Lean in; I’ll tell you a story about PTSD
It’s an odd feeling to have -wanting to die. Well, maybe not so much wanting to die, but just not to be alive anymore. I didn’t necessarily want to end my life because of PTSD; I simply didn’t want to feel like this anymore. I was worn out, angry, afraid, frustrated, and utterly exhausted. The kind of tired that makes you want to go to sleep –forever. And to make things even more confusing, I was the happiest I had been in many, many years.
Strange to have so much, yet nothing at the same time
After a tough couple of years, my life was now going great. I lived with my best friend; my kids were doing incredibly well, and I had one of the coolest jobs in the world. I actually had a job that kids would dress up as for Halloween! How could things get any better? And yet it couldn’t be worse. It’s not that I was unhappy; I was just ‘nothing.’ It’s hard to describe actually. When no one was looking or paying attention, I would quietly take stock of it all and wonder to myself “what was wrong with me?” Where were my happiness and joy? Why didn’t I feel peace? I mean, after all, it would all come to an end, right? It was only a matter of time before all of the good times would end. That’s what always seems to happen.
Sadly, I began to make up my mind about the world
Perhaps this was a combination of several factors; some of the things I’ve mentioned in my other posts. Maybe part of me felt everything was too good to be true; maybe I was waiting for some disaster to strike and take it all away, or perhaps this was the beginning of myself- isolation. But whatever the case, I was miserable. And to add to that, I felt guilty for not being happy. I was angry at myself for not appreciating everything I had worked so hard for. I was so happy, and yet so far from happiness; very confusing. This little dance was taking a toll on me, and I felt as though I couldn’t take it anymore. I tried so hard to see all the good life had to offer, but all I saw was a bleak world that did not interest me one bit. The thought of doing ANYTHING did not appeal to me at all. I mean who in their right mind would want to go outside on a beautiful, warm summer day with your family and go for a bike ride? All I wanted was to hunker down in my bedroom with the blinds closed and be alone. I was so tired of feeling blank.
Time to see the situation for what it is
And then a friend of mine took his life. He was a colleague. He was a co-worker. He was a fellow firefighter from my department. His name was Gene, but his friends called him Geno. That changed everything for me. You see, Geno planned his suicide ahead of time. He had put some thought into to ensure his success. It was completely unexpected. At the time I didn’t cry or even shed one tear at the news, I believe it was the fact I was already so numb inside from my inner struggles. But during his funeral, watching his crew carry his casket in full dress uniform, overcome with emotion; well that’s when something snapped in me.
Hold on tight! Over the edge we go
All of a sudden work did not matter anymore. What the guys at work thought did not matter anymore. What management thought did not matter anymore. What people were saying bout me did not matter anymore. You see Geno was one of the most grounded, calm individuals I have ever met. Everyone knew him, and everyone liked him. Geno was the kind of guy you would walk across a fire scene just to say hi to, and I have done so! He had the life that I strived to obtain. Excellent health, great friends, outstanding career; and above all he had the undying respect of every member of the Cambridge Fire Department. He was mentally centered and all about love and the universe. This six ft. Four gentle bronzed giant would be the first one to break up a fight in the fire hall, and somehow managed to do so in a way that made you feel bad for disappointing him! He was awesome that way. Geno had a perfect life. He was happy.
The moment when you see you know NOTHING!
Or so it seemed, thus proving that no one truly knows what someone else is going through. As we all know understanding, mental health is very complicated. And the way I saw it? If this man, this incredibly amazing individual that I looked up to that seemed to have it all chose to take his life, well what was going to happen to me? Geno didn’t want to live anymore. And the fact that I knew exactly how that felt frightened the living shit out of me.
You must understand that you hold all the cards
That is the tricky thing about PTSD (and other mental health issues for that matter). It has a way of getting a hold of you and can make your mind go to dangerous places. And it does not get better with time if ignored. But you CAN be fixed. It’s no different than if your knee or shoulder was acting up. You would get it looked at, right? You wouldn’t want to ignore it and risk it getting worse over time. Same thing with PTSD, it will only get worse if you don’t take care of it now. But PTSD does not have to be a lifelong sentence.
So let’s have a game plan that can give us a leg up
So what do we do? Watch each other’s backs. It’s no different than in a fire if you think about it. Be on the lookout for warning signs. Watch for changes. If you or someone else is starting to notice strange behavior in a friend or co-worker, doesn’t be afraid to open up a dialogue. It is in this PTSD battle arena where your support network can play a huge role. Listen to those who come to you with concerns.
Remember, you chose a career in emergency services to save lives. You should not need to be at the risk of losing your own.