What follows is an unedited excerpt of an account sent to us by a Pilot who was motivated to share his own experience of depression. He makes no claims about his experience other than hoping it may be of interest and possible help to other pilots. We are tremendously grateful to him.
"I had everything I wanted; a loving wife, a beautiful family, a good job that I enjoyed, a nice house. Why, then, was I so constantly miserable? It is difficult to say where it definitely started, but I believe now that it was around the time of the birth of my first child. At the time I had just been promoted and was getting to grips with a new job role, whilst at home the house had to be prepared for the new arrival.
The birth process itself was traumatic; I was consumed with anxiety over what to do with a newborn baby; worry and sleep deprivation became a way of life; yet I did not feel entitled to express any form of hardship: I had to ‘keep going’. I couldn’t permit myself any respite. I had two weeks off – unpaid – and then went straight back to work full-time in the midst of the summer schedule.
I was tired and under stress. I was assaulted by waves of strong emotions, but whilst it may have been helpful to address these concerns I felt that I was not entitled to feel sad or to be tired, or, for that matter, to be enjoying my job. My response, instead, was to become increasingly emotionally detached.
A couple of years later my wife became pregnant with our second child and we decided to move house. This was a thoroughly fraught process and it did not help that, at the time, I was away in the simulator a lot, often working through the night. I saw it as my job to provide for my growing household and that I was failing adequately to do so. Eventually, our second child was born. What is shocking to me now looking back is that that didn’t make me happy. It didn’t make me unhappy either; primarily what I felt was detached. And I berated myself inwardly for my failure in that respect.
What, it seems, had happened was a breakdown of the limbic system of my brain. The limbic system acts as a regulator for various bodily functions – one of these is mood. When things happen to a person, the limbic system will act on the basis of memory and learnt modes of thinking or beliefs to produce an impulse. This impulse may be to do a certain thing or to feel a certain emotion. So, if a tiger runs towards me, the brain will, for most people, act on the belief that ‘tigers do harm to people’. The limbic system release chemicals including adrenaline which produce an emotional reaction of fear and a physical impulse to run away. Terribly fast.
What was happening to me was more complex, but similar; my child was born; my brain acted on the deeply held beliefs ‘you are responsible for this life’ and ‘you are a failure and always will be’. This would release certain chemicals, including adrenaline, producing the emotional response of anxiety and the impulse to shout, scream or sit in a corner and cry. However, rather than do any of these things, I repressed and repressed. The problem with that is that the emotional ‘energy’ had to go somewhere. With nowhere else to put it, I turned my emotions in on myself. I beat myself up: ‘what’s wrong with me’, ‘cheer up, for goodness’ sake’. ‘A decent father would do better’ ...
FULL ACCOUNT AVAILABLE ON SUBSCRIPTION SITE ONLY.
In the full account, the pilot talks in more detail about what happened to him, his treatment and his experience with his employer and medical examiners. It's a fascinating and very honest piece of writing - and without putting too much of a spoiler on things - he has been back at work for some time, with appropriate and regular monitoring and is feeling much better.
"I had everything I wanted: a loving wife, a beautiful family, a good job that I enjoyed, a nice house. Why then, was I so constantly miserable ..."