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

Everyone’s Wellness Road Is Different

I like to think that everyone’s mental wellness journey is different; like a mental fingerprint, they all vary in the way they present themselves from person to person. And the road that I walk upon is no exception, its pain customizes by my own life experience.

Just as my mental health conditions have grown and manifested according to my life’s path, maybe genetically, certainly experientially, neurologically and, most definitely pharmaceutically. As if my mental illnesses weren’t enough, I was also diagnosed with epilepsy when I was thirteen.  Fortunately for me, the medication I was put on has completely controlled my seizures. I am grateful for this because the degree to which I have responded to the medication has not been lost on me in terms of the significant and positive impact it has had on my entire life.

Carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant medication designed to reduce or prevent seizures, has been a miracle drug for me. It has proven its value by eliminating my seizures to zero. I have been seizure-free since 1994.

However, this miracle drug is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has allowed me to live a full and complete life in terms of work,  driving,  being a firefighter etcetera. But… On the other hand, it has left one hell of a mess in the mental health department. 
Fun fact about carbamazepine is that it’s metabolized through the liver. As a result, it loves to produce enzymes that systematically wash out all the drugs I have tried to treat my PTSD, depression and anxiety. I know, fun, right? If that weren’t enough, it also limits the types I can take. This washout renders the antidepressants and the like ineffective. This makes the road to mental wellness a very difficult one to travel down.
 Epilepsy entered into my life at 13, I was frightened by what lied ahead. I hadn’t a clue as to what epilepsy was, how detrimental it could be to my health and if that meant I would be impacted by seizures for the rest of my life. So many things went through my head, overwhelming me with an ocean of uncertainty. 
Now, 30 years later, that same fear of uncertainty has impacted me every day since my diagnosis of PTSD, anxiety and depression. In fact, the further away I get from the last day I worked, the more the fear of the unknown exacerbates my generalized anxiety disorder. What lies ahead for me???

To hear more of my story go here: My podcast with A New Dawn. (website listed below)

Ironically, the same medication that quelled my young mind’s fear of what epilepsy meant for the rest of my life, is the reason I live in limbo today. Several medications for the treatment of mental illness later, here I sit, experiencing little to no effect from them. Sadly, this has only proved to prolong my suffering. Not only from the mental health perspective but also from the side effects each med has produced. Hindering what quality of life I already have; there have been times when I couldn’t drive, interact with my family and had to turn down friends for visits. Every time I go on a new drug and then come off it, I have little choice but to hit the pause button on life.

As murky as the waters of my future maybe, I am determined and my will to live is still strong. I am not out of options nor am I out of ideas. I wasn’t put on this earth to rot in the sea of mental illness so, despite my personal challenges, I carry on.

Now, here’s my challenge, laid out before you. Also, my resolve to have my life back is here for you to see; in fact, it’s on every page this blog.

Your battle, even though it may not feel like it, it is far from over. We got this! Even if you and I have to do it together… I believe you can do this; through your deep down will to live and all the love and passion you possess. Just because we feel like it’s the end doesn’t make it so, that voice in your head feeding your pain doesn’t have to prove victorious. Explore every option.

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:
 Pave New Roads

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

Check out my friend’s blog here: https://abbeyschronicles.com