“If our struggles make the world a better place, they will make us better people.” – Xiye Bastida
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
MENTAL HEALTH HOTLINES/WEBSITES:
Following on from my previous post – Why Crying Like A Little Girl Is The Manliest Thing You Can Do – I want to talk a little more about how that relates to feminism.
I feel we need to be very careful about what we tell ALL children, including our young girls. To make sure the false narratives that have so visibly divided the sexes throughout history, doesn’t continue to be the narrative that writes our children’s future.
It’s a well worn discussion that bears repeating, and for that reason I’ll keep my thoughts and this post short. That said I do want to raise a point that’s maybe been missed in our attempts to rewrite the story for our future girls.
With regards to the feminist movement in particular, we need to be especially careful about how we manage its evolution.
When I think about the way in which mainstream media has started to reflect this changing narrative, I wonder if we are unwittingly going down a dangerous path.
Not because we are telling young girls to stand up for themselves more.
Not because we are telling women they’re every bit as capable as men.
Not because we are telling them to be their own heroines – not to expect that they will be saved by some bullshit knight in shining armour.
These are undeniably good things to teach our young girls in order to find greater equality going forward.
What I’m taking about is something more subtle.
The well worn narrative of what it means to be a man – macho and independent – to not need anybody’s help. Specifically that asking for help is a sign of weakness (Something I talked about at length in my previous post).
This is exactly the kind of narrative responsible for the statistic that men are 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women, despite being nearly half as likely to develop depression. For the undeniable fact that us ‘macho men’ are actually less emotionally resilient than women.
I think it’s this narrative that has put distance between many of today’s male leaders and their own hearts. It’s acting in the pretence of what society believes to be strong that is, in no small way, dividing nations and destroying our earth.
There’s nothing wrong with challenging the narrative women are less capable than men which, of course, is complete BS, but to teach our girls the same things we’ve been teaching our boys is not a smart move.
The way we teach girls to have greater emotional intelligence. To pick them up and hold them when they cry. To let them understand the importance of knowing their emotions intimately.
This is a great thing.
We need to teach and show our boys more of this. Not women less.
To teach them not to cry and be like a man, or grow a pair, so to speak, would be a disaster.
A world in which neither sex is able to properly process or access their own emotions – where girls are told ‘not to cry’ – is a world we cannot allow.
We must stop denying our children their true nature.
(As always I welcome ALL opinions and thoughts. I’m always keen for a dialogue and to be told where and in what ways I’m wrong so I may grow. Thank for taking the time to read.)
Why is it always said, he cried like a little girl?
We never say, she cried like a little boy, do we?
For that matter, we never say she cried like a little girl either.
Of course I’m forgetting that’s because it’s acceptable for girls to cry! Silly me. It’s just boys who don’t cry!
Except that’s not true, is it?
Last I checked, little boys cry too.
In fact I know it’s not true, because my two year old boy cries every single day.
And let me tell you something, he’s the happiest person I know.
The. Happiest. Person. I. Know.
It’s odd don’t you think?
How happy and peaceful children can be, yet we adults have such a hard time accessing those same emotions?
It got me thinking as to why that might be. I wondered, ‘it couldn’t be related… could it?’
Could crying, as one example of allowing ourselves to feel and process negative emotions, be exactly what we need to do in order to access positive emotions like peace and joy?
I decided to do a little research.
My first findings confirmed what I suspected – that crying from time to time, contrary to popular chauvinistic belief, is actually a pretty fucking good thing for you to do.
“Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being.”
In addition the article also noted that crying reduces stress, boosts your mood, aids sleep, fights bacteria and even improves your vision (remind me to tell some of my older pilot co-workers of this fact).
I figured it must help, but I had no idea it helped this much.
I wonder then, does this account for why we adults (and men in particular) have a much harder time accessing feelings of peace and happiness?
Do we not allow ourselves to cry enough?
Thinking about my own life it certainly makes sense.
Years of depression was a result of not allowing myself to feel exactly what I needed. After uncovering some hard truths and facing those demons head on, following months of therapy, I finally allowed myself to break down (or ‘break open’ as my therapist referred to it, which I much prefer).
It was such an enormous relief to finally let go of what I’d been fighting for so many years. Afterwards I’d felt an inner peace I’d not felt for years. I remember sleeping like a baby that night.
