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EMT: The secrets I keep to escape stigmas

“Sometimes I hate who I am — so much so I wish for an easy escape”

By EMT-B, 2 years in EMS

I suffer from depression.

I always knew something was off but I was never properly diagnosed until adulthood. I hide secrets, I have anxiety attacks, sometimes I hate who I am — so much so I wish for an easy escape.

I’ve been medically treated for depression for a long time now, but that is something I will not share with anyone but a very few close friends. There are stigmas attached to it, as well as other personal stigmas I hold internally.

As an EMT, I love the experience, I love being able to help, to be involved with my community, to be part of something that is bigger than myself. But sometimes the culture will get to me; it bothers me, it hurts me, it sends me back spiraling into depression and self-loathing when I struggle so hard to overcome it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it hurts that much all the same. The off-handed jokes, the telling of anecdotal stories, the general lack of empathy, I know these actions of others are, for the most part, unintentional, but when I’m hiding a secret with personal stigmas attached to it, they just make me feel worse.

Having had a very strict upbringing, I live my life as a closeted gay male. I keep my secrets; I’ve learned to keep it from family and friends my entire life, I’m able to keep it from the first responder community. I don’t know how open EMS is to LGBT individuals on the national level, but here, it feels like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Sexual orientation is not something you pick; it is something you identify with as much as your gender and your ethnicity.

We tell people there’s nothing wrong with being gay. But how can I believe that if I keep thinking I’m not able to live as the person I am? I feel like a total hypocrite.

It may all be in my head, as I’m sure these guys will drop everything to save my life as much as I would for them, but again, I keep my secrets. I don’t think I will ever live the life I hope for, because of family expectations, the people I work with, my own personal stigmas.

Being lonely, depressed, afraid, the thought of never being able to be true to myself, these thoughts become so overwhelming sometimes I just want to end it all. I’ve contemplated suicide many times. How easy would it be to swallow this entire bottle of meds? Jump off the local bridge? Crash my car in a ditch? But I would always chicken out. Maybe it’s just suicidal ideation. Maybe I was never brave enough to carry my plans out. Maybe I was never at a point so desperate to escape that suicide was the only way out. Or maybe I couldn’t bear the thought of my fellow EMS members finding my dead body. So far I’ve never had that “one bad call,” nor do I want to wish it upon anyone if I can prevent it.

And the calls, most of them don’t bother me. But there are those that will hit me emotionally for some reason, these calls stay with me. That patient transport from residence to hospice care, her gazing out the back window of the ambulance, saying goodbye to her house of many years and the memories it held, knowing well she will never sleep in it or see it again. Thankfully she was a riot to talk to, but if that wasn’t the case, I would be crying with her. The distraught young adult threatening self-harm, being transported for a psych evaluation. The scared and crying little child from an MVA, collared and backboarded. The war veteran suffering from PTSD, trying to laugh things off while holding back tears at the same time — the look in his eyes. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. How can you not feel for these people? Am I weak because I empathize with them? Are my problems that bad compared to theirs?

But that’s the thing, am I more concerned about other people than me? Do I constantly keep busy for a reason so I don’t have time to think about myself? I don’t know. When I do start to think about myself, my life, my future, I’d either numb myself not to feel anything, or spiral into despair. The loneliness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, how much longer can I take it?

The Code Green Campaign calls a ‘code alert’ on the mental health of EMTs and paramedics by breaking the silence about mental illness in EMS by sharing the stories of those who have been there. The Code Green Campaign has selected this story and we are glad to share it with EMS1 readers. Learn more about the Code Green Campaign.