Carbon Monoxide And PTSD.


It’s the middle of February in my home town in Nova Scotia, it’s minus thirty-four with the windchill and just beyond the warm cozy walls of my home, there are blizzard-like conditions raging with such ferocity that one can see but a few feet in front of them. I glance at the time, three A.M. then, the tones shatter the winter night’s silence. Jumping to my feet with the adrenaline flowing I make the treacherous trek to the fire hall, jump on a rig and spend hours in the frigid cold, soaked and frozen, tired and starving.

This scenario was repeated an untold number of times in my fifteen years as a firefighter. Many calls I responded to ended in tragedy; a few of them hit very close to home. What separates the volunteer fire service from any other volunteer organizations isn’t the time and dedication that goes into volunteering, it’s volunteering to run straight into the belly of your communities’ most dire moments, it’s very physically taxing. Also, in a moment your life can be changed forever. The difference is one requires you to sacrifice your time, whilst the other may require you to sacrifice your living, your family and even your life.

For some of us, however, something else happens. As one might well imagine, the things that one encounters as a firefighter takes a significant mental toll. Seeing things that no human should ever have to see, takes a physical toll by virtue of doing all you can to mitigate the suffering. But many, myself included have, and are experiencing a slow accumulation of a different form of exhaustion; A mental stress produced exhaustion.

This mental exhaustion is a by-product of each and every critical incident at least that’s how I experienced it. Known as critical incident stress; check the link for definition, it was slowly poisoning my mental health; first numbing the mind and body for a week or so, then dissipating until the next tragic scene.

For signs and symptoms of Critical Incident Stress check here:  Signs and symptoms of Critical Incident Stress

Looking back now, I never caught on that, even though I seemingly was over the last call and the call before that, these critical incidents were leaving a poisonous residue in their wake. Not only was there remanence of all the things I had witnessed, but it also turns out that these bits were far from benign. In fact, it’s effects are what I call the mental carbon monoxide. Carbon Monoxide is odourless, tasteless and slowly accumulates in the body and can have tragic consequences if gone undetected.

If one is unaware, keeps shoving it deep within and or your department fails to recognize the importance of early intervention, then what can happen is this slow build-up of mental pain that can go undetected for, in my case, years.

The damnedest thing about manning up is that this form of psychological work injury doesn’t care about your manhood, how busy you keep yourself and no matter how hard you try to avoid it. If not dealt with it will, like carbon monoxide, slowly accumulate. And like carbon monoxide, you can’t taste it, can’t smell it and if you can’t detect it you may very well suffer its tragic consequences. When it goes from short term (critical incident stress) to longer-term, Post-traumatic stress disorder, one can then consider themselves clinically sick from letting years and years of psychological trauma fester.

For some very helpful books on PTSDGo Here and take a look.

I have, unfortunately, fallen victim to the man up, tough guy mythology. Now, retired from the fire service and living with PTSD I can tell you that it’s a special kind of hell. Looking back now, PTSD is much harder to confront than it ever would have been to seek out help before the poison of this mental disorder hijacked my mental health and gave me little recourse but to fight for a sense of normality. Is suicide support and prevention resource: reach out if you need help!

If being a man is all about strength, then use your man strength to reach out. Your family with thank you for it… Make no mistake, this disorder, PTSD can have very deadly consequences if left to fester and spread.

 If you are in need of help please reach out to your local mental health professional. A non-profit organization dedicated to helping those with mental illness.

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You may also enjoy: You, Me And PTSD

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Spontaneous Mental Combustion

In recent times, My mind has semi-surrendered to the depression and PTSD, preferring the darkness and safety of the only place I feel safe, my home. That said, I refuse to fall, to be destroyed by the pain that lurks so deep I sometimes struggle to see a day when  I am strong enough make it back to the point where I can live again.

The damned thing about this mental illness thing is that I am subject to what I call episodes of spontaneous mental combustion. Perhaps you have experienced something very similar to this particular symptom of mental illness. 
So, what do I mean when I say spontaneous mental combustion?  I view it as an out of the blue mystery feeling of dread, worry and or feelings of heavy, accompanied by a case of lonely. When I am stricken with, what oftentimes morphs into a mental health “down” the day I oftentimes struggle to know its source. Where did it come from? This very question amplifies the symptoms of my mental health condition because my mind allows it to take centre stage as a result,  it spits out the same old line over and over in my head.

