Let’s call it what it is
The Fire Department is like high school on steroids. If these guys don’t hear a rumor by 10:00 in the morning, they’ll make one up. There is a reason that the expression ‘Tell a friend, telephone, tell a firefighter’ exists. Firefighters have a long-standing tradition of picking something apart until it bleeds, and then look for another sore to pick. It’s a firehouse!!! Of course, they are going fucking talk about your PTSD! Now having said that.
The by-product of PTSD that shocked me the most
Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t this open about my PTSD six or seven months ago. It has been and continues to be an on-going process. Working in the town you live in can have benefits, no doubt. However, when I first went off sick, I was paranoid about running into someone from work. I would scan stores and restaurants for co-workers, avoid common areas, and constantly be on the look-out anytime I was out in public. I would panic if I saw one of the trucks on the road. Even my kids would act as spotters for me. “Hey dad” my son would yell from the back. “That looks like A-1 and the Rescue heading this way!” And with a quick turn of the wheel, we would be moving in the opposite direction. It may sound funny now, but at the time, it was humiliating. After all, it seemed I too was subscribing to the social stigma that if you aren’t physically injured, then you aren’t wounded at all. I was afraid of being spotted, and then subsequently talked about. Naturally, this began to take a toll on my home life.
Why even give PTSD air time?
So what is the reason for sharing this pride-swallowing story? You see, it was exhausting living like that; it’s impossible to keep up. It’s a delicate balance, and I was tired of living like that for the past five months. Not to mention this was taking away my energy and focus that I was supposed to be applying to getting better. I went from being someone you could not physically get out of a firehouse if you tried, to me damn near rolling my mini-van to avoid the possibility of sitting at a traffic light next to a truck full of firefighters, most of which were my best friends. They were dark times, to say the least.
Going to have to get real for a second
And it is precisely this kind of fear that keeps people from taking the time they need. Look I’m going to get real here for a second. I understand that emergency services are not like other jobs. There is a deep level of trust and comradery that exists that you won’t often find in other lines of work. Your crew means a lot to you and their opinions and what they think of you can sometimes mean the world. But after 30 years, after a long and fruitful career when it comes time to retire, to go home, you are no longer required to report for duty. What do you have left? What is waiting for you? Yes, you will still have those work friendships and occasional get-togethers here and- there to retell old stories; but then what? What you have left is your family; your family that has been there for you and stood by you through good times and bad. So if you have put your family through hell simply because you were more concerned about what the guys at work think, well let me tell you, friend, you have officially backed the wrong horse.
You have more time then you think
If you are lucky, after it’s all over and you’ve gone for that last ride on the trucks you could potentially live for another 20 or 30 years. Fuck me; that’s a good life for some people! So, although respect is something you must have in the firehouse, it’s not worth the cost of a broken home in the golden years of your life.
I ask you, which road would you choose?
Some of the best friends I have ever had in my life wear the same uniform as I do. The thought of leaving them at work while I took time solely for me was almost too much to take. I didn’t like the idea of being away from my crew, being out of the loop. Trust me; the PTSD called me a coward way before anyone at work did. So after looking around at a failed marriage, a rocky relationship with my parents, my kids starting to enter the teen years, on top of whatever the fuck was going on in my head; well at some point, a man needs to know his limitations. Yes, I love the job, yes I love the guys at work, and of course, I more than love my family. But the overwhelming truth was undeniable – if I was not careful, I was sure to lose them all. So, you must understand, it was not ‘guts’ at all that made me stand up and say “YES I NEED HELP” as the ads might suggest. Nope, I knew if I didn’t do it, I was going to lose everything. Now listen up kids, because this is where the story turns. You see a man that is willing to risk it all is the only one that has earned the right to win it all. I honestly believe that. Because in this case, it’s true.
You mustn’t fear what’s in your head
And you know what? I do still get out for coffee with the guys. And you know what else? The guys are just as fuck-off awesome as they always were. We still talk about the same things we always talk about, and the same things that drive us crazy, and who’s going where on vacation, and so on. But it’s nice to see that the respect is still there. The only one creating those barriers was me. They were never actually there.
You all know the answer to this
So, I guess the moral of the story is this. Don’t fear the time away from work and worry what may or may not be said about you in your absence. In the long-term scheme of things, it’s irrelevant. Instead, focus your energy on your family; those that have been by your side before, during and even long after the fire department. Ask yourself this, who is going to be cutting up your meat for you when you’re 80? If it’s your crew then yeah, you should give every consideration to what they think.
If not…do I even need to say it?