First Solo

There’s a term in aviation that all pilots know well called the first solo. It’s when a new pilot completes a takeoff, short flight and safe landing, all by him or herself, for the very first time. It’s basically the aviation equivalent of losing your virginity. You kinda line the aeroplane up with the strip, take your best aim and hope the landing doesn’t hurt too much. It’s something you never ever forget (no matter how much you might want to). For a pilot it is a very special, sacred even, moment.

I’d no idea I would be doing my first solo the day that I did. My instructor hadn’t given the slightest indication that he thought I was ready. He simply briefed me to taxi back to the same spot once I was done, then told me “Godspeed old chap,” and closed the cockpit door behind him – leaving me completely befuddled as I taxied gingerly to the runway threshold. Then, without thinking about it, I set maximum thrust and took off, all by myself.

It was, without a doubt, one of single most exhilarating moments of my aviation career. One of those rare moments of pure ecstasy, like you’re on top of the world. I felt invincible. That was, at least, until I was flying back when I looked down at the runway and it dawned on me, ‘shit I’ve got to land this thing!’ My exact thought at this point was, ‘Fuck,’ repeated several times in quick succession.

Anyway ladies and gentlemen, I bring this up because, right now, I feel like this very post is my blogging first solo. And to be brutally honest with you all – I’m petrified. I have the same feeling I did when I stared down at that runway just over eleven years ago now. The same dawning realisation that I have to do this all by myself. That same sinking feeling – like I’ve missed a crucial part of my training. 

I should say this isn’t the first post I’ve done for PO. Troy and Bogdan had the foresight to test run one of my pieces a short while back – Why Crying Like A Little Girl Is The Manliest Thing You Can Do. (Which, incidentally, seems particularly pertinent given I feel like crying myself to sleep every night at the moment.) It’s just that this time they’ve given me the keys and closed the cockpit door behind them.

“Godspeed old chap,” they said.

Godspeed.

Yet I’ve only been playing with my own poky…  blog for half a year now. In that time I’ve amassed a meagre total of just over 300 followers. Now here I am, writing for a blog with nearly 16,000!

Is that right? 

Yep.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

And so I apologise dear readers if all this feels a bit awkward or if my delivery isn’t the smoothest. I’m sure that with time, I’ll be able to the hit the right spot. But you’ll have to bear with me – I am working with rather limited equipment, at least (ahem), linguistically speaking.

Anyway there’s no doubt that I want to be here. That I want to engage with as many wonderful, like-minded people who share in what is such a wonderful community here on WordPress. I believe this will undoubtedly help me grow as both a person and a writer. Which is why when I saw Troy’s ad to say they were looking for writers I was chomping at the bit. And before I circle back to my story, to bring this post home, let me take this moment to say how extremely grateful I am to him and the rest of the team here at PO for welcoming me on-board! 

However unlike the average person who feel pride and confidence when they achieve something, I feel nothing but relief that I didn’t fuck it up. A bit like when a captain tells me that was a nice landing (or not) after we’ve taxied off the runway, that’s the moment I realise it’s ok to exhale. 

So after my brief moment of joy the other day when I found out the news, my mind, just like it did all those years ago when staring down at the runway, expedited itself into the warm and cosy rabbit-hole of crippling self-doubt.

‘There’s no way I’m good enough to blog on PO. Everyone is going to realise that I don’t belong here. The writers here are all established – Linguistic PHD students, English professors and the like. They also seem to use this thing called discretion. I’m just a pilot with a shockingly poor grasp of the only language I know. I mean, what the fuck should I write about anyhow? What should I make my first post about? Should I make it about me and all my problems seen as no one cares or asked? Great idea!’

Then it occurred to me, I was pointlessly overthinking about what I should write for a blog called pointless overthinking. That at least made me chuckle. Then, just like I did following my mild panic attack all those years ago, I took several big breathes and thought to myself – maybe, just maybe, I’ll feel at home here after all. That maybe, just maybe, I can pull off this landing.

Thank you so much for reading everyone. I want to ask you what scary first time experiences you’ve had? How did it go? Was it unbearably awkward? Or was it, in fact, not nearly as bad as you thought it would be? Was it maybe even, rather pleasant? How did you deal with nerves? Also if you have any other feedback or remarks please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below. Just be gentle – it’s my first time after all.

To my regular readers: This was my first ‘offcial’ post for pointless overthinking. I wanted to share it with you all here on my blog and to let you know I will be writing a weekly post for them going forward. For those who haven’t checked it out I highly recommend heading over there and taking a look (link at the bottom). It’s run by a team of wonderful writers, professionals, thinkers and the like that I am honoured to now be a part of.

