Trigger season

So, what the heck is trigger season? For me, it’s the time of year where my traumatic experiences own me.

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I hate Thanksgiving; in fact, I generally hate this time of year. Why, you ask? Because for me, it’s trigger season. PTSD can seem like a constant barrage of trigger points in the least-threatening environment. And then there’s fall. A beautiful time of year that fosters grey clouds and brings my post-traumatic memories to life. They are a product of my memory, but real enough, for sure.

When I was a young boy, fair-headed, innately curious and full of empathy, I loved the holidays. All of them! As long as I can remember, I loved the warm laughter and constant excitement of family gatherings. My heart would fill with so much anticipation that the week leading up to a holiday seemed like a month. Funny how time seems to speed up as you age – a sin, really.

Now, at forty-five and a long way from that ever-hopeful kid I once was, I have learned that life is far from an innocent and endless world of “happy.” Although I low-key still want the world to feel this way, alas, PTSD has eroded that sense of safety, that one you experience as a small child.

More than that, it has all but killed any semblance of safety – period. And therein lies the problem. Everything is scary and, when trigger season comes along, I am reduced to a small, but safe, bedroom in my family home.

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Such as my life

Spending years in the fire service has, as with so many others, done something to me. Mainly, it has left me to the mercy of post-traumatic stress disorder.

My first casualty as a firefighter occurred on a warm September night when I was only nineteen. Without getting into too many details, a gentleman, a father, and husband died by fire. It’s a moment frozen in time – my mind corrupted like a computer’s hard drive, forever inaccessible.

Yet despite this, I “manned up,” carried on and let the mental injury fester; after all, I was a tough guy, and by default, could handle anything! While I thought this and constantly re-enforced this thought, I really didn’t believe it, not for a second.

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Nonetheless, living in heaps of denial allowed me to carry on. As I have come to learn, this is not an effective way of dealing with trauma. However, it’s how I dealt with it. What’s worse, I didn’t do it only once, I repeated exposing psyche to countless deaths, many that are unimaginable to the non-service person. Hell, I still can’t believe some of them myself.

Repetitive traumatic insults lower one’s tolerance for what is seemingly innocuous. For example, noise never affected me in the slightest before. Now? It mentally makes me jump out of my skin. And not just once, but several times a day. “Jesus” comes flying out of my mouth a lot in a day.

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“I’m Fuc@# done!” I finally said to myself around 2016. “I can’t do this death and destruction anymore!” Sparing you the details, I resigned from the fire service. “It’s time I look after whatever mental well-being I have left.” A thought that began to nag at me with a ferocity of a screaming principle. “If I keep denying my accumulating trauma, you’re going to die.”

So, there I was, faced with, what should have been an easy decision but, damn it, it’s hard to admit defeat! Of course, now I know it’s not defeat; it was courage to do what was best for me, for my kids.

Fast forward to 2017, Thanksgiving. I was happy to be out of the fire service, convinced that I had minimized my relationship with the deceased. Yeah, that’s not what happened…. On this day where we are supposed to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives, I would come to the end of the road, break through my walls of protection, and be infected by a full-blown case of PTSD!

Read When PTSD catches up

While attending a family Thanksgiving dinner, I saw a balding man of not much more than thirty, randomly die on the doorstep. And while I tried my best to render assistance, the dark shadow of PTSD overtook me, essentially rendering me useless.

It would turn out that denying that fact that PTSD was always there, since that warm autumn evening when that nineteen-year-old kid watched a man die by fire before his eyes, would create something growing in magnitude with every death and injury.

So, if you are feeling numb with nightmares, if you’re “jumpy” with every sudden noise and inexplicably angry, don’t prolong your suffering. Regretfully, I torched myself for twenty years – and trust me, it was a really bad idea! Don’t be like John. Get help and please, get it now.

I’m rooting for you!

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