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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Overcoming Gravity

From the beginning of history people have looked skyward and watched birds fly. Throughout most of history the ability for man to overcome gravity was a mystery. However, today air travel is taken for granted. All someone needs to do is log on to the Internet, go to a travel or airline website and book a flight. It is that easy. Some people would argue that there is more to it than that. These people will say you then have to go to the airport, put up with the lines at security, suffer though possible delays and then be stuffed into a cramped airplane for hours.

People who complain about the hassles of air travel do not stop to look at how amazing this form of travel truly is. What used to take months of traveling in a wagon, on horseback or even on foot, now takes hours. The pioneers had to suffer through harsh winter storms without shelter and cross ice filled rivers with the risk of death. Now we sit in climate controlled cabins cruising at speeds that are measured by a Mach number or speed relative to the speed of sound. I would say that the people who complain about air travel probably complain about many other things.

We all have things in life that we think are difficult.  The question that we need to ask ourselves though is what are we going to do to overcome difficult things.  The Wright brothers had to overcome many obstacles to make that historic flight at Kitty Hawk back in 1903. The Wright brothers had to overcome gravity. Sure many people had dreamed of soaring through the skies, but gravity forced us to remain on the ground. The Wright brothers were told by many that this could not be done. This made them no different than any other person who had created something new. 

How many times in life has someone told you that you cannot do something? You cannot play football, you are too small. You cannot play basketball you are too short. You cannot make a living by being a musician you have to be really good to do that. We all have our gravitational forces that attempt to hold us down and keep us from soaring. But the strongest force that holds us back is ourselves. The power to overcome anything negative lies within each one of us. History is full of people who would NOT give up and went on to achieve goals that most other people thought were impossible.  

Beethoven is a perfect example of someone defying personal gravity. He as a composer of music. He lost his hearing. But he did not stop simply because he could not hear the music, he continued to compose. At first as his hearing declined he would write music that contained lower notes. He could hear the lower notes. But then he suffered total hearing loss. The higher notes retuned to his work. He knew he could no longer hear with his ears so he started listen to the music inside of him. It was that music that he brought to life. It was that music that now nearly 200 years later lives on today. 

Who could ever imagine that a blind person could play a musical instrument? A musician has to see the keys on a piano or where to place his fingers on the strings and frets of a stringed instrument. If that is true then I guess that Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles did not get that memo. These two musicians are just two of the most famous blind musicians. There have been many others. Was it difficult for Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles to achieve the skill level they obtained? Yes. Did they overcome great odds to rise to the top of their chosen profession? Yes. Did they let their lack of sight hold them down? NO.

We can all make up excuses as to why we cannot do something great. But excuses are not reasons. A blind person may say I cannot play the piano because I am blind. That is an excuse. However, if the same person says I cannot see something because I am blind. Then then that person has a reason s to why he or she cannot see something.  All too often we confuse excuses with reasons. If a person is late for a meeting due to traffic he or she will say the traffic is the reason for being tardy. However, everyone else left earlier and arrived at the meeting on time. The reason for being late was the time the tardy person left home, the heavy traffic was used as an excuse.  

My point is that we all make choices in life to give in or overcome. We all have greatness within. The only way that greatness will come out is if we let it out. Often times we have to force it out, but it is there waiting to surface. How can we overcome our gravitational forces? NO MORE EXCUSES! Look for ways to make things happen. Achieving great things is like driving somewhere. If one road is closed we take another. If that road is closed we find yet another. If we are determined to arrive at our destination we eventually will find a road that will take us there. 

Do not give up. Do not let gravity hold you down. No matter what that force is that you think is holding  you back find a way to get past that force and soar towards your dreams.

Keep an eye on the sky!
Collin Hughes


Friday, February 26, 2016

Have A Smooth Flight

Have a good flight. 
Have a smooth flight.
Have a safe flight. 

These are all terms people use when talking to someone departing on a trip by air. How many times have we either heard these terms or said them ourselves? As a pilot, any flight without incident is a safe flight. Also, any flight without an unruly passenger, maintenance problem, weather delay or any other number of problems is a good flight. However, rarely is a flight totally a smooth flight. Occasionally, there will be a flight without any turbulence.  But usually there will be some amount of turbulence somewhere along the way during a flight. 

