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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Darkness

My home is not far from the centerline of the localizer for an ILS approach of an airport just to the south of my home. I sometimes will sit on my patio and watch aircraft as they are on approach for landing. As I watch I wonder to myself if I will ever be back in the sky instead of watching from my home.

While I ponder to myself about returning to flying I often question myself as to why I would go on antidepressants knowing that I could not renew my medical. I did this knowing it would end my career. Why on earth would a person do such a thing? Did I do the right thing? How was I supposed to support my family?

I worked with my doctors in recent weeks to go off of the medications. My wife said she could tell a difference in my mood. I also could tell that I did have this feeling of something that just seemed dark inside to me. I had this same feeling before the medications even when I was doing what I loved. It is hard to describe what I felt. Depression is something that can take control of someone in a way that is difficult to explain. It is more than a feeling of deepened sadness that a person will feel when having something tragic happen. Depression is more of a feeling of deep dark despair. Depression is a feeling of hopelessness.

As I look at life now I often wonder if I can ever feel total happiness. I question how I could feel this way. I have a great wife. I did have a job that most people could only dream of doing. Yet, here I am with feelings of inadequacy. I remember back before the medications as I would fly having doubts as to my capabilities as a pilot. When I would go to the simulator for training I did not look at things as if I were in control of things. I was always relieved when my training was finished. I was afraid of doing what I loved.

Now I am working with the doctors to get my medications back to the right dosage. I look now at the false hope I was giving myself by thinking I could actually go off of the medications. I should be able to look at things and be totally happy even if I am not flying. Happiness should not be based on what a person does for a living. I sometimes actually realize that I was using flying as my medication. Yes, flying did give me some positive feelings, but it could never create true happiness in my life.

OK, so why did I go on the medications knowing I would not be allowed to fly? I guess because I had to be honest. I could no longer lie to myself. I knew that the darkness within me was caused by something. But now that something has a name. And that name is depression. I would love to return to the sky. But I also long to no longer feel the darkness.

So, is it worth not flying? I will put it to you this way. If I never fly again I will probably always miss doing what I love. However, when the meds are working, I never miss the darkness.

Keep an eye on the sky.

Prozac Pilot

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Thoughts on the AOPA Proposal

A representative of the AOPA has sent me a copy of a proposal that they sent the the FAA in 2006 requesting policy changes in how the FAA views the status of pilots using antidepressants. As you may have read I challenged the AOPA to share what they have done to stand up for pilots with depression. This proposal was sent to me with the request that I do not post it on my blog. I will honor that request, but I also will make some comments on what I have read.

First, I was pleased to see that the AOPA made an attempt to address this issue. The proposal asked for the FAA to change its policy and they laid out some guidelines that they felt should be put into place if there were any changes. I was deeply disappointed after reading the proposed guidelines the AOPA had suggested. The AOPA stated that only third class medicals should be issued to pilots on antidepressants. Luckily, the FAA is actually looking at changing things for all three classes of medical certification.

I would think that an organization that is supposed to represent pilots would represent pilots at all levels. I cannot understand why the AOPA would suggest that only third class medicals be issued for pilots on antidepressants. This simply would go against what is trying to be accomplished by any changes at all. If the FAA were to go along with the AOPA's suggestion then working pilots would be in the same situation that they are now. Which is that professional pilots would not be able to seek medical attention for their ailment. This would force working pilots with depression to continue to fly while they are not completely safe. The idea of allowing pilots to fly while using these medications is to make the sky a safer place.

As I have mentioned before, all the doctors I have talked told me that it would be much safer to have a medicated pilot flying rather than a pilot who is depressed and not being treated. Other countries have made the step forward. Now it is time for the FAA.

So, here is my grade for the AOPA. They get an A for at least trying to bring this issue to the forefront. However, when it comes to their ideas of how to go forward I would have to give them an F.

Let me clear up any confusion that I may have caused in this post. I have been told that the administrator has approved going forward with allowing medicated pilots to fly on all three classes of medical certificates. However, there is still a great deal of government bureaucracy to be dealt with before there is a final word. Therefore, the FAA has gone above and beyond what the AOPA was asking for by including 1rst, 2nd and 3rd class medicals in this change. But the AOPA suggested that the change apply only to 3rd class medicals.

