I'm a Canadian commercial helicopter pilot, and I've been struggling with severe depression and anxiety issues since childhood.

I'm very good at faking it, well, good enough that I've been able to lie on my medical in order to get it. Initially I had a 'good reason' to, I thought that my depression issue had something to do with not being fulfilled in life and that maybe following my dreams would sort it out. Because that was the only thing I hadn't tried yet, besides chemical treatment.

Well, it hasn't. In fact, its become abundantly clear to me that its entirely a chemical issue. Its not an issue of environment, job, friends, family, its not an issue I can talk about because there is no reason in the first place. I need actual prescription treatment.

It's entirely independent of my life, which I have no complaints about. Gradually its gotten worse. I took myself off of flying duty when the suicidal ideaton started up again, and have been unemployed since as I cant even get out of bed before 4PM most days, not fit to fly in the least.

Ever since then I've been treating it with cannabis, which has had quite satisfactory results, the daily life-is-pain levels have descended from a steady 8 to a solid 4. But as everybody knows that's not sustainable with aviation drug tests, as well as obviously illegal to continue. I've done lots of research into my options for treatment that wont end up throwing my career away, but maybe its just the depression talking, but all of them see like rather optimistic and shit gambles to me. Every non chemical option i.e, shrinks, supplements, getting outside, exercise, has fallen flat entirely. TC does say on their site that they have some program for treatment, but my interpretation of it is that the goal is to have you off the medication before returning to flight, not to have you able to stably take it during, which in my case sounds like a recipe for disaster as I feel it'll just come back.

I'm seriously considering just hanging up my helmet for good and just accepting that until the issues are sorted out fully, which may be never, that I'll have to pursue another career. I don't want to, I want to be a pilot. I don't want to be a washed up former pilot, because I don't know if I'd ever get over that. But I'm killing myself slowly doing it, so I have to do SOMETHING.

Has anybody ever faced a similar situation before, or have any ideas?

Because all I can see options wise right now is; A, throw away tens of thousands and an entire career to get treatment, and possibly never get over that. Or, B, continue lying on the medical and keep going, but effectively torturing myself.

I don't know what I'm expecting asking an anonymous forum this, but I don't have anyone else to ask aviation related questions and I despise working with shrinks.

PS: Also, don't be that guy, or any variant of that guy, who goes, "Well you shouldn't have become a pilot in the first place then!", because there's always that guy. I know. Tell me when you've got a time machine to make that piece of advice worth anything.

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    $\begingroup$ Having lied on your medical forms, for what sounds like a significant length of time and to a significant degree, you're in a situation that probably nobody here is qualified to advise you on, beyond the obvious plea to get help & get clean before you touch an aircraft again. An attorney with some specialization in aviation medicine may be needed to untangle the issues you'll have when presenting your history to a treating physician, who may be compelled to share that with an AME or a government authority. This is beyond that the internet can advise you on. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Apr 1 at 4:30
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    $\begingroup$ Also, in the US at least, lying on the FAA Medical form is a felony offense that can land a pilot in jail, along with loss of all certificates. So please don't plan on continuing that path as a solution, and be very, very suspicious of anyone peddling that advice. I wouldn't try to guess what good solutions may be available for you, but spending your life one revelation away from going to prison is most certainly not an viable plan. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Apr 1 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have an easy answer for you but I do want to say - it may be better to have a mildly fulfilling life doing something else while being mentally healthy, than to sacrifice your health to fly only to continue being miserable, and worst of all possibly harming yourself. $\endgroup$ – Ben Apr 1 at 6:44
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    $\begingroup$ For what little it's worth, I'm not a washed up former pilot, but I am a washed up former software developer. I tried for literally years and years to make my "preferred career" work for me before I finally decided it just wasn't working out. So I started over in a completely different career path, and I've never been happier. I'm not saying that changing careers may cure your depression, but I am saying that sometimes a career change is the best option, even if you've invested a hell of a lot in your current career. $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Apr 2 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ Where exactly did you read that TC has the goal to get people off their medication before returning to flight? I've skimmed the official TC handbook for aviation medical examiners at tc.canada.ca/en/aviation/publications/…, and while I have to admit I didn't read ALL of it, I did not get the impression that your assumption is the case. In fact, they make explicit mention of new medication have fewer and less intense side effects that do not appear to overly hinder pilots. $\endgroup$ – Nzall Apr 2 at 12:02

I'm not going to address the legal aspects of your question, but I will tackle the psychological side as I have a degree in it - although I'm not a practicing psychologist. It sounds like you have been through a bad period and are likely coming out of it into a better period, what you need to do is see a professional and get some help very soon. Everything seems impossible when you're suffering depression, but it's very treatable and you may still be able to fly.