***

You can see more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

Motivational Mondays – 27/07/20

Hello fine readers and welcome to my Motivational Mondays Post – a weekly newsletter that attempts to rewrite the narrative Mondays are the most depressing day of the week. (Or at least start it off in a slightly better fashion.)

Following a 4:3:2:1 approach, it contains 4 exceptional thoughts from me (ha), 3 admittedly better quotes from others, and 2 things I’ve been reading and/or listening to this week that have helped me grow

As always I’ve finished with 1 something silly to hopefully make you all smile. 

Love to all X

(To my lovely readers: If you have any suggestions, thoughts or ideas about today’s weekly post I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the bottom. Thank you all so much for reading.)


4 x Thoughts From Me:

Try not to simply think outside the box, but destroy it entirely. 

The need to be right is the ego equivalent of being on crack. It’s both extremely addictive and extremely damaging. 

Consider thinking less about making money and more about making friends. They can help you in a way that money can’t. How do you make the very best kind of friends? By helping others as a matter of course. 

Maybe we’ve got the order wrong. After school we tell our kids to go straight into university and then straight into a career. At which point so many of us wake up and realise we should have done something else entirely. What if, after school, we sent our children out into the real world so they can experience what it’s really like. To spend a few years getting by on minimum wage or doing volunteer work. To understand what it is to truly struggle. What if we gave them that sort of education first and then asked them what they want their life to be about?


3 x Quotes From Others:

“An eye for an eye will only make the world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi

“The important thing is not what we write but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously.” – James Joyce

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” – Søren Kierkegaard


2 x Things That Helped Me Grow

1 – This fascinating intelligence squared podcast episode –Sex Robots & Vegan Meat, with Jenny Kleeman and Carl Miller. In this episode award-winning journalist Jenny Kleeman discuses the unintended consequences future technologies might have for us in our quest to have the perfect sex, the perfect food, the perfect birth and the perfect death.

MY PERSONAL NOTES AND QUOTES:

  • Sex Robots – “One person’s bright future is another person’s dystopia.”
  • Abyss creations is a multi millions dollar business that makes hyper realistic silicone dolls to have sex with. The man behind it is now introducing animatronics to the dolls to make them as human as possible. Moving towards becoming a companion as much as just a sex robot. 
  • The implications? Claim to be doing this for the lonely – those who have no chance at a real relationship. On the flip side it’s those people who might really need real human contact. Will this really help them?
  • For me the much bigger problem is that people will be able to have relationships where only what they want matters. When you have this sort of relationship where only one side is ever satisfied – real relationships in the real world are going to feel a lot more like hard work. 
  • Vegan meat – “We shut our eyes when we open our mouth.”
  • We know animals often live horrible lives to become our meat. They cause cancer and heart disease. They are a massive contributor to green house gas emissions. Yet it’s still not enough to prevent most of us from eating it. However if we carry on like this we are going to cause our own extinction. Something has to give. 
  • 2 directions we can go. 1 is to eat less meat. The other is to eat the same amount of meat but in another way. 
  • Many tech giants are looking at the second option of growing meat in laboratories. This is different to plant based meats such as impossible burger or beyond meat. What they do is take a culture from a live animal without killing it and then replicate the cells to grow meat. 
  • It’s based on the premise that the ethical argument for eating meat has failed. (As it so often does). It’s better to tell people to eat certain kinds of meat that are better for the environment.
  • Birth – “It was far easier to find people to say on the record they would like to have sex with a robot than it was to find someone say they would like to gestate a baby in a bag.”
  • Using artificial wombs to gestate a baby. Referred to as ectogenesis. The motivation is to improve outcomes for premature babies whereby you can place them back into an artificial womb till they are ready to come out instead of trying to keep them alive in an incubator. 
  • The invention is called the bio bag. It’s like a zip lock bag which they fill with man made amniotic fluid and a cord that attaches to the umbilical cord to oxygenate blood and get rid of carbon dioxide (They had very successful results with lambs back in 2017).
  • The scarier implications are if governments start deciding whether a mother can be trusted to gestate her own baby. Although it could be looked at as a great equaliser. Both sexes just supply what’s needed and the women don’t have to suffer in their careers as a result. 
  • However I feel this “weakness” that we have is something that men unequivocally don’t have. To harbour and carry life. It’s also a source of strength. The essence of what it means to be a women. I think if we give this up it may actually be more beneficial to men than to women. Even in the most misogynistic societies women are respected for their ability to give life.
  • These inventions are going to exist either way. It is up to us as to whether we buy them or not. 
  • The question to ask is do we really need this technology or do we already have the answers?
  • I found it empowering to realise that we already have the power in our hands. It’s just that it’s going to be harder work than just buying for something. But isn’t that what will make us stronger? 

