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When the Unexpected Happens❓

Was it easy❓

Did the unexpected trigger my functional symptoms❓

Was I able to call on my newly acquired distress tolerance skills to manage this situation❓

NO, Yes, and YES. 💯


I'd needed to choose an optimistic attitude and go slow to succeed.

The Story:


Headed to my nephew's convocation I deplaned from the Dash-8 WestJet flight, 20 minutes late and hoped beyond measure that I'd still be able to board my connecting flight to Kelowna. I'd planned and hoped to attend my nephew’s university convocation in a neighboring city. After being reunited with my stowed carry-on luggage, I ran pulling my wheeled overnight bag toward a newly announced gate. A gate, which had just changed unexpectedly.

Breathless and out of shape, I navigated my way to where I believed erringly I'd locate the nearby gate at Vancouver International Airport. Transiting moving walkways designed to help travellers traverse long distances quickly and several escalators, I wove through hallways packed with passengers criss-crossing at intersecting passage ways. It was easy to catastrophize, since I was well aware that I was 20 minutes late for my connecting flight.

What if?❓ What then❓ How could I get to my Godson's convocation now

If the gate was closed and the aircraft was already taxiing towards the runway, where would I turn? My mind raced frantically as I sprinted. Arriving at the gate I'd been completely winded. My N95 mask billowed in and out as my pulse drummed with strong attacks and rapid releases. As my heart and lungs recovered my reptilian brain registered arrival at the corrected gate; B24.

Weary, vacant eyes stared back at me as

elevated neural pathways pivoted to comprehend the situation. I'd exhaled, with a huge sigh, and asked:

"Excuse me. Have I missed my connecting flight to Kelowna?"

I hadn't, the flight had been delayed. Phewf!

My body knelt to retrieve the handle of my wheeled luggage and I was relieved, as I turned to face fellow passengers and find a seat. The waiting room had been an unimportant blur as I’d run. Now, the room I noticed was filled to overflowing with travel-weary passengers. As I scanned for an empty chair I noticed a woman who shielded her face in an unsuccessful attempt to hide reddened cheeks and puffy eyes. On-lookers, with nothing better to do than stare, wore headphones and busied themselves with headphones and screens. I weaved my way through the crush to find one of very few available single seats. Available yet otherwise occupied by jackets and luggage.

"May I sit, please"❓

I flopped down as others sought out and filled the few remaining seats. I joined the collective of individuals with nothing but time to examine the ordinary, plug in their ear buds and tune out as they stared at screens, initiated polite conversation with strangers out of sheer curiosity and shared circumstances.

Seated next to me, were two women with bronzed skin and a healthy glow. Not a common sight on Canada's west coast in mid-November. I presumed they might be mother and daughter. It turned out, they told me that they were headed home to Kelowna after a vacation in Mexico. Our delayed flight WS 3326, Vancouver – Kelowna, was our common thread. With nothing except an undetermined length of time and delayed flights in common, passengers connected.

One flight after another was announced as cancelled. Shortly thereafter, an incoming flight from Kelowna, was headed to Victoria, we learned would be cancelled. Passengers waiting to board flights to Victoria exited in a dense cloud of vented frustration.

The mother/daughter duo explained as we chatted that today, a Tuesday, was their fourth consecuitive day of waiting for a delayed flight. The previous three they'd waited hopeful that delayed flights were in-coming only to learn of unexpected cancellations.

The room collectively stilled when hundreds of passengers were silenced after hearing the tell-tale chime of the public address system. "I'm sorry to announce...."

The woman and her daughter were up and gone before anyone else correctly interpreted what the pair had known. Instructions for what to do when your flight’s been cancelled and your travel plans interrupted. They'd known and fled to proactively avoid the crush of disgruntled passengers in line to attempt flight changes.

Deflated, like popped balloons, the rest of us sat momentarily stunned. Our ears turned to ensure we heard critically important instructions. We needed to return to the baggage area, collect any checked luggage, and backtrack to check-in with airline ticketing agents in the departures area. As one, passengers bent, collected and shouldered belongings, and reversed. We'd retreated rather than flying over the Red Sea, together on a homogeneous pilgrimage toward uncertainty. Seas hadn’t parted. Gates remained locked and secured.

What next❓

We all heard the same instructions. Our reactions, responses and actions filtered through our varied languages, emotions, and mindsets. The stakes were raised, the odds stacked against us, and the hope of satisfactory outcomes seemed distant. Travellers, spread like water filtered by gravel, sand, and even smaller pieces of sediment into an alluvial fan as we navigted obstacles and crumbling canyon walls that created an alluvial fan.

Many stopped, lined up and questioned as they wandered seeking an airline concierge, clarity and reassurance and to frayed nerves. Others, self-assured swarmed hallways and escalators headed to collect stranded luggage from conveyor belts in the baggage claim area. Those of us travelling light with carry-on luggage, hustled toward the departures area and ticketing agents to inquire about back up flight options, secure accommodations while making new travel arrangements while overnighting in Vancouver. Would we arrive in time? Would we arrive on time to family celebrations, funerals or perhaps to a liason with a love interest. A singular driving force spurred us on.

Agents scrambled to create agreeable solutions for disheartened, unhappy passengers, as well as to appease angry, dissatisfied customers. Passengers stood commisurating in lines that snaked back and forth and appeared to move at the speed of a slug. Collectively, we hoped the ticket agents would be more than mere mortals. I'd needed an omniscient miracle worker.

When I finally stood on the lottery winning, ‘STAND HERE’ footprints facing one of the transparent plexiglass shields intended to safe-guard airline personnel from exhaled airborne viruses and venomous snakes.

I held my breath spellbound. My pulse skyrocketed hopeful that my prayers would take flight and answers found. Weary lids were reenergized fuelled by hopeful expectation. My desperate plea and expectant brows looked up and met a radiant face that drew out my dimples and lifted knitted brows.

“Absolutely!” The smiling flight conceirge said. They’d cover a rental vehicle for me to drive through to Kelowna in the morning and provide accomodation overnight.

With a renewed spring in my step, I bobbed and weaved between disgrunteled travellers still waiting and headed outside to where the rental car vendors stood bored waiting for their next potential customer. Thankful to be one of the first, rather than last, attempting to secure a winterized vehicle to safely navigate the treaturous winter conditions mid-November. I did indeed arrive in Kelowna the following afternoon and was able to celebrate my nephew's significant life event.

And thankfully I was able to fly home on the return trip. 🙏

When have you been able to use distress tolerance skills to support your #FND


Absolutely not. I'd needed to learn to drive an unfamiliar vehicle, navigate treacherous conditions and continuously attempt a rigid jaw as I experienced icy patches and witnessed the ditches littered with semi trailer trucks and cars that hadn't successfully made it through the mountains. I had more than my share of slips and near misses. It was T-tough.

Did the unexpected trigger my functional symptoms❓

Yes, I struggled with elevated anxiety, unanticipated rigidity, and feared that I might freeze in a difficult sitution. I prayed I'd be able to respond safely.

Did the additional stress of so many unexpected events trigger my anxiety and make me realize I'd needed to take the drive slow and easy to arrive safely❓

Yes, again❗️

I drew upon my DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) skills and particularly the STOP strategy.

What is the Stop skill in DBT?

The STOP skill stands for stop, take a step back, observe, and proceed mindfully. It is helpful to think of what we would do when approaching a stop sign to remember this acronym. For example, the first step is to literally stop. If we are stopped or frozen, we cannot act in an unhealthy manner.


For more information about using DBT Distress Tolerance Skills I recommend:


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