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To the Woman Who Helped Me While I Was Having a Mental Meltdown at the Airport

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For most of my life, I lived with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I was finally diagnosed when I had a psychiatric hospitalization in February of 2010. At that same time, my older brother was stationed in Honolulu, and two months after my hospitalization — the lowest point I’d ever been — I had the chance to visit him in Hawaii. As a girl who was literally born on a bayou of 2,400 people, I never believed I would have a chance to fly over the Pacific to Hawaii — so of course I would go!

• What is Bipolar disorder?

There was a tiny little catch which was that, while there, I would be babysitting my nephews, who were 5 and 2 years old at the time, and I would be tasked with flying back home with them to the South after our trip. No big deal. I would’ve done anything to go to Hawaii.

The island was beautiful and life-changing; however, the four of us were staying in a studio apartment on the 30th floor. The kids didn’t really have anywhere to run around or play, so this led to some pent up energy and frustration in the kids. And in me. But I was bouncing back, fresh in reality with about 20 therapy sessions since my breakdown and new medications that were working. I thought I could deal with anything.

The trip went well, and then came our day to fly home. We said a tearful goodbye to my brother and waited for our time to board.

We were on the plane for about 15 minutes — I had the boys set up with a movie and headphones and blankets — when they announced there was some trouble, and we’d have a delayed take-off. Half an hour after that, they announced there was a serious problem and everyone had to get off the plane. They said we would have at least an hour delay. We got off the plane, were then told we’d be delayed indefinitely, and were given vouchers for food and drink for each passenger.

At this point, I was more annoyed than stressed out. But as soon as we got off the plane and back into the airport, the kids started doing what kids do best — being wild. The older one was arguing with me, the littler one needed a diaper change and we were all hungry and thirsty. Then came the hyperactivity, and both kids were literally running circles around me. I just let them because there was nothing else for them to do, and it kept them occupied. But then it happened. A plane had just come in and the passengers were walking past us to go enjoy Honolulu when one man looked at the kids and me and simply said, “Too much sugar,” with an ignorant smirk on his face, like he knew everything about everything.

Burning hot rage filled my whole body. This man had no idea what our situation was, he had no idea what I’d fed them, how little they’d slept, how they’d been pent up for the last two weeks. Since the boys were with me, I had to keep my cool and not yell profanities at this man, which meant internalizing his comment, and that just made the whole world fall down on me. I began sobbing. Sobbing and sobbing while these kids ran in a circle around me.

I contacted my mom and brother to let them know the situation. My brother said he could come back to the airport to help with the boys, but it would be a little over an hour. Another hour of this. More tears. After my hospitalization, I stopped holding my tears back because holding them in is what got me there.

Now, this lady must have been watching us and had seen the growing panic attack on my face because she just walked up to me and said, “Do you need some help?” Sobbing, I cried, “Yes!” And she asked me what I needed. Trusting this stranger, I gave her our vouchers from the airline to get us some water and snacks so I could take the kids to the restroom. By the time she came back with our beverages, the boys had calmed down a little, and I had calmed down a little, although I was still noticeably frazzled and spread thin.

The boys enjoyed their snacks and sitting on the floor while this lady kept my thoughts light and off of our airplane situation. Even when my brother got there and took the kids to walk around the airport, she still stayed with me and talked to me about her life and things she enjoyed. At one point, she asked if she could pray over me, and even though I’m a non-theist, I let her pray because who was I to turn down a moment of meditation?

In the end, we were delayed for five hours, and this kind woman didn’t leave my side except to help us out. I thanked her numerous times, and I could never thank her enough for the help and kindness she showed us that day. I will never forget her, and I wish I knew her name, so I could find her and tell her “thank you” again.

So, the next time you see someone in public — like at the airport or mall or bank or restaurant — having a meltdown, try to muster up a little courage and a few seconds to just say, “Do you need any help?” Even if they don’t accept your offer, you still will have shown them a kindness I know I would remember forever, and they probably would, too.

Getty Images photo via BSPC

Originally published: February 19, 2018
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