Heartache, Perseverance and Healing (Ashley’s PTS Story)

 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

‭‭John‬ ‭14:27‬

A truth I will learn through heartache, perseverance, and healing.

Written By: Ashley Braden

Ashely and Benny at their wedding Nov. 24, 2013

     I’m standing in front of him, blocking the door, trying to keep him from leaving…again. He’s yelling at me to move. Cursing me for standing in his way. All I want is a hug, a kiss, and a simple “I love you” before he leaves. I beg. I’m crying harder than ever. He looks at me and it appears that he feels zero sympathy. It feels as though he doesn’t love me or our kids, even though I know he really and truly does. A scenario that we’d played out before and would continue to play out off and on for months to come. 

Phot Courtesy of : Outmersive Films


I’d never had to “deal” with anyone suffering from PTS before. We didn’t even realize that’s what was going on. All I knew was that my new husband acted like he hated me every single time we would disagree over anything, even the small stuff or when the kids would get too loud or argue or make a mistake. “That’s it, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” were words I heard too many times… my response? “No. We are married, this is my house now too and we have 3 kids. I’m not leaving.” So he left. Every. Single. Time. I would text and call over and over. Each and every time he left, I would go to the safe and count our handguns to make sure they were all there. I prayed he would not be found somewhere in his truck with a self inflicted gunshot. I worried myself sick sometimes and cried myself to sleep most times. He would leave and stay gone until the next day and when he would come home it would be as if nothing had ever happened. I would try to talk to him but he would not discuss anything. It was during this time that I really learned to pray.. when I learned how to spill my heart to God, trust him, and wait… wait very patiently. 

My Beardedself and my Beautiful Bride Ashley


One time when we were arguing, most likely over something small and unimportant, he decided to throw a bunch of my belongings outside… this included the wedding dress that I married him in. I picked my things up as he once again told me to get out and that he wanted a divorce. I left this time. I drove approximately 10 minutes away to my aunt and uncles. I pulled up and after my uncle made sure that the children or I had not been physically hurt, I asked him to please go check on Benny. I knew something was not right. He was dealing with a demon much bigger than I had ever had to face. I had some trouble with depression a couple of times as a younger adult and I knew this was not depression. I had also dealt with anxiety and this was like an anxiety attack on the largest dose of steroids you could imagine. After my uncle left I contacted a couple of our friends, Mike and Jonathan. They also headed towards our house. Benny was still there, in the back yard, digging. Digging. Digging. We were in the middle of a major addition project on our house. More stress for him. They talked to him, calmed him down. But it did not end the fits he had. 

Benny Braden


The fits continued…like a toddler version of the Hulk who hadn’t slept in days and all they wanted was for you to buy them a new toy…having a major meltdown with every toy you passed in the toy aisle at Walmart. And every time he left, I got stronger. I started praying like never before. I started loving Benny harder and loving God more. Each time he’d leave, I’d write a note and leave it on his pillow. Or I’d write down my prayers and leave them out for him to read. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. And when I thought I couldn’t pray anymore, I prayed again. I KNEW God would fix him. I praised God for answering my prayers before he ever answered them. 

Ashley Braden in Frozen Head State Park

He kept saying he was broken. And I kept reminding him that God mends all things. I knew this because God had mended me. Many many times. He healed me of depression and anxiety when I was 18 and had lost my great-grandmother. He healed me of depression, anxiety, and self harm when I was going through separation and divorce with my ex-husband. I KNEW God could heal him. And that’s when he started backpacking. 

My Beardedself on top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park


With every backpacking trip, he had fewer meltdowns. With every backpacking trip, we grew closer. With every backpacking trip, I saw sparkle come back into his eyes. He would share with me the beauty of Gods creation that he saw. He would explain how close he felt to God while he was hiking.

My husband was being mended. God was answering my prayers just as I knew he would. We both grew closer to God and as we grew closer to God, we grew closer to each other. Our family was happier. Less stressed. Over time it got better and better and we all no longer felt like we had to walk on eggshells around him. There came a point where I could no longer remember the last time he left in anger. I could no longer remember when we’d had our last argument. We could disagree and it not turn into an atomic bomb exploding in our house. Our kids could argue like siblings do or be loud like kids are and it would not send him into hysterics. He finally figured out what was causing the anxiety attacks and the outbursts.. Post Traumatic Stress. 

