I learned very early on that I wanted to spend my life helping others. I can’t describe why or where it came from. All I knew is that it burned deep within. (Later on, I began to wonder “who’s taking care of me?”) Better still, who’s taking care of you?Tweet
So, joining the fire service seemed like a perfectly good place to fulfill my desire to help. In the first years of my service, it was wonderful. I caught the bug, big-time, and never looked back. At least until my desire to help others was manhandled by mental illness.
I recall being so happy to be part of this organization. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to contribute to your community than signing up to be a volunteer firefighter. Although I battle with PTSD every day, I will never regret my years jumping on the rig and running in to help extinguish chaos.
The other bug in the room, the one that was rarely discussed or even seen as a priority, was PTSD. People in the emergency services aren’t good at looking after themselves. I’m living proof of this.
“I can’t help but think that the number of people with PTSD is higher when you factor in the undiagnosed. “
There is a silver lining in the dark storm clouds of nightmares and hypervigilance, PTSD is becoming more acceptable. Great news for all of us, especially for those places that have peer support programs and easier access to professional help. But what if your emergency service doesn’t have such things in place? What is one to do?
Well, I can only offer up lessons of my own inner battle, a battle I now know I should have waged years before I did. Although grateful to still be here, I find it’s a struggle every day. I share my experience through this blog, here’s a post you might enjoy: The Power of PTSD – Overtaken
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First of all, no matter what your buddies say, post-traumatic stress is not something that can be buried. It’s buried alive and will eventually claw its way to the surface. For many, it will exact its revenge.
CBC’s The Nature of Things explains some facts about PTSD in their article PTSD: Canada Has the Highest rate, plus eight more surprising facts; In this article they indicate that 9.2% of Canadians will experience PTSD at some juncture in their lives. This number is the highest in the world!
So, what does this tell us? Well, it demonstrates, at least to me, that PTSD is real and can happen to you. I can’t help but think that the number of people with PTSD are higher when you factor in the undiagnosed.
Now that we know post-traumatic stress is a thing, the question becomes: who’s taking care of you? Since we know that stigma looms large within the fire service, it is our responsibility. In my own case I knew something wasn’t right for a very long time. In simple terms, if you feel any form of mental discomfort for a pronged period, don’t ignore it.
This was a revelation for me because I came to understand that I am not the only one living my life.
We are now living in an age where there is more help than ever for this debilitating mental-health condition, help ranging from peer support to government programs. With that said, prevention is still the area we need to work harder on. In Nova Scotia we have a crisis-response team to help debrief emergency-service workers following a critical incident. A prevention option that was severely under-utilized in my department.
Although it should be the fire-service leaders who put preventive measures in place, it is incumbent on us to ensure our own well-being. I came to this conclusion when I realized that my family, my support system, have an emotional investment in my health. This was a revelation for me because I came to understand that I am not the only one living my life.
Whatever encourges you to get help, if you know you need it, do it. Find your reason to get better. You got this! Your pride and fear could quite possibly have dire consequences…. Trust me.
If you are a firefighter in Nova Scotia and are in need a debrief, visit the Critical Incident Stress Management for the fire service in Nova Scotia. Or for individual treatment go here: Dr. Jeffery Holsick, trauma Specialist