Now I understand the science behind why that was.
More importantly though the harmful narrative I’d clung onto for years finally began to shift. My life has been immeasurably better ever since.
Of course this wasn’t purely because I allowed myself to cry, but I do believe I’d never have been able to properly process and let go of those difficult emotions without doing so.
Recently I’ve been allowing myself to cry more often. I can tell you that’s not easy for a man who has been conditioned by society to keep him emotions under lock and key. Yet in doing so, my life is now filled with far more beauty and meaning.
I cried the other day when holding my son simply because I became aware of how precious it was while he hugged me during a quiet moment. I let myself cry in front of him. I wanted him to know that this is both a normal and healthy thing to do.
I wonder if any of you thinks this make me less of a man?
Did crying when my son was born make me less of a man? When I first held him in my arms?
Did crying on my wedding day make me less of a man? When I stood in front of all my friends and family as I read out my vows to my wife?
These were some of the happiest, most meaningful days and moments of my life.
If the answer is yes then I formally request to be a female because allowing yourself to cry, allowing yourself to feel your emotions, is what makes life beautiful. It’s what allows your difficult emotions to pass. It’s what allows you to find greater peace.
Luckily I don’t have to go through a sex change operation to allow myself to cry.
As it turns out – newsflash everyone – men can cry after all!
Not only can men cry, I found out that it doesn’t result in your life falling apart or your penis falling off.
Unbelievable news I know but completely true! I can confirm this, you see, because last I checked it’s still there.
In fact, I’ll double check now for you… Yep, still there.
Do you want to know why men cry?
Because it’s not a female thing to cry. Shock, horror… It’s actually a human thing to cry. It’s in our nature to cry.
I mean of course it is! Evolution wouldn’t have up with crying pointlessly. Think about it.
Why are we the only species on the planet to deny our nature?
This is exactly what makes us all a bunch of lunatics.
Anyway I’ve gotten away from the research that backs all these opinions up, so let me get back to it.
When I dug a little deeper for this post an extremely bizarre statistic stuck out for me like a sore thumb.
I assumed that men, being more prone to bottle up their emotions and ‘do it alone,’ would almost certainly have higher rates of depression.
Women have been found to have higher rates of depression by a factor of nearly two.
There are a number of reasons for this including gender inequality but studies suggest biological factors to be the major determinant.
At any rate, without getting sidetracked into another very important debate, that wasn’t the bit I found weird.
What I found particularly bizarre was the finding that men are three to four times more likely to take their own life than women.
Why would men be three to four times as likely to die from suicide if they are half as likely to become depressed in the first place?
Assuming my very rough maths is correct and assuming that those who commit suicide have first developed depression, then a man with depression is actually 6 to 8 times more likely to kill himself than a women who develops depression does.
Of course you have to take that with a huge amount of salt, but even so…
Talk about being a man hey? Or ‘manning the fuck up’ as some my friends might say.
Talk about the strong emotionally resilient men we have built as a society.
Clearly we’ve done a great job at giving men the tools they need to process their own emotions right?
Or maybe not.
Maybe, instead, we ought to rethink our narrative.
Maybe, just maybe, telling our boys not to cry isn’t such a smart move.
Maybe, just maybe, telling our young boys to ‘man up,’ or ‘grow a pair,’ or ‘stop being such a pussy,’ actually hurts both sexes, especially men.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to redefine what it means to be a man in the first instance.
What do you think?
I’ll tell you why I decided to bring this subject up.
I overheard someone we had hired to babysit our son tell him not to cry. It was a women, by the way, it case you were thinking it must be a man. She clearly didn’t mean any harm but I had to say something.
I asked her if she’d have said the same thing to a girl, or whether she would, in fact, have picked her up and comforted her?
I let her know how damaging I believe telling children not to cry is.
I told her that I hope my son always allows himself to cry if he feels the need and that I will never allow him to be shamed for doing so in my household.
After going away and giving it some more thought, I realised something else.
A deeper problem that many of us might have with other people crying. And how this problem can likely be attributed to telling our boys not to cry.
I suspect many of our distraction techniques aren’t about helping the child so much as a strategy by adults to avoid issues they themselves have about how crying makes them feel.
I believe it’s the adult who often has the problem, whether they are conscious of it or not.