2 – This fantastic TEDxFolkestone Talk with Tim Box on the importance of having anxiety and how to stop feeling anxious about anxiety. “What would the world look like if no one had anxiety? The truth is that anxiety is a necessary emotion that helps steer us towards happiness. I would like to explore what a world without anxiety would look like, and why that isn’t necessarily a good thing. How there are only two types of people free from anxiety; psychopaths and the dead.” If you struggle with anxiety the following is well worth your time:


1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:

I’m struggling for a good story this week folks so instead I’m gonna leave you with the following meme that sums up my feelings about racism and prejudice.


Till next week…

Have a Happy Fucking Monday Everybody!

P.S. Don’t forget to exercise your silly muscle this week!

One bonus question for you all:

Is it better to live as a coward or die as a hero?


PREVIOUS MONDAY POSTS:

Motivational Mondays – 20/07/20

Motivational Mondays – 13/07/20

Motivational Mondays – 06/07/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 29/06/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 22/06/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 15/06/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 08/06/20

Happy Silly Mondays – 25/05/20

Happy Silly Mondays – 18/05/20

Happy Silly Mondays – 11/05/20

A C.L.E.A.R. Model For Problem Solving In Everyday Life.

Are you lacking direction in life?

Not sure which way you should turn?

Do you have a big problem with no idea how to proceed?

Like whether you should quit the job you hate?

Or perhaps you’ve lost your job and have no idea what the hell you should do next?

Maybe you’re simply having a bit of trouble processing difficult emotions?

Whatever it is, my fine readers, fear not – for I have something that can help you formulate the ultimate solution (no promises)!

Introducing the CLEAR model! An outstanding structured approach for decision making and problem solving in everyday life!!!

(Is it just me or did that sound like a 90’s television commercial?)

Let’s get into it.

The CLEAR model stands for:

C – Clarify what the problem is.
L – Look for information and ideas.
E – Evaluate options.
A – Act on your decision.
R – Review how it is working.

Simple yet elegant I think you’ll agree.

Wherever did you come up with such a brilliant formula?

A great question Bob, thank you for asking.

The answer is I stole it of course!

As pilots we are taught it as a way to deal with problems we may encounter outside our normal day-to-day operations.

It achieves this by providing a series of defined steps that we can work through in order to (hopefully) achieve a safe outcome.

As the brain is a single channel processor that can only do one thing at a time (yes multi-tasking is a myth), this helps prevents it from being overloaded during periods of high stress and/or workload.

And I think we can all agree that it’s a time of high fucking stress Bob (if not workload)!

The problem with high levels of stress is it may overload your very simple single channel processor (I know it does mine), which can result in one or more of the following:

1 – Tunnel vision (or fixation) – focusing on one input to the exclusion of other vital data.

2 – Unconscious rejection of conflicting data.

3 – Slowing down of your decision making or, in the extreme, inability to make any decisions at all.

4- Impulsiveness – the desire to restore control makes you leap into action too early.

I think you’ll agree those aren’t very helpful responses Bob, especially for pilots.

But why exactly do you think a model designed for flight crew to problem solve on the flight deck of an aeroplane would be of any use to me in my normal day to day life?

Another great question Bob!

I asked myself the exact same one and let me tell you the answer I came up with:

Why not?

But don’t just take my word for it Bob, let’s examine a working example completely unrelated to the realm of aviation.

Let’s examine how we might apply the CLEAR model to someone who is dealing with depression and/or anxiety – hardly the sort of problem flight crew look at solving on a aeroplane I think you’ll agree Bob!

THE CLEAR MODEL AS APPLIED TO DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY:

1 – CLARIFY

People who are depressed will often state I am depressed or I am anxious. However no one is depression, no one is anxiety. These are merely things one experiences.

One of the big problems so many people with mental health issues have is this kind of identification. They believe it is part of who they are. But this isn’t true.

Already we can see the importance of clarifying the problem.

A much more accurate thing to say would be, ‘I am currently experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ This is a very significant shift in terminology that can help you to step back from your emotions.

If you want to go a step further by introducing some deep Buddhist wisdom (and I know you do bob) you might say in third person, ‘James is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ So as to introduce the idea (and reality) that you are not your ego. The I is not me. (Wow, my simple single processor is on fire!)

Anyway we could go on about how to properly clarify the problem but I don’t want to bore you Bob. At any rate, I think you’ll agree, we’re off to a winning start!

Let’s continue.

