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Home > Topics > Community Awareness
May 07, 2014
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The Ambulance Driver's Perspective
by Kelly Grayson

True confessions of a clinically depressed medic

Here I am, naked and exposed in a public forum, making a confession that, quite frankly, scares the crap out of me: Hi, I’m Kelly, and I suffer from depression.

By Kelly Grayson

It was a couple of months after my wife left me that I asked a trusted doctor friend a hypothetical question.

“Jalal,” I asked, ”if you had a patient who told you he worked all the time, and slept 19 hours a day on his days off, and barely got out of bed until it was time to go back to work, and had no appetite and felt tired all the time, what would you say was wrong with him?"

"I'd tell that patient that he was clinically depressed," he answered soberly, "and tell him he needed to get help, right the heck now."

"Crap," I sighed. "I had a feeling that's what you were going to say."

Looking back on it now, it wasn’t the end of my marriage that resulted in my depression. In fact, my depression was what ended my marriage. I was uncommunicative and withdrawn, and my wife needed a husband, friend and lover, not the stranger that I had become.

I blamed it on the pressures of work and being new parents of a special-needs child. I was trying to be strong for my family, and I was raised believing that a man doesn’t pass his burdens off to his wife.

But in truth, my stoicism just isolated me more. In the years since, I’ve learned to recognize the pattern, repeated a number of times before I even got into EMS. I get overwhelmed by deadlines and commitments, isolate myself from my friends and loved ones in an effort to get more work done, and without any outside interaction, I lose any creative spark I might have had … which makes it impossible to get any more work done.

At the end of the spiral, I find myself slumped on the couch for days on end with an open Microsoft Word window on my laptop, with nothing but a title at the top of the page. But instead of writing, I’m doing drive-by witticisms on Facebook at 3 a.m., because making funny and sarcastic comments via keyboard is what passes for human interaction when I am depressed. It’s easier than making a real human connection — easier, and infinitely more unhealthy.

Don’t deny it, fix it

My depression was easy to deny. I never felt suicidal, never had feelings of worthlessness, never wallowed in the proverbial dark pit of despair. I just had … nothing. No energy. No creative spark.

I was tired 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was easy to tell myself that it was simply overwork, that too many night SSM shifts had taken their toll. I needed rest, not therapy.

It was close to two years ago, when I was going through a rocky patch with my girlfriend, when my ex-wife asked me out of the blue, “So tell me, when are you going to get help for your depression?”

I was flabbergasted. Despite my doctor friend’s diagnosis, I had never admitted it to myself, much less to another human being. I vehemently denied it. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about.

“I’m not depressed,” I protested. “I get up, and I go to work. I function, I take care of KatyBeth. I’m just tired.”

Her answer was to roll her eyes tolerantly.

“You function, but I’m a mental health nurse, and I’ve known you for 16 years. The way you are now is not you. If I administered a screening questionnaire right now, you’d be classified as major depressive.”

“Major depressives are fat ladies who sit in the dark all day, watch soap operas, eat bonbons, and contemplate suicide. That is not me. I am not depressed.”

“No, that was your mother,” she retorted. “You hide it well, and people who don’t know the real you would never guess. But I was your wife for 10 years, and I’m still your friend. I know what the real you is like, and this is not it. And if you’re not careful, you’re going to lose Nancy the same way you lost me. Fix it.”

Fix it I did. I’m still fixing it today. Medication didn’t work for me, and psychotherapy doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. When I find myself retreating from life, I rely on the awareness of friends and loved ones to call me on it, and I force myself to do those life-affirming things my depression tells me I’m too tired to do.

I go out to movies. I go for walks with my girlfriend. I take my kid fishing. I turn expensive ammunition into smoke and noise. I hit the lake on my jet ski. Pretty soon, I discover that I no longer have to force myself to do those things. I look forward to them. I go on with living my life, and my energy and creative spark returns.

The biggest hurdle is admitting to myself that I am depressed.