My Beardedself as 1st Lieutenant, Head Rescue Diver, EMT, Water Rescue Team Leader, Swiftwater Rescue Instructor and Vehicle Extrications Instructor at Roane Co Rescue Squad.


Before we met, Benny had been an EMT worker, a rescue diver, a rescue squad member, etc. He’d seen too many things in this life that stuck with him long after the job was over. It took a toll on him and led to PTS. Finally we could put a name to what had caused his explosions. It made perfect sense now. My husband had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress. He still gets anxious occasionally but that’s when I say, “Honey..it’s time for a hike.” And even if he just takes a few hours on the trail…he doesn’t explode. He has left home since the hard times in moments of anxiety and frustration.. But I understand now that sometimes he just needs space. I don’t stop him if he needs to go and he has not stayed gone all night in years. He comes home and climbs in bed beside me and wakes up feeling refreshed again. He wakes up to face another day. To hike another hike. To live another moment. To be free. 

Always thinking of my beautiful bride while I’m out on the trail.

——-Highline ——-

My Beardedself standing on the summit of Kings Peak. Tallest point in Utah. Photo by: Will Wood

This past summer (2018) I had the incredible opportunity to join my buddies over at Zpacks (an ultralight outdoor gear company) and my good friend Chris Smead of Outmersive Films on a backpacking trip out in Utah. The plan was to not only hike the Uinta Highline Trail in the Uinta Mountains, but to also film it for a documentary.

This wasn’t going to be your normal everyday type of hiking documentary. We were going to take you on a journey. A journey of five friends as they take a 10 day human journey, sharing the stories of each hiker as they explore a historic path with a history that none of them ever really realize. Some of their stories are tragic and some are triumphant. You’ll hear stories that are not only shocking, but also stories of redemption.

My Beardedself “Plug-it In”, Matt “Details” Favero, Joe “Samurai” Valesko, Will “Redbeard” Wood & Steve “Cannonball” Kaiser. Photo by: Outmersive Films

Not only did we learn about each other, but also the unique history of the Uinta Mountains and the Uinta Highline Trail. You’ll watch as the ancient history of this fabulously beautiful trail is woven together with the personal stories of each of us hikers as we get back in touch with the world around us and each other.

Tons of planning and preparation went in to making this hike happen. Outmersive shot film over 18 days in later July and early August 2018. Each of us hikers helped carry extra batteries, cameras, lens and other gear. This extra gear added up to about 2 to 3 extra lbs each hiker would have to carry. I guess it’s a good thing we were all carrying ultralight gear……

Steve “Cannonball” Kaiser taking in the view of the Uinta Mountains. Photo by Chris Smead of Outmersive Films

TRAILER

Highline is scheduled to release in Summer of 2019

With great anticipation the trailer is finally completed and ready to be viewed. Here it is, the official trailer for the documentary Highline. Give it a watch and tell us what you think.

https://youtu.be/dbkE6UbIiAU

CURRENT PHASE

It’s now in post production and is targeted to release Summer of 2019. But we need your help. Professional coloring, audio finishing in 5.1 surround sound, and mastering including a digital cinema package for theaters is not cheap. Not to mention distribution fees for online platforms like iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. Join us, and help bring this film to life.

YOU CAN HELP

You can help us bring this film to life by joining a Kickstarter campaign to help with funding. This funding is needed in order to bring this film to market. If you enjoyed the trailer, we ask that you consider joining. You can do so HERE.

STAY UPDATED:

You can stay up to date on this Films progress by following Outmersive Films. Here is a link to all of their social media platforms including their website and the website for Highline.

Outmersive website: https://www.outmersivefilms.com/

Highline website: https://highlinefilm.com

Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/outmersivefilms/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/outmersivefilms/

Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/outmersive

YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UC0kG0TatR77VrpWnllo6zHQ

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/outmersivefilms

Synopsis

Photo by: Outmersive Films

Five friends embark on a ten day journey on the incredible Uinta Highline Trail in northern Utah. Together they discover adventure, and explore the history of the area. Along the way you learn more about these hikers, and how they succeeded in life even when the odds were stacked against them.

