I was asked that question the other day by someone and I gave her an answer that was designed to get out of the question as fast as possible, which it did. But after that exchange, I started to think about how I should have answered and what I really had “going on”.
The real truth is is that I am at an extreme low point. I’m in a dark place that I have never been before. I don’t know if it because I am older and can self analyze better or if it is just the weight of my life up to this point that is pushing down. I really don’t know. I have crawled into my introverted cave and locked the door. I have been staying home and limiting my interaction with the outside world. The weather here is turning colder so I have been staying in the warmth of my house. It feels the safest. I have no intention of “checking out” because deep down, I am my own biggest fan so don’t worry about that.
I find myself consumed by thoughts and emotions that I have kept in the dark corners of my brain, like a dark alley at night that you pass and you pick up speed when you are walking so you can get by it as quickly as possible so whatever is in there doesn’t get you. All of those things are starting to come out. All the things that I have suppressed over the years because I needed to be the only one on the scene that wasn’t losing their shit or to act like I was as strong as everyone else or to keep my kids from seeing the emotions in me or to act like I knew what to do but the whole time I was screaming inside my head that “I have no fucking idea what to do next” or to act like what you just said to me didn’t want to make me crawl up in a ball and cry. These emotions have been turned on and I can’t get them turned off. I have gone as far as to watch movies that drag out my emotions just so I could cry it out. I know I need to but it won’t happen.
Since I left my position as Chief, I have yet to find a job to replace it. I have been looking but not as much as I should. It seems like right now, I need to talk myself into doing that kind of work again. I am doubting how good of a job I really did and wonder if my brain can take dealing with the fire service anymore. I still have my every sixth day spot at the department I have been with for years but for the first time in my adult life, I can see myself not doing this kind of work anymore; which is terrifying because it is the only thing I have ever been trained to do other than factory work or cable TV.
I recently injured myself during a training exercise. It wasn’t a big injury and I am feeling better but I am wondering if my body can take more of this job. I am 42 but I feel older. My knees hurt. My back hurts. My joints ache. I know there are people out there that will say that I would be more banged up if I worked their schedule or had been a dragon slayer as long as they have but I say you can’t compare the two. I have been through what I have been through and you have been through what you have been through. Each person is different so how my body has held up will be different than yours.
The same goes for your mind. I have seen a great deal but will never say I have seen it all. I truly believe there is a threshold in the mind of every first responder and when you reach that mental threshold, when your brain says “that’s it for me, we can’t fit anymore horrible shit in here”, that’s when you are truly done. I also believe that if you continue on past that threshold with the help of medication or talking yourself into moving along, you have lit a fuse on a bomb that will go off sooner or later. When that bomb goes off, you will decide to check out, take people with you or your brain will be mush and you won’t be good to anyone. People make light of retired Detroit Firefighter Dave Parnell’s quote “I wish my brain could forget what my eyes have see over 40 years of firefighting” but it is true. That stuff is in there and never leaves.
Obviously I am not a mental health expert but I have been reading the literature on first responder suicides and the like. It is about time we start looking at it in my opinion. To many responders have died before anyone noticed there was a problem. Check out http://codegreencampaign.org/ for more on that!
So what is really going on? I keep asking myself that and have formulated various answers. I have applied for a few jobs that are EMS related but are more “off the street” type jobs. I hope that one of them works out. I want to stay connected to the business if I decide to come off the street totally. I have considered getting back into the CATV business but now that it is getting colder, I really don’t want to be out there freezing my nads off. I would love to relocate to a warmer climate but that would be a huge undertaking that I really don’t think I could handle right now. So we will see.
Christmas is coming so I am prepping my brain for that. I am not a big fan of the holidays so it takes a lot of hyping myself up like a high school football coach before the big game. My lack of enthusiasm affects the people closest to me so I try to put on my “game face” for them and get through it. I’m an Atheist so the entire holiday just seems like a dog and pony show. I get through it every year so this one will be no different. I have always appreciated the owners of the local Chinese restaurants. They give people a place to go and eat quietly alone on Christmas. That is a valuable service.
I know some of you will say that I need to go see a professional brain wrangler to analyze my problems and give me solutions. I have been to therapy in the past and didn’t have much luck. I have had much more success off loading my issues on people that are in the fire service that deal with this kind of thing because I get suggestions or solutions that work. I hope to do that soon with some friends in the business. Simply talking about it has helped. As an introvert, I never really talked much out over the years but as I have gotten older, it has shown itself to be a useful problem solving tool.
So for now I will stay in neutral, analyzing and continuing my self examination. The mild panic attacks are fun but don’t really do anything so I have been able to shut them down before they get to weird. With the help of my soulmate and the small group around me, I will make it through this patch of rough water. They have hung in there when they didn’t have to and I appreciate that more than I can even say.
2015 has been a crappy year so I want to wrap this stuff up before the new year. I want to start 2016 on a positive note.
Thanks for stopping by and check out the links below for more on first responder mental health: