Have you ever had a panic attack? It’s not a lot of fun. The first time I had one, I was on a plane coming back from Austin, Texas.

To start with, I’m not a big fan of flying. When you’re scared of heights, claustrophobic, and have control issues, the mere thought of it gives me waves of anxiety.

To make matters worse, this was a Sunday after a bachelor party for one of my best buddies, and the first flight to Minneapolis had been cancelled, giving me an unexpected few extra hours at the airport to contemplate the flight.

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Once everyone was seated on the plane, and situated for take-off, I decided that I wasn’t ready to be in the air for 3 hours. I unbuckled my seat and calmly (in my mind) approached the stewardess to let her know that I would be needing to exit immediately.

I assumed explaining to her that I was “freaking out” would be plain enough to get my point across and that she would simply let me walk off the plane. Instead, I was firmly (and loudly) told to sit down, or else she would be grabbing the pilots and security, which would result in my detention, and the cancelling of the flight.

I scurried back to my seat with my head down, feeling the glares of the other passengers, many of whom were also hours behind their scheduled arrival time. By now, my chest was burning, my breathing was labored, and my head was dizzy.

The girl sitting next to me had witnessed my embarrassing little episode and told me that she had always had issues flying. Unfortunately, her job required a lot of travel and she was in a plane several times a month.

“Here,” she said, as she handed me two little pills. “My doctor gave me these to help me relax on flights. They aren’t addictive, and they really work.”

I know that you’re not supposed to take things from strangers, unidentified drugs being near the top of the list, but I popped them down as soon as she held them out.

I assumed that whatever she gave me was working immediately, and in a matter of minutes we were talking and the panic started to release its grip.

When we landed, I thanked her for the help and we went our own ways. It wasn’t until the shuttle ride from the airport to my vehicle that I realized it wasn’t the pills that helped me handle the flight.

It was the compassion and understanding of a stranger that got me through a tough time. Because on that final drive, the pills must have kicked in, and I was knocked out for 2 hours in my pickup before I could drive home.

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