An Aircraft Engineer’s Crash Jitters

An Aircraft Engineer’s Crash Jitters.

Anthony was in his mid-50s, happily married to Molly, and had two teenage children. He was the chief engineer in a multinational aircraft engine maintenance firm, and flies to various countries in the East Asian and Southeast Asian region regularly, to problem solve and supervise the company’s far-flung staff in the major cities. He was outgoing and maintained strong social ties with his extended family and friends. He was doing extremely well in his profession and enjoyed his work thoroughly, but about a month ago, he suddenly grounded himself. Absenteeism from work became the norm, as each morning he would wake with a cold sweat and an unexplainable fear would grip him. Going to work was the last thing he wanted to do. After meeting with his church’s pastor, he was referred to me. His wife Molly accompanied him for every counselling session, as he was too nervous to drive on the roads. After conducting some diagnostic tests and followed by an interview, I referred him to a psychiatrist, as his anxiety levels, which he had been attempting to cope for more than a month on his own, hit the ceiling. He was immediately put on a daily medication regime for an anxiety disorder.

A few months ago, the plane that he was to have flown in, but had cancelled his flight booking at the last minute, due to some unforeseen circumstances developing at the office, had crashed; killing all on board. His panic attacks started a week after the crash. Each attack was so disabling, that he thought he would not survive the next, as his heart beat became rapid and his breathing laboured; he felt as if his heart was on the verge of ‘exploding.’ When he did make it to the office, he would not venture beyond his own room, and would rather forgo his lunch for fear of setting off a panic attack if he left the office. Molly would pick him up at 6.00pm each day. It did not occur to him to connect these severe attacks to the plane crash, until he came to see me. After the diagnosis was confirmed, his company’s director was very understanding and compassionate, and Anthony was given a month’s leave, with an understanding that he would still be available for consultation by the firm’s engineers on the telephone.

Molly’s emotional and moral support was extremely valuable as we worked with Anthony twice a week to bring his daily anxiety levels down to a manageable level. He was driving to work, albeit with Molly initially sitting next to him. Then as his medication was reduced to a maintenance dose, he began driving to work on his own. Despite his occasional panics, he learnt to bring his own anxiety level down immediately, and was able to function fairly normally at work, and was soon back to flying around the region.