2 – LOOK

Observe. Simply be with whatever it is that is arising. Obviously this will work best if you can find somewhere quiet to sit without distraction. (Yes Bob, that means you’ll need to put away your phone.)

Once you have, be sure to take a few deep breaths and settle yourself. Maybe run through a quick body scan – place your hand on your heart if that helps – and then simply sit and observe.

Remember you’re not trying to achieve anything at this stage. You’re simply trying to observe what is going on from moment to moment. Run through your five senses if that helps. Use this time to gather information about what your emotions really feel like within the body.

If a thought arises, simply note it then come back to feeling your bodily sensations. Ultimately you want to go toward your negative emotions so you can observe them in fine detail.

Don’t resist them bob! Trust me.

This won’t be easy of course, especially if you’re new to the game of meditation but I promise you the long term benefits of having such a practise whenever faced with difficult emotions will pay off handsomely.

Anyway I’m sure you don’t need me to run through a meditation routine with you on here. You get the point Bob. Sit and look.

Next.

3 – EVALUTE

This is the part of the session where we introduce some curiosity. Maybe you can ask some questions such as,

What triggered my emotional state today?

What was it that caused my reaction?

What false belief or narrative are driving these feelings?

Moreover what emotions am I trying to avoid that I need to feel?

What are those feelings trying to tell me that I don’t understand?

After asking these question sit back and see what arises. I find this kind of exercise extremely useful for deriving insight whenever I have a reaction to something I don’t fully comprehend.

There are of course many different kinds of meditation practises you could apply to dealing with such emotional states but once agin I don’t want to bore you Bob.

Moving on.

4 – ACT

Now this will depend on what responses you derived from part 3 of this exceptional CLEAR model and how bad you suffer from said emotional problems.

It goes without saying that the most obvious thing to do if suffering from any kind of depression or mental health issue is to seek professional help.

Are you a therapist bob? No?

Worth a shot.

Anyway the next best thing, if you can’t afford a therapist or don’t feel you’re ready to face your demons yet (I won’t judge – it took my simple single processor a long time to pluck up the courage and ask for the help I needed) is to talk to your loved ones.

You’re not burdening them by opening up. If they love you they’ll want to know. Trust me Bob. It burdens them more not knowing.

Aside from those very obvious actions the next thing you can do is practise self-compassion. Place your hand on your heart and tell yourself, it’s ok. I’m here for you. Let me feel you. Whatever kind language speaks or works for you.

It’s important to state that you don’t fight depression or anxiety (contrary to what so many toxic positivity blogs tell you). You’re meant to accept it.

As Carl Rogers once said,

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Moving on.

5 – REVIEW

This brings us to the final part of this most astonishing CLEAR model. Review or reflect.

Some questions you might consider:

How did that work out?

What can I add to the practise next time that might help me?

Maybe I can add journalling as a way to write down what arises during such a practise?

Am I still suffering from the same issues and thought patterns that I have for years on end?

If that last one is true then maybe it’s time to concede that you really do need professional help. I strongly encourage all with such issues to do exactly that. At the end of the day all these tools are helpful at managing your mental health but if you have some deeper issues it’s imperative you seek the professional help you need. There is absolutely no shame in this. Remember it is never too late to get the help you need. Never.

That’s all from me today Bob.

I hope this helped.

(Once again fine readers thank you so much for hearing me out. Applying tools from my professional life to other areas such as mental health and vice versa had been of enormous benefit to me which I why I wanted to share this idea with you today. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section below. Maybe give it a go and apply it to a different problem then let me know how you get on? Otherwise if you know of any other problem solving type acronyms I’d love to hear them as well. I’m a sucker for a good acronym! As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog.)


SOURCES:

http://aviationknowledge.wikidot.com/aviation:clear

MENTAL HEALTH HOTLINES/WEBSITES:

HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD

https://www.befrienders.org

https://www.samaritans.org

https://www.who.int/mental_health/en/

If Honesty Isn’t The Value We Look For In Our Leaders Then What Does That Say About Us?

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Hannah Arendt from her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Let’s not blame each other.

Let’s not point the finger.

Let us all for a moment drop the habits that prevent us from learning and accessing the truth.

But let’s pause for a second and consider the wake of our recent choices. 

As we all reel in the wake of yet another tragic black death. A pandemic for which we were woefully unprepared. As we sit on the precipice of an impending climatic catastrophe that we have all had the time in which to make the changes necessary to prevent (or at least significantly stem). We must ask ourselves, how we as a generation became so lost?

When did we stop valuing the truth?

Why did being right become so important?

How did being wrong become so unbearable? 

When we voted in men we know lied to obtain their positions, what were we really saying? 

Did we vote in the way we did because we refused to acknowledge our previous mistakes?