And so here I am, naked and exposed in a public forum, making a confession that, quite frankly, scares the crap out of me: "Hi, I’m Kelly, and I suffer from depression."

Breaking the code of silence

That’s not an easy admission to make, especially for me. I’ve been described a lot of ways; funny, passionate, uncensored, inspirational, confrontational, committed, uncompromising, even being a unreasonable and arrogant prick.

Morose has never been one of them. Only a very few people closest to me would ever even believe it applied. But it does.

I only admit it now because I am tired of reading stories of fellow paramedics committing suicide. I’m tired of seeing EMTs with only a few years in EMS burn out. I’m tired of seeing PTSD turn a partner and a good EMT into an emotional wreck because he was too afraid to reach out for help.

I’m tired of seeing marriages and personal relationships founder because of some twisted ethos that has us believe that the healers should never need healing themselves.

And if me admitting my frailties in front of God and everyone makes it easier for a reader to admit that he needs help, then it will be worth it. That’s why I’m doing this in the most public forum available to me. It’s time to erase the stigma of mental illness.

It’s time to break the code of silence.

One poster on a Facebook page aptly described how EMS people deal with job stress: “We take all the pain and loss and death and horrible things men visit upon one another, and we put those feelings in a box so we can do our jobs. And then we slide that box out of sight under the bed, and we make jokes about the existence of the box.”

If we don’t air that box out now and then, it fills up, and what we put in it festers. It drives good people from our profession. It embitters many who remain, and makes them less than the providers they once were.

Too many of us, it kills.

Recently, a friend formed a group on Facebook aimed at erasing the stigma of mental illness in EMS. It’s called the Code Green Campaign, and they offer an anonymous safe haven to share your stories of depression, or PTSD, or bipolar disorder, or whatever it is that plagues you. They have a website under development, and they plan to offer educational content, support and referral services in the very near future.

Think of it as crowdsourcing EMS mental health care and peer support. Like them on Facebook, and share your story. Show your peers that they’re not alone, and that admitting you need help is not weakness, it is strength.

It’s easier than you think, and it’s empowering.

Hi, I’m Kelly. I have depression, but depression doesn’t have me.

About the author


Kelly Grayson, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P, is a critical care paramedic in Louisiana. He has spent the past 18 years as a field paramedic, critical care transport paramedic, field supervisor and educator. He is a former president of the Louisiana EMS Instructor Society and board member of the LA Association of Nationally Registered EMTs.

He is a frequent EMS conference speaker and contributor to various EMS training texts, and is the author of the popular blog A Day In the Life of an Ambulance Driver. The paperback version of Kelly's book is available at booksellers nationwide. You can follow him on Twitter (@AmboDriver) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/theambulancedriverfiles), or email him at kelly.grayson@ems1.com.