I know whenever my child cried, early on in the weeks shortly after he was born, it brought up intense feelings for me. I felt like a failure every time I was unable to settle him. I would say, “why doesn’t he like my breastmilk as much as my wife’s?”
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself with that joke.
Seriously though, on occasions he’d cry for long periods, without successfully calming him down, I would get very angry with him (not historically an emotion I’ve had a lot of trouble with). I would get so angry that I had to leave the room. Now I was never going to hurt him, but that anger was new to me.
It felt very intense.
What quickly followed, whenever I gave up by leaving him in another room, was intense feelings of remorse.
How could I treat him like that?
How could I just abandon him in his cot when he’s crying?
Why am I taking an infant crying so personally?
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Clearly I had some serious shit to work through. Yet in a typically male way, I didn’t seek any help, didn’t talk about it, nor did I let myself cry.
I just beat myself up.
(FYI – All of these can be explained as reasons why men have a harder time dealing with depression and why they are more likely to commit suicide – see this article for more details)
It wasn’t until one day when I got home from work that I saw my son playing on the living room floor. In that moment I felt nothing but an overwhelming repulsion to get away from him. I didn’t want to be with him. I didn’t want to father my son. My gorgeous boy.
This time the remorse that came flooding up was too much. I went to the bedroom closed the door and started to cry.
I cried like a little girl.
I cried like a man.
I let myself really cry. When I was finished I remember seeing with such clarity, there was no doubt about what it was I needed to do next. I reached for the phone and spoke to someone. I finally asked for the professional help I knew I’d needed for a long time.
Crying was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
It gave me the clarity to see what I needed.
It gave me the courage to ask for help.
I can’t emphasise that last statement enough.
Crying gave me courage.
To all men who feel conflicted about their need to cry, it’s important to understand that crying doesn’t mean you’re not capable of dealing with your emotion. It means you are dealing with your emotions. Please understand it’s perfectly ok to do so.
Equally don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in this. There is nothing unmanly about asking for help or showing emotions. We all need help from time to time. That’s part of the human experience.
Don’t think you need to ‘man the fuck up,’ or stop ‘crying like a little girl.’
If it helps consider the phrase, ‘man the fuck up and cry.’
In doing so you might just shatter the bullshit stereotype of what it actually means to be a man.
In doing so you might just have a greater understanding of what it is to be human.
In doing so you might give this world something it needs more than another macho man incapable of accessing his own emotions.
(Thank you to all for taking the time to read. I’m very curious to know your thoughts and get a proper debate going. To challenge my views so I can grow. Please help me cry by leaving your comments below. I welcome ALL opinions.)
ADDITIONAL SOURCES/FURTHER READING
For those who might be dealing with depression and/or struggling with thoughts of suicide it goes without saying I hope you can find the strength to reach out and talk to someone. Coming back from the brink isn’t easy, but it’s never too late. Never. Below is a list of various hotlines and websites in which you can seek help.
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:
What happens when you beat a child with a stick?
You harden their heart.
You close their mind.
You fix the very beliefs you wish so strongly to change.
Is this not obvious?
Is the need to be right all the matters?
Is it really necessary to hit a child when they’re already on the floor?
By hitting you’re children you’re hitting yourself.
Can you not see!
You are creating the very rebel you are hoping so desperately to avoid.
You are creating the conditions for the rebellion you dread will come back to haunt you.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The child was happy left alone.
They were never a threat until you threatened them first.
Their rebellion is on you.
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.
Hello fine readers and welcome to my Happy Fucking Mondays Post – a weekly newsletter that attempts to rewrite the narrative Mondays are the shittiest day of the week. (Or at least start it off in a slightly less shit fashion.)
To my regular readers who almost certainly don’t care that I missed last week – I’m sorry – I was busy flying, believe it or not! I did manage to post my monthly roundup though – Notes From My Journal – which can be found here.
This week, to make up for missing last, it contains 5 thoughts from me, 5 quotes from others and 3 things I’ve been reading, watching and/or listening to this week.
As a bonus I’ve finished with one something silly to hopefully make you all smile.
Hope you enjoy!
5 x Thoughts I’ve Been Thinking:
When thinking in terms of being right, you’ve lost. When thinking in terms of trying to learn and be better, you’ve won. This is true regardless of the outcome.
Forcing your views on others doesn’t make you right.
The biggest mistake people make is spending their whole life trying to build up their ego instead of letting it go. If you can learn to do that you’ll be truly unstoppable.
