The JetBlue Captain Went Crazy

I held off on writing about the JetBlue captain who suffered an emotional breakdown in flight because the case seemed too cut and dry for my added perspective.

Mood music:

That’s because I was thinking about this from the perspective of a frequent flyer. I prefer that the guys running the cockpit of my plane are sober and of sound mind. If someone is on the mental edge, they shouldn’t be flying a plane. And if a captain unexpectedly loses it, he should be removed from the cockpit.

There’s nothing remarkable here. I think any airline passenger would echo my sentiments.

The justice system appears to have reached the same conclusions. According to a Reuters story posted this morning, a grand jury indicted the pilot and charged him with interference with a flight crew. From the article:

Pilot Clayton Osbon “moved through the aircraft and was disruptive and had to be subdued and forcibly restrained from re-entering the cockpit” during the flight from New York to Las Vegas, the federal indictment said.

The unusual indictment of an airline pilot was filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Amarillo, Texas. The JetBlue flight made an emergency landing in Amarillo on March 27 and Osbon, 49, was taken into custody at the airport.

Osbon is undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric examination to determine whether he can stand trial and his “sanity or lack thereof” at the time of the incident, according to court documents.

The FBI said Osbon began saying “things just don’t matter” while he was at the controls of the Airbus A320 about halfway into the five-hour flight, and that he told the flight’s first officer, “We’re not going to Vegas.”

After the pilot suddenly left the cockpit and started running up and down in the aisle, banging on a restroom door, and attempted to force his way back into the locked cockpit, several passengers retrained him until the plane landed, court documents say.

The FBI said that while he was being restrained, Osbon yelled “pray now for Jesus Christ,” started yelling about Iraq, Iran, and terrorists, and at one point shouted toward the cockpit, “guys, push it to full throttle!”

A detention hearing that had been set for earlier this week to determine whether Osbon should be released on bond was postponed while his psychiatric exam continued.

As dangerous as this guy was, I can’t help but feel for him. As someone who has suffered from panic attacks and emotional breakdowns, I can certainly place myself in his shoes. The inside of an airplane is THE WORST place on Earth to have an emotional breakdown. You’re trapped in a tube with nowhere to go. Anything can happen in that situation.

Some have called for heads to roll at the airline, but I think that’s pointless. We can yell until we’re blue in the face about how there should be tougher screening for pilots to ensure no one gets on a plane emotionally unhinged. But you can’t always catch these things in a screening.

I’ve had days where I woke up energized, confident and ready to take on the world. Then, somewhere in the day, without warning, my emotional equilibrium would take a dive. It has happened on the job, and at home. It has happened with me behind the wheel of a car and in the kitchen with sharp objects in my hand.

Screening beforehand might have revealed some latent depression, but that’s not enough to predict that the person is a ticking time bomb.

There are no good guys or bad guys in this tale. What happened happened and I doubt anything could have been done to avoid it.

If the pilot had been acting out before takeoff, the plane never would have left the ground with him on board. Not in this post-9-11 world.

That’s the problem with time bombs. You can never predict when they’ll go off. You can’t catch this type of explosive in a TSA line, especially when the TSA is preoccupied with patting down toddlers in wheelchairs.

I just hope the pilot gets the help he needs.

JetBlue Flight 191 on the ground in Amarillo, Texas. It made an emergency landing after its captain had to be restrained. Roberto Rodriguez/AP


Sorry, But You’re Wrong

I got a lot of response to yesterday’s post about possibly killing this blog (Thanks for all the support!). Everyone asked that I continue, but supported my idea of expanding the topics.

I still have decisions to make, but y’all gave me some great ideas on how to take this forward.

I did get one message to the contrary, though. And because I disagree with the writer’s point, I’m going to share it with you. I’ll keep the person’s name out of it, of course.

Mood music:

The writer said:

All I will say is that a blog like this is probably not doing you any favors.

When you know a person for business purposes, you dont want to know about their psychological disorders. If you want an extension of our writing, great. But a blog titled like this makes people who know nothing about you have predisposed notions that there would be something off about you.

That could be ignorance on their part, but why put something out there that is otherwise none of their business, when it shouldnt be an issue in dealing with you?

Blogs like this have got people denied jobs and all. Ignorance? Probably. But either way, how does a blog named for this subject otherwise help you? I cant see a single way it would unless you want to prove the ADA should apply to you.