Comments
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EMS1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
MONOC - New Jersey's Hospital Service Corporation MONOC - New Jersey's Hospital Service Corporation Thursday, May 08, 2014 10:46:19 AM Yet again, nice job by Mr. Grayson.
Don Gwinn Don Gwinn Thursday, May 08, 2014 2:31:13 PM Bravo.
D Lawrence Barksdale D Lawrence Barksdale Thursday, May 08, 2014 2:31:23 PM Thanks for sharing, Kelly. Took guts. And I'm right there with you. Been chronically, seriously depressed for decades. Just got help last year. And it's still a struggle.
Kris Stegall Kris Stegall Thursday, May 08, 2014 2:36:12 PM How many of us simply work, eat, sleep, repeat.
Nathan Stanaway Nathan Stanaway Thursday, May 08, 2014 2:39:54 PM Well done Kelly! We are all very much alike. We just never admit it.
Wendi Estes Worsham Wendi Estes Worsham Thursday, May 08, 2014 3:36:44 PM Thank you!
Steve Revier Steve Revier Thursday, May 08, 2014 4:08:22 PM I don't think you could have hit the nail any more square or with anymore force on the head. Outstanding piece of writing!
Becky Valentine Becky Valentine Thursday, May 08, 2014 4:30:13 PM I am so proud of you, Kelly! Way to go. And hugs!
Dee Hall-Elmore Dee Hall-Elmore Thursday, May 08, 2014 4:34:11 PM Thank you. You will never know the ways in which these few paragraphs will help others. Well done.
Beth Ann McNeill Beth Ann McNeill Thursday, May 08, 2014 4:47:38 PM THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! Thanks for baring your sole, or at least your depression, in this forum. I can assure you you are not alone. Enough of the taboo around mental health and mental illness. Enough already. Too many people are needlessly dying from depression. It is a struggle, for sure. But speaking about this is a great start for so many. Thanks for your courage to share this. Much appreciated.
Jana Klassen Reed Jana Klassen Reed Thursday, May 08, 2014 5:30:30 PM thanks for sharing. i think because we see the worst of those with mental illness(generally) there is so much more stigma attached to it for us-we couldn't possibly be like "them." my partner and i were just talking about how sad it is that men in general are not "allowed" to be mentally ill, depressed, what have you. and then, they take their lives, or get hooked on something, etc. i am glad your ex pushed you into seeking treatment, and that you have found things that help you. thanks for being willing to put it out there, and make it not so scary to talk about. =)
Jane E. MacArthur Jane E. MacArthur Thursday, May 08, 2014 9:45:36 PM Strong work, sir! The number of EMS professionals you have just helped may be legion. Nice job.
Matt Guest Matt Guest Thursday, May 08, 2014 10:00:02 PM When you and I talked about this almost a year ago, it was almost like an echo chamber, except that my wife has still decided to hang on. The similarities are impressive, and the reasons are similar. Bad schedules including long stretches of working deep nights. Sitting in a vehicle awaiting the next call, documenting the last. Questionable eating choices at highly irregular hours. Being inverted from family and friends' hours, and rarely seeing the sun. Not being able to talk about the most stressful parts of the day at work with family. To me, the cure can feel like the cause of the disease. I remember hurting my back. My doc said "your long torso needs a stronger core. You need to strengthen your back." I asked how to do that. "Work it out. Do back extensions against resistance." In other words, do some of the very things that I had done to hurt my back in the first place! Eventually, the irritation at the exercise went away. Your explanation is like that. Don't feel like getting out and doing things? GET OUT AND DO THINGS. (And not the self-destructive ones.) I'm proud of you, my friend.
Deborah Spann Deborah Spann Friday, May 09, 2014 5:05:43 AM You are so right. Thank you for once again leading the way down a path to being better.
Charles Herbert Charles Herbert Friday, May 09, 2014 7:16:25 AM Best column ever.
J.t. Cantrell J.t. Cantrell Friday, May 09, 2014 8:54:56 AM Courageous and well done. Thank you for your efforts.
Colleen Nee Heinsohn Colleen Nee Heinsohn Friday, May 09, 2014 9:53:57 AM Awesome Kelly! Thank you for being so brave. This is something I deal with personally. I have since I was a teenager. Personal issues forced me to get help with clinical depression before ever getting into EMS. But all the hard work in the past, sure does help me do the hard work now. Sometimes its the SIDS baby that looks just like my babies did, and we get debriefed and have an avenue to share and heal. But other times it is just a accumulation of little things along the way that get to a tipping point for me. I am lucky that I am acutely aware of my depression and so is my family. It has helped me keep an eye on it and given me an avenue to share with my fellow medics in a personal way. Miss seeing you. Hope we can catch up soon.