Will we vote the same way because we don’t have the balls to admit we were wrong?

Let me be more blunt.

What the shitting fuck has happened that we allow a man who almost only talks in complete bullshit to remain in office? Who is actively and openly preventing others from accessing the truth?

What the fuck has happened to our values?

When did freedom of speech become the freedom to lie your fucking ass off without repercussion? 

You know that boy who cried wolf – who caused the death of all those villagers? Shall we vote him into power?

Great fucking idea.

Should we protect freedom of speech? Yes, of course we should. We should even protect the right to lie. But to allow people – the president of the United States none the fucking less – to lie without consequence?

What the fuck are we teaching our children?

How can we as a democratic society be ok with a man who actively seeks to prevent people from accessing the truth? This is a heinous crime.

I’m sorry for my anger and I’m sorry if you’re offended, but the truth is far more important than your ego. Actually I’m not sorry, fuck your ego. (I say that with love. I really do.)

To ask difficult questions means to confront some difficult truths.

Here are a few.

Democracy isn’t failing. 

We have. 

It’s not the republicans or the democrats fault. It’s not the presidents fault. 

It’s our fault. 

We together are all responsible. Regardless of whether you voted for that man or not. 

Somewhere along the way we stopped trying to understand the other and it became a game of us against them.

In that moment we all lost.

That policeman who killed George Floyd. Who do you think is responsible for his death?

We. All. Are.   

None of our hands are clean.

So long as we continue on our path of accumulating wealth while others starve.

So long as we continue to rape the planet will while we sit eating imported steak dinners simultaneously discussing how bad it is for the environment then joking how delicious it is.

So long as we sit quietly while someone with strong opinions talks about how our Black/Hispanic/Chinese/Female coworkers are less able. You know, the type of person who opens a sentence by saying, “I’m not racist but… I’m about to say something very fucking racist.

So long as we continue to think in terms of us vs them instead of a collective we. So long as we keep looking at each other as the enemy. So long as we allow those who we hate to be people we hate. We’ve lost.

I’m ashamed to say I’m guilty of all theses things.  

You’re a hypocrite then?  Is that what you’re telling us?

Yes. Yes I am. Absolutely. Both hands in the air. 

I’m a pampered middle class white man who has enjoyed the privilege without even knowing it. My ignorance has been a disease. In no small way the colour of my skin has been an advantage that allowed me to succeed ahead of others who I’ve no doubt are more qualified, more intelligent and harder worker than I will ever be. All because I’m white and they’re not.

You know what. I don’t welcome it. It’s made me weak and I don’t welcome it. I honestly don’t welcome the easy life I’ve had. 

I want a level playing field. And on it I want to compete with all my brothers and sisters regardless of background, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference. I want to embrace them at the end. Win, lose or draw. I want them to challenge me – to be able to really challenge me, so I can grow.

Do you think the athletic world benefited from allowing black people to openly compete with white people? Of course it did. Why the fuck don’t we think that true equality wouldn’t benefit us all? Of course it fucking will.

It will make ALL OF US STRONGER. 

You see what we did when we marginalised and made groups of people unable to compete with us on the same level playing field? We made ourselves weaker. We made ourselves weaker because we made it easier for us by making it impossible for others.

Now we’re so fucking weak that equality feels like a burden. It feels like sharing wealth and opportunity is an affront to our being. 

I’m wrong. My way of living is wrong. I’m so far from what is right it hurts. But you know what. I’m willing to admit it. Are you? 

Are you willing to say I’m wrong or is your ego too fucking precious? We should all be encouraging each other everyday to openly say I am wrong and ask the question, how can I be less so?

Quite frankly if you don’t have the balls to admit you’re wrong, you’re a coward. 

Is this making you uncomfortable? I hope so. It’s making me uncomfortable. Which is why I know it’s where I must go. If you’re uncomfortable it’s because I’m challenging your beliefs.

THATS A GOOD THING EVEN IF IM WRONG.

Let’s have the discussion. Let’s have the conversation. Let’s try to understand each other. Let’s move closer together. 

And let’s stop giving power to those who aren’t willing to do the same.

Please, I bet of you, for our children’s sake. Let’s value our fucking values again. 

(As always I welcome ALL comments and opinions. This is just me venting. Please don’t think I would ever direct that at you. I’m simply trying to get myself to wake up to the ways I can be better.)

How My Worst Landing As A Pilot Came To Define Me As A Person (Plus Some Advice On Dealing With Anxiety, Depression and PTSD)

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to land a commercial jet?

As you’ve travelled somewhere excitedly looking out of the passenger window and thought what the view is like from the front as you come into land?

