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I wanted to help people but I couldn’t help myself

After nine years in fire and EMS thinking nothing could affect me, an event made me realize that I wasn’t doing that well after all

By Anonymous, 9 years in EMS

For about nine years I have been in fire and EMS. I found my niche at helping people when they are at their lowest. I do my best and it has always showed.

I consider myself “successful” as I advanced quickly through the required training then continued on to a couple associate degrees. While my success in the profession has been outstanding, my personal life has suffered.

I have always been sort of an introvert. I guess growing up in an abusive home as an only child can do that to you. In my “teen rebellion” I quickly defied any form of authority and turned to alcohol and drugs. I had several friends who had committed suicide and a few more who overdosed on drugs.

I moved several states away from these influences and started a new life. After about four years in the area, I started to volunteer with a Fire and Rescue Agency. After about two years, I was offered a full-time position with another agency and changed careers from telecommunications to Fire Rescue.

I’ve been on some “bad” calls and over the years I’ve shrugged most of them off. Our area does an OK job with CISM but for the most part there is no long term fix. The stigma is ever present and I was one of those that felt the same way.

We just put those calls away and don’t think about the bad ones. I’ve always operated under the “we didn’t put them in that position, we are just trying to help get them out” philosophy. I’m strong! I have been through hell and back! I can do anything! These are all things that my story has highlighted. I am an example of not being a statistic. Well not so much … It’s been nine years in EMS and “It” finally reared its ugly head. The day I figured out that I wasn’t any of those things at all is the worst of them all.

I have always been kind of moody, been described as sharp, witty, a smart ass, a jerk, caring, genuine, and probably a few more that I don’t know right off hand.

I had finished a 36-hour shift. Our normal is 24 hours but money is tight and we have a little girl on the way. I came home from my shift and I hardly slept at all. I yelled at my 3-year-old little boy for spilling his cereal. And I don’t mean yell, I YELLED! I was so enraged and angered and snarling mad that my poor son was hiding under the coffee table from me. It was the look of fear that brought me to finally realize maybe I had a problem.

This poor beautiful child of mine wasn’t guilty of calling for EMS at 2:30 in the morning for a toothache that had been going for past three weeks. He didn’t keep me up. He didn’t do anything but be a 3-year-old boy. My son is just a spitting image of me (well, minus the mustache). How could I do this? I cried for two days over this and it still brings tears to my eyes as I write. I’ve since sought treatment and am working on being better. I’m still “sick”. I’m a work in progress. I’ve taken my heart to God and asked for forgiveness. I talk with a counselor often. I’m not all the way better and may never be but we will be OK.

Things we know now that we didn’t before: I have nearly overlooked all of the signs and symptoms of my depression for years. Denial is so powerful that I have convinced doctors, friends, family and even my wife that I am as healthy as could be.

As for the stigma in our field: I had a doctor recently give me some insight to the subject. Paraphrasing, if you do all the things that you do and see all of the things that you see and are not affected, I would have a much bigger concern for your wellness.

I still don’t share my entire story with my co-workers. We definitely have the stigma here. There are a couple of co-workers that know, a couple of friends and of course some of my family. Anyhow that’s a bit of my story. Thanks for allowing me to share.

Work in Progress.

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.