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My demon is an angel

What follows is something I rarely talk about. But I believe it’s necessary in order to heal. I also believe that if this story helps just one person come forward and want to seek help, then it’s all worth it.

It was June 26th of 2010. I was in medic school and had been a firefighter for only 5 years with a part time department at this point. I came into work eagerly hoping a call would come in as I needed the experience to finish my medic ride time for class. I remember it very clearly because this would be the last time that I ever hoped for a call.

Nothing happened during the first part of the shift at station 2. Nothing new, especially since I needed the points. I went to my bunk somewhat disappointed. That lasted till 0200. Ambulance abc respond for the 5 year old having a seizure.

En route to the address I remember being apprehensive as I didn’t have much experience with pediatric patients. Suddenly I hear the radio come alive with the voice of a concerned dispatcher. She is telling us that she is issuing CPR instructions and the patient is turning blue. It wasn’t more than 20 seconds later that the station 1 Lt. Comes on the radio saying if we needed help we better call mutual aid. He followed up with we are busy. It was way too early for my brain at the time. All I could think was what in the F#%k was more important than a 5 year old not breathing!!

Arriving on scene, we arrived at the same time as a local police officer. I begin pushing on the chest of a little girl with gorgeous blonde curls. I switch between the gravity of the situation and asking the police officer for equipment and telling her where it can be found.

We found out from her parents that she woke up her parents saying she didn’t feel well. She had a strong fever so dad put her in a cool bath. That’s when she had the seizure. Shortly after she stopped breathing.

We did all we could in the house to stabilize her. We began moving to the ambulance. I remember every single step I took in the house. I remember the police holding onto my back as I walked down the stairs, I remember the feel of the cool morning air. I also remember the sound of her dads voice when he said “that’s just great… she’s dead!!”

We drove like hell to the hospital trying to get as much done en route as we could. Several times I would see the pt going from asystole to what looked like a sinus rhythm. Each time I allowed myself to get my hopes up only to find that its PEA. Then finally I had a weak pulse… right back to PEA. No matter what tried, she wouldn’t hold on. I could also see that she wasn’t quite ready to give up.

We arrive at the hospital, do the turn over and my partner goes to write the report. I was glued to the room. Could have been 5 minutes, could have been 5 days. I didn’t move. I was just fixed on the little girl that should be in bed getting the sleep she needed for a long day of playing with her friends.

45 minutes later, they stopped working. Said it was enough. My heart fell out of my body. I started walking. Mechanically moving to pick up supplies, then returning to the ambulance to clean. I told the guys that they called it. She didn’t make it. I could see the eyes drop to the floor but they didn’t let on that it bothered them.

Later back at the station, there was no talking, no tv, and no eye contact. I tried to bring up something and was told we weren’t talking about it. That’s how it stayed. For years… in the shadows. Something we didn’t talk about. I have done a lot and seen a lot. I have cut dead bodies from vehicles, my entire company came within a minute of falling Through a floor into a basement fire, but nothing has affected me like this beautiful little girl.

I became an insomniac, I didn’t want to lay in bed, my thoughts would get me. I was having horrible dreams when I did sleep. My wife kept telling me that I would swing my arms in my sleep and throw pillows. I also found myself excusing myself from groups as anxiety took over. For example, I once hid in a bathroom because a waitress told me they didn’t have a drink I ordered! And of course my anger… I didn’t recognize any of it.

Fast forward years later. I felt that I was in a good place with it all. Time is supposed to heal all wounds right?! What I wasn’t seeing is the way I treated people. One day everything came to a head. I had my wife ask me why I treated her like garbage over small things. I couldn’t see that I was mistreating her so badly! Not only that, but it had been going on for years! Then I had my son…my 4 year old son that I felt looked up to me like a god ask me “daddy? Why do you get so mad at people?” That was the moment I knew I had a real problem. I could now see my anger coming out, I could usually stop it, but now I was becoming withdrawn so as to avoid it.

Eventually I had a few good brothers and sisters tell me about myself and make me seek help. It took me several doctors to find someone that I liked, or connected with. I learned that not every doctor is a good fit. What works for one person may not work for the next.

Today, I feel I am somewhat better. I still don’t really sleep at night. But when I do, it’s sound and I don’t have the nightmares. I also enjoy being around people more. I’ve been told I am also more pleasant to be around. More importantly my wife and son are happier.

You don’t have to live in silence, you don’t have to get completely better in one week. It may be a long road to recovery, but every little victory is just that. A little victory! If your hurting, let’s take a walk.