Well I can tell you, on a good day, it’s truly exhilarating.

To safely bring one of those big birds back to earth. Gliding onto the tarmac with some 300 passengers behind you. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. 

On a bad day, however, it can be more of a poo-your-pants kinda feeling. Or, to put it another way, it can be shit scary!

The following is a story about a particularly bad day ‘at the office’ for me. A story of my most traumatic experience as a young pilot. One that took me some time to recover from.

That said, it is one I now look back on as a defining moment in my career. One that led me to seek the help I needed and shape me into the man I am today. I’m not only a better pilot because of it, I’m a better person.

Before I continue I want to first say, I don’t mean to scare anyone with the following account – especially those who might already have a fear of flying (maybe stop reading now if you do) – but only to talk openly and honestly about what was a fairly traumatic experience for me in the interest of raising awareness around PTSD.

I also want to talk about how I coped afterwards in the interest of helping others who might have suffered similarly and might be looking for some guidance. 

I hope you find this helpful.

Anyway, allow me to start with the story. Deep breathes everyone, here we go…

(I’m going to try to avoid using too much aviation jargon but will leave links attached for certain phrases in case any of you are unsure of the meaning)


The Story Of My Most Traumatic Experience As A Pilot

As we flew back to Hong Kong over the South China Sea I reflected on how the day had gone. I was pleased. We had flown to Kuala Lumpur without incident during which I managed a challenging approach followed by a decent landing. It was still early days during my Junior First Officer training and my landings had been less than consistent, so this was something of a relief for me. Still, I couldn’t help but doubt myself when thinking about our approach into Hong Kong. I tired to shake it off as we set up for the arrival.

I should say the idea of safely landing a passenger plane based on my skill alone was somewhat daunting for me at the time, especially given it was only my sixth sector ever as the pilot flying a jet (an Airbus A330 for any interested parties) with passengers aboard. I’d also spent the 3 years previous watching on as a Second Officer – without doing any hand flying except occasionally in the simulator – wondering if I was capable. Looking back I realise that I didn’t really believe it. What I’d done by constantly asking the question was reinforce the idea that I wasn’t. As so often comes up in the story about my past the big issue for me had nothing to do with capability, but self-belief.

The weather into Hong Kong was benign except for the wind that was coming from the south (which can mean the possibility of mechanical turbulence from the winds passing over the hills and buildings to the south of the runway, especially near the threshold of 25R – our arrival runway that day).

After briefing the arrival we started our descent. ATC told us to take up the hold while they dealt with the many arrivals typical that time of the day. I began to feel the butterflies build.

As we slowly descended in the hold, the Captain mentioned noticing how I was frequently wiping my hands on my trousers. He told me how Captains tend to notice these kinds of nervous ticks. I didn’t know what to say. I thought about how such a comment was suppose to help?! I knew I was nervous. I wasn’t trying to hide it. Anyway, was it not normal given I was still learning how to fly the damn thing?! I kept quiet and tried to focus on the task at hand.

When we finally joined final approach, my nerves worsened. I tired my best to ignore them but the butterflies were in overdrive. I began to wipe my increasingly sweaty hands with greater frequency – now acutely aware every time I did so! I told myself to breathe. We took the gear down followed by our final flaps. I then asked for the landing check list. Shortly afterwards we were cleared to land. 

It was crunch time. 

As I took the autopilot out, I felt the mechanical turbulence rock the plane. I tried my best to keep my scan going but had a habit of looking down at my PFD (Primary Flight Display) instead of outside. (As part of our scan we should be alternating between both, slowly increasing the amount of time looking outside as we get closer to the runway. Eventually you should be completely ‘heads up’ – only looking outside while the other pilot (the pilot monitoring) continues to monitor the instruments. I had a habit of fixating on the screen (PFD) a little too much instead of looking outside (Not uncommon for trainee pilots)).

When we passed over the threshold a positive wind change caused the aircraft to ballon slightly. At this stage I was looking up but had left it too late to get an adequate picture of what was going on. Instead of counteracting the ballooning effect by pushing the nose down, I did the opposite. In my nervous haste, with the runway growing bigger, I pitched the nose up, flaring way too early.

Then I froze. 

Everything within my field of vision seemed to fade away and all I could feel was an overwhelming sinking feeling. Like my whole being was collapsing in on itself at the pit of my stomach. 

I didn’t know what to do.

We floated and floated, for what felt like an eternity, well beyond our desired touchdown zone, as we hovered above the runway. 

The next thing I remember hearing was the captain announcing, “I have control.” He placed his hands on the thrust levers driving them fully forward to select maximum (TOGA) thrust. It took a while for the jet engines to spool up before we got the proverbial ‘kick up the ass’ and climbed away. When we eventually did the captain then announced, “Go-around, flaps.” 

