Are you ok with just getting by?

Me with one of my personal hero’s in the fire service, Paul Enhelder

The problem with mental health issues both in the ranks of first responders, and in the civilian world, is not in the illness itself; it’s in how it’s treated. Treatment is often the same in a professional setting as it is for someone trying to deal with it on their own.

COPING

What is coping? In laymen’s terms (words that I understand), coping is just dealing with it. Coping is finding a way to live with the pain that makes it hurt less; a facade if you will, a scab over the injury.

The problem with “dealing with it” is that it doesn’t work! It doesn’t allow any room for slip ups, no margin for error. Dealing or coping only creates further problems, and often times, these problems are invisible to us until they have affected others. Issues such as anger, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are all masked by the facade of coping; or at least we want to believe that.

In my own experience, it took me a very long time to admit I had a problem, this is because I was “getting by”. I knew I had bad thoughts, I knew I replayed the events over in my head, I knew that my own wife didn’t like sharing a bed with me because of my constant tossing and turning. But most of the time I knew that I would be able to cope.

It all came to a head after my wife and son called me out on my anger. These stories are in previous blogs so I won’t bore with details again. It was at this moment that I knew I needed more than coping. I couldn’t “deal with it” any more.

It was when I realized this that a whole world opened up. Admitting to the problem allowed me to see. I saw that many others fight the same fight that I do. From that I discovered a new way.

HEALING!

If we break a leg or cut our hand, we wouldn’t just cope or deal. We would get professional help and FIX the problem. We must be prepared to do the same with mental health.

Professionals are available that can and do help. Healing is not about getting by, it’s not about masking, and it’s not about denial. It’s about taking ownership of your problems and admitting you can’t do it alone. This is where true healing starts.

My blog has many resources available. Some resources are tailored to specific needs, such as family, substance abuse or a specific branch of public safety. These resources may or may not be what works for you. This is only meant to be a starting block. I myself tried 5 different doctors before I found my fit.

You can do this! You have the strength. Real work starts here! And as always, if you need a little extra push, a little motivation, or just someone to talk to…

Lets take a walk.

Where is it?!

See me smiling? See me laughing? I don’t have a care in the world but to enjoy a weekend with some of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. there is a secret behind this smile though. Would you believe that this happy face is just moments away from a panic attack?

This photo was taken during the recent honor guard convention. I was having the time of my life. I had just gotten out of practice. My wife was seriously enjoying herself with all the great people we get to surround ourselves with as Well.

As my face began to hurt from all the smiling and laughing, I decided to sit down to check on an email. That’s when i noticed something wasn’t right.

WHERE IS MY IMPORTANT FOLDER?!?!

I kept a folder in my email to keep special things. This folder was simply labeled “important” Most importantly was an email I had received from my former EMS system. This email told me everything that I needed reassured of pertaining to “the call”. You did all you could, you did it right, nothing you did or didn’t do would have been able to fix the outcome for the better. I must have read the email a million times. I could recite it line by line.

WHERE IS THE EMAIL?!?!

I look around the room. I see the same smiling faces, some of them even look back at me. I feel a hot flash. I Shoot a half smirk their way. I feel my legs begin to shake. I search feverishly through my email boxes over and over to no avail. My breathing hastens. More waves and how are ya’s from old and new friends alike. I don’t even know what I’m responding at this point but apparently it’s good enough for them, they smile and say “Great! See ya in a minute then!” My eyes are feeling wet and inflamed. I have to get out of here!

I NEED THAT EMAIL!!!

That’s when a very close friend of mine steps over. He starts small talk until he sees the look on my face. “I need to talk” I say. Within moments we find a quiet spot Off the hotel lobby. No sooner do I look at him than the tears start falling, I open my mouth and nothing but quick shallow breathing and a staccato of what almost pass for words come out.

I’VE HAD IT SO LONG, I NEED IT AND NOW ITS GONE!!!!

He listens to me as long as I felt I needed to talk, I stammered and paced the floor for so long, and he stood there listening. When I had said all my voice would allow, I fell against the wall. My vision is blurring I’m getting dizzy and I’m wishing to God that the next time I looked at my phone my precious security blanket would be back.

WHY IS IT GONE NOW!!!!

I didn’t realize it for a few minutes, but in one fell swoop, he disarmed my panic with a single blow. “Maybe that’s because it needs to be.” He says. Wow… seriously? An answer so simple and yet, my brain is wrapping around it. I knew what that email had said, I could recite it, I knew everything that was in it. Why did I need to keep the copy? Why did I need it? What benefit was it to have taking up space to read yet again?