Patty Einstein Patty Einstein Friday, May 09, 2014 11:50:01 AM I am very moved Kelly thank you so much for sharing and writing this.
Jay Rose Jay Rose Friday, May 09, 2014 1:48:19 PM Kelly, I was almost moved to tears, this is really some of your best, most useful and helpful writing yet! I know that it must have really took a lot for you to decide to write this, probably several nights at 0300 where Facebook seems much more appealing however bringing this piece to fruition is going to help a great deal of people in our EMS community. I personally feel that I can relate, sometimes life seems to have control of you instead of vice versa, however those are the exact times that human interaction helps. You reminded us all through your personal challenges of just this. Again, BRAVO and THANK YOU for sharing!
Morgan Young Morgan Young Friday, May 09, 2014 5:26:47 PM Thank you for sharing Kelly
John Oscar John Oscar Friday, May 09, 2014 5:37:44 PM I appreciate your honesty and openness. I myself come from the stoic German line where weakness isn't allowed. I hope people who need to get help do, as I'm tired of attending coworkers funerals who didn't open up and took their lives. Praying you'll find the peace you need Kelly...
Robert Irby Robert Irby Friday, May 09, 2014 7:23:21 PM been there, am there, was there will be there again, doing all of those helpful things if there is anything let me know
Palmer Arnold Palmer Arnold Friday, May 09, 2014 7:39:53 PM wow cant be me
Tonya Roden Strothman Tonya Roden Strothman Saturday, May 10, 2014 2:59:52 PM Thank you!
Callie Power Callie Power Saturday, May 10, 2014 3:24:52 PM Well wrote and thank you for sharing. I have 'survived' PTSD and am much stronger for it. At times I get waves of the same emotions but now ca recognize it and get help
Michael Westen Michael Westen Saturday, May 10, 2014 3:35:02 PM Unfortunately, that very stigma of which you speak is one of the things that makes depression the elephant in the room. Kudos to you for speaking out.
Tami D. Bulik Tami D. Bulik Saturday, May 10, 2014 5:10:35 PM From a fellow "drive by witty Facebook commenter".......thank you~~
Rafael E Cruz Rafael E Cruz Saturday, May 10, 2014 5:42:01 PM Makes me think of all my former colleague Paramedics that have committed suicide in Central Florida in the last few years. There are too many of them. Thank you for baring your soul out here
April Wensel April Wensel Saturday, May 10, 2014 7:00:33 PM amazing man! thank you
David Boykin David Boykin Saturday, May 10, 2014 7:27:51 PM Thank you, sir, for speaking out. We teach ourselves to lock away emotions, not to show weakness about the things we see, yet we forget about our own problems and how to speak out about them and ask for help. Just lost a former coworker who retired last year. That was supposed to make his life so much better, he thought. When he reached what he thought was the bottom again, he could think of only one way out.....and now I lost a friend, his children lost a father, and the world lost a great human being.
Chad Stephen Albert Chad Stephen Albert Saturday, May 10, 2014 8:04:12 PM Been there, done that, washed out as a result. Long story short, it wont matter until we establish EMS systems that vale long term employees (caregivers).....I remember an old partner of mine saying she was glad it was me that caught a bad call, because I wouldn't be impacted by the call....Fourteen years was enough, and I'm now happily employed outside of EMS. Maybe it's a sign that it's time to leave. Some jobs aren't forever jobs, and maybe this is one....