Some flights may experience just a minor bump or two along the way. Then there have been flights that have sent people to the hospital due to encountering severe turbulence......... Side note for those afraid of flying.. Encountouring that type of turbulence is rare and when the seatbelt sign comes on SIT DOWN!......Well actually everyone should sit down when the seatbelt sign is on not just those afraid of flying.........  Ok, I digress, now back to the topic at hand, turbulence. My point is that some flights have a great deal more turbulence than do other flights. 

Another thing I have noticed about turbulence is how passengers react to being bumped around. Some passengers will have a death grip on the arm rests at the slightest bump while others appear to be relaxed as if they were in a recliner at home. Each person has his or her own comfort level. 

How people react to turbulence is much how we respond to the ups and downs of life. Each day of our lives can be compared to flying. Some days are smooth. Then there are those days that we feel the biggest bumps of our lives. Dealing with "life turbulence" is much the same as dealing with flight turbulence.  For some people a minor bump in life is major event. For other people a major event appears to be a minor bump. We all handle "life turbulence" in our own way. 

What can be said about people who look at light turbulence in life as extreme life turbulence? Can we say that they are weak? For some people perhaps. But you never know what other people have been through in life. What about those who can take the most extreme life turbulence as if it were nothing? Does that make them stronger and more capable of handling difficult situations? Not necessarily. Just because someone may appear outwardly strong is not always an indication of inward feelings. In other words, we all react differently to stress in life. 

I came up with the idea for this post after a phone call with someone I am close to in my life. This person is going through a difficult time in his life. I attempted to console him. I told him that everyone goes through difficult times. But his reaction was to tell me how easy I had things in life. He felt as if I had no troubles at all. I became extremely blunt with him at this point and asked him if he had ever lost a child. I did this only to make a point to him that everyone has hard times in life. He brushed it off saying that was different than him not being able to pay his bills and that I would not understand.  I then told him that I had lived out of my car for a time. He had no answer to that. 

The point that I am trying to make is that we all have turbulence in life. We each handle those rough rides in our own way. Some people tend not to do so well with turbulence while others appear to handle the bumps better. Some people would say that it is all in the attitude in how a person approaches life turbulence with. Trying to have a positive attitude is helpful, but some people need more than that. Some people need professional help. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help in dealing with life turbulence. There will always be turbulence in life. If you need help dealing with it, do not be ashamed to reach out for help. 

At times family members need to reach out to give tough love and nudge a loved one into getting help. Guiding someone to get help who needs it just might save that person's life. Do not be shy in talking to someone you may know who is having a hard time dealing with life turbulence.  

Fasten your seatbelts,

Collin Hughes

The Prozac Pilot

Friday, February 19, 2016

Dr. Phil and Checklists

For those of you who read my last post you may remember that I gave a name to the feelings that following me after the death of my daughter. I namd this feeling simply to make it easier to write about and refer to those feelings. I named the feeling Phil and nicknamed it Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil has been loud and obnoxious lately. But that is to be expected since the first anniversary of Amy's death was last month and the anniversary of her funeral is tomorrow. But I have to remember to not let Phil win these arguments he keeps starting.  Phil wants me to believe that I should never feel happiness again. He will try to trick me into feeling guilty if I have good or positive thoughts.

For anyone who has lost not just a child, but anyone close to them they will understand these feelings. At times it is difficult to deal with these feelings.  But ultimately we must realize that we are in control of these feelings and not the other way around. However, there are certain triggers in life that make some days more difficult than others, such as birthdays or certain anniversaries.  When days like this come along we have to realize that we can and will get through these days. 

As a pilot I use checklists to ensure that both myself and my First Officer have completed the proper tasks for various phases of flight. These checklists do not tell pilots what to do, but remind us to check that certain things have been completed. One good example is the "before landing checklist." There are two vital components on this checklist. This checklist will have us confirm that the flaps are set in the proper position for landing that allows us to fly the proper approach speed. Additionally, it reminds us to check that the landing gear is down and locked into position. As pilots, the First Officer or I have already completed these tasks, but now the checklist has us verify that these things are complete. The biggest thing it does is to have us check the settings to ensure that the flaps and landing gear are actually in the position that we set them in. For example, just because we put the landing gear handle in the down position and we can feel the drag of the landing gear being extended, does not guarantee that the landing gear is locked into position. The checklist forces us to look at the indications to verify that we have "three green" indications as pilots say. With "three green" we know the landing gear is locked in the down position.  