The answer? Painfully, I didn’t. I didn’t need it, I shouldn’t have been using it as a crutch for my emotions. Thankfully I had a true friend to help me through the pain of this realization.

Everything slowly comes back into focus. My breathing gets more regular, my legs stop shaking, and my voice comes back. I say thank you and ask for a moment alone. It took a few more minutes, but because I reached out to someone I could trust, now I saw the light at the end of this passage, I knew it was over and I was going to be ok.

Brothers and sisters, I know it’s tough sometimes when we face the unexpected. I know things aren’t always going to have a great ending, and it’s ok not to smile all the time. We have to understand that despite the normality of a bad time, it doesn’t have to mean a bad day, a bad week, a bad year, or a bad life. We have to get back up, and if need by find someone to help us get back on our feet. Whether military or civilian, police, dispatch, fire, or EMS, if you ever want to talk, let’s get you through this together.

Let’s take a walk.

Oh you’re a (insert first responder title here)?!…..

Before you saw the picture, I’m sure you knew what the next question was going to be. I’ve heard it countless times, and I’m sure you have too. These words asked hundreds of times a day all over the world, are, in my opinion, second only to “Thank you for your service”.

Oh wow! Your a fireman?! What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?!

This question used to get to me every time; right to the core. How could someone think it’s ok to ask a stranger to go back to a moment like that? What right do they have to put me back in these moments?!

The answer, quite frankly, is that they ask because they don’t understand what they are asking. How could they possibly know what it’s like to watch a coworker die, to disentangle someone from a mangled vehicle, the smell of death, or to calmly perform cpr on a 5 year old girl while your insides cry out!

The picture above has always intrigued me. I love the work of Paul Combs. I think we can all see the obviousness of a lone firefighter that is traveling with his “baggage”. What is less obvious, and I could be wrong, is the innocence in the eyes of the person asking the question. He has no idea about that mans hurt, he just wants a “good story”.

It has taken me quite a while, but this work off art has given me courage. After all, if you follow me, or have read my previous work, you would see that the little girl in the front is my personal baggage. The man carrying her could easily be me, or any of the countless others just like me. The man to his left can’t see them, he just wants a good story to distract him from his day, after all, we as firemen/medics/police/soldiers do a wonderful job of showing the world how awesome the job is, why would the man not want a story?!

I try to remember this when I’m asked the question. Like I said, I used to get upset, shy away. Now? I just give a smile back, along with a very polite: ” please, you don’t want to hear that. I save that one just for me.”

Brothers and sisters, I know this topic can be hard. Especially when you’re hit off guard. I’m here if you ever need to talk. I promise I won’t ask, but if you want to share, let’s take a walk.

Why are you mad all the time?

The words cut me like a knife. My son, my life, my reason for being, right out of the blue. I knew I had a problem, but I also felt as though I was getting a handle on things.

It seemed like something so simple, a car in front of me that was moving too slow for my liking. Didn’t he know I had to get my son to school?! “Move!!!!! F#%k!!!” Then the words that sent me downward.

“Daddy? Why are you mad all the time?”

My buddy, my everything, my son. He just called me out on my bullshit, and it took all the breath out of me. It took a 5 year old to let me know I was living life with blinders. The worst part, now I had to own up to it.

Thankfully, it’s easy to apologize to a 5 year old. He even asked me if I would say sorry for yelling. I said I’m sorry, and I said I would do better. He smiled and it seemed enough for him.

I wish I could say the same for me. His words cut my soul! I was holding back tears over the thought of my son covering his ears every time I would raise my voice, or keeping silent when he knew I was about to blow up again. At 5 years old, this was going to be his memory of me should I die tomorrow.

Now, I already knew that anger was my way of handling my anxiety, and stress. It seemed to come without any warning, large scale blow ups followed by shame and distance. Now I had to own up to all of it. I’m being called out by a five year old!

So what’s my point? The point is, everyone… EVERYONE raises their voice or gets angry from time to time. Anger is normal, everyone experiences it in a normal day! IT’S NORMAL!!!

That’s when it hit me. Getting angry in front of my son wasn’t the problem. The problem was not providing context. Not just to my son, but to myself! When I got angry, I never explained to him why. I never had a rational explanation, and never talked it out. Not to him, not to anyone, and never to myself. Changes had to be made.