STAFF & CAST

Produced & directed by outdoor film maker Chris Smead of Outmersive Films and co-directed by experienced cinematographer Gordon Gurley. Armed with cameras and backpacks, they followed 5 experienced long distance hikers to tell their stories:

Joe Valesko (aka Samurai Joe)- Inventor and founder of a well known outdoor gear company.

Matt Favero (aka Details) – Brand manager of a well known outdoor gear company.

Will Wood (aka Redbeard) – Well known Youtuber and blogger

Benny Braden (aka Plug-it-in) – Outdoor blogger that holds the record for hiking all 924 miles in the Smokies in only 43 days.

Steve Kaiser (aka Cannonball)- Larger than life experienced thru hiker.

To help tell the stories behind this amazing place we teamed up with local experts:

Tom Flanigan – Archeologist

Ryan Buerkle – Of the Ashley National Forest

Gordon Hirschi – Of the Uinta Basin Backcountry Horsemen

THE TRAIL

Photo by: Benny Braden for Outmersive Films

Experienced hikers have called the Uinta Highline Trail superior to the John Muir Trail. Yet few people know about it. The John Muir Trail started with a single vision and was well marketed. It was also located near heavily populated areas in California. Utah’s Uinta Highline Trail has a very different history. It snuck on to the map piece by piece. Even local experts could not pinpoint the exact year the trail was completed. Furthermore, the trail is distanced from heavily populated areas. The result is a beautiful and pristine 104 mile trail with no crowds.

THE MISSION

In America, we’re great at concentrating ourselves into well known national parks. Overcrowding is a problem. We hope this film encourages responsible hikers to venture off the beaten path and to experience the Uinta Highline Trail and feel a connection to it. That connection can create a sense of stewardship that is vital to preserving our wild lands.

One Drop of Rain (Marty Parker’s PTSD story)

Marty Parker while hiking the Appalachian Trail

My good friend Marty Parker go to talking about my story recently. She shared her story with me and I knew immediately it had the possibility to help someone.

One thing I’ve learned about Marty is she has a huge heart and I knew she would be willing to share her story with you as well. So here it is, it’s brutally honest and spoken with true and honest love for others.

First here’s Marty’s bio;

Marty Parker is a nurse of 27 years. She has worked in the area of Emergency Medicine the majority of her career. Throughout her career she has encountered the goodness that comes with caring for sick, injured and dying patients. But in that goodness, she has also faced trauma, tragedies, and often war like scenarios played out over and over. While she has been honored to serve her patients, each loss comes with a price. Many health care workers find this conflict overwhelming even their best works yields death or other sad stories for countless families.

Marty has had specialized training in the field of trauma at a large Level 1 Trauma Center. She is currently the House Supervisor overseeing the care of more than 800 patients and 2000 employees.

She has suffered with PTSD for years and has dealt with depression on and off through out her professional life. Dealing with the death of children, husbands, family’s is common place at a hospital but her patients stories don’t simply end when she returns home. They often leave nurses and doctors with years of pain to battle.

Strangely enough, she met her loving spouse when he was admitted to her hospital after having been burned in a fire. Robert Parker in a Heavy Rescue firefighter and while he was at a friends gathering, he was severely burned in a fire and taken to Marty’s hospital. While there, he stopped breathing and Marty ultimately did CPR on Robert to save his life. Several months after his recovery from his burns, he ran into Marty and asked her to breakfast. He called her “his angel” and declared Marty was guardian sent from heaven. Funny, she declined. Roberts persistence paid off and ultimately they had their first date. Robert is a United States Marine Corp veteran. The two married in 2012. Marty now declares Robert as her guardian angel as he has stood beside her during countless days and nights while she deals with her depression and PTSD. He has helped her nightmares and even encouraged her to seek help in managing her PTSD. He strongly encouraged her to find other outlets and coping skills for PTSD and depression.

Marty attributes nature to her healing and coping with life’s traumas. The ocean, long distance backpacking and the call of the mountains help the daily struggle. The strength of God and her loving husband allows her to be strong.

Robert called Marty “his angel” she said him “her saving grace.” But in a conversation later she corrected and said “Actually God is my Saving grace, Robert is my hero and rock.”