Wouldn't it be great if we could all develop checklists to help get us through difficult or stressful times in life? What types of checklists would you need? It would be different for everyone. Just like each type of airplane has its own checklists. These checklists could remind us to do things that will help us get trough these times. Perhaps it could contain a list of people to call and talk with when we need to. Another checklist item could remind us to set an alarm and get up instead of staying in bed and doing nothing on certain difficult dates. The list of possible checklist items can be short or long depending on each person's needs. For me, I should have a checklist item to remind me to write. It just seems that writing can be therapeutic for me. 

Perhaps some people need a checklist to help remind them how to talk to their "Phil." I know that Phil is not easy to talk with during certain times. What checklist items would you have to ensure you are doing things properly during stressful times? Two reminders that everyone should have is to love yourself and that it is okay to feel good.

Keep an eye on the sky!

Collin Hughes
The Prozac Pilot

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dr. Phil

In just a few days it will be one year that daughter, Amy, lost her battle to cancer. I have had ups and downs with my feelings over the past year. As most people can imagine I have had some sad days. I knew that Amy's time was limited when she was diagnosed with cancer. I wondered how I would cope with such a loss. I am guessing that some people who know me were expecting me to slip into the depths of despair and depression. For anyone who had such thoughts, I am NOT sorry to disappoint you. 

I am not saying I did not grieve her loss; I did. Amy's passing was a terrible. Anyone who has lost a child knows this harsh pain. What I am saying is that I did not sink into a state of mind that would drag me down or disable me. I suppose I can look at it that I have been put through the ultimate test and survived.

I know that grief is different for everyone. Some people turn to religious beliefs for comfort in times like this while others may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to hide the pain. We all have our own way with dealing with pain.

I am not an expert by any means when it comes to dealing with painful life situations. All I know is that I have been through my fair share of tragedy in life. I am also realistic to understand that there are many people who have suffered much harsher tragedies than I have. There is always someone out there who has had harder times than me. This is true for most people. 

When we suffer the knowledge of other people's pain is of no comfort. Often times we think there is no reprieve from our pain. There is an old saying that time heals all pain. Anyone who believes this has never lost a child. The pain is always there. The only way to adjust to this pain is to accept it as a part of life and live with it like you might an annoying acquaintance that you just cannot get out of your life. I will refer to this imaginary person as Phil. Why did I choose Phil? It simply was the first name that popped into my head. That and the Dr. Phil show annoys me. LOL..... Dr. Phil if you ever read this I intended no malice  No matter where you go or what you do Phil is always going to be there. The best thing that can be done is accept Phil as a part of your life and stop arguing with him.

But if you stop arguing with Phil you cannot simply ignore his presence. If you attempt to  ignore him he will whisper negative things to you that will become bottled up inside. Eventually, those negative feelings will have to be dealt with. There will be times you have no idea that Phil is working to drag you down. You may be going about your job or daily activities and notice you are making mistakes. These will most likely be simple minor errors that you just cannot understand you are making. As you go about this activity making mistakes you start to judge yourself harshly not knowing what is going on. 

At some point, the light will come on and you will realize that Phil has been doing his negative job on you. The best way to deal with Phil is to not argue with him, but acknowledge his presence and communicate with him. How do you communicate with Phil? That will be different for everyone. Some people may need medications to deal with Phil. Others people may need therapy to deal with Phil. I deal with my Phil by taking a step back, shaking things off and realize that I am in control. I am the one who has to take control of my feelings. I must allow myself to grieve when needed. I am the one that must allow myself to be happy as well. 

To me one of the lessons in life that I feel is important is to understand the following; Where there is good, there is bad. Where these is up, there is down. Where there is in, there is out. Where there is happiness, there is sadness. In other words, each and everything has its opposite. When we can truly understand that I feel that the negative opposites we encounter in our lives will be easier to deal with.

Keep and eye on the sky!

