The wider world around us is rich with the potential for danger and destruction – and like an animal in the wild, I am on constant high-alert. Although my fire-service years are far behind me now, they are far from a distant memory and the emergency-service mindset is as sharp as it was the day I turned in my bunker gear.
Our mentally-ill minds, like firefighters, are wired to think of every possible disaster and how to mitigate them. My anxiety disorder was a bonus skill in the fire service because, by its very nature, it created a worst-case scenario thinker out of me. I thought of every angle, all the things that could go wrong, and ways to minimize them.
But when my generalized anxiety disorder collided with post-traumatic stress, its superpowers became toxic, slowly turning the fire service against my mental health. More than that, chipping away at my compassion and my desire to help and make a real difference.
Because my anxiety never shuts off, and PTSD is oftentimes the driver of the rig, I can see now why I was destined to become a casualty of the EMS war – one too many battles both on the interior and on the fire ground/accident scene.
Now, years later, I am petrified that I will be sucked into someone else’s emergency. I am scared because I know in my heart that I would not be able to cope with it. This fact saddens me because at my core I am a firefighter; I guess being disabled is something I have yet to grow accustomed to. I am learning that there is no shame in what I can not control. What I need to learn next is to somehow dull the fight, flight, freeze and emergency mindset.
With all that said, I gave the service my all and was determined to do everything I could to do my part to ease the pain and suffering from all those in need of help. I am also a believer in leaving something better than when you found it. It was this mantra that drove me, when I wanted to make positive changes around the station. One thing I was big on was safety, and I worked hard to build accountability systems that would keep my brothers and sisters safer.
So, do I regret my years in the fire service? I would have to say that, even though I am on this hellish roller-coaster ride, I am proud of my years of service – of my service to both my community and my department. For they too have been well-earned.
As far as I am concerned, my PTSD was earned with distinction. In other words, I sacrificed my own well-being to help others. I mean, at the end of the day, that has to mean something, right?
If you are struggling my friend, struggle no longer, there is help out there and other warriors just looking for someone who understands what they are going through. Get out of the service if you must, maybe the next person you need to save is yourself.
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!