Coping skills: Finding an outlet

Whether physical activity, venting, or reaching out for help, find what works for your mental health


This story is reprinted with permission from The Code Green Campaign. Code Green accepts stories from EMS providers, firefighters, dispatch personnel and law enforcement officers who have experienced stress, trauma or mental health issues. 

We share these stories so that other first responders who are struggling can see they are not alone and that there is hope, and help, available. Submit your own story to The Code Green Campaign today.

I have been in emergency services for 16 years. I work in a busy fire-based ALS system and as you can imagine have been to more calls than I could ever recall. Over the years I began to struggle with my mental health off and on. I tried therapy and medications, both of which didn’t help much.

I’m just not big on venting, probably for the same reasons as many of you. I discovered my best outlet was the gym. For the most part that has kept me afloat for a very long time, but every once in a while I start to feel like I’m drowning again. Today is one of those drowning days. I went to a cardiac arrest and when I got there, it was different.

The guy was my age and was beyond the point of treatment (presumed to be a medical issue, not OD or suicide). He was discovered by his two VERY young sons. The first thing I saw walking through the door was the eldest son (maybe preschool or K aged) staring at his fathers cold, stiff body. The look on this kid’s face has burned an image in my mind like nothing before ever has.

Whether physical activity, venting, or reaching out for help, find what works for your mental health.
Whether physical activity, venting, or reaching out for help, find what works for your mental health. (Photo/Getty Images)

The younger one was too young to grasp it, but this kid knew. The worst part for me is I didn’t even have the courage to talk to the boys. I couldn’t even look them in the eye. I couldn’t keep it together and felt like I couldn’t let them see that so I had them moved to another room let others handle them. And I can’t stop thinking about that…about my inability to communicate with them at all.

I feel like I failed today. I failed them, and I failed myself. All things considered, I would have thought I had seen and dealt with worse things over the years. But, for some reason, this just kills me. I’ve never vented here before but just typing this out has helped me feel a bit of relief, so if you’re like me, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone or just vent.

Read next: 5 things EMS providers should know about seeking mental health treatment

– Story written by a 34-year-old male paramedic – 16 years in EMS

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