Collin Hughes
The Prozac Pilot

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Life Stalls

It has been just over six months since my daughter's death. Next month is her birthday. I think about her everyday. I remember her telling me her biggest fear of dying was that she would be forgotten. I hope she knows that I think about her regularly. I have been in somewhat of a funk since her death. But each day I press forward. My job is one thing I look forward to. 

I am so lucky to be able to do what I love. I get to fly a jet everyday I do to work. How cool is that? Most children dream of being a pilot as they grow up. I get to live that dream. Yes, there are difficult things in life that everyone faces. But I simply cannot let a tragic event pull me down. However, I have let my grief affect me in ways that hold me back. For example, I have a love of writing. But I have not been following through with that passion. I am writing this post as an effort to recover from this stall in life I am experiencing. 

When flying an aircraft a pilot has various indications that a stall is about to occur. In some aircraft it may be a buffer that will occur before the airplane actually stalls. Other airplanes actually have a warning system that will alert pilots before a stall ensues. In a Cessna 172 there is a noise pilots will hear that sounds like a horn. Larger aircraft such as airliners have what is known as a "stick shaker." The yoke will vibrate before a stall occurs to warn pilots that the airplane is close to stalling. If pilots do not respond to the warning of the stick shaker then the the yoke will push forward away from the pilots in an effort to lower the nose to automatically recover from the stall. 

Even with the automation of the stick shaker and the stick pusher pilots still have to react to these warning indicators to fully recover from a stall. The airplane will not perform a full stall recovery on its own. People are much like aircraft. We all have built in warning systems that protect us from difficult things in life. With each person these biological warnings are different. But recovering from the "stalls" in life all require effort. No person can fully recover from a life stall without work. 

There are many things that can cause life stalls. Some people suffer from depression. Some people have a tragic event that creates a life stall. Whatever the reason for the life stall each person affected must put an effort into the recovery from the life stall. And just like in an airplane we must put in the proper corrective actions to perform the recovery. In an airplane if the recovery is not performed properly the situation will worsen. A person caught up in a life stall must find ways to properly recover from the stall. 

When flying an airplane pilots are trained how to recover from an aerodynamic stall. However, as humans we may not always know how to recover from a life stall. Most people have not received training or on how to recover from these stalls. There are various ways to recover from a life stall. Seeing a mental health professional could give someone the guidance needed to start the recovery process. I would call this the "stick pusher" that assist someone with starting the recovery. Some people may require medications to further push them through the stall. This could be seen as being similar to the stick pusher in an airliner. However, now that the shaker and the pusher have given us the assistance to recover from the life stall it is up to the us to react and complete the recovery. 

As people we do not always have early warning signs that a life stall is about to occur. We may have a loved one pass away unexpectedly. There may be a down turn in the economy that causes a reduction in the labor forces. But no matter what the cause of the life stall we all must be aware that these times will come. No one is immune from life stalls. It is how we handle these difficult times that matter. We all must be prepared to recover. 

Grieving is a natural part of recovering from a life stall. Everyone grieves in their own way. For some people the grief process is longer than others. Some people are more private with their grief and some people show their sadness publicly. No matter how a person works through grief we all must be willing to work through the life stalls. Life is not always easy. But on the other hand, life is not always difficult. Everyone will have highs and lows in life. That is simply the way things are. What matters is how we work through life stalls. Are you prepared for your next life stall?

Amy, my daughter, you are remembered!

Keep an eye on the sky!

Collin Hughes
The Prozac Pilot

Monday, April 6, 2015

Feeling Safe to Self Report

There has been a tremendous amount of news coverage on the Germanwings tragedy. Some of the news has focused on pilots who suffer from depression. I have had numerous news outlets contact me asking me to comment on this tragedy. Some of these requests come from news shows that would use this tragedy to sensationalize this horrific event. It is due to the drama seeking shows that I have not consented to an interview yet. 

When I first went on CNN in 2010 most of the feedback I received were words of encouragement and support. There were some negative comments posted on various websites that carried the story, including this blog. There will always be differing opinions on any subject. I do not regret going public. I receive emails to this day from people worldwide asking for help. Usually, these emails are from people who suffer from depression and have thought about a career in aviation. They are asking for guidance in how to proceed. I respond to these inquiries by telling them first and foremost to be honest. 