Tracey Callahan Burnett Tracey Callahan Burnett Saturday, May 10, 2014 8:31:55 PM Thank you for your courage, Kelly. My late husband was a Medic, and while cancer was listed as his cause of death, PTSD and debilitating depression killed him years before he died (young, 54). I recently took a LOA from my Vol FD/EMS duties to address my own PTSD in order to fulfill my promise to my husband; which was to raise our children and be there for them as long as possible, because he could not. I have not had a great deal (read:any discernible) support shown from within my own peer group regarding my decision and it saddens me to say that this will probably be the reason that I end VFD service altogether...but, it is what it is, until it ain't anymore?! I am not afraid and I am not ashamed. I earned every scar I have and they are part of the whole me. I have earned my trauma honorably in a lifelong commitment to being there when others' need me most...I have paid dearly, but I paid it with open eyes and a sincere heart. You are doing the bravest thing that I have ever seen, and that is to expose your greatest fears in an effort to be the best you can be for those who love you. So many men that I loved and respected have killed themselves by inches in front of me over the years growing up around and working in the field...and I loved them, but they were not being heroes. They were being selfish at best. Bravo to you for putting your love before your ego and pride! It's the path less travelled for a reason, but there are enough of us on it to have each others' backs!
Doug Stjohn Doug Stjohn Saturday, May 10, 2014 8:57:56 PM Thanks for sharing, hope it helps you and at least 1 other person
Jenifer Wyatt Jenifer Wyatt Saturday, May 10, 2014 9:22:57 PM PM me. We should talk.
Suzie O'Brien Suzie O'Brien Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:28:10 PM Thank you for sharing!! It is well known that we put our emotions on a 'light switch' or 'in a box' just so that we can function in our jobs/careers. We are often deemed cold, callous, and uncaring' but that is simply not the case. Too many of us struggle, too many of us have lost great friends due to this job. I will not deny that my personal life is rocky, simply because of my job and the toll it takes emotionally, and quite frankly physically as well. This article definitely opened my eyes so I can not only look out for myself, but also my co-workers.
Russ Graham Russ Graham Sunday, May 11, 2014 5:42:49 AM As a volunteer firefighter and first responder for 18 and a half years I also went through depression after I had a three month old die on me and I refused to admit that I needed help coping with it I almost turned to alcohol to solve all of my problems but thankfully a long time friend and mentor of mine in the fire service who was a captain saw what was going on and got me the help I needed and things got better and I no longer go through it but I am very grateful to this day and also the support of my brother firefighters during my struggles. I am from Conway South Carolina.
Dee Cee Dee Cee Sunday, May 11, 2014 7:52:51 AM Kelly, THANK YOU for exposing yourself. This information SO needs to be spread, as we continue to lose folks in this industry to alcoholism, drugs and suicide. It needs to STOP. We have to accept that it's ok to recognize ourselves as feeling humans.
Alan W. Rose Alan W. Rose Sunday, May 11, 2014 8:47:20 AM Best article ever. Should be required reading for everyone.
Mike Taylor Mike Taylor Sunday, May 11, 2014 9:35:35 AM Thank you, been there done that it is not the end of the world. Depression is something that can be fixed.
Dennis E Wessels Dennis E Wessels Sunday, May 11, 2014 10:09:28 AM I know your pain.To well myself.I have been Depression for 30+ years untreated.Finally got on Med"s for it. (Lithium an Prozac)Can see a little light down the road.For the first time,I get this Suicidal Depression.As i call it.
Bill Kelleher Bill Kelleher Sunday, May 11, 2014 6:11:58 PM Nutrition is one very important thing often overlooked by people in EMS who become depressed-- let's face it, people in EMS in general. We all know most of us eat like crap-- fast food on the go. People need to start buying good whole food-- real food, and stop drinking gallons of soda every day. I know this isn't everyone in EMS, but it's a lot of people. Exercise is key. Your body responds positively to the endorphins. Sugar is very damaging to your health, both mental and physical. Eliminate as much as you can. This will help get your gut bacteria right-- another key in depression. Get vitamin d levels checked. Most are low and don't know it, and this effects depression too.
Melissa McKibben Melissa McKibben Sunday, May 11, 2014 10:20:45 PM Much respect for your courage and honesty, Mr. Grayson.