My thoughts:

–I don’t write this blog for favors, and certainly not for sympathy votes. I write it because good people have been screwed over because of the stigma, which you actually describe quite well. I reached a point in my life where speaking out and sharing what I’ve learned was more important than what people might think of me.

–I knew I was taking a risk when I started this. Fortunately, everyone I work with supports me. The simple reason is that I proved my worth long before I came out with these stories.

–You’re absolutely wrong to say no one wants to know about this stuff. Within days of starting the blog, the vast majority of feedback came from people in the security community who have their own demons and were grateful that someone was talking about theirs. Depression, anxiety and addiction run deep in our community, and when people have a place to talk about it and find ways forward, it makes them better contributors to the industry, does it not? I think it does. By the way, a lot of the folks I speak of are in upper-level jobs — the kind you do business with.

–Part of doing this blog is to help people see that they need not be held back by adversity. That too is good for our community.

–I do agree that I risk being viewed only through the prism of what I write about. That’s why I’m considering changes. But that change isn’t going to be to reverse course. I continue to believe openness is the best approach.

Thanks for the feedback.

The Job Performance Review

A confession that probably won’t shock you: I used to turn into a pile of jelly each year when it was time for the job performance review most employed people endure every 12 months.

Mood music:

I bring this up because my annual review is Monday. Today I’m supposed to turn in my self-evaluation. And I feel an absolute lack of drama about it.

Overconfidence? Perhaps.

Apathy? Definitely not.

It’s just another indication of where my head is today compared to a few years ago.

It all goes back to the habit I used to have of trying to please everyone. I wanted to be seen as the golden boy in any job I took on. I took constructive criticism as a stab to the gut — a sign that nobody liked me and I was good for nothing.

This feeling really took on monstrous proportions when I worked for TechTarget as senior news writer for TechTarget is very big on goal setting and having different teams compete with each other. That’s really not a bad thing, but for me — a complete mess of OCD, fear and anxiety at the time — it was like poison.

Every December, as review time drew closer, I’d become a nervous wreck, unable to think about anything but how I would do on the review. Juicing up my sorry state even further was that December was award-submission time. TechTarget gives out these awards called the Bull’s-Eye. I felt enormous pressure to win at least two a year. I wrote about this sorry phenomenon in an earlier post called “The Agony Of Awards.”

It would become just another bullet point on the long list of things I hated about the Christmas season.

Like many of the things that drove my fear and anxiety, the review-time breakdown stopped at some point. I can’t exactly remember the year. Like everything else, I chalk it up to years of therapy, medication and spiritual growth on the path to getting my OCD under control.

So now I sit here, ready to write up my self evaluation. I’m thinking of just writing “I am awesome. Give me more money.”

That might be a career-limiting thing to do, though, so I will play it straight.

I just got a promotion and a raise. Playing it straight is the least I could do.

Fired For Being Depressed

I was saddened to see tweets today from a guy who says he was fired over his depression.

Mood music:

He tweeted:

“We’re a small company, there’s no room for passengers.” – My boss after I told her about my depression and how I’m getting help with it.

Then, another tweet:

I just had a phone call from my boss. I’ve been fired. Wow.

He also shared the termination letter he received:

“Dear (name removed):

It is with regret that we must terminate your contract with COMPANY NAME, due to non-performance. As discussed with your line manager, ***** ******, on several occasions, there has been a lack of activity resulting in lack of business and an unacceptable future business pipeline.

We do not take these decisions lightly but as you admitted yourself, you have been unable to pick up the phone and make calls lately and, as a small business, we cannot continue to pay a salesman a salary when no sales are forecast.

You are due one month’s notice as per your Contract of Employment and so will be paid up until 14th February 2012. This will be paid into your bank account on the 26th January (for January) and the balance on the 14th.

As of today you will be on garden leave and not expected to attend the office nor contact clients or candidates.”      

A few thoughts:

If he did his job well and the boss couldn’t handle the fact that he has a mental illness, that’s an outrage he should fight tooth and nail. I wrote about such a case a few months ago in a post called “The Mental Illness Stigma That Won’t Die, Part 2.”

My tirade was inspired by this comment posted on the LinkedIn NAMI group discussion board:


Now after trying to find another job, I applied for SSDI. I just got rejected with a letter saying,”The medical evidence in your file shows that your condition does cause restriction in your ability to function, however, while your condition prevents you from doing previous jobs, you still have the ability to do unskilled work.” 