Jump ahead to the present. I still get angry, I still yell from time to time, the difference, is after I have the outburst, I recognize it. I calmly make sure that I’m understood as to why the outburst took place, and if it was unnecessary, I own up to it and don’t blame it on my condition.

Bottom line brothers and sisters, not all anger is a step backwards. It’s ok to have emotion, even if it’s not positive. Just make sure that you are accountable to it, admit fault, and apologize when your wrong. Not only to others but especially to yourself. We are only human and we all slip.

As alwaysIf you need to talk I’m here. Let’s take a walk!

Once it’s gone…

I have been dwelling on the dark side of my brain for about a month now. I recently received some “not good but not necessarily bad” news from my annual physical.

I instantly got the webmd flu. Anything that COULD possibly be wrong… suddenly BECAME wrong. To make matters worse, I was not receiving any answers from the doctor! By this I don’t mean he was beating around the bush, I mean the office wouldn’t answer calls or return messages. This dead end lasts for 2 weeks! 2 weeks without answers. 2 weeks sure that my life was over.

I ended up calling my regular physician, which is kind of a misnomer. I really only see him when something is REALLY wrong. It took 2 more weeks to get in to see him.

In the mean time, I’m trying to plan a funeral, make my peace with God, and imaging what the after life is like. I’m sure that what I have will take me away from what and who I love. I’ve all but made up my mind that the universe just doesn’t care about me. I keep telling myself that I have lived a great life, but big deal! I’m ready to lay down and wait for it.

Moving ahead now in the story(past the part where I come completely unglued in my counselors office about being afraid of my own mortality) to the point where I see my doctor. To his credit, he got things done rather quickly! He also got results of outpatient bloodwork and ultrasound to me in less than 5 hours. I guess I was being persuasive.

All of my tests were normal, except for one, but the abnormal result could be accounted for by a recent sickness. Even my ultrasound showed nothing to be alarmed about.

Now comes another set of emotions! Now I’m beating myself up, not for being weak, but for not living the life my family deserves.

I asked myself: What the hell is your problem?! Good or bad, you have a life! By not living it, by dwelling on bad news, it only takes the small amount of time you have on this earth away from you and those that love you. When you dwell on the bad, when you think the worst before there is a worst to think, you are depriving yourself of the moments that make life worth living.

Now that I know my health is no longer an issue, I realize that I have lost that time. I missed an entire month of memories with my family over something I couldn’t change to begin with! In this time, we could have made a memory that would stay with us the rest of our lives.

While allowing worry to consume me, I lost time that will never come again. In the past this would have meant an endless cycle of guilt and regret. While I know I have another chance to be better. I’ll never get the past back, but I can use it to make things better, not just for me, but for those that I love.

I’m not going to say this is a quick cure, or that it will make it easier the next time, I won’t even say that this thought will be of use to someone going through something similar. What I will say, is that I get it and I’ll always be here to listen. If you need me, let’s take a walk.

I survived

What a deal! The long weekend and After I get home from work, I get to have the house to myself! No wife, no kid! Just me and, well… Me!

My wife calls and asks when I’m coming home, she says she is in no rush to leave. I came home as soon as I could and couldn’t wait to spend a little time before she left for the weekend.

When I got home she told me she was ready to leave. She was just waiting on me to get home to say goodbye. Guess I didn’t realize what she meant on the phone. Well, I’ll miss you honey! Drive safe and have fun! I Fake a smile and walk her out the door. Silently disappointed I watch as she goes out of sight.

Walking back in the house I am immediately taken aback how quiet it is. There is also something else I can’t put my finger on.

Let’s see who wants to come by or hang out. No one.

Let’s see what’s on tv. Nothing.

Ok. I can handle this, just like old times! I’ve lived on my own before, I don’t need anyone else. After another hour I realized I wasn’t as alone as I thought. I had someone else there after all.

She was beautiful, she had the face of an angel…. and she would have been 13 this year. It’s been 8 years since the night our paths crossed and not a day goes by that she doesn’t run through my head. Through counseling, I have progressed enough that I can usually rationalize these thoughts, but tonight, in my loneliness, My heart was telling me that it wasn’t fair that I was allowed to sit here when I couldn’t allow her the same luxury. I survived, she didn’t…. I survived

That feeling in the pit of my stomach begins, it raises to my throat and bites like acid. my lip starts to shake, here come the tears. It was supposed to be such a great night alone, and now I’m curled up on the couch crying. I feel more alone than I ever have. My only comfort is that I’m not ruining anyone else’s life.