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Walk with me

Hello! Brothers and sisters, my name is Brian. I have been a professional firefighter since 2007. In that time I have witnessed some of the best in life, and also some of the worst. I have been in situations (much like you have I’m sure) that made me want to give up.  I was fortunate enough to have a few brothers pull me to the side and love me enough to make sure I got help before I did something I couldn’t take back.  I made this site as a testament to them. I want you to know that you are enough. It’s ok to NOT be ok, and I’m glad that you are here.

If you ever feel like life, career, family, or just your own thoughts are getting too heavy…Lets take a walk.

If you ever feel like you could have done more or just need a friendly ear…Lets take a walk.

But most importantly, if you feel as though your in too deep and you have no one to turn to… Lets take a walk.

This site is not meant to be professional help. Nothing can take the place of licensed mental health professionals (Lord knows I’ve had my share of time with them). I only want you to see my story, read something here that sounds interesting, or share a story that may help a brother or sister.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

Can we take a walk?

Friend: Do you have time to talk?

You: Sure! What’s up?!

Friend: I need help. I can’t live like this any more…..

What you just read is the start of a very powerful conversation! When a friend confide in us about their insecurities and vulnerabilities, they are giving a part of themselves that has been hiding for quite some time. This is not something to be taken lightly!

When someone trusts us with their deepest thoughts, we need to understand the extreme amount of trust they have put on us.

So what do we do next?

All we have to do is listen. Don’t just hear them, but truly listen!

Maybe all they need is to get something off their chest, but what happens when the problem is deeper? As I like to say, I’ll walk with you until you find your way. What this means is that I cannot fix your problem. I’m just a caring friend. What I can do however is be with you until you find something that works, whether it be a therapist, or a steady program; I will be with you until you a professional you mesh with!

This is truly all we can do for someone. We cannot offer professional advice, but we can let our brothers and sisters know what we went through, what worked for us, and what didn’t. We are essentially cheerleaders for their emotional well-being.

You: Thank you so much for trusting me enough to share that. Finding the strength to let that out had to be tough! I just want you to know I’m here for you!

Friend: Yeah… I have been struggling for so long to get that out, but something has to give.

You: well, I’m no professional, but this is what worked for me. It may not be a perfect route for you, after all, it took me several trials to find someone I fit with, but I’ll be here for you until you find your way!

Who’s holding the ball?

Brothers and sisters, if you are reading this, I KNOW your heart is in the game. You are willing to take the walk when asked. What follows is just some food for thought.

“Call me if you need anything.”

“I’m here for you”.

“I’ll make time if you need me!.”

“Let’s get together sometime”

We all say these things to our brothers and sisters. We want to believe that we are ready to help them, to provide an ear or a shoulder. Now, I know by and large, we are! We want those we love and depend on to be ok. We want them to continue on, and we want them to thrive. The problem with the way we go about it: IT DOESNT WORK!

When we say things like: call me if you need anything, or I’m here for you, the problem is that it leaves our brothers and sisters with the ball they just passed. They have to make the next move. Think back to a time when you could have really used some help, maybe you even beat around the bush about wanting it. Inevitably someone says: “ well call me if you need anything”. 9 times out of 10, I’m betting you never called. You passed the ball, it was given right back! Without validation, you tried to run with it yourself.

From experience, I know how hard it is to seek help, or even to admit that it’s needed! Even when the hardest step is accomplished, ANYTHING can make us fumble and quit. Knowing this, especially in ourselves, it’s VITAL to keep things moving upfield when we are trusted (and it truly is the ultimate trust) by our brother or sister that says they are not ok. This in and of itself can be a very touchy thing. Especially when the need for help is noticed and not explicitly mentioned.

So again I ask you, who’s holding the ball? Ultimately the ball is always in our brother or sisters court, but we don’t need to pass it right back.

“Ok, what’s on your mind?”

“I’m coming over, let’s get coffee!”

“Let’s set something up, when is good for you?”

These responses not only tell someone you are there for them, but you actually WANT to help. If we are going to pass the ball back, we need to show that we want it back! This could mean the world to someone going through a rough time.

I’m always up for a walk. When you feel lost, I’ll walk with you until you find your way. Ultimately, when someone asks for help, the ball is theirs to hold. When it’s passed to us, let’s pass it back in a better position.

Are you properly using your now?

Oh boy! The grass needs cut, I need clean the pool, laundry is piling up, my son needs breakfast, and don’t even get me started on all that I need to get done at work! Dang it! I forgot to get that essay sent in for school! Do I still have time?!

Sound familiar?! It should, it’s what goes through I would assume everyone’s mind regularly. Just a laundry list of things to stress about.

Skip ahead to breakfast being out of the way and the pool being cleaned. Now it’s just me and the lawnmower. I actually enjoy this time despite the heat. I can put on my music or a podcast to just get lost in while I do the menial work of walking back and forth. Today I chose a podcast; Marcus Latrell and team never quit. If you haven’t checked it out I highly recommend it!

