Emergency Service PTSD

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 that’s for sure. Eventhough I was well aware of the potential physical danger, I was oblivious to the silent injury rarely discussed; the mental injuries I can emergency service PTSD.
This not so well known injury that some firefighters are impacted by is 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, we see things that no human should ever have to see. However, someone has to step forward and do it. All these brave souls can hope for is that they get to the end of their service relatively unscathed. for those not so lucky, It can be heartbreaking, mind-numbing and something that keeps one up at night.

I am by no means an expert on trauma and PTSD but I live it every day and 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 posttraumatic 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.

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 well be a subcategory of the original definition. We relive our most horrific incidents directly or indirectly ( the speeder scenario). We don’t suffer from “a” specific trauma, we dream and replay many incidents we tried to fix. These incidents impact us sometimes moment by moment as we pretend they don’t exist.

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, paramedics, police to 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

Testing The Familiar Waters

As the depression is defeated by a good night’s slumber, I finally feel mentally well enough to once again, start testing the waters. So, yesterday I made arrangements with a good friend to meet in a small cafe. After the plans were finalized I developed the mindset that I would make it a commitment rather than a simple arrangement; this mindset works for me because it feels more like a top priority. Meeting a friend is always a top priority for me but try telling my mental illnesses that.

Self-help techniques when dealing with mental illness

When it came time to meet, I prepared for our plans, got in my car and arrived at the destination. Pretty simple to do right? Well, no, it can be daunting and dreadful with a dose of I don’t have the mental energy to do this. So, when I arrived for coffee I felt like I had crossed some sort of finish line. 
Thinking back on the muddy waters of depression I had slugged along in just a week before, I was proud that I made it, that I ventured inside and had a very enjoyable conversion over a great cup of coffee with a good friend. Celebrating the seemingly small stuff has yielded big gains as I know that I can once again re-enter the world of the busy.

With that said, I was not stricken with a cure overnight, no miracle had happened that completely set me free from anxiety, depression and PTSD,  nor was I expecting that to be the outcome. I know that I am not cured that my fight with mental illness is far from over; nonetheless, I embrace the immediate victory. 
I still jumped at every bang and wail of a siren and as a consequence, I disassociated.  however, I was able to keep my wits about me long enough to ti be present and engage in conversion without feeling like I had to run away.

So, try testing the waters on the days you’re feeling mentally well and celebrate the small victories along the path. Measure success by how far you got on any given task, not on the fact that you may not have made it to your destination or was able to stay long if you did. Mental health conditions dictate how fast or slow you can go, work within your tolerances, take back your life.

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

You may also enjoy: Are Our Priorities Making Us Sick?

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

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

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

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

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

You may also Enjoy: Mindfulness And Being Present

Pics courtesy of  Pixabay