The downward spiral continues. Now I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to make a sound, I don’t even want to entertain the thought of human interaction. Not that it matters, even if I did, no one would understand. Beyond everything, I know I’m all alone and nothing can change what I’m left with; a slew of memories that I don’t want, and an entire night to think about them all.

Fuck all this, I’m going to go upstairs and lay in bed with an old movie. Just like the old days. If I’m lucky maybe I’ll pass out.

A few minutes into the movie, I get a warm feeling I haven’t felt in a while. It’s familiar, it’s comforting. It feels like peace, while not in sight, it may at least be within reach. I realize that I have any number of brothers and sisters in support of me that I could have called at any time. Most of all I know now that I have options and nothing is going to stop me from getting through this.

5 hours later I’m waking up. Taking account of the night, I can take away a lot of lessons. I can recognize the symptoms of panic I used to ignore, in that way I can prevent another spiral. I can take comfort in old habits, familiarity can be very calming. Most of all, I can keep surviving.

Brothers, sisters, I don’t care what uniform you wear, what causes your bad day. No one should have to suffer in silence. You always have options. I care, and the brotherhood/sisterhood cares. If you need an ear or just want to see what’s available, as always, let’s take a walk.

Adam tells us why brotherhood is so important in his life

I’ve haven’t known Adam that long (My fault really). Like most of my close brothers, we crossed paths because of the bagpipes. Adam has a way about him, a kind of immediate family effect. Talk to him and you find out quick, you need to be his friend.

Like many of us however, Adam was also suffering on the inside. His story I’m sure will strike a cord with many of you. Below are the words of my brother Adam Moore:

I come from a long family line of firefighter and paramedics. Growing up was hectic and difficult since my parents divorced when I was three and my mom kept us constantly moving around and made sure my relationship with my dad and his side of the family was very difficult and kept an alternate version of the truth from me. So growing up I slowly learned to simply rely on myself and keep things to myself. My family doesn’t express any sort of emotion or feeling so that reinforced everything. I slowly picked up the family business and progressed quickly and no matter the call, as gory or stressful it was I could ignore it bottle it up and throw it away. Through my career I always had the same mentality as everyone else and that was to suck it up and move on. I can’t say when it started or what call brought it on since I can remember so many. I entered a new relationship and my mentality changed and began to open up and try something new. In that time more stressful calls happened and other personal issues happened and I wasn’t able to keep the lid on and things got worse over time and one night everything imploded. I don’t have an addictive personality so I never turned to drugs or other substances to numb. There are better days then some but mostly they get worse. I’ve attempted  suicide a few times and each time it doesn’t work or I’ve stopped at the last minute. As a wise man once said I wish my mind could forget what my eyes have seen, the ones that haunt me like the children that will never get to see there first birthday or the screams of those I couldn’t save, I see and hear them sometimes more vivid than what I want. I have come to a crossroad of getting outside help or trying to fix it myself and have come to realize that even when I think I’m alone or nobody cares, there are those that do. While my help at home is limited I do get check ups from my brothers and sisters and it means a lot when they do more than they know. While my story is in no way a success story I can say that being surrounded by those that know how you feel and know what the power of family can do to a person can help someone and is not a sign of weakness as I always believed. 

As always brothers and sisters; Please, if you feel you don’t know where to turn, turn to a brother or sister. No one knows us like us. In the strength of sharing with someone what is making you hurt, you may just find that you’ve saved someone else. As always, if you’re willing… let’s take a walk.

Not every doctor is for you!

“I just need someone to talk to, I don’t need any of that hippie stuff.”

I must have said that dozens of times. The problem was that talking wasn’t helping. It hadn’t helped for the last few doctors, in reality, it only pushed me away. It delayed treatment. Every time a doctor tried talking to me, I would find reasons why they just didn’t get me. Part of it, was that they really didn’t get the life of a first responder. Also, no one wanted to explain to me what was really going on in my head! They would listen to me spill my guts for an hour, but offer up no advice or treatment options.

Talking didn’t get to the bottom of my depression. Talking didn’t answer why I couldn’t sleep at night. Talking didn’t help me understand why I spent every waking moment on edge.

After 3 breakdowns, 3 times making my wife cry from my outbursts, and my 4 year old son flat out asking me why I was angry all the time, I found my current doctor. This ended the cycle of get better for a few weeks, end treatment, get depressed, get angry, and anxious again, then find a new doctor.

To put it bluntly, my current doctor saw through my bull shit. She explained WHY my brain was doing what it was doing. Sure, she listened to what I had to say, but she wouldn’t let me get away with open ended statements, and called me out every time I tried to lie or take the easy way out to avoid confronting my demons.