I was diagnosed with bipolar in 1980, have bouts of depression, social anxiety, migraines, gerd and visable essential tremors in my hands and legs. I cannot stand unsupported for more than a few minutes and the tremors make me not want to leave my home and when I do anxiety worsens them. I can take medication to calm the tremors but those meds also negatively effect my memory, errors, and cognitive abilities. 

I know most people get rejected but I am almost 60 and have worked in public marketing communications at managerial levels since 1984. What should I do?

 I felt I needed to disclose as the work was socially demanding and my tremors showed.

I felt in disclosing that especially a Chamber of Commerce would be somewhat more understanding. Instead they became hostile and took away my startegic job duties and bumped me down to a typist.

The question I have is this: If someone loses their ability to do their job because of heart disease, a terrible injury or cancer, do they get dropped cold by their employer? Do they get treated in a hostile manner? Not from my experience.

I’ve known many people who developed a disease or got in an accident, and none lost their jobs. Their seat simply stayed empty and, in some cases, temps were brought in to do their work until they either recovered or resigned. They were treated with support.

If this woman did her job admirably for many years and just recently hit a period of intensified mental illness, she should be treated like the cancer or heart patient. To fire her because she’s “gone crazy” is, in my opinion, unacceptable.

These stories ratchet up the fear level for those suffering from depression, OCD, bipolar disorder and the like. It proves to the sufferer that mental illness is still viewed as a less-than-legitimate illness, something that’s more a figment of the sufferer’s imagination.

Many good people have died because of mental illness. They were ashamed and afraid to get help because of the stupid notion that they are somehow crazy and either need their ass kicked or be institutionalized. So they try to go it alone and either end up committing suicide because their brains are knocked so far off their axis or they die from other diseases that develop when the depression forces the sufferer into excessive eating, drinking, starvation, drug taking or a combination of these things.

There’s also the ridiculous idea that a person’s workmanship becomes valueless when they’re in a depression. If someone misses work because they have cancer, they are off fighting a brave battle. They are fighting a brave battle, of course. No doubt about it.

But depression? That person is slacking off and no longer performing.

Now that I’ve said all that, let’s look at the other side.

In the case of this just-fired fellow, the boss claimed he was not doing his job and that revenue was being lost.  If his illness prevented him from doing his job, that does put the employer in a bind. I get that. If his condition has suddenly nosedived and it prevents him from doing what he used to do, that’s a tragedy.

I do believe that people like us have a responsibility to prove we’re up to the challenges we seek.

Beth Horne, president and CEO of The Horne Agency, a marketing and advertising firm, has lived this from both sides, as the mental illness sufferer and as an employer. She wrote the following via the United States Mental Health Professionals group on LinkedIn:

I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 twenty years ago. I received treatment and have been stable for years, thanks to excellent therapy, medication and education. Before returning to school for my PhD in Psychology, I worked in Marketing/Advertising for several large media companies before opening my own advertising agency. I was open about my diagnosis with my employers during my interview process, and it never hindered me from being hired. In fact, I never interviewed for a job I did not get, due to my work record, resume and references.

I think that my work performance more than made up for any issues I may have had regarding my disorder, such as sometimes having periods of depression or getting a bit manic when life changes occurred. I worked very hard NOT to let them affect my work performance or reduce my ability to generate revenue for my company. 

However, I have been in management with these companies and had employees with mental issues who did not take care of themselves and they became liabilities to the company and had to be let go. Some would refuse to take their medication and attend therapy, some would miss work continually or be so over-medicated they were in a constant stupor, unable to perform their duties. I had one woman who came into the office in such a manic state I had to ask her to stay in her office until she could have her husband take her to her doctor, and to please refrain from taking any sales calls, for fear of her ruining client relations. 

If someone knows they have a mental issue/disorder, it is a personal choice whether or not to accept their diagnosis and get help and follow their treatment. Is this always easy? NO! But if they are to function in the work environment, it is their responsibility to do anything and everything in their power to stay as healthy as possible. If this is not possible for them, then it is time to look into disability.

Employers need to understand that not everyone with a diagnosis of a mental illness is like another…there are people with bipolar disorder who have little problem going on with their daily routine with just therapy and medication, while others find it impossible to blend into the work environment. I use bipolar disorder as just one example, but there are many others, as we all are aware. I have a mother who has a mild form of OCD and is a supervisor at a hospital. What better profession could there be for someone who will always be strict about following rules, cleanliness and excellent patient care than an RN? Or like my brother, who also has the same issue, works in IT?