“One Drop of Rain”

No one knows what a person has had to deal with or face in their life. We all have our story and our own personal cross to bare. Each one of us have our weakness, our guilt, our shame and our triumphs. People wrong you and your parents let you down and then try to build you back up. Often failing miserably. Trusts get broken and innocence stolen far too young. You can’t really know me or my woes. With that said, I too have no clue what you have been through or what has happened to you in your life. I just see the stranger you are willing to share. I can say that we are all human and placed here to become better and live better each day. To help one another and become one life. It doesn’t matter if u were abused as a child or bullied. It doesn’t matter, if u were or are a drunk, if you are a sinner or if you are a saint. Being perfectly imperfect is the way we are suppose to be. We are all fragile beings within our own strength.

In my career, I see people fight for their life daily. Fighting off diseases and illnesses I can’t even pronounce. I see death regularly (most everyday death is “normal” to me.) But how can death truly be classed as “normal?” Some peoples deaths are planned and plotted, some deaths are known/ expected due to an illness and is a welcomed relief, some are a complete shock from some terrible tragedy or accident. Causes me PTSD. All death equals a loss to the world. It leaves their loved ones with grief and pain and a void to never be filled only dealt with slowly.

We live in a world filled with hate, crime and badness. I look around me and I see homeless people, hungry people, weak and tired and drained people. Poor work ethics and poor decisions being made. Laziness and lackadaisical people expecting a free ride and hand outs from other hard working people. Deplorable. The sense of justice seems lost. Sometimes… in my past, these things have overwhelmed my soul. Broke me and crushed my spirit. I was completely defeated and wanted no more of this world.

So one day I drove to the beach (other than the mountains, the beach is my safe haven.) I sat in my sultry car and sat outside my favorite light house just sharing at it. I love light houses but today it was just a black and white stripped tower looming in front of me. The air was thick and it was hard to breathe.

I was SPENT…. I sat and thought about how life sucked. I felt hopeless. I felt like my life was useless to me. I felt worthless and used. I was getting divorced, I felt unloved and just ugly. I was confused and tired and broken. The day needed to be done. I was over it and it needed to just stop! Even the simple act of breathing seemed to hurt me. I wanted things to end. Suicide, no…. I did not want to be dead really. I simply just wanted to be done. Done with life’s problems and stresses that seemed to engulf my existence. Bills and work, being a nurse, and divorce and kids and the seemingly never ending tasks it took to just live… these “things” were way too much to continue. Stop the earth, I want off screamed my brain.

My head wanted to explode and I wanted to disappear. I was crying and felt empty. I listened to music and felt like nothing mattered. Especially me, I did not matter. It was summer and my car was hot and humid. It was predicted to storm. I didn’t mind the threat of a storm or the unbearable muggy heat. I did not even open the windows. Just sat there sweating feeling numb.

It started to rain and a single drop of rain hit my window. It was all alone, one little drop…. it just sat there like the tear on my cheek. I watched as the other rain drops hit the glass on my car. First there was one drop, by itself. Alone… Alone like me. Then one drop became two, two became three and so on. The water drops naturally wanted to join together. Like some magnetic force they collided. They would fall from the sky and then immediately try to find another drop of rain to roll down the window into some puddle. As did my tears. The tears from my eyes too flowed down my cheeks pooling on my chest. Like some odd parallel of fate. I watched the drops of rain for some time. Puzzled as the rain drops joined to make water trails down my window. My cars’ windows began fogging up due to the humidity. I didn’t care. I just sat breathing and watching the rain. I could smell the oceans salt air. It smelled fishy… but not in a bad smelly way. It was pleasing to my nose and some how calmed me. As the rain continued, I began tracing the lines of rain in the fog on my side window. Funny, I noticed that the rain drops weren’t meant to be apart. They joined forces to be together. To create a something bigger. It was beautiful to watch them join up.

Feeling lost, I decided to get out of my car and walked toward the beach across from the light house. The sun was setting behind the clouds that were rolling in. They were thick, dark and thunder was making a loud roar in the distance. These clouds looked ominous! Much like my life felt ominous to me.