True peace comes from changing your relationship to your own mind. It has little, if nothing, to do with external reality.
One reason why parenting is good for you: You become comfortable covered in piss and shit.
5 x Quotes I’ve been Pondering:
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” – The scientist, astronomer, and author, Carl Sagan.
“Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you… You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work—we must all work—to make this world worthy of its children.” – The cellist, composer, and conductor, Pablo Casals.
“When everything seems to be going against you remember, that an aeroplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Abraham Lincoln
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.” – Vietnam War. Admiral James Stockdale
3 x Things I’ve Been Listening/Reading/Watching this week:
1 – This brilliant article : 5 Ways to Build Resilience and Conquer Adversity by Mark Manson. I’ve been a big fan of his writing ever since I read his first book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. Both are worth your time.
5 quotes from the article:
Psychological resilience doesn’t come from positive feelings. It comes from leveraging your negative feelings. Resilience is the ability to create positive adaptations to negative events.
The easiest way to overcome that anxiety is not to get rid of risk, it’s simply to make the risks worth something. Find some cause, some mission, some deeper purpose to your actions.
Those who are prepared for pain are the most resilient in the face of pain. Those who expect challenges are the most ready to face challenges. Therefore, an optimal mindset towards life is a dual-sided approach: an outward pessimist — “Life is fucking hard and the world is shit” — but internal optimist — “yet I can handle it, and I’ll be better for it.”
When I think about the most resilient people I’ve ever known, what strikes me about them is that they don’t just invite struggle into their lives, they adopt an identity around their struggles. They allow themselves to be defined by their struggles.
If you are currently suffering, the most valuable thing you can do is reach out and connect with someone, talk about your problems, and share your pain. It’s the most necessary ingredient to coping with any sort of psychological trauma.
2. This insightful Mark Hyman podcast on The Science Of Creating Happiness with Laurie Santos.
Some of my notes from the show:
‘We have become human doers instead of human beings. We forgot it’s in being – savouring the present moment – that we find true peace and happiness.’
‘Studies have shown that writing down 3 to 5 things a day you’re grateful for has been linked to significant improvements in happiness within just two weeks.’
‘Being of service to others – giving more to others – doing charity makes you happier over time because you are connecting often with people less fortunate. This helps you appreciate that what you have is enough.’
‘Never in our history have we had an object so compelling as the smart phone. It’s taking an attentional cost that’s taking us away from presence that we need for our wellbeing.’
‘Rates of depression and anxiety spiked around 2007 (and have stayed there) – this correlates with the invention of the first iPhone.’
‘Post-Traumatic-Growth’ – great way of rephrasing how you responded to difficult periods/trauma in your life.
3. This excellent Tim Ferris podcast with Jim Dethmer on How to Shift from Victim Consciousness, Reduce Drama, Practice Candor, Be Fully Alive, and More.
Some of my notes/quotes from the pod:
“You don’t find peace through understanding, you find peace through acceptance.”
“If we could think our ways out of our suffering we would have done it already.”
“When dealing with suffering often acceptance beats thinking. Be present and allow your emotions to manifest.”
“Blame is always a limiting contracting fault finding energy. It’s always rooted in the need to be right.”
‘The addiction to being right is so strong in us – our ego doesn’t believe it can survive if it’s not. So we find it incredibly difficult to move past our fixed beliefs regardless if they are right or wrong.’
‘You want a life of full aliveness – it is heavily rooted in integrity. In feeling whole.’
‘So many of us destroy our aliveness through pretending.’
1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:
For some reason my son has been having a little trouble pronouncing the ‘tr’ at the start of the word ‘truck’, replacing it with what can only be described as a ‘f’ sound instead.
This is particularly strange given he’s never had any trouble with words like ‘tractor.’
Equally he’s taken to dropping the p from the end of the word ‘dump.’
We tried hard not to give attention when we first heard him proudly announce “dum-Fuck” as he held up a toy dump-truck in his hand.
This went well until his grandparents asked him what he was holding when on a Zoom call with our entire family in attendance…
‘Dum-Fuck’ is now his favourite toy and word.
Till next time,
Happy Fucking Mondays Everybody!
P.S. Don’t forget to exercise your silly muscle this week!
One Bonus question for you all:
What’s your favourite toy and word?