I almost died before realizing I had PTSD
How I was told to go back to work when I asked for counseling, and how I almost killed myself just to stop thinking
By Justin "Hood" Young, formerly FDNY Brooklyn, 11 years in EMS
I worked in EMS first in Israel for Magen David Adom after high school during the second Intifada. I had to run away from that place — how can one watch as two nations murder one another with seemingly no care for life at all? I ran back to my family in NYC. I got my EMT certification, my paramedic one, and joined FDNY. There I saw more murder, death, accidents, suicide, hate, police brutality and domestic violence. It kept getting worse and worse. I remember requesting CISM and being told to get my unit in service — only to get a job and to never receive counseling.
I started getting angry, hating myself, ignoring responsibilities, treating my body terribly, abusing substances. I had no idea why I was doing any of this. It just kind of happened.
The institutionalized oppression present in public safety, particularly in NY and the FDNY, made me lose it. I couldn’t stay in my job. I didn’t know what was happening, so I left. I never mentioned the nightmares to anyone; I never mentioned the flashbacks. I just quit, and I was able to use cannabis to calm the nerves.
I moved to Colorado for the medical cannabis and to try to go back to school and get my life in order.
Then in one instant, my roommate and lover attacked me. All the things I had seen came back to me. I couldn’t stop reliving it. It got so bad I became the victim.
I was the one beaten by his partner. I was the infant burnt in her crib with her cooked brains dripping through the remains of the mattress and crib. I was the construction worker trapped under rubble. I even had to call EMS one day because I thought my house was collapsing around me. It wasn’t. It’s still standing just fine.
I was so scared, and to this day, I can’t say if I was suicidal. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I was so scared it crossed my mind over and over again that death would be the only way to stop it.
I spent months trying to get into a mental health program. No one would take me because by now, I had become addicted to benzos, painkillers and cannabis — all just to take the edge off. But I wasn’t clean, so I couldn’t get in.
No one would help me, I felt lost and I got worse and worse. Finally, I spent a Friday night, switching from Ativan to Dilaudid to marijuana, again and again.
I couldn’t deal with the nightmares, with living through flashbacks, with a fear of everything outside my home, including stop signs (so many accidents at stop signs, too many).
I wasn’t trying to kill myself, just to take the edge off.
Next thing I remember, Denver EMS over my body, I’m hooked up to an IV line and a monitor — on the floor in a pool of my own vomit. I barely remember that night. I know the Narcan saved my life. I think this overdose saved my life. I found out later that my beloved and amazing dog was barking for quite some time — something he never does, and my neighbor peeked through my window and saw me unconscious.
Finally, I got admitted into a psych unit. Finally, my insurance approved a therapist and a psychiatrist. I worked with CBT with my therapist, and DBT in the psych unit. I then went through intensive outpatient treatment, detox and a substance abuse program. To this day I go to NA meetings.
I learned more about trauma, PTSD and anxiety. I learned how to cope better. I learned skills and found medicinal plants that could help center me and bring me back to my body, and not in those scary other worlds. I started gardening, and then volunteering on local organic farms. I learned about permaculture and began studying it. I took classes, spent time, and nothing made more sense to me than getting away from EMS and spending time with my hands in the dirt.
I just bought a farm. I found my path. It was a rough one, and I have no doubts I will face hardships again. But I am prepared. I am ready.
Do not give up. PTSD is not something to be ashamed of. PTSD is not something that cannot be cured. PTSD is something that can breathe fresh life into us. Just keep looking forward and don’t ever stop believing. We all will get through this, together.
One last thing. Soon, the farm will have full-time trauma therapists on staff, and it will be a place for folks to come and work on their traumas.