The rest is a blur. 

I remember cleaning up the aircraft – retracting the flaps and gear as per our standard operating procedures during a go-around (an aborted approach to landing) – but little else except for how I felt. 

What it felt like was the whole world had fallen apart. That my worst fears had been confirmed – that I wasn’t capable and didn’t belong in an aeroplane, let alone one with 300 passengers – and that my lack of ability was responsible for nearly having an accident. (To give you an idea of the dramatisation going on inside my head – the Training Captain was always in control of the situation.)

To reassure you lovely readers, while It is rare for a go-around to happen because of a botched landing, it does happen. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. It would be more alarming had we tired to continue with the landing. To explain, for those who don’t know, a go-around (an aborted approach) is a standard and very safe option available to us at any time during the approach should we elect discontinuing to be the safest course of action. In this case, as we had floated so far down the runway, flying away instead of landing and trying to stop on the limited amount of runway length left available was the safest option. (That didn’t stop it from shattering my ego of course.) I would also stress that this was during my training. Like any skill it takes a while to get the hang of it. Flying is no different. It’s also not uncommon for Training Captains to take control or help via a dual input (the Captain acts on the controls from his seat on the lefthand side of the cockpit at the same time as the pilot flying in the righthand seat does) when teaching inexperienced pilots to fly on a new aircraft type.

As we flew back around for a second approach, the captain asked if I was ok. I shook it off as best I could given the circumstances and declared confidently that I was. I can tell you now, I was not!

The second approach to landing happened quickly as ATC gave us priority to join final approach. I don’t remember much else except for the landing that was long as once again I flared too early. This time the Captain helped to bring the plane down safely by adding a dual input before we plonked onto the runway. A graceful landing, it was not!

As we taxied off the runway and to our parking bay I felt like the smallest person in the world.

The debrief afterwards was hard to take. The Captain tried his best to reassure me and get me to see the bigger picture – what a valuable learning experience this was, etc. – but all I wanted to do was go into hiding. To runaway, crawl under a rock and never come back out.

When I made my way from work on the train home, I remember reliving it over and over again in my head. I kept wondering what the hell had happened? How had it come to this? I couldn’t make sense of it. My initial base training (where trainees fly circuits at a remote airfield without passengers boarded before flying commercially) had gone so well. I had felt so confident but now it felt like I’d fallen into the abyss. I knew it was going to take everything to climb back up. It was everything I didn’t believe I had. .


Dealing With The Aftermath And How I Eventually Overcame My Inner Demons

That evening I’d made plans to have dinner with my parents. When I arrived at their apartment I explained to them what had happened. I didn’t realise at the time just how important it was to simply talk. How getting those words out in the open immediately lessened the power they’d had over me, trapped inside my head. Had I gone home that evening my natural inclination would have been to lock myself away. I know this would have definitely made things worse.

One big problem I’ve always had is talking openly about my problems. Instead my defence has long been to withdraw inward – something I picked up from years of being bullied as an adolescent.

Instead my parents were there to pick me up when I needed it most. They helped me to see how it was something from which I would learn and grow. Something for which I would one day look back on be truly grateful. It was difficult to see at the time but they were, of course, right.

It’s for this reason I strongly believe having people in your life that you can talk to openly and honestly is something we all need.

Still this was only the beginning of a long road to recovery for me. To give you a little more background, my problems extended well beyond the event itself. I had deeper issues to do with low self esteem yet to work through – inner demons that undoubtedly contributed to what happened that day. Although I did eventually seek the help I needed, it took a long time to find the courage to do so. I dreaded going to work. I worried incessantly during my spare time. When I was at work I became especially nervous about performing landings. I remember feeling my heart beat so hard I thought it was going to come out of my chest! I regularly thought about throwing in the towel and giving up. Yet I didn’t. I kept going, against all the will in my being, something inside me wasn’t prepared to let this event define me like that. That this time I wouldn’t let it end in failure.

(Again I want to reassure you lovely readers that I did seek help for PTSD following what happened – however the help I’m referring to above relates to the larger issues I had with both anxiety and depression that long preceded this event. In both cases when I did seek professional help, it was never their opinion that I needed any form medication or that I was a danger to myself or others or that I should stop flying. Had they thought so, they had the power to ground me. Before you jump on my back for continuing to fly despite suffered from mental illness, I want you to know I never believed my issues were so bad I couldn’t perform my duties. I’m confiding in you all now partly because I believe there is still a very unhealthy stigma surrounding mental illness – especially in aviation – where such topics are still strictly taboo despite the crucial need to talk about them!)

