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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. 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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Moving Forward

I am going through one of the most difficult things a person can face as a parent, the loss of a child. My daughter, Amy Aniceto, lost her battle with cancer on January 29, 2015. She faced her disease with courage and dignity. Even though she did not show her fear in her final days she had expressed to me months earlier that she was afraid. Her fears were that she would be forgotten and for the pain her daughter would feel.

Normally, when I write the words simply seem to flow from my mind. I usually find putting my thoughts into written form an easy almost effortless task. However, today is much different.  Today it seems I have to search for the things I wish to express. I am questioning every sentence I form. I realize that my hesitation is due to the pain of grief that I feel. 

Let's look at the grieving process. The expression of grief is different for everyone. Some people wish to be surrounded by loved ones. Other people want to hide in their homes and do nothing.  Whatever process a person chooses there is one certainty. Life goes on. Everyone will suffer the loss of a loved one in life. But we all must be able to move on. Moving on does not mean forgetting. We will always remember the loved one that has passed on. 

When I found out that my daughter had a short time left to live I called a friend of mine who had lost his son in an automobile accednt. I asked him how to get through something like this. He told me that is just the thing, you get through it, but you never get over it. 

My friend's comment does not mean that we should never feel joy again in life because we have lost someone close to us. It simply means that we do need to go on with life, but there will always be times that will be difficult.  When those feelings of sadness and despair come upon us we need to look for something positive. Bring up some memories of the person you lost. Those memories do not necessarily need to be something that made you laugh or smile at the time. Remembering something the person did that made you mad could actually make you laugh now. Simply remember the person and keep them alive in your hearts is a big part of the heeling process.

At times I think that it is not possible to go on. I feel that if I let go of this pain I am leaving my daughter behind. But to be productive in life we must move on from tragic events. If we let bad things get the best of us we are then crippling ourselves emotionally.  Life is filled with difficult times. Some people have more challenges than others. It is how we respond to difficulties in life that helps us to build character. Remember the old saying that it is not how many times you fall down in life, but how quickly you pick yourself up that counts. 

The previous saying reminds me of something Micheal Jordon once said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Anyone who has watched Mr. Jordon play basketball (let's not mention his baseball career) probably does not think about his missed shots or lost games. Most people are going to remember Mr. Jordon for the amazing things he did on the basketball court. But behind every great success there are many failures along the way. So goes the grieving process. There will be good days and there will be bad days.  As time goes by the number of good days will outnumber the bad days. But having good days does not mean the loved one is being forgotten. It simply means that we are building on those missed shots and lost games to better our own well being. 

Keep and eye on the sky!

Collin W. Hughes 

The Prozac Pilot

I miss you Amy!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Value of Life

There has been a great deal going on in my life since I last posted on my blog. Life has been happening. However, the things I have going on in life now are not easy to face. As a matter of fact, I am faced with something that no one should ever have to face, the loss of a child. My daughter, Amy, was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. She went through treatment for several months and was pronounced cancer free. However, about two years ago it returned with a vengeance. 

As I write this I sit by her bedside in a hospice near Houston, Texas. I watch my daughter as she holds on to life as long as she can. I try to understand what I am feeling, but struggle to even describe my thoughts and emotions. When I look at her I wonder what she is feeling. Is she afraid? Does she feel alone even though her family is by her side to show her love and compassion? 

I know the end for my daughter is near. She could pass within the next couple of days or it could be any minute.  As I consider how short her existence has been on this earth I think of my own mortality. How long will I be on this earth? What have I done to leave my mark upon this world? My daughter does not have any time left to do anything more than what she has already done. But I do. Each and everyone of us who has life left in us still can do good in this world. I owe it not just to my daughter but to myself to use the time I have left to do good in this world. 

Life is precious. It should not be squandered. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. That does not mean to go out and party and have all the fun a person can possibly have. It means to live each and every waking moment in a positive manner. To live life in a way that others are affected by your presence that makes them feel uplifted. Be remembered. Be unforgettable. Amy told me a few weeks ago that she is afraid of being forgotten.  I told her I would not let that happen while I am alive. I plan on keeping her memory alive. I hope and pray I can do it in a manner that will please her. 

I love you Amy!