Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) is a mental health condition caused by witnessing or experiencing actual or threatened death, serious injury or violence. PTS in the first responder community affects hundreds of thousands first responders, as well as their family members and friends.
First responders are twice as likely to suffer from PTS. Someone experiencing PTS could have the following signs and symptoms; flashbacks, experience bad dreams, frightening thoughts, disrupted daily routines, lose interest in activities and hobbies, startles easy, feeling tense, angry outbursts, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiety, emotionally numb, suicidal thoughts, etc……
A survey of more than 4,000 first responders found that 6.6% had attempted suicide, which is more than 10 times the rate in the general population. I’m a part of that 6.6%.
That’s right, I’ve attempted suicide before….. I was going through a severe bout of depression and it had gotten so bad that I didn’t eat very much for nearly a month. I lost an enormous amount of weight and became very secluded. None of my clothes fit and I was essentially waisting away. My mental health was following suit. It all came to a head on May 25, 2010. I was invited to go walk at a local park by a friend who was obviously concerned about me. We had a great talk and visit. For a brief moment I felt ok again, but as soon as I got home it hit my like a sledgehammer.
The last thing I remembered was walking through my front door. After that, I woke up the next day in the ER from an apparent drug overdose, but I still had no idea how I got there or why I was there. I had no idea that I had even attempted to take my own life. I was later transported to a mental hospital for an evaluation, where I stayed for 3 days. I was surrounded by concrete and felt completely out of place. I was confused and was trying to make sense of what was going on. I still didn’t know why I was there. On my exit interview they asked me “Do you feel suicidal? Do you want to harm yourself or others?” I answered “No! Why would I ever want to do either of those things?” That’s when I found out what had happened and why I was there…. That was my first warning sign that I narrowly escaped. And I still had no idea I was dealing with PTS.
Things got better for me for a little while. I still had the anger issues and would battle the seasonal depression, the anxiety had subsided some, but came back with intensity when me and my beautiful bride Ashley got married in 2013. We were building an addition on to our house and anything that could go wrong, did….. Mix the stresses of construction with the learning curve and troubles of blending a family together and you’re looking at a perfect storm for someone suffering from PTS. The stress was off the charts and my angry outbursts were equally as intense. I felt like I was effectively turning into the Incredible Hulk, but not in a good way. I was destroying my house with every outburst. Kicking in doors, punching walls, throwing furniture and being verbally ugly to every single member of my family. I would get so worked up, I’d have to leave and sleep in my truck. It would usually take about 24 to 48 hours for me to reset and be able to be around people again. I even slept in my truck on Christmas Eve one year. I hated life then, it was like a monster that I couldn’t control. I never knew when it would show up or even what was triggering it. I felt ashamed, unloveable and disgraced.
My beautiful bride and children suffered greatly during this time. They not only watched me going through this up close, but also had to walk on egg shells otherwise I would turn my anger and rage against them. I would say mean and ugly things to them, punish them unfairly and ground them for weeks. It’s almost like I wanted Ashley and my children to hate me as much as I hated myself.
But that didn’t happen. You see when God sent me Ashley (my beautiful bride), He knew I needed someone special. Someone that could see the big picture and someone that would help me even when I didn’t want it. She refused to leave, even when I would kick her and the kids out of the house. She prayed nonstop for me and for us as a family. She would write her prayers on pieces of paper and lay them on my pillow or somewhere I would see them. She never gave up on God or me. She knew He would heal me at least to the point that I could love again. She had no idea I was dealing with PTS. She just knew whatever it was, that God could heal it.
October 7-13, 2018 is Mental Health Awareness Week. Show your support for those battling mental illness and stop the stigma. You can wear a lime green or neon green ribbon, ring or bracelet which has been designated as the color associated with mental health awareness. Also if you know someone struggling with PTSD or mental illness, do everything in your power to get them help. And let them know they are loved and not alone.
Below are links to organizations dedicated to assisting first responders suffering from PTS. You can use these sites to educate and guide you through the process of getting help and understanding of this horrible mental illness.
•Code Green Campaign: http://codegreencampaign.org/
•First Responders First: http://www.firstrespondersfirst.ca/prevention-2/
•Fire Rescue 1: https://www.firerescue1.com/ptsd/