It's in everyone's best interest, especially yours, to have you well and functioning. As you have stated yourself going without treatment is unsustainable whether you are flying or not, so there's two possible outcomes with treatment:

  • You're better and you can still fly: pilots can fly on anti-depressants in most jurisdictions, including Canada, provided they get medical clearance
  • You're better and you do something else

Either outcome you're better, which is miles ahead of where you are now. You lose nothing by getting treatment, things can only get better with it.

Drug treatments exist for most types of depression and bi-polar type disorders, and studies show that they are most effective when they are paired with counseling. I would suggest cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as you will learn better coping strategies and thought patterns. Things will get better if you get help, so see your doctor right away.

  • $\begingroup$ This sounds very much like what my wife—who is a practicing psychologist—would recommend, down to the recommendation of CBT. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Apr 2 at 17:39

GdD gave good advice, take it. It is also pretty much as far as any advice can go in a setting such as this, or any non professional exhange for that matter, believe me. Each mental condition is unique, and while I understand the request for experiences of peers, however sincerely they are given they may only lead one astray. Go for professional help.

Having said that I'll share with you (and the rest of the internet) a few thought of a case with some similarities to yours. Remember: the following is not advice, do not draw any parallels or conclusions, let alone make decicions based on it. It is just a story of how stuff went (and still does) with someone.

You have obviously seen, that depression is a peculiar thing. It does not need to arise from any obvious source, and when it presents itself with no apparent reason, say, in a situation of life that is perfectly fine otherwise, it can be, paradoxically, horribly crippling. The loop one gets into in a situation such as that is quite unbrakeble alone and with reasoning. Help of the surrounding people cannot penetrate that wall, and at worst, the "helping" uttarances are like shoutin "swim" to a person sinking into quicksand.

Now: therapy itself in this particular case was not a direct answer or cure, and one wonders if it ever is. Not helping was the fact that the subject was highly reluctant to "go see a shrink". Finding a therapist that did not piss off in one way or another was tough enough, and the search apparently still continues, but at least the sessions in the end were able to give enough help to the wandering mind, to get a hint of what things were about. Took years though, with ups and downs and at least three diffent professionals, but eventually the subject oneself was able to figure out the main reasons for reoccuring depression, sort of gaining the ability to observe oneself from the outside when things were tough. At times, still, the subject does suffer depression, during which the perspective on life still does get distorted, but the frequency and depth are tolerable.

At start of the exploration into therapy, as there was no apparent comprehensible reason to be found for the depression, a fear of maddness, so to speak, was settling in. The somewhat akward therapy sessions were able, however to let one see what probably is the problem, and address it as much as possible. The person in question is very socially talented, being able to navigate pretty much any situation at will. Unfortunately the person is also extremely introverted, so in this case utilizing ones most proficient skill is also the most exhausting exploit. Surely avoiding social interaction alltogether is not a very viable option, but understanding the reason for paralyzing energy drain helped block most of the leak.

A sideplot in this story is of course aviation. A career and hobby goal, which, no surprise, was pretty much doomed from the beginnig for reasons made clear above, and seriously adding to the depression and anxiety along the way. Much in the same manner as using social skills to advance in life, which in turn was burning all the resources needed to support that life, this goal of aviation was pursued obsessively, further adding to the drain. Being absolutely truhtful, licences should have been unobtainable for this person because of the hardships experienced. When it became obvious that aviating was no longer possible (actually depression was not the prime reason for that), the prime reaction was clearly that of relief. I suspect the person probably actively pushed the matter into background to let it soak in, making it look less of a blow than it actually was.

Now, eons later, the subject of unfulfilled dreams still obviously pisses off, but age clearly brought some help along the way. You see as days go by, less and less thing are possible. To survive one will adapt, do different things, and be proud of what got done in the younger years. Realizing that one should not let what one does define one, or that desperately hanging on to something, however deeply one (at least thinks one) loves it can be utterly destructive. At least in this case it almost was. For this person, there is life after aviation. It's not what the person thought to have subscribed for when younger, but it's ok enough to push on.

I hear this person say often, that the meaning of life is not to become what you want to be, but to become what you are.

I'll leave you with that thought. It may be just a mantra to keep oneself happy, (or happier) but at least in this case it seems to work, for whatever reason.

P.S. this "answer" may get deleted as it really is no answer according to ASE standards. I may also delete it myself, for no particular reason.


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