Mark Warriner Mark Warriner Monday, May 12, 2014 10:17:21 AM Kelly, Thanks for being honest and straight forward about a tough situation we all go through. We have had a couple of suicides at my Department in the past few months, and management is talking a good talk, but not walking the walk. This too seems to be the "Norm". I don't wish this on anyone, but it is a problem Nation wide. We talk about our Military, which has just come to the forefront in our world. Why is it, we as Firefighters and Medics, are ashamed to talk about it? I know that we are suppose to help others, but we need help ourselves at times. We look to each other to release our stress, or alcohol, and some, even drugs. We need to receive training on the things to look for in each other, then not be afraid to get someone (or ourselves) the help we need. At the end of the day, this things will only make us stronger. We just need the help to get us to the end of the day! Best wishes to my Brothers and Sisters out there in the real world! And "BE SAFE"! Mark W.
Kelly Marshall Cormier Kelly Marshall Cormier Tuesday, May 13, 2014 9:49:18 AM Kell....I too have battled some depression and at times really severe Anxiety after my diagnosis of Leukemia 2 years ago, like you and your Ex and the challenges with your beautiful daughter, we fought and won but the anxiety and fear still creeps in SO must faster than I ever realize and then its there. Guess I too am making a public admission but most of all? My clients that I work with EVERY day are here reading your thoughts and reaching out. And it is a risk. Kelly like you, I've been attached to EMS in one fashion or another for 25 years. I train FF's and medics all over the country and I'll make a promise to you that I'll share that Code Green message and give you a hand. It wasn't until recently when my dear 16 yo daughter was cutting, severely depressed and major anxiety disorder (a daughter of mine and my FF husband no less and she hid it for many months) that we realiezed how bad this 'stigma' really is and how very hard it is for both adolescents and those of us in the service to get qualified effective help and medication. Keep doing what you're doing Kell, we may not agree with each and every word you share, nor do people with me. I always said I didn't tell people with big guns and firetrucks where to go and how to get there for years because II cared about winning the popularity contest. It doesn't matter at end of day.....shout this from the roof tops and we WILL hear you. Hugs to all!!!--Kelly from CT
Walt Trachim Walt Trachim Tuesday, May 13, 2014 9:51:13 AM We're brothers in this, Kelly. I was diagnosed 14 years ago. Along with the anxiety and ADHD, for me life is day to day. But I have more good days than bad now. Just wanted you to know that you are not alone. Peace.
Matt Jones Matt Jones Wednesday, May 14, 2014 12:56:18 AM Depression is a serious problem. I commend you for voicing your struggles. It would help if we had some good news to look forward to. I urge the editors of EMS1 to bring that focus. Give us some things to read that don't tell us of death, destruction, and all that goes wrong in our world.
Kelly Grayson Kelly Grayson Wednesday, May 14, 2014 8:42:24 AM Thank you!
Son Rise Son Rise Wednesday, May 14, 2014 10:56:01 AM I agree admitting it to yourself is the hardest and the admitting it to others especially friends and family is just as dad............................
Saturday, May 17, 2014 9:08:47 AM Thanks
John Gallagher John Gallagher Sunday, May 18, 2014 9:57:44 AM Thank you for sharing this.
Steven Eisenberg Steven Eisenberg Tuesday, May 20, 2014 9:03:20 AM Well said Kelly. All too often I have said to other EMS providers how we are fantastic at taking care of everyone but ourselves. When it comes to that, we suck. There is still that "macho" overtone of "it will go away" and "I can take care of it myself". CISD is rarely, if ever, used and is more of a water cooler joke than actual assistance measure. I agree whole heartedly WAY too many of our brothers and sisters are dying by their own hand and we need to get a set of reins on it. As a supervisor prior to this position I ALWAYS made myself available for ANYONE that needed to talk, and still do today - but as I'm sure we are all aware it's not enough. Until something else arises though, we do have to rely on each other to get through - so the offer extends to ALL my EMS family around the globe - if you need an ear, I'm here for you - day or night.
Mike Kacsur Mike Kacsur Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:27:28 AM I've followed your column for years, and I am impressed by your courage to share with us your struggle. Thank you, that took more guts than I've ever seen! You continue to be an inspiration to a lot of us.
Kirk Harless Kirk Harless Saturday, June 21, 2014 9:17:19 PM I wish I could have read this article a long time ago. It would have help explain a lot of things. Thank you for your honesty and familiarity.

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