Emergency service PTSD

Emergency Service PTSD

Emergency service PTSD isn’t always incident specific.

 

It takes a different breed of person to be a volunteer firefighter. The time commitment in non-emergency operations alone is tremendous. in fact, responding to calls makes up a very small percentage of one’s volunteer time.

Sadly, It is this small window of the hours logged that can have the most detrimental impact on a firefighter’s wellbeing. Of course, there are the obvious physical dangers in firefighting. Running into a burning building is a serious business. Even though I was well aware of the potential physical danger; I was oblivious to the silent injury rarely discussed; the mental injuries I call emergency service PTSD.

 

So, what is this not so well known injury? Well, whether acknowledged or not, some firefighters are impacted by a debilitating injury known as  Post Traumatic-Stress disorder (PTSD). A tragic consequence of helping one’s community. Unfortunately, for some, It can end up being their ultimate sacrifice.

 

It’s quite understandable. After all, we see things that no human should ever have to see. With that said, someone has to step forward, right?. All these brave souls can hope for is that they get to the end of their years of service relatively unscathed. for those who are not so lucky, It can be heartbreaking, mind-numbing and something that keeps one up at night.

Great podcast recommendation: Bunker Gear For The Brain

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I am by no means an expert on trauma and PTSD, but I live it every day. What I can tell is, my path to it was more than incident-specific. I believe that there may be room to include emergency service PTSD in a category that reflects the damage inflicted by or being witness to multiple critical incidents. Exposure over an extended period of time doesn’t seem to fit the criteria the DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistics Manual is looking for.


The American Psychiatric Association defines post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, war/combat, rape or other personal violent assaults.

Because EMS workers tend to have prolonged and repetitive exposure, the notion that “a” single traumatic event is a must when diagnosing PTSD, may not do these brave souls’ justice. In fact, it may leave a portion of the traumatized undiagnosed because it may be hard to discern that one particular incident.

 

From my own experience, those accumulated scenes can play out in nightmares that are not incident-specific and are not recalled with any real regularity. Sometimes I awake feeling like I just relived a fire service memory in real life. I can’t recall the dream, but I know the numbing angst of PTSD well.

Recently, I have learned that I am not the only firefighter who is haunted by their traumatic experiences in this way. Other firefighters have told me that they have similar experiences. Many describe their symptoms as accumulative and can not nail it down to just one event.

Read PTSD AND ITS STARTLED RESPONSE

They also report creating emergencies in their heads as they navigate throughout their day. For example, speeders on the highway tend to piss us off. Many EMS workers hate to see people speed because they are well aware of the consequences of this behaviour. All they can think about is the potential situation the speeder is putting them in. “Jerk is going to kill someone, and I’m going to be forced to help.”

I truly believe that emergency service PTSD could be a subcategory of the original definition. We relive our most horrific incidents, whether directly or indirectly (the speeder scenario). In other words, we don’t suffer from “a” specific trauma. In fact, we dream and replay many incidents we tried to mitigate. These incidents can impact us, sometimes moment by moment. My way of coping? Run like hell. I mean, if the mental health profession struggles with its diagnostic criteria, how can we be helped?

Finally, I want to take the time to thank everyone in the emergency service community who risk their mental health with every call to action. From firefighters, to paramedics, to police and dispatches, nurses and doctors….. Thank you!

 

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

 
 
 
Contact me on my Facebook page: facebook.com/TRTMW

 

 
 
 
 
Emergency service PTSD
Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Pexels.com – Emergency service PTSD

Mental Illness and EXHAUSTION

Personally, I find very little difference between overextending one’s self physically and when one exceeds their tolerances mentally. The end result is the same, exhaustion. when one has a mental illness,


at least my experience with it, it’s rather like setting cardboard on fire with gasoline, the energy it initially produces is very intense, large flames and a lot of heat but is quickly reduced to a pile of ash because all of its energy has been depleted.

 
 
Anyone, mental illness or not, who has worked in both physical work environments and ones that require mostly mental processing can tell you that mental exhaustion is more tiring than being physically tired. I have done them both, personally, I’d rather be body tired any day of the week. I believe that being mentally spent is what oftentimes leads to physical injury and impacts how productive one can be.
 
Those with a mental health condition often tell me how quickly they burn up their mental energy stores; the more symptomatic they are, the faster they seem to arrive at the point where they are running on fumes. We, those with mental illness need help before we reduced to a pile of ash.

 

Reasons why people with mental illness are easily exhausted

This is vindication for me in a sense because what they describe is very similar to my own experiences with mental illness. An unexpected consequence of this revelation is that it helps me not feel like I’m trying to sleigh this dragon all by myself.

Recommended reading

I tire easily, PTSD can feel like you are running through a battlefield, so much sudden noise and constant stimulations that the heightened startle response is always in the on position. Not only do I have to contend with this, but I am also always on guard for some sort of emergency, part firefighter conditioning, mostly designed so that I can avoid potential death destruction. I don’t think I manage another critical incident.

 

This tendency to be easily exhausted has been known to exacerbate my depression. I was once so full of energy and could take on the world, I loved being busy. Now with fatigue setting in so much sooner, I feel like a burden and rather useless. I do my best to shake these thoughts from my head and remind myself that I am no different than someone else who is sick. Sick people tend to tire easily.

As I continue down my road to mental wellness I remind myself to cut myself some slack. My life might not be what it used to be but nonetheless, I am still alive and because of this fact, I will get to where I need to be.

So, If this sounds like you, keeping going but rest when you need to, you may not be able to do what you once were able to do, but you can still do great things.

 



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



Want help fund my book? donate: GOFundMe – The Road To Mental Wellness – The book


You may also enjoy: Slowly Walking My Way To Mental Wellness.


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Check out my friend’s blog here: anewdawnaa.com

 
 
 
 
 

My PTSD Earned With DISTINCTION

Battling a mental health condition is hell, there’s no denying that, but at least my PTSD, earned with distinction

 
 
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 a 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 often times 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.
 

The Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

 
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, 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.
 
 
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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?
 

Great books on PTSD

 
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!


If you are struggling please go here: Crisis Services Canada


 
Trauma Specialist, Dr. Jeffery Hosick: jeffreyhosick.com
 

You may also enjoy: The Mental Health Work Injury Called PTSD


Email: roadtomentalwellness@gmail.com

Facebook: facebook.com/TRTMW

 

 
 
 
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