I reached the waters edge and stared out at the nothingness. Dark water and big waves crashing loudly as their white caps tossed the water wildly. The sand was cold and wet and squished between my toes. My perfectly painted red toe nails poked through the sand. I sat there wiggling them until the sand chipped the polish off my left big toe. This made the perfect pedicure I just paid $60 bucks for totally ruined. “Just one more thing to fix! One more stupid stressor, “ran through my head. “June Cleaver wouldn’t have a chipped toe nail” I thought. Keeping up with “The Cleavers and The Jones” is too hard to manage. I hate trying to emulate and keep up with the “Have it all” people of the world. Note to self: Stop trying to! I suck at it and I hate false pretenses and living up to or faking junk like this.

The rain was falling down in a steady mist from above. I sat down in the sand and listened to the waves crash at my feet. A wave rolled in and soaked my bottom. I cared not. One bright flash lit up the sky and thunder roared and shook the ground. Still I sat…. The sky’s let loose and it stormed the most amazing storm I have ever seen. Thunder cracked and lightening split the sky in such an array of streaks that they were blinding to watch. But I watched. I listened and I didn’t move. It rained very hard. Side ways wind blowing the rain with the horizon. The wind blew so fiercely that my wet hair stuck to my face. I sat there and watched natures fury. Fearless and mesmerized. I should have been afraid for my life as the lightening was quite close. Instead of fear, I felt an amazing power and energy building within the storm. I witnessed the wind and rain and waves and as they passionately join together. I was awe struck by these forces. This storm changed my perspective of rain drops. It changed my perspective of life and it changed me. I could feel a new energy building within my soul. I was enthralled by the power of the storm. Seeing so much water that had joined together yet started from one drop of rain. The rain drops each becoming stronger when united as one to form an ocean. I was like the single drop of rain compared to this ocean around me. I was surrounded by an ocean of people who loved me and needed me. The storm and wind and waves was just some of the stressors the ocean has to contend with in its “life.” Wow, what an epiphany.

The wind and rain were cold on my skin, yet I felt so warm. I felt apart of the rain and of the storm. Mostly, I felt alive. The storm ended. I sat there soaking wet and felt happy for the first time in ages.

Now, looking back, I believe that the one drop of rain that hit my car window was actually a tear drop from my guardian angel who felt my despair. I know this now. The drop beckoned me to see that I wasn’t alone in this world. I was apart of something bigger and I was needed in my life. That drop of rain showed me that I was meant to join with others and make a difference to their life. To move past feeling alone and swim in an ocean filled with beauty and power. To be fierce and brave. To the weather all stressors thrown at me. I found me that day in the Outer Banks. Moreover, I found peace.

Suicide is terrible and hurtful. If you are depressed, reach out to someone! Anyone, me! “Suicide is a permanent solution to life’s temporary problems.” We are never alone. We may be in a storm but in that storm there is power. There is strength. There is always another drop of rain to join up with to flow to an ocean of tranquility.

If you have read this until the end know this… I love you. I am here today because I was saved by one rain drop from Heaven. I love myself and my life and try to live it each day to its fullest. I work hard and play hard. I love life and people and nature and humanity. The good the bad and the ugly are all beautiful when you seek the beauty within.

Because I love you I can say this: I can be your drop of rain. There is no better gift in this world than that of life… Being there for others and living through the storm is my personal calling. We are one people. Black, white, gay, straight, rich or poor…. we are one ocean!

This is my Story… And it is only the beginning. I am more than one drop of rain… I am a complex ocean.

Call me if u need someone to weather your storm with you. I will be there. Peace, hope and love: the greatest of these is HOPE!

The Ultimate Fire (PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in First Responders)

When Will “Red Beard” Wood and my Beardedself hiked the Benton MacKaye Trail, our first resupply was in Reliance, TN at a place called Hiwassee Waterwater Co./Flip Flop Burgers. That’s where we met Bryan Mayhew. Even though I didn’t know Bryan, I instantly felt we had more in common than we both realized. After spending 24 hours with Bryan I learned a lot about him. I learned that my initial feeling was absolutely correct. I learned that Bryan wasn’t only a veteran firefighter & paramedic, but he too was dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). That’s when I asked him if he would be willing to share his store and be a guest blogger. Bryan instantly said yes and shortly sent me this article to post.

Here’s a short bio on Bryan;

Bryan Mayhew primarily grew up in Middle Tennessee from the beginning of high school on. He spent 27 years in public safety serving in the roles of paramedic, firefighter and instructor. Took an early retirement after being with Nashville Fire Department for 20 years and opened a business riverside on the Hiwassee River in Reliance, TN. Bryan and his wife now operate Hiwassee Whitewater Company an up and coming outfitters store with lodging and Flip-Flop Burgers. He has been married to his wife Mechell for 26 years having two children and two grandchildren.