Both are successful and well-adjusted, and their coworkers probably have no idea they have any mental problems whatsoever. So before they judge and dismiss a potential employee because of ignorance, they should look at the person as a whole and not just their diagnosis.  

Like Beth, I’ve been judged by my workmanship and not by mental health issues I’ve disclosed. That has been the case for me in every job I’ve ever had. I do my current job well, and that’s all my bosses care about. I’m very fortunate.

There have also been times in past jobs where my workmanship suffered because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was refusing to even consider therapy or medication, and I sank lower and lower.

I was reinforcing the stigma instead of breaking it.

Today I succeed because I refuse to let the struggles render me useless. I fight harder and longer, and I never give up.

But if you’re in the grip of deep depression, that’s not always possible. I feel for people in that situation, and pray that they’ll come through this better than before.

THE OCD DIARIES, Two Years Later

Two years ago today, in a moment of Christmas-induced depression, I started this blog. I meant for it to be a place where I could go and spill out the insanity in my head so I could carry on with life.

In short order, it snowballed into much more than that.

Mood music:

About a year into my recovery from serious mental illness and addiction — the most uncool, unglamorous addiction at that — I started thinking about sharing where I’ve been. My reasoning was simple: I’d listened to a lot of people toss around the OCD acronym to describe everything from being a type A personality to just being stressed. I also saw a lot of people who were traveling the road I’d been down and were hiding their true nature from the world for fear of a backlash at work and in social circles.

At some point, that bullshit became unacceptable to me.

I started getting sick of hiding. I decided the only way to beat my demons at their sick little game was to push them out into the light, so everyone could see how ugly they were and how bad they smelled. That would make them weaker, and me stronger. And so that’s how this started out, as a stigma-busting exercise.

Then, something happened. A lot of you started writing to me about your own struggles and asking questions about how I deal with specific challenges life hurls at me. The readership has steadily increased.

Truth be told, life with THE OCD DIARIES hasn’t been what I’d call pure bliss. There are many mornings where I’d rather be doing other things, but the blog calls to me. A new thought pops into my head and has to come out. It can also be tough on my wife, because sometimes she only learns about what’s going on in my head from what’s in the blog. I don’t mean to do that. It’s just that I often can’t form my thoughts clearly in discussion. I come here to do it, and when I’m done the whole world sees it.

More than once I’ve asked Erin if I should kill this blog. Despite the discomfort it can cause her at times, she always argues against shutting it down. It’s too important to my own recovery process, and others stand to learn from it or at least relate to it.

And so I push forward.

One difference: I run almost ever post I write by her before posting it. I’ve shelved several posts at her recommendation, and it’s probably for the best. Restraint has never been one of my strengths.

This blog has helped me repair relationships that were strained or broken. It has also damaged some friendships. When you write all your feelings down without a filter, you’re inevitably going to make someone angry.

One dear friend suggested I push buttons for a good story and don’t know how to let sleeping dogs lie. She’s right about the sleeping dogs part, but I don’t agree with the first suggestion. I am certainly a button pusher. But I don’t push to generate a good story. I don’t set out to do that, at least.

Life happens and I write about how I feel about it, and how I try to apply the lessons I’ve learned. It’s never my way or the highway. If you read this blog as an instruction manual for life, you’re doing it wrong. What works for me isn’t necessarily going to fit your own needs.

Over time, the subject matter of this blog has broadened. It started out primarily as a blog about OCD and addiction. Then it expanded to include my love of music and my commentary on current events as they relate to our mental state.

I recently rewrote the “about” section of the blog to better explain the whole package. Reiterating it is a pretty good way to end this entry. You can see it here.

Thanks for reading.

"Obsession," by Bill Fennell

I Have Coffee, Rock & Roll, Gum and This Keyboard. Don’t Mess With Me

Day five without tobacco is upon me, and I’m doing OK. Uncomfortable, yes. But OK.

I have other crutches to keep me tobacco free AND free of binge eating:

–I have strong coffee.

–I have all the Rock & Roll I want, and I’m keeping the music playing.

–I’m chewing a shitload of gum and my breath has probably never been so clean and fresh.

–And I have this keyboard. Writing ALWAYS helps.

But I’m still edgy. You’ve been warned.

OCD Diaries

When Mental Illness Becomes a Job Opportunity

I’m inspired by the story of a gal whose battle with serious mental illness became the path to a new career that’s allowed her to help people traveling the road she’s been on.

Mood music:

This is the story of Lisa Halpern, who took the stigma and smashed it into millions of tiny pieces.