Now it is a matter of seeing what actually happens.

Keep an eye on the sky!

Prozac Pilot

Thursday, August 6, 2009

AOPA Response to My Email

Yesterday I sent an email with a link to this blog to the AOPA so that someone there would have the opportunity to respond to some comments I had put on my blog yesterday. It was less that 24 hours later I had an email responding to me.

I was told by a representative of the AOPA that they had sent a proposal to the FAA requesting a change in policy regarding antidepressants. Additionally, I was informed that AOPA had posted an update as to what is going on with the current status of the FAA proposed policy change.

I have invited the AOPA to allow me to post this information here on this blog. I feel that would be a good addition to what this blog is intended to do.

In writing back to the person at the AOPA I started to reflect a little bit on my own situation. If the FAA does change its policies what will happen to pilots who bit the bullet and grounded themselves so that they could go on antidepressants? I have been grounded now for nearly a year and a half. If suddenly the FAA says I am allowed to have a first class medical again that would be great. But now lets take it a step further. How do I truthfully explain that type of gap in my flying to a potential employer?

I can see it now.
Potential Employer (PE): I see that you have not flown for two years. Why is that?
Me: I went on medications that were not approved by the FAA and did not renew my medical.
PE: And these medications are now approved?
Me: Yes

By now the interviewer is probably clued in as to what type of medications we are talking about because the entire aviation community will hear about the change if it happens. There is still a stigma in our society regarding people who suffer from a mental illness. I could just hope that I am interviewed by someone who has compassion and will look at my qualifications and not get hung up on the fact that I suffer from depression. It could happen. Therefore, an interview like this could go either way. However, I feel that this will limit my employment opportunities.

I want to be hopeful that I will again return to the sky. I do miss everything that comes along with the life I once lived. The ability to leave one end of the country and be on the other side in just a few hours has always amazed me. It was fun to leave home in the morning on a flight to take passengers several hundreds of miles away and then return home later that same day.

I do miss the passengers. Doing charter work is not like working for the airlines. A charter pilot is also a customer service representative. A charter pilot works one on one with each passenger. Charter customers pay thousands of dollars for one flight. Someone who pays that much money expects the best customer service. I am of the opinion that all customers should be treated like royalty regardless of the price of the product being purchased.

I am looking forward to posting the information from the AOPA if they give me permission to do so. I think this will be good reading. It would also be nice to see that there has been someone out there working to correct this injustice.

Keep and eye on the sky!

Prozac Pilot

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Prozac Pilot Video Introduction (Reposted)

AOPA Are You Helping?

I just got off of the phone with a contact at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and was told that there has been five antidepressants approved by the FAA Administrator. However, there are still several government channels that have to sign off on this for things to be fully approved. Additionally, the FAA is not saying which medications are going to be approved and what other strict guidelines are going to be in force.

This is very much the same thing that I was hearing about a year ago. When I first started to make calls regarding this situation. Initially I was told that it was only going to be about three to six months before everything would be finalized. Well, guess what I was told today by an AOPA representative. Yes, it was going to be about three to six months before final approval would be announced.

I am not sure what to believe. Each time I contact any agency regarding this I seem to get the same answers. These answers do not seem to match with the truth. The AOPA claims to have been lobbying hard for pilots with depression for some time now. However, I have not noticed anything in their magazine regarding this topic. I have not seen the AOPA openly encouraging its members to contact their elected officials on behalf of pilots with depression. If I am wrong and the AOPA is doing more than just lip service I will be the first one to post my apology on the web. But until that time I find it difficult to believe that the AOPA has any concern for pilots who are either on antidepressants or pilots who hide their depression due to knowing they will no longer be allowed to fly.

I am going to send a link of this posting to the AOPA and see if they respond. I am curious to see what if anything they have to say to my comments. As Bill O'Rielly says, "I want to be fair and balanced."

Therefore, if the AOPA responds with public postings it has done to help fight this battle I will immediately issue an apology and post what they send to me.

What say you AOPA?

Prozac Pilot