As I was stressing about all that needed to get done after I finished mowing I heard this (paraphrased):

You cannot take a breath for the future or the past! He went on to further explain that living in the past or for the future is pointless.

What I got from this is thst Everything you do is for the moment, in the moment, or for the very next step. Worrying about the past takes away from dealing with now. Anxiety about the future doesn’t help either. After all, when things go wrong, they happen in the here and now, not the future!

Please don’t misunderstand me, it’s not a bad thing to prepare for the future. But do it in the hear and now. Prepare for it by making your present the best it can be. Don’t forget the past either! But look upon it for what it is: a memory. We can’t change it, but we can control how we use it.

Use your now, use it for what it’s meant for! Use it to live the best way you can! The past is a training tool and the future will come whether you stress about it or not.

When you feel overwhelmed take a deep breath, but take it for now. Be mindful of where you are and what you are trying to do, and as always, if you need me. I’ll always walk with you!

Brian

How can I make a difference?

First and foremost, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read this blog and offer your support. Without you, this wouldn’t exist!

Back to the title. The question I get most often is: “How can I help you with this?” Or the statement: “Let me know what I can do to help you!” The best answer to that is simple: Keep up the good work!! Your willingness to help is where the answer lies.

I am not a professional, I didn’t go to school to counsel or treat anyone. I just started out wanting to be an ear; a conduit for others to open up to. Someone safe to unload your burden on. A shoulder. You all have the same ability.

Here and now I challenge each and every one of you. Walk with me. Become someone willing to just be there. Take a peer support class, read a book on the subject, or just open up about your own struggle. It’s really nothing more than the firehouse table, the roll call room, or the barracks. You become where others can talk freely about their lives.

If you haven’t realized it yet my brothers and sisters, you are already doing your part. So next time you get a feeling that one of our own isn’t quite 100%, remember these words: are you ok? Do you want to take a walk?

Does stress have to be post traumatic?

Lately in the media, and on everyone’s mind has been the topic of post traumatic stress disorder. All my feelings about the word disorder aside(check out my last article), I submit a question: Does trauma or stress have to present itself months or years down the road for it to be taken seriously?

The answer is absolutely not! As first responders we are subjected to many different sources of stress, anxiety and trauma on a daily basis. Sometimes that stress and trauma can take quite a long time to manifest into something recognizably amiss. Other times, we notice it right away. These are called acute stress reactions, and they can be just as overwhelming as anything else.   I will not play games with your emotions or mine to mention specific instances for examples; I’m sure we can all pull from experience.  What is important to take away however, is that your emotions are valid! You have every right to experience them, and there is help!

So what can we do?

Now for some good news! Whether you wish to seek solice, treatment, or just validity, the avenues are much the same as for anything else: 

  • Talk to someone you trust!
  • EAP (employee assistance programs)
  • Counselingpsychologypsychiatry
  • Self care (works best with a little professional guidance)exercisemeditationmindfulness
    • a loved hobby

Rest assured brothers and sisters, no matter how you feel, no matter when you feel it, you will always be validated here. Stressful situations,  no matter when or how we choose to process them, are a part of the job for sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence when making heads or tails of them. I’m here if you need me.

As always: I’ll walk with you until you find your way.

What disorder?!

My brothers and sisters, you all know that I love each and every one of you, but what I am about to say may sting. I don’t believe you have a mental health DISORDER.

You don’t have to live with this pain FOREVER. This is not the way things are going to be FROM NOW ON! What you do have is an INJURY! An injury that can be healed.

If you broke your arm, you would get it set, put in a cast, and go to physical therapy. Not only would you do it, you would probably tell others about your progress. People ask you questions and you gladly answer. It’s just part of the job right?!

Our brains are no different. We need to start understanding that while trauma and hurt are part of the job, the experience is in fact an injury; one that can be healed. I, for one, benefited greatly from EMDR treatment. But others are out there.

I’m not saying that there is a magic treatment out there that will free you from your pain. I’m not saying that with treatment, your bad memories will disappear. What I am saying, is that by reprocessing, and working through your injury, you can learn to live a healthy life with a healed brain.

Not feeling ok with a traumatic event is healthy! We aren’t supposed to enjoy it or block it out like robots; but when it hurts, you CAN heal. You don’t have a post traumatic stress DISORDER. you have a post traumatic stress INJURY.

Lets take a walk sometime and find a way to allow you to get better.