“If you said you wanted to walk in my shoes, I would destroy them. If you said you wanted to see what I have seen through my eyes, I would close them. This is not to blind the truth, but to hide the pain that firefighters, ems and police feel every day. I am a veteran of public safety for over 27 years. I started out as a volunteer with countless hours doing what I thought was going to be exciting and glamorous. Over a career of responding to emergencies some of the calls never go away. Having a strong heart and solid soul with an upbringing of helping others, you slowly find yourself encompassed in an emotional battle that leaves no victor. I have continued the path of caring for the sick and injured by becoming and emergency medical technician. The educational process was progressive from E.M.T. to paramedic to firefighter and onto instructor. I went from volunteer through convalescent and into rural E.M.S. After leaving rural EMS I became employed with a large metropolitan department. I took an early retirement after 20 years of service. To add validity to my awareness I was stationed on the busiest ambulance in the United States 2000-2001 according to a national firehouse publication, four shifts doing 9000 calls. This is common to many departments across our nation. I don’t feel specific detail of calls are necessary, but a general knowledge allows more than enough information to protect you from vivid unnecessary mental images.  If arriving on the scene of one horrific incident isn’t enough……add the progression of hundreds to your daily thoughts. This does not include the thousands of calls made since the start. Lives and families are ruined by the same need and care that we provide. Post-traumatic stress is real and relentless in it’s victims.

You never know what response will affect you the most. The response is an interpretation of actions from the individuals involved in any incident. This can be a victim, family, bystander, responder or organization. The stresses from a regular response are cumulative and have their own directional channel. Begin to add a personal attachment and empathy with the victims. When you turn towards a support mechanism that should be in place, you meet with employer resistance and political agendas. Time has changed society to the point of compromising its integrity. Being a responder now holds an incredible amount of liability and personal safety concern from violence to disease.  A single novel could not portray most responder’s struggles in life, unfortunately a single moment has ended many by their own inability to cope.

Some people might wonder why a simple action would trigger an unusual response. For a responder what most people would find uncommon becomes ordinary by repetitious mental imaging. I have always tried to help others, even when it has meant sacrificing a part of myself. I have tried to give a bedside manner that is comforting to my patient and their family regardless of the circumstances or their demaenor towards me. I have found myself distancing from my family in hopes of not having to feel the pain that I share with the victims that I respond to. Realizing some of the abrupt and horrific incidents and endings to life you never want to share with others. Some people ask what the worst thing you have ever seen, But I have never heard what is the worst you have ever felt. I wouldn’t answer that question because it’s beyond anything I have ever seen.

Supporting those suffering from post-traumatic stress can vary from a simple kind word when needed to others requiring prolonged intervention. Be supportive of your friends and family that serve and protect because you can be the difference in their life.”

Bryan Mayhew,

I would like to thank Bryan and his wife Mechell for not only showing me the absolute warmest hospitality when I stayed at Hiwassee Whitewater Co., but also for their friendship. When I left their place after my resupply during my BMT hike, I felt like I was leaving my family behind. I’ve never felt that way about a hostel or resupply point. I felt that way cause they took me in and treated me like family. Bryan and I shared a special bond. We had both seen and done things during our public service carriers that we couldn’t talk about and things that haunted us. Plus it’s hard to put into words what we’ve experienced. But one thing is certain. We’ve both found ways to cope with it. We’ve both chosen to not be the monsters that PTS can turn you into. Our faith in God and our love for our families is what inspires us to chose better. Choose to not let PTS control us.

Thank you. Bryan Mayhew for sharing your incredible story with us.

From Rescuer To Rescued (PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in First Responders)

View of Clingman’s Dome from Alum Cave Trail in GSMNP

The subject of PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) in the emergency service field is something I’ve felt like I’ve needed to write about for a while now, but never knew what exactly to say. And to be honest, I’ve actually been running from it like the plague. Why?… Because it hits a little too close to home for me. And well let’s face it. By writing about it requires me to possibly have to revisit some memories that are painful and horrifying.