“Have you ever heard of EMDR?” These words made me shudder. I trusted her, and here she is pulling this shit on me! The difference this time was that she answered my questions, told me she understood why I called it hippie stuff, and gave me the science behind it. During EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)therapy sessions, you relive traumatic or triggering experiences in brief doses while the therapist directs your eye movements. EMDR is thought to be effective because recalling distressing events is often less emotionally upsetting when your attention is diverted. This allows you to be exposed to the memories or thoughts without having a strong psychological response. Over time, this technique is believed to lessen the impact that the memories or thoughts have on you. (Legg, 2017).

My sessions started much the same way every time. I would hold a vibrating paddle in each hand. I would focus on the paddle vibrating left then right, left then right. This happened for about 15 seconds, after that I was told to tell my story and relive my most horrible memory in short doses. Before each session, I was equipped with the knowledge that I had the power to end the treatment at any time. After each dose of recall, went the vibrations: left right left right. When my doctor could tell I was getting burned out, we would be done.

Funny thing about it, after only 6 weeks of sessions, I was making break throughs! I actually felt better! Maybe there was something to this after all!

Fast forward about a year. The trauma doesn’t hurt as bad as it used to. EMDR has done more in this short time than anything else possibly could. Even so, I still find myself dwelling on it. I still find myself striving for impossible perfection in order to appease the demons inside of me, and I still stay up later than I should, but the memories don’t produce as many tears.

Come to find out, healing the trauma isn’t the hard part. It’s healing the bad habits I used in order to hide from the trauma, and healing the relationships that those habits hurt. With continued effort, I know I can get through this, and it’s all because I finally found a good fit.

Maybe talking is what gets you better, maybe you need something more. The key is to never give up. Don’t delay treatment because it’s out of your comfort zone. There is treatment for you, that fits you, that will help you heal.

As always. If you need help, or a little advise… let’s take a walk

Reference

Legg,T.J. PhD (2017, Dec15) EMDR Therapy: What You Need to Know. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/emdr-therapy

Silence is deadly

Fear & Shame

If I was physically injured saving someone from a fire everyone would see me as a hero. What if I was mentally injured saving someone? Would everyone still see me as a hero? Would you have any hesitation reporting a mental injury over a physical injury? I think many of us would.

Why is that? It’s because of fear, shame and embarrassment. The sad part is that if some of us do report a mental injury we are blackballed, looked upon as weak and are victims of the negative stigma. This is preventing many of us from getting the help we need which makes the mental injury even worse.

The idea for this image was given to me by Matt McGregor, a firefighter from Western Canada and it’s a concept many of us can relate to. The fear, shame, embarrassment and negative stigma is this demon’s power and it’s preventing many first responders from getting the help they need. Deny this demon his power by standing up to the negative stigma.

Have a safe weekend everyone and please know you are part of a larger supportive community.

Respectfully

DanSun

http://www.dansunphotos.com

Posted with permission of DanSun photos.

Brett faces his bad times head on!

Brett is another man that I’m proud to call a brother. He had overcome so much in life and on the job. Below is a message I received from him tonight about a proud moment in his day. Remember that you are never alone, and as always, if you need anything, or just want to talk… let’s take a walk.

Today…today was rough. I found myself overwhelmed repeatedly. I found myself shutting down. Felt the anxiety taking over, and the depression setting in due to not being able to cope. It brought me back to bad times of the past when I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t find my way. But that path, has long since been travelled.

Today, I made progress. Today, I took a step forward. Not to the side, not backwards. Forward. Today, I fulfilled my commitments. I didn’t give up. I didn’t back down. In fact, I stepped out of my comfort zone. I went back down to a place I’d avoided for so long because of the memories tied to it. It hurt. It peeled back scabs I thought were scars. But, in the end…it was cathartic. I went so far as to sign up for an event I have been avoiding.

This post is not for any of you to like, or love or comment on, or share. I’m not looking for your sympathy or your vote of confidence. Instead, take a step back and realize, that there are people out there, that may look like on the surface they are ok, but inside they are coping with the biggest fecal hurricane imaginable. Cut them some slack. Understand. Show compassion. Just be kind.

And if you’re that person that’s having a hard time, it is really ok to admit it. If people cast judgement, we can stand together. I can testify to the fact there are strength in numbers.

I try not to offend people by colorful language, as there are those that don’t appreciate it.

So…today…

#suckitptsd…you lost today.