Ultimately it was getting back in the seat and facing my demons head on that allowed me to overcome them.

I managed to overcome my fears by proving to myself I was more than capable. Little by little, flight by flight, landing by landing, the anxiety that gripped my heart began to loosen. I went on to complete my Junior First Officer training and then First Officer upgrade the first time of asking and to a very good standard, with no other hiccups along the way. Following that I flew for years around the region with so much exposure that landing the plane became second nature.

Still, there was a feeling that wouldn’t go away. A feeling that continued to plague me. A feeling that I knew if I didn’t face, it would continue to plague me for the rest of my life. I put it off, out of fear, for as long as I could. Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer. I reached out and finally got the help I knew in my heart I’d needed all along.

When I did everything changed for me. I can honestly say I don’t suffer from depression or PTSD anymore. I’m still working through some issues regarding anxiety but even that has lost its hold over me.

It’s for this reason I will always be a voice for encouraging others, especially for anyone who is reading and has suffered from any sort of trauma or mental illness, to ask for the help they need.

I can tell you from experience that that later you leave it the harder it is to solve.

That said, it’s never too late to get the help you need. Never. And solve it you can.

I really hope I can inspire others who may have difficulty getting the help they need, to find the courage to do so. To come out and talk about their problems openly and to know that there is no shame in this whatsoever. Whether talking to a professional, friends and family or simply leaving a comment here – we all need to be having far more of these awkward discussions. We are all human and part of being human is to know we can’t do it alone. Together we are stronger and together we can help one another change. However difficult the road might be for you, please know that change is always possible. It starts with talking.


Fly The Aircraft To The Ground” – Some Closing Thoughts

The day after the landing that wasn’t, I remember getting a call from work. Another senior Captain called to ask how I was and discuss a recurring problem he’d noticed when teaching Junior First Officers to fly. He said he’d noticed how many of them stopped flying after the flare. If you can nail the flare exactly this isn’t such a big issue, but if you flare early, or wind conditions cause you to land long, he’d noticed a tendency to let go even if the aircraft hadn’t landed yet. He said “you have to fly the aircraft to the ground.” 

I never forgot that advice. Not only because it was a very practical tip that summed up exactly what I hadn’t done. But it resonated with me on a deeper level.

You have to fly the aircraft to the ground.

Don’t think because you’re on final approach you can relax. Don’t think because you’re almost home you can let your guard down. You have to keep flying. You have to keep going. Keep taking responsibility for your life and your problems. Life isn’t just one big problem to solve and then you’re set. It’s a series of never ending problems for which you have to take responsibility right till the end. You have strive to stay in control. You have to believe you can deal with it. Should you get it wrong, then you need to let go of you ego and go around.

You can always go around if you don’t get it right.

There is no shame in this. Don’t be afraid to go around and try again. But try again you must. It’s up to all of us to manage our own journeys in life and to make sure we come home safely. I, for one, have ever faith that you can.


For Additional Information regarding PTSD please follow the links below:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/about-ptsd/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

Other Sources:

https://www.psycom.net/aerophobia-fear-of-flying/

https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Pilot_Flying_(PF)and_Pilot_Monitoring(PM)

https://www.airbus.com/aircraft/passenger-aircraft/a330-family.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_simulator

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_officer_(aviation)

https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Turbulence

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runway

https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Holding_Pattern

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Final_approach_(aeronautics)

https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Primary_Flight_Display_(PFD)

https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Pilot_Flying_(PF)and_Pilot_Monitoring(PM)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takeoff/Go-around_switch

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go-around

https://captainong.com/what-is-base-training-base-check-line-training-and-line-ch/

An Apology To My Heart

I’m sorry I’ve been fighting you for so long. 

I’m sorry I repressed you. 

I was taught stupid things. Stupid ways. 

I could hear you screaming and yet I pretended not to. 

I’m so sorry.

I hope you can forgive me.

I love you. I’m here for you now. 

Let me feel what you have to say. 

Let me hear you. 

Let me embrace your screams with the tenderness you seek. 

I want you to teach me what words cannot. 

What you were trying to tell me all along.

My mind was lost. 

Somewhere along the way it was misled by the noises outside.

Fear drove it into isolation.  

It thought ignoring you was best. It didn’t understand.

It couldn’t stop thinking. 

It didn’t understand that thinking was the problem. 

Please forgive us. And please be patient. We are still learning to unlearn.

Still learning to let go.

To give back the power we so foolishly stole from you. 

The habits of a lifetime might take another to break them down. But I see clearly now that this I what I must do. 

I understand now that it is you I should have trusted all along.