Benny Braden: 1st Lieutenant, Rescue Diver, EMT, Swiftwater Rescue Instructor, Vehicle Extrication Instructor, Water Rescue Team Leader and more…. 📷: Roane Co. Rescue Squad in Harriman, TN[[[[[[[[[[[[
You see I was in the fire, emergency and rescue fields combined for a little over a decade. I’ve been a first responder, EMT, volunteer firefighter, rescue diver, swiftwater rescue instructor, water rescue team leader, vehicle extrication and EVOC instructor, first lieutenant and more.

If the alarm went off, I went. No matter where I was or what I was doing. One year I served over 2000 volunteer hours. That was on top of my normal day job. I sacrificed my time, my family’s time and my body. But little did I know then I was sacrificing my mental health too.

Some days we wouldn’t have many calls, but on other days it was nonstop. I will spare you of the details because I don’t want to put images in your head. But I will say I’ve see a person die nearly every way someone can. Those images stay with me day and night, 24 hours a day.

When I did that work I tried to block it out after the call. And initially it worked, but there comes a time that you see too much. So much that attempting to block it out no longer works. And back then we didn’t routinely practice debriefings. When the call was over, we would go home or go do the next call. It was never discussed of talked about.

I didn’t start noticing something was wrong till three years after I left the emergency services. I started battling depression that grew pretty severe. I was put on medication to help with the depression, but it still didn’t hit me that something was wrong. All the warning signs were there, but I wasn’t paying attention.

My Beautiful Bride Ashley’s first hike to LeConte Lodge in the GSMNP

After a couple failed marriages and relationships. Four years later I married my beautiful bride. She and her two beautiful daughters moved in. We began remodeling on our house. Adding more space for everyone. At the same time my brother passed away due to long term use of narcotics. And it wasn’t long then that we adopted my two nieces. Making my family of two (me and my son) into a family of seven.

It wasn’t till then that I became a monster. The high stresses of remodeling a house mixed with getting to know new people that were not only living with me, but also depending on me was overwhelming. It was triggering anxiety attacks. It seemed as if we were fighting all the time and it was getting worse by the day. Put all of that on top of the hidden wounds from the years of emergency service. It was then that I started experiencing the severe anxiety attacks.

After a few years of dealing with depression and anxiety attacks which made life an absolute living hell. I rediscovered hiking again. I use to hike a lot when I was younger, but slowly gravitated away from it. But this time I was backpacking. Loading everything on my back and going into the woods for days.

Sunset from the Cliff Tops on Mt LeConte. 📷 Dewey Slusher

I began to do longer hikes. Instead of being out for days, I was staying out longer. It was then that I began to notice something. I was starting to feel different afterwards. I was less stressed. I could handle the high stress without becoming a monster. The anxiety attacks and depression seemed to lessen. My beautiful bride began see the results which opened up opportunities for us to talk about what was going on.

The best way I can describe it is this way. It’s like I have a huge desk in my head and it’s a complete mess with piles of images of things I’ve seen and done. When I’m out on the trail it’s like I can pull one of the images out of the pile, pray about it, make some sense of it and then file it way where it belongs. This requires lots of pray and sometimes painfully revisiting those moments or events, but the end result is that I’m able to finally have peace from a memory that has haunted me for over a decade.

Sunrise from Max Patch, NC

Honestly, that is why I hike so much. It brings me peace and helps me come to terms with my past. It also gives me that one on one time with my Creator. I give God all the glory for revealing this to me and helping me slowly overcome this. Now my battle with PTS is far from over, but I now have a coping mechanism to help me deal with it. The down side to being gone so much is the loss of time with my beautiful bride and kids. But the time we now have together is quality time. More time is spent laughing, loving and enjoying each other’s company. Instead of everyone having to walk on egg shells, worried about setting me off and sending me into another anxiety attack.

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will be ran monthly here on Plug-it In Hikes blog. I will have guest bloggers who were once or currently in the EMS, fire, rescue or law enforcement field sharing their story about their battle with PTS and how they are coping with it. My hope is that these posts will help someone who is also dealing with PTS. As you can see I refuse to call it PTSD. Let’s drop the D (disorder). No one wants to be labled with having a disorder. In the meantime keep my beardedself and the other future bloggers in your prayers.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8 NIV

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