When everything seems to be going against you...
...remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it -Henry Ford.
It has been just over 6 months since the United Kingdom was told to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. 6 months since shops, bars, restaurants, schools, gyms, borders, pretty much everything that wasn't a supermarket, doctors surgery or hospital was closed.
It is also 6 months since 2 hours after that announcement I took off to operate what was to be the last flights to and from Johannesburg for weeks. 6 months since we brought the last repatriation flight home to the UK until formal repatriation flights could be arranged. 6 months since myself, the crew and the pilots spent 36 hours attempting to convince ourselves that everything was going to be okay, and that we would all be back within a short amount of time... the worst we would see would be a few weeks of unpaid leave surely? After all, the industry had survived 9/11, SARS, MERS, the financial crash and so many other challenges that the last few decades has presented to the industry.
How wrong we were.
The following months proved that COVID-19 would completely turn our industry on its' head. As Airlines battled to survive, staff were furloughed, made redundant, and grounded indefinitely. After all, if borders are closed and flights are cancelled in order to stop the spread, why would you need the crew to staff them? Those that remained to operate critical cargo and repatriation flights faced salary cuts, extended flight times, and the uncertainty of their own jobs.
There was no winner in this situation.
Fast forward 6 months and where are we now? Well airlines are slowly beginning to look towards the future. Recovery at some point is a certainty. That's for sure. It may not be imminent, and the road ahead is still long and potentially facing more stumbling blocks, but it will recover and at some point, pilots and crew will be called upon again to connect businesses, loved ones, and provide once in a lifetime trips to the world. Sustainability, earning passenger trust, and health and safety will be the key to recovering and surviving, or rather thriving, in this post-pandemic world.
However, in the meantime, we are still 6 months deep into emotional turmoil. It is already widely acknowledged that the mental health implications of COVID-19 will likely outlast the physical. Speaking to those in a similar situation to myself, we have reached the consensus that staying positive, productive, and proactive for short periods of time is relatively doable. It is on the other hand, much more difficult when you come to the realisation that this pandemic is more of a marathon than a sprint.
Every day the news and media is consumed with facts and figures regarding COVID-19, and travel has been at the centre of several reports. For those of us looking for an end-game, it can feel like a deep, dark, rabbit hole that we are all clambering to get out of.
Anxiety, exhaustion, fear, stress, grief, loss, overwhelmed... any of these feel familiar to you?
If so, please know that you are not alone. I'm not naive enough to think that these feelings are unique to those within the aviation industry either. So many people have lost during this crisis. When you fear losing, or lose the thing that sets your soul on fire, it is incredibly difficult to stay motivated.
How do you define your identity when you feel like you've lost it? This time can make you question everything about yourself if you lose something that you're proud of yourself about. Let's face it. When you meet somebody new, one of the first things you are asked is 'what is it you do?'.
Part of you may feel you've been changed forever. Maybe there is a part of you that feels like you've lost a part of yourself somewhere within this bizarre year that you've been living in. What I'm learning is that monumental and life-defining events will do that...
I'm here to tell you that you will find YOU again. I'll say that again. You will find YOU again. You will find your identity in this world again. Your dreams cannot and should not be taken away by a virus. I promise that they are still there, and a part of your heart and soul,
I've always said that I would be honest with my writing, and that it would reflect the thoughts of myself and those around me. Anxiety and worry have been a part of my life more than I thought that they would be this year. I guess a pandemic can do that! However for someone who has always had a 'c'est la vie' and 'carpe diem' attitude to life, it has definitely been an exhausting experience. It's rather surprisingly having some physiological effects on my body. After speaking to a trainer today, it seems that a small hip pain is being caused by stress... neurologically speaking the brain is under pressure and causing some strains that I never thought possible! But it all makes sense, when you think that the brain is the most powerful part of your body.
So how do you control your brain when you're living through something that you have absolutely no control over? I certainly don't think that there's a magic cure here but here's some things that I have found really helped.
Firstly keep talking. Surround yourself with like-minded people who understand you, and don't expect anything of you. I'm blessed with incredible friends, family, and even connections on social media who have reached out to me, and to whom I've reached out to, and we've got each other through this crazy year so far. I'm eternally grateful and will always try to help those who need in return.
Take a step back mentally. Remove yourself from situations that are causing you stress, and groups that are not benefiting your well-being. The last thing you need right now is sensory overload, and YOU have to be priority one right now. Acknowledge that some situations will not serve your mental health right now, and that it is more than okay to move forward without them. Like I've already mentioned, surround yourself with those that are on your wavelength.
Find outlets that allow you to express yourself, your true thoughts, and help you relax. For me, I love to write... it clears my mind. I also love to read. Biographies, fiction, non fiction, it all helps me to relax and also learn. I dance, workout, go out with friends; all of it can help to just refocus the mind, and provide a little reminder of some of the beauty in life that does still exist.
For me, I've also found that finding something that connects you to the world you love has been hugely beneficial. I know for some people it can be painful to do this, and it's more mentally healthy to remove yourself from that world, but I can't do that. My MSc has been incredible to help me advance my knowledge of my industry of choice, and I've been connected to so many new professionals through it that I'm incredibly grateful. I've also been lucky enough to have the chance to fly and continue my study towards my PPL, and those that have followed me for a while know that I can't resist a spot of plane spotting.
Remember that there are many good days ahead. You may still have bad days, and that's understandable and to be expected. But you will have incredible days ahead. Speaking to my fellow aviators, you will have a first flight again, a first day back, a first layover... imagine how incredible that's going to feel?
The hope here is that I guess by the time the world is recovering, and we are all welcomed along our new paths or back to our previous ones, we can look back and say that although it was difficult, we developed mental resilience, skill, and new knowledge to take back and add towards our dreams and goals. Yes it may feel like an uphill battle right now, but as people of passion, we accept that our industry is a volatile one and often feels the full force of what is happening around the world. In accepting your place in that world, you accept the hurt, the heartbreak, and the turmoil that it can bring.I accept it, and I accept that this is the choice I made.
But you know what? Remember and hold on to those good days. Those 'I can't believe that this is my life' days. Those days where you thank your lucky stars that you took a chance and dived head first into your dream. Those 'every single moment was worth it' days.
Better days are ahead. Remember, sunset-watching, throttle - pushing, dream- making, rum sippin' days are still ahead of us. This is temporary... Remember: 'This too shall pass'