This is yet another thing that I have to contend with and I would not all be surprised to hear that many of you also experience this too. I have concluded that the best approach to minimizing the perpetual playback of this question, is to embrace the down day and not give this question any more fuel for the mental illness fire, the question being; where did the sudden onset of my symptoms come from?

For me, embracing them simply means that I attempt to extinguish the question by telling myself that the source is irrelevant. If the source can not be identified, then what’s the benefit of being obsessed over it? Does it make it better or worse to think about it? From my perspective, obsessing over it has seldom if ever worked out in my flavour.

It’s all fine and dandy to write it off as irrelevant but this falls into the category of easier said than done. So, how do I minimize the tendency to seek answers for its source? I use a technique I am learning in therapy. It’s called mindfulness. See below to see learn about mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness attempts to keep you in the present by focusing on the now. I have found that giving attention to my surroundings, for example, helps to steer my mind away from insisting it finds the origins of my mental anguish. This is an ongoing exercise in therapy and it helped so much. I can’t permanently erase thoughts like the one we have discussed because they will naturally pop in my head, I just have to refocus on the present and keeping doing so until the feelings that produce a down day let up and finally they pass.

if you are suffering from PTSD or another mental illness, please reach out. I thank you for your service and you are still worthy and mean something. I believe in you!

If you are struggling please go here: Crisis Services Canada

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You may also Enjoy: Mindfulness And Being Present

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Bumps In The Wellness Road.

Today, I was informed that I was not going to receive rehabilitative supports from my work insurance because I am on workers’ compensation. Learning this triggered my PTSD and sent my anxiety into high gear, causing it to make up a disastrous future scenario well before finding out any real answers from the source. Although my insurance company from work not providing me supports because the majority of my recovery is being handled by worker’s compensation is understandable, it nonetheless, wreaked havoc on me psychologically. 

When I spoke to the insurance company and got all the details,
what they told me was reasonable and fair. Yet despite this, it still evoked a traumatic reaction that my body interpreted as a threat and whether real or imaginary. I am left with its undesirable repercussions.
This scenario reminded me today of all the bumps in the mental wellness road I have encountered along the way. It’s amazing how the smallest speed bump can morph into a major heave in the pavement. That being said, I am proud to say that I have been able to conquer them all. I have gone to battle countless times on my own behalf, so many times in fact that I have to, by now, be able to claim the status of a mental illness warrior. It has been so difficult getting past the roadblocks but has been a necessary part of my survival and worth every painful moment. 
What makes the hurtles to help so strenuous is that I am not always up for the battle. The dark fog of anxiety or the feelings of dread as well as the numbness and reactivity left from PTSD, leave me with little mental strength to take on those who have a responsibility to ensure that they don’t award out claim monies to every applicant that fills out a claim. 
They have so many requirements and loopholes it’s not an easy process. It’s enough to raise the anxieties of the healthiest of folk. If you don’t fight for it, you will lose the opportunity to get what you need. 
I decided that I would take them on when I was able when I felt strong and mentally up for the task. Like many other aspects of my life, self-care has to be made the priority. Taking them on when I was able paid dividends. Taking time for me, I was able to go the distance and advocate for myself with resolve. Pushing myself full tilt would have ended in me losing my mental health battle because I would have given up and accepted defeat.
Go slow, know your limits

So, know your limits but never let anyone stand in your way to get better. It will be a long and painful ordeal, it doesn’t all have to be taken care of in one day. Just always remember, you are worth more than you think you are and deserve to get the help you need. Those days when you are feeling weak are nothing more than recoup days from a good day’s fight. Keep going! Your mental wellness is there for the taking.

You may also enjoy: Apologize For What, Being ill?

You may also enjoy: I am vulnerable: I’m good with that.

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Learn more about knowing your limits here: The Good Man Project