Flat Spins

flat_inverted_spinWhen an aircraft enters a flat spin, the pilot is often crippled by the centrifugal forces created by the spin and unable to eject, parachuting to safety.  In the early days of aviation, many pilots died before Lt. Willfred Parke became the first aviator to recover from such a spin.

How often do we find ourselves in emotional flat spins?  Today, I spoke with a friend who is in one.  In his eyes, he has let everyone down.  Every minor failure is a major issue.  Everything he touches is ruined. His world is spinning out of control and he is crippled by the force of it.  He cannot reach his ejection button.

Good thing other people can.

I have eight friends, family members and acquaintances who have committed suicide. Eight. Those are eight beautiful souls who could not reach their ejection buttons. They left behind scores of mourners who, if they had but known, would have happily pushed that button, allowing for escape.

I am a month late. September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in Tennessee where an estimated 900 men, women and children commit suicide each year. That’s more deaths than by AIDS, homicide, drunk driving or any traffic death.  But we don’t talk about it.

We need to.

Serial killers are always described as “such nice, quiet neighbors,” aren’t they? Suicide victims are often described as “so happy.” We must all look around, be vigilant and ready to help.  Don’t think that anyone you know would kill themselves? Neither did I.  But, in a completely inappropriate application of a Monty Python quote, “No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

In 2006, British comedian Stephen Fry responded to a viewer’s plea for help with her depression in a particularly moving letter:

Dear Crystal,

I’m so sorry to hear that life is getting you down at the moment. Goodness knows, it can be so tough when nothing seems to fit and little seems to be fulfilling. I’m not sure there’s any specific advice I can give that will help bring life back its savour. Although they mean well, it’s sometimes quite galling to be reminded how much people love you when you don’t love yourself that much.

I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather:

Here are some obvious things about the weather:

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.


It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
One day.

It really is the same with one’s moods, I think. The wrong approach is to believe that they are illusions. They are real. Depression, anxiety, listlessness – these are as real as the weather – AND EQUALLY NOT UNDER ONE’s CONTROL. Not one’s fault.


They will pass: they really will.

In the same way that one has to accept the weather, so one has to accept how one feels about life sometimes.

‘Today’s a crap day,’ is a perfectly realistic approach. It’s all about finding a kind of mental umbrella.

‘Hey-ho, it’s raining inside: it isn’t my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it, but sit it out. But the sun may well come out tomorrow and when it does, I shall take full advantage.’

I don’t know if any of that is of any use: it may not seem it, and if so, I’m sorry. I just thought I’d drop you a line to wish you well in your search to find a little more pleasure and purpose in life.

Very best wishes
Stephen Fry

So, whether it’s a flat spin or rain, may we always be alert to help those struggling; and, if we’re struggling, may we always be strong enough to reach for help.


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