I found out about her from an article written by Rachel Zimmerman called “When Mental Illness is a Resume Booster.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

Schizophrenia helped Lisa Halpern land her current job.

Sure, she graduated with honors from Duke University and Harvard’s Kennedy School. She’s an athlete — her first triathlon victory was at age 10 — who is clearly smart, articulate and driven. (Telegenic too — in high school, she appeared as an extra in Beverly Hills, 90210.) But it wasn’t Lisa’s academic pedigree or winning personality that won her a top post as Director of Recovery Services at Vinfen, a Cambridge, Mass. nonprofit that offers psychiatric and other support services to about 7,000 adults and children.

What makes Lisa uniquely qualified to help others deal with the ravages of mental illness is this: Her deep shame, at age 26, over forgetting how to work a coin-operated washing machine; her paranoid self-exile in a dark basement apartment three blocks from Harvard; her sudden thoughts of suicide at life’s little annoyances, from a flat tire to a mediocre test score; her descent into an isolated, pre-literate cocoon, where she was forced to begin again as a child, with “Babar” read aloud by her mother.

That was years ago, after two hospitalizations, medications that made her drool and gain weight, and voices telling her to cross the highway median while driving. These days, Lisa’s on the national lecture and teaching circuit. She speaks at film festivals, major medical conferences and has led Grand Rounds at the hospital where she was once a patient on the psych ward.

Lisa’s job at Vinfen requires her to continually exploit much of her past experience to mentor, train and oversee a statewide network of 20 “peer specialists” who care for hundreds of clients. These specialists offer counseling, referrals, medicine and deep listening to those suffering from a range of mental and social problems. There are people with named disorders — schizophrenia, depression, bi-polar, addiction — as well as those whose lives have been shattered through homelessness, lost family connections and other childhood traumas.

Pretty inspiring stuff.

The article includes a video interview where Lisa tells her story. I suggest you check it out.

I love this story for a multitude of reasons. One is that I relate to her story of hiding away in a dark room and considering suicide over life’s little annoyances. I never considered suicide over the little things, but I certainly got into a very sick state over them. It would be a car problem, or the kids making a mess of the living room, or someone not immediately returning my call during my reporting for a story at work. I’ve lost it over someone calling me as I was trying to tear through a mountain of work. I’ve lost it over a movie getting sold out, and a restaurant not having a sandwich I wanted.

For me, losing it meant getting itchy, pacing around, arms flailing, a torrent of obscenities dropping from my mouth. Traffic would always set me off. I’d pound the steering wheel and the roof. I remember pounding the roof of my second car so hard and so often that the fabric came undone and drooped down between the driver and passenger seats. I tailgated people, horn blaring nonstop. Once, with my then future in-laws in the back seat, I blew threw an intersection, nearly hit another car, and then flipped off the other driver.

The temper tantrums would result in me getting physically sick, with migraines and shakes.

During the entire time, I had to carry on with the rest of my life as normally as possible. Trust me: That was never easy, especially when I worked as night editor of a daily newspaper. Every little thing in the chaos of a normal newsroom environment would shift me into panic mode. I’d rush through stories, leaving behind glaring mistakes. It would be about getting through the list and not so much about making each item I touched better.

Looking back, it would have been good if I came clean about my sickness and maybe started writing about it for the paper. I suspect my bosses would have liked the idea. Everyone likes to follow a train wreck in slow motion, and they like it even more when the train wreck story includes the tales of one or more survivors.

But I wasn’t ready to even contemplate the possibility that I had a problem. I hadn’t yet gone through therapy or any of the other things. Back then, through my cracked lens, everything was everyone else’s fault.

By the time I started this blog, I had gone through much of the treatment and was in a much better head space. Before diving into the world of Internet security I actively sought PR and newsletter-writing jobs at various local medical institutions. At the time I was thinking I could write more from my experiences with the Crohn’s Disease.

But by December 2009 I knew I loved writing about security too much to give it up. A blog became my way of trying to do what Lisa is doing for a living. The risk, of course, was that my bosses wouldn’t approve of my side project and order me to stop. But they didn’t. In fact, they have been nothing but supportive. Part of it is because they know it’s not going to interfere with my work responsibilities. Most of it is because they’re good people.

I’ve found my balance in a way that’s different from what Lisa is doing. But her story shows that for someone with mental illness, there need not be limits. You can aim high and help others in the process. And, you can even make a living from it.

Lisa Halpern inspires me. I hope she inspires you, too.