As GOD is my witness
Let me just start out by saying the story I am about to tell NO-SHIT, a 100% true story. Now, this is not to imply that any of my other stories are fabricated or embellished in any way. They are all authentic and very real. This information may seem so outlandish and unbelievable that I felt I needed to add this clarification. So listen up, because this crazy story involves an HR employee, a medical doctor and me. What’s the worst that could happen?
Welcome to the program
Now as my struggles grew, my attendance at work began to suffer -a lot. I started missing the occasional days here and there, then entire shifts, which progressed into weeks. My attendance was sporadic, to say the least. Naturally, this landed me in our corporate ‘Attendance Management Program’, an internal process designed to help the employee get back to work. Kinda like a ‘help me help you’ process. The first step in this program is a meeting with the Human Resource department to establish a baseline on what’s up and how can you (the employee) get back to work.
The words I never thought I would say- “Thanks PTSD”
It was there, in that small office located right in the middle of the HR Department, with me sitting firmly in my chair, that I heard myself utter one of the most gut-wrenching sentences of my life. “I don’t think I can do it anymore.” I was speaking to Catherine, the head of Wellness and Health and Safety; the very individual assigned to us attendance ‘delinquents.’
Help sometimes comes from strange places
Now, Catherine was an absolute godsend. One of her roles is to facilitate a safe and speedy return to- work plans for employees, on behalf of the corporation. Not an easy task if you ask me. Her position put her right smack in the middle, trying not to pick a side while attempting to make everyone happy; to help the employee as much as possible while in compliance with corporate policy. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I started again. “But I don’t think I can do this anymore.” And with those words, I felt my breath leave my body and my heart sink. Luckily for me, however, Catherine just looked at me and stated quite matter-of- factly: “No.” “No, we are not going to do that, so let’s start looking at your options.”
You must always move forward in a battle
Now here’s the cool thing; Catherine knew enough about PTSD to know that she didn’t know a lot. Nobody did as a matter of fact. The topic of PTSD was quickly becoming a forefront in emergency services, and new legislation was accelerating this. Catherine had assured me I had the full support of the City, but there was not yet a process in place to follow. If PTSD were my diagnosis, we would learn together as we went. If I could just stay patient, she was going to do everything she could in her power to help. There was that glimmer of hope I needed. Someone was going to HELP me. Or at least try. I concluded that I was not going to find a better deal than that. “SOLD,” I said through my folded arms. And so began the search for the person or people that were going to make me normal again, or as much so as possible.
One PTSD diagnosis, please!
The first stop was to my family doctor to perhaps get some official diagnosis. I have a great family doctor and felt as though I could ask him anything. Although PTSD is not something many firefighters would talk about in public, I felt comfortable talking to the good doctor. I was looking somewhat forward to talking to him to get his take on all this PTSD stuff. After all, I was going to get fixed! Simple as that! So the day of my appointment came, and I began explaining my increased absences at work, along with some of my other symptoms, and my concern about this whole PTDS thing. But the appointment didn’t go as I thought it would.
How do I say this Doctor?
My doctor is aware of what I do for a living. In hindsight, I had reached out to him in the past, only to be told I just had anxiety and that I needed to relax more, eat better. But at this appointment, with the mention of PTSD, he asked specifically “What particular incident are you having problems with?” I remember being confused. “You mean only one?” He replied with textbook precision. “Yes, Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental illness that is the result of trauma from a single event or episode which causes intrusive symptoms in your day-to- day life. Do you have a call that bothers you?” I can vividly remember my mind racing, spinning like a Rolodex, going over some of the most fucked-up calls I can think of, each one worse than the last. (By the way, NOT the best task to ask someone who may be suffering from PTSD to complete; just saying.) I finally gave up on picking one from the blur of memories and stated that it wasn’t really just one incident at all, but more like all of them mashed together.
Well if there is nothing wrong, I will be on my way then
Now at that point, my doctor indicated there was no doubt I had empathy for the people I helped and was a very compassionate individual, but I did not suffer from PTSD. Besides, only soldiers get PTSD. ONLY SOLDIERS GET PTSD. *phew* Well, that was that. I didn’t have PTSD. I left that doctor’s office feeling a little bit better. “At least I’m not like those fucking guys taking time off because their feelings hurt” I laughed to myself. All was right in my world again, and as you can imagine that euphoric feeling was very short lived. I hadn’t even left the parking lot before it hit me.
What exactly am I fighting here?
Wait what? Only soldiers get PTSD?!? ONLY SOLDIERS GET PTSD???? If I didn’t have PTSD then what the fuck was it!? It was at that moment when I first felt real fear; like a punch in the gut. Perhaps I WAS losing my mind. Now the thought of losing my mind resulted in a great deal of self-reflection. And since I was pretty sure I was going bat-shit crazy, I did it in a fucking hurry. It made me look at myself to try to determine what had changed, and when. This new mindset inadvertently forced me to talk to those that had known me the longest which was my family. Unfortunately, I no longer had the best relationship with them.
Know who PTSD hurts
Over time, they were the ones who took the brunt of my PTSD. Often a person’s family is the first casualty; they feel the full impact of one’s disorder. As the old saying goes, you hurt the ones you love the most. This forced communication was a key factor in repairing my relationship with my family. It allowed us the opportunity to grow close again. All I can say is it’s nice to be living in times of peace again.
You know YOU the best!
I’m glad I knew enough to know that PSTD did not affect soldiers exclusively. I’m glad I trusted my gut and didn’t drop it. It certainly would have been a lot easier too. And what about the doctor that said only soldiers get PTSD? Yes, he was wrong. Way off as a matter of fact.
Funny how things turn out
Perhaps it was a ‘generation thing,’ or maybe a lack of education, or even out-of- date information. Who knows, it could be anything. Yes, it is unbelievable and hard to comprehend that in the year of our Lord 2016 a medical doctor could be that misinformed. But the fact is, not a lot of people know that much about PTSD. I’ve always said it’s impossible for one man to know everything about all men. But it is much more possible for one man to know himself. If I had taken the doctor at face value, I would still be avoiding work every chance I got. I wouldn’t have reconnected with my family. I would be no better off, worse perhaps. But he forced me to take a little time for myself and in doing so I was able to find the right people to help me. So if you want to look at it all Zen-like, that doctor did me the biggest favor of all. He inadvertently challenged me to fight for myself.
All in all, thanks, a family doctor. You helped more than you will ever know.