Occasionally, I receive correspondence from professional pilots. Sometimes I am asked if I felt it was worth it for me to ground myself as I did. I will respond by telling them that flying is something that I do, it does not define me as a person. All too often people are judged by others as to what type of job a person has. When people find out I am a pilot I get looks of admiration. Yes, I love what I do. But I am still just a person.

It seems that pilots are supposed to be flawless. Pilots are not supposed to make mistakes. Pilots are supposed to have super powers. Well, I hate to disappoint everyone, but pilots are human too. Pilots catch colds. Pilots come down with the flu. Pilots can have their bodies ravaged by cancer. And yes, pilots can suffer from depression.

If a pilot is depressed there needs to be a way that he or she can disclose this condition without fear of losing his or her job. Currently, the FAA does have protocol in place for pilots in this situation. However, it is not easy for someone suffering from depression to talk with others about their disease. When I mention to other pilots that I grounded myself I usually do not tell the reason why. On a couple of occasions I disclose the reason for my grounding. Each time my admission has been received in a positive manner. I have not felt ridicule from my fellow aviators. 

I have seen some comments on news stories about me wondering what Captain (Sully) Sullenberger would say regarding this topic. I recently read an article written by Captain Sullenberger regarding this topic. Here is a link to that story. http://time.com/author/chesley-b-sully-sullenberger-iii/. He is in favor of pilots who suffer from depression seeking help and returning to duty when they are capable of doing so.

I hope and pray that the actions of the Germanwings First Officer, Andreas Lubitz, does not reverse all of the work that has been put into paving the road for pilots who need help. Pilots who have depression need to know they can come forward and receive the help they need. Please remember, pilots are people too!

Keep a eye on the sky!

Collin W. Hughes 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lubitz, Pure Evil

Due to the latest tragedy with GermanWings I have been getting several requests for interviews from media outlets all around the world. Currently, investigators are looking at the possibility that Andreas Lubitz, the pilot that flew the GermanWings aircraft into the ground, suffered from a mental illness. The medical facility that treated Lubitz denies he was being treated for depression. 

The only thing I know about Lubitz is that he was an evil coward. This type of hideous behavior is not created by depression. This is something that sprouts from pure evil. I feel badly if a person wants to commit suicide. However, when a person takes their own life and commits mass murder at the same time, that is the ultimate act of selfishness. 

I am not sure if we will ever understand what caused this person to do what he did. But I do know that he caused a great deal of pain to many people.

I was having dinner with the other members of the crew that I am working with this week when we saw on television a memorial to the victims. Many of them were so young. I was saddened by the loss that the parents of these young people are feeling right now. As a father who has recently lost a child I know their pain. However, I was able to be with my daughter during her final days. I was there when she took her last breath. My daughter knew I was there. The parents who lost their sons and daughters in this tragedy were not able to say their final farewells. These parents were not able to tell their own children how much they loved them.

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who lost loved ones in this tragedy. There are not words to describe the pain that they feel right now. Even though I have lost a child I still cannot comprehend what they must be going through. The circumstances of my loss is far different than something like this. 

My blog received a large number of hits after the news of what Lubitz had done had aired. Many people are speculating what caused him to do this. Some people are reporting that he possibly had a mental illness. I do know this. Depression does NOT cause someone to commit such an evil act. Depression is something that most people have felt at one time or another. Depression is an ailment just like any other physical ailment and can be treated. It does not make a person a monster. 

There is still a great deal of stigma surrounding mental illnesses. You cannot get through the day without talking with someone who suffers from some type of mental illness. People who come forward with an admission that they suffer from depression are often criticized. These words of criticism often come from those who are closest to them. 

Criticism makes it more difficult for a person to reach out for help when they need it the most. The answer to helping someone is not to scrutinize them, but to love and understand that they suffer from an ailment that is treatable. 

Depression is treatable, evil is not. Lubitz may or may not have been suffering from depression. I do not know. But if he was, that is NOT what caused his cowardly actions. I am sure that there are murderers who suffer from depression. But there are also murderers who do not have depression. It is not the illness that causes the act. It is the heart of a person that makes them what they are. In this case, Lubitz had the heart of a cowardly killer.