When The Pilot Crashes – When You’re Not at Your Best

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.

- Isaac Watts

Boots and Bee Photography - by Brittany Graham

Boots and Bee Photography – by Brittany Graham

Past couple weeks have been pretty rough for me.  Three weeks ago, on a Sunday night I came down with a high fever, chills and joint aches.  I spent the next 4 days in bed sleeping miserable.  I finally went to the doctor when my fever spiked to 103.7, which I believe is a record for me, as I’m normally quite healthy.  My husband immediately took me to the doctor, who informed us that it was a case of the flu, and that fevers higher than 102 are especially dangerous for women my age (my age?! I’m only 40!) because it can cause dehydration, fogginess, and even delirium.

Um, I may have tried to inform my husband at one point that there were monsters in our sunroom.  Live and learn, right?

Um, I may have tried to inform my husband at one point that there were monsters in our sunroom. Live and learn, right?


I am usually a rather assertive, get-things-done kind of person.  I do not like to procrastinate, and I’m not one to engage in idle chit chat. In other words, I’m a terrible patient.  So that Monday night I was faced with a huge problem: I couldn’t fly the plane anymore. I couldn’t Pilot. I literally could not talk coherently (during the doctor visit, my normally attentive doctor actually stopped talking to me and addressed my husband exclusively), and I was too weak to carry on a prolonged conversation anyway. I couldn’t keep thoughts in my head, and, well….just couldn’t.  But I had training sessions to conduct. Return phone calls and emails to handle.  Life doesn’t just stop because you’re sick, and life doesn’t really care if you can’t Pilot anymore.  It goes on…sometimes without you. So I did the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

I asked other people to completely Pilot me and my life.

My husband ended up doing return phone calls and explaining my situation (and fortunately, clients and potential clients were all exceptionally gracious).  Sessions had to be cancelled and rebooked.  Emails had to be attended to by people other than me.  Facebook posts, website maintenance (of course the Darwin Dogs’ webpage crashed right then), Twitter, Instagram….all had to be handled by Not Me.  It was terrifying. Not only that, but my personal life!  I had to have someone else grocery shop, and while my husband is an active parent in my child’s life, we co-parent.  I was asking him to do everything from homework to meal planning to brushing my daughter’s hair.  I had to ask my friend to pick up my children from school every day; each day I thought I’d get better…each day I didn’t.  It was exceptionally difficult for me, to say the least.

Fortunately my husband found the dinglehopper, so River's hair could be brushed.

Fortunately my husband found the dinglehopper, so River’s hair could be brushed.

The thing to remember is that Piloting is a big piggy bank: whomever has the most money in their piggy bank is Pilot.  So for example, when I’m in a strange city with my husband, he is usually in charge of navigation because he’s better at it, or has more money in his Piloting Piggy Bank than I do when it comes to navigation.  But if I’m just with my children in a strange city, I Pilot, because I have more money in my Piloting Piggy Bank when it comes to navigation than they do.  I had no money in my Piloting Piggy Bank for anything…everyone was in a better position to Pilot than I was. And that’s a truly terrifying place to be.

But then I thought of my Sparta.  Sparta happens to be very dog-reactive.  She isn’t a bad dog (she’s incredible), but she’s convinced that every other dog out there is a vicious predator who is trying to kill her.  Nobody made her that way, she wasn’t traumatized, nor was she subjected to vicious dogs herself.  Some dogs are just like that. She has a legitimate fear (at least in her mind).  I don’t pooh-pooh that.  We all have phobias, and quite frankly, hers makes more sense than most phobias.  My phobia is a fear of heights.  I seriously doubt anyone on this planet could Pilot me enough to get me to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, or to skydive.  But there I was, asking her to do the equivalent every day.

What other dogs look like to Sparta.  Hint: that ain't Beethoven.

What other dogs look like to Sparta. Hint: that ain’t Beethoven.

Every time I take Sparta for a walk, there is the potential she will meet her phobia: another dog.  She trusts me enough to allow me to Pilot her through her phobia, right past that dog.  It isn’t always easy, and sometimes I need to Pilot her more than others, but she has made tremendous progress, and I love her for it, and am grateful for her faith in me.

Being Piloted can be very scary.  I had never had to have anyone Pilot me to such an extent as now.  Yes, things were dropped (a missed training session, and several phone calls that slipped through the cracks), just as I’m not always perfect when I’m Piloting Sparta.  But gradually you build a trust. Gradually you realize that even though the other person isn’t perfect, they are better equipped to Pilot than you are.  It takes a while to build that trust, and now I know first hand.  

Unfortunately, my recovery from the “flu” has been anything but simple, and therefore has required me to ask for help, or be Piloted, for a long duration.  What started off as flu-like symptoms were finally diagnosed as a severe kidney infection in conjunction with kidney stones.  I’m still not healthy yet, but I’m learning that when I can’t safely Pilot myself through life, that trusting someone to Pilot me isn’t actually as scary as I thought it would be. 

We did it...together

We did it…together

I imagine that’s how Sparta felt.

The more I Pilot her, the easier it gets to Pilot her.  The more people help me recover, the easier it gets to trust my friends and family to help Pilot my life, and the faster I can recover.   I’ve also learned that the best Pilots are able to accept when they can’t Pilot a situation anymore, and need to step back and let others take over.  Even if just for a little while.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

3 thoughts on “When The Pilot Crashes – When You’re Not at Your Best

  1. Pingback: The Beauty of Failure | Darwin Dogs

  2. Poor you! Your health is in my prayers — this is how I felt the first day home from the hospital after a bout with pancreatitis. Hang in there, get lots of rest, and be patient — your strength will return soon.

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