A Close Call

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I recently returned to my home in the San Diego area after an 11-day road trip back east. The trip included four talks to promote my book, “Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder.”


    My talk focuses on why we need to be smart when it comes to managing our illness, while the questions from the audience tend to concentrate on things we need to do to live well. Invariably, I’m asked what I do personally to stay well – the idea being that the audience can benefit from my example.


    I have a confession to make. I nearly lost it in Vegas. Allow me to backtrack:


    My schedule had a lot of strategic down-time built in to allow for the demands of travel and time zone changes. With my illness, it’s judicious to err on the side of being a road wimp rather than a road warrior.

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    But a funny thing happened toward the end of my trip. My schedule became crowded: a book launch and a one-day conference to squeeze in, an impromptu visit to Walter Reed, invigorating conversations late into the night that I would not miss for the world. Five days running, I had been up at six and down at midnight, with no daytime naps. Trains to catch, details to confirm, logistics to coordinate, blogs to write, items to unpack and repack, on and on it went.


    By the time I grabbed a cab for my flight home, I was emotionally spent. I trundled into Reagan National with my three bags only to encounter the flight from hell. Some of the airline’s ticketing computers were down, and lines were everywhere. People were missing their flights, and my fragile psyche was absorbing the anxiety and hostility in the terminal.


    I had allowed myself plenty of time for check-in, but I had calculated on most of it involving sipping iced tea sitting down rather than standing in line with my bags.


    In order to save myself a couple of hundred dollars, I had booked two stops rather than the usual one. First stop Philly. Connecting flight C terminal. I grab a bite to eat. I stroll to the very end of C Terminal only to find I have 15 minutes to run to the other end of the airport to catch my flight at A Terminal. I get there to find the plane is an hour late. Oh-oh. This is too close for comfort for my connection to Las Vegas.


    The plane spends nearly an hour on the runway. Now I’m really in the poop. Nevertheless, I manage to keep calm and get in a couple of hours of sleeping vertical.


    Naturally I miss my connecting flight in Vegas to San Diego. I feel control over my brain slipping away, I’m dehydrated and disoriented and my jaw is throbbing in acute pain. I lose my way more than once negotiating my way to the right ticket counter, and sense myself asking for directions with too much aggression in my voice. By the time I get into the right line, I am on the verge of panic. It’s 1:00 in the morning Vegas time, which equates to 4:00 in the morning east coast time.


    Yes, I know the airlines will put me on another flight, but will they put me up in a hotel?


    I’m at very high risk if I don’t get in some serious horizontal time right now. The line is moving at the same speed as those terra-cotta Chinese warriors that were buried for thousands of years and the ticket agents are as animated as Rip Van Winkle. I feel my sanity slipping away.

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    I am the author of “Living Well” and I am seriously decompensating.


    “Look!” I want to shout. “I have a chronic medical illness and I need attention RIGHT NOW!”


    Breathe! I tell myself. Breathe. One’s breath is the best emergency stress-buster there is. Be nice! I tell myself. Whatever happens, be nice to the agent who deals with me. One can be nice and angry, but when you’re angry there is no room for nice. And anger is the ticket to flipping out. Breathe, be nice, no anger.


    Soon an agent is handling my case. A ticket for a morning flight. A voucher for a hotel. I will have four hours of precious sleep. The crisis is over.


    Avoid the stress you can avoid and manage the stress you can’t avoid, I advise fellow patients. I confess to failing miserably in the former department. I had overcrowded the end of my itinerary and I had tempted fate by booking a coast-to-coast flight with two stops.


    Since settling into my little piece of heaven on earth outside of San Diego, I have never felt better in my life. I am both relaxed and energized, highly productive, more in touch with my spirituality, and making deeper connections with people. Moreover, I’m nurturing feelings of love, even though I have no love interest in my life.


    Yet even in this highly enviable state, my Las Vegas experience served as a forceful wake-up call that I am never more than a few bad hours from losing everything I worked so hard to achieve. Yes, I somehow managed to avoid flipping out in an airport, but the final outcome was a nail-biter, like a basketball game that goes into triple overtime.


    This one was way too close for comfort.

Published On: April 05, 2007