typing, dragging, changing fonts and WHY IS IT DOING THAT NOW. Calm. Calm. My conscious mind carefully adding, moving, editing. My subconscious mind being a terrible distraction saying things like, “Hey, you, perfectionist! Cut that out. You know you don’t have to do it this way. Just do that thing that people always do that makes you crazy and cut and paste the XL. Hey, you! Oops, here we go again, just breathe, breathe. Calm.”

The grandmother rose and disappeared with the baby. And then the baby returned with her father, who took the seat beside me. And this guy was Big — muscle big, but wide. Now I was crushed against the window, still madly typing, dragging, dropping, deleting.

And then we were landing. Laptop back under the seat, work far from finished. Phone in hand, ready to plunge back into eBooks again.

The baby, who had been so good, started to whimper. Her father, who had been playing with her – she was clearly the apple of his eye – tried to distract her, and finally cuddled her against his shoulder so that she was looking right into my face.

What eBook to read? I looked up and met her eyes.

What the heck. Phone in pocket. Peek-a-boo with baby. Peek-a-boo. She stopped whimpering and stared at me as if I were nuts (I was). Peek-a-boo. She smiled. Where’s the baby – peek-a-boo! She started to giggle. Her dad glanced over at me and then went with it. Peek-a-boo.

For the entire descent, I played peek-a-boo with someone else’s baby.

And all my stress fell away.

I’d found the perfect cure for a panic attack.

Afternote: Got about 4 slides into the presentation I had been sweating over — when the discussion took a turn to the left and we never finished the deck. Clearly I was on the wrong track with this one. Live and learn.

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