From the bottom of my heart

Today as I got out of bed I received a wonderful thank you message from an anonymous source. I have to tell ya, it’s amazing to be able to start a morning feeling this good! To all of you that have ever dropped me a line, this thank you is for you. This site would not exist without the support of my brothers and sisters. To those of you waiting to reach out, just know that you do not have to leave any contact information. If you need to take a walk sometime, an email would be great, but I will never ask for a name unless you offer it. So again, thank you all very much. I hope you gain something from this site, I know I have benefited greatly on my own walk from people like you. As always, if you need anything, please, let’s take a walk

Sincerely, truly, fraternally,

Brian

Mental Health Viewpoint: The Fine Line Between WHAT and WHO.

In the last few years we have witnessed a major turn in the way we view our minds. First responders of the past were though of as hard men that had a calling. This calling brought out the best of men and women that saw the worst the world could offer. Now we know that even these men and women were merely as human as we are, and humans feel things. We are all affected by what we see, but it may affect us in vastly different ways.

Now I pose a question: Is being a first responder WHO, or WHAT you are?

We all start out on our journeys in much the same way. Walking through the door eager to learn. We wait for an opportunity to prove ourselves to our brothers and sisters in the hopes we will soon be accepted. We work our jobs, but go home to our lives. In these moments being a first responder is WHAT we are.

All to soon we get the calls under our belts, or the time in theatre. We feel like this is what life has always been. We lose the ability to see the defining line between our professional and personal lives. At this point, being a first responder is WHO we are.

Neither position is a bad spot to be in on the surface. If being a first responder is a WHAT, we still have the ability to be great at what we do. WHATS can still be true brothers, sisters, mentors, and teachers; all the labels our community needs. WHATS still also carry the risk of being affected by what we see. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD and suicide are still real for the them. Bad calls hurt, but making a first responder WHAT you are allows one a mental area of refuge, a safe place to spend your time and devote yourself to. You may be a paramedic, a fireman, a soldier, or a police officer. You may have still be hurting. You still may need to talk, but after hours you’re a father, a mother, or a friend.

It’s been my opinion, however, that the largest risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse issues lie with those that use being a first responder to define WHO they are. It’s no longer a job that you devote yourself to, but a lifestyle. WHOs are still wonderful family men/women, friends, and have exciting lives outside of the job, but first and foremost they are first responders. They are firemen that are fathers, Cops that are friends, soldiers that are brothers and sisters. The job is our number one priority with everything else being second, or even lower. When things go wrong with the job: bad call, argument, seeing something unexpected, or even retirement… WHOs have nothing to fall back on. It’s not just a bad moment on the job, it’s a major snag to their identities. This makes every untoward event extra difficult for someone defining the job as their primary identity.

Brothers and sisters, go back to the question posed in the beginning. I’m sure you have already realized which side you are on, but let’s take it a step further.

I’ve told you many times that I’m always ready to walk with you while we figure things out, while we make it safe, and while we heal. Now is say to all of you: I want you to walk with me while we figure out How to take the best parts of each side and make them work in unison? We will never end the hurt a human feels seeing what we are bound to see, but how do we give ourselves the tools to survive.

Will you walk with me?

Our hospital staff are human too!!

It’s a subject that isn’t often talked about. As much as fire/police/EMS want to be recognized for what we go through in the line of duty, nurses and hospital staff are still falling to the wayside.

I’ve had many conversations on this topic lately, and it occurred to me that no matter which of my demons pop up, no matter which moment, there was usually an ER team involved. As much as fire/EMS/police see, we all have an advantage: We can generally find a quiet place to go, whether it’s a car, ambulance, gym. Nurses don’t get that option. If something happens with a patient, they are forced to just “suck it up” and move on to the next one. They even deal with families after the fact.

This will definitely be a subject that gets more discussion in the future, but for now, let’s all take a moment to think about the people we bring our problems to. Let’s realize that, like us, they are merely people. People that have the same hang ups we have.

Nurses, doctors, techs… we will always have your back. If you ever need anything, as always, let’s take a walk.

A lot can be said for an old truck

Yesterday, I had to remove all the equipment, tools and hose from the first truck I rode on at my career department. It made me think…

How often have you felt empty on the inside? Felt drained, lacking, or even useless?

Fact is, this truck is still in great condition. Engine runs like a champ, transmission is fantastic, and it pumps like a dream. All the lights work, generator powers anything and the truck is mechanically in top shape.

This is much like those of us suffering from PTSD and other behavior health disorders. Just because we feel empty on the inside, doesn’t mean we aren’t useful or important. We have scars, blemishes, or other trauma.

Truth is, this truck is still useful and will be appreciated by its service and potential.

Be proud of the memories, don’t get hung up on the bad, but focus on the positive and possibilities of your life.

You are loved, and you are not alone. Know your worth!

Brett Havlin