No Silver Lining: Suicide, Depression, & Mental Illness in ‘Flight Attendant Life’

In awareness of National Suicide Prevention Day and all of the flight attendants who are ‘not always ok,’ let’s be real, let’s be honest, and let’s support each other. If you need help or know someone who might need help, please reach out to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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You have become accustomed to ‘playing perfect.’ You are phenomenal— or so they see you as such. All the details. All the charm. All so ‘got-it-all together’ dream job that revolves around your title of ‘flight attendant.’ Any problem can look good for a moment when drowned out by the perception of glamour induced by that uniform. Even the divorce. Even the breakup. Even the financial issues. Even the fights with your family or the friendships gone awry. The depression that you can never shake— no matter how hard you try to leave it at your last departure point is masked. You wear your mask like an actress wears her character. Why is your job not changing your life for the better when it changes your soul, your cities, and everything so important to you anyway? Why is it so lonely lately?

Beneath your perfectly pressed uniform and model-beauty smile, your reality is cloudy and chaotic. You feel you are drowning above these clouds. Recently, flight attendant suicides have tragically become a news story. Some have said, “Nobody cares,” but I think a better statement is “NOBODY KNOWS!” We hide so well and with so much destination hopping, it’s easy to ‘pretend happy’ for 24hrs. If you have not lived this life, you will NEVER understand the pain that can come from traveling too quickly, living multiple existences (of home and away), while NEVER feeling like you belong anywhere and yet you can chameleon to everything. Compound all of that with the scientific fact that circadian rhythm interruptions lead to depression and fatigue induced by jet lag and frequent travel schedules leads to chronic anxiety and other complications. So, why are we so surprised that are dream job is killing us?

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I love this lifestyle to my core and yet, at my core, I have cried and cried and cried at how empty it feels at times and how empty I feel in the life. The flight attendant sitting next to you on the jumpseat? The really bubbly one serving you a diet coke? She might be dying inside and unless we figure out a way to reach her at a deep level— in a kind, supportive, and consistent way— she may be front page news, too. Suicide, depression, mental illness, and addiction does not happen to “crazy people.” This happens to Type-A personalities. This happens to the successful ones. The ones who have that envious life and adventure all the time. The ones with the nice cars. The ones with the shitty cars. Pain is not selective or cares who you are and what you do. It just wants to cut you and sometimes you are just too tired to dodge pain’s daggers.

Let me encourage to dodge one more time.

When ‘Flight Attendant Life’  is good, it’s really good. But when it’s bad— it’s bad and many would never even guess how bad. It doesn’t have to be that the job is bad or that trips terrible or that your crew is shitty. It just gets exhausting and so cyclical. Flight. Flight. Delay. Flight. Drinks with the crew. Min rest. Flight. Slam-Click hotel door. Flight. Home. Pack. Flight. Drinks. Flight. Mean pax. Nice pax. Too many pax. “Where am again?”

There’s a moment that I think hits every flight attendant or pilot at some point. You don’t really have anyone you connect with except through your phone. We curate a life that looks so good on Instagram but when did we last take a minute to thoughtfully curate the happiness of our souls. What if happiness actually means that we stay home everyday and take cute cat pictures. Or, God forbid, take no pictures at all? What if it means we took five minutes of stillness to find out who we are again. We all need to rest and reset at some point.

I am no expert when it comes to suicide and helping those with depression. I only know what it’s like to go through the ups-and-downs of life as cabin crew. Ten years ago, at a very, very low point, I begged the Universe to, “Please let me stop breathing.” With more gratitude than I have within me, I never got my wish and instead, I became a flight attendant. ’ A few months ago, I drove down an empty Los Angeles freeway at 0300— in a personal space of being completely happy and fulfilled with my career. I had been up for over twenty-four hours after returning home from Rome, Italy. I was so tired. I don’t know the span of time that happened between when I remember and when I don’t but I must have fallen asleep. Instantaneously, I felt strong hands grip my shoulders and a sharp, bony point— like a person’s elbow— forcefully hitting my stomach and mid-chest. My eyes jolted open as my breath caught from the sudden blow. For the first time in days, I felt fully awake. Scared with reverence and completely breathless. The forceful wake-up was followed by a very distinct message; not exactly audible and not exactly my own thought but something Beyond. It’s NOT your time. I still have things for you to do.

Gratitude. That’s the only thing that comes to mind.

There is something for you here. There is something for you beyond the depression, the job frustration. The exhaustion. The days you don’t know if you will make it through. I have an amazing adventure as a corporate flight attendant, and yet, I have honestly been at my max stress-level recently. Bubbly, happy, healthy best version of me, ‘living my best life,’ feels crushed at times, too. If you didn’t get the memo— “NONE of us have it fucking together.” Even when it’s our favorite job that we have ever had. Even if we don’t really know what’s wrong right now. We just don’t feel exactly right. These are the times to tell someone, “I’m not actually ok.” This is the time to be kind to yourself.

When I am in a downswing with my job or completely stressed out like I am now, it’s when I have to implement my own game plan to find my happy. Often, it simply means one word— Boundaries. I’ve not set clear boundaries for my work, for my relationships, for my health. In bullet point format, my stress is best counterbalanced in the following ways:

  • Boundaries (Take time // Take a break)
  • Kitesurf (my happy place)
  • Friends // Support
  • Nutrition // Health (Supplements like CortiZEN that help balance moods, regulate sleep, and manage stress naturally)
  • Sleep
  • Be kind to myself (lower expectations)

Once again, seek support if you are in a tough spot or if you know of someone who is not their vibrant self. Red polished lips and pretty toned nails cover us up well, but just know, there is always a place you were meant to be at home. To feel loved and to belong.

Love you so much

Kara

About the Author Kara

Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.

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