Reaching out is a sign of strength and resilience, not weakness
I know that tunnel seems long, dark and with no exit. Trust me, my friends, there is an exit and there is light at the end
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. Submit your story today so that other first responders can see they are not alone.
As I sat in my kitchen that morning a feeling of calm and relief came over me, I was finally in control. For the past 17 years, I had put myself aside while I put others before me, now I was putting myself first. As most Paramedics, my patients came first. I gave my all every shift, I sacrificed myself to save others.
Now that sacrifice was taking its toll on my sanity. I was diagnosed with PTSD a little over a year ago, though I knew before then what was wrong. The anger, nightmares, flashbacks, drinking was starting to get out of hand. My wife insisted that I get help and so I did.
I reached out to EAP, went to a few sessions and was referred to a Psychologist. We started working on my demons, not one by one, but as a whole. I was going once a week for 1-hour sessions. Started meditating, finding a physical outlet, and opening up. It was working, the nightmares slowed down, anger and frustration were a bare minimum, and I knew how to handle it when it arose.
We moved our sessions to every 2 weeks, then 3 weeks, then monthly. I was on a roll. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Stress from work was piling up, financial issues arose, I was losing control. But still, I kept an “everything is fine” attitude on the outside. For the 2 weeks leading up to that day, I had put up so many walls to keep my wife, family, Psychologist, and co-workers out I didn’t even know how to get out. I felt trapped in my own mind and body, I felt helpless.
Nothing seemed to be working anymore, not the meditation, exercise, drinking… I just felt numb. The day before, I saw my biggest nightmare on TV, another child had died after being left in a car by the people who were supposed to watch over him. I was filled with so much rage. That night my wife tried to talk to me, she is my biggest support, I took all my anger out on her.
I wouldn’t answer her questions, when I did they were mean, nasty responses. I removed myself emotionally from her. As we sat there on the couch side by side, it felt like we were on opposite sides of the earth. She tried to touch me, hold my hand, anything to let me know she was there… I only recoiled. That night she cried herself to sleep, while I lay there with all my anger and fear.
The next morning I awoke and made a decision. I made my wife breakfast and coffee, I was actually happy like I said I was in control now. I made sure to hug her and hold on just a little longer, smelling her hair and perfume, she smelled so good. I kissed her goodbye as she got into her car. I asked her what she wanted me to make for dinner, she smiled and said: “surprise me”.
As she drove away I stood in the garage watching her, normally she closes the garage as I walk back in the house. I wanted to see her one last time. We waved at each other and she drove off. I walked back into the house, made my breakfast, pulled out my computer and started typing. I printed off my letter, cleaned up my dishes and let my dogs out. Now I hadn’t come up with a plan yet but I knew today would be my last. I cleaned up around the house, went upstairs and got cleaned up.
As I came downstairs my wife texted me. She knew something was up. I ignored her text. She texted again, again I ignored it. She called, I let it ring. I picked up my letter and started reading it. She called, again and again, I ignored them all. Finally, I answered her call, she asked if I was okay and what was going on. I told her I was fine, that I had been outside with the dogs and didn’t have my phone. I could tell she didn’t believe me as she started to cry and all she could say was “I love you, don’t leave me, we can work through this”, all of a sudden a flood of emotions came over me.
I broke down crying and told her I couldn’t do it anymore, I was tired, I was tired of being a burden, I was tired of being tired that I couldn’t go on anymore. She talked to me on the phone until she got home. When she walked in I fell to the ground in a heap, crying. She wrapped her arms around me, she didn’t say a word, she didn’t have to.
After some time, I was finally able to talk and we talked. I told her everything, and she just smiled and held my head with her hands. I knew at that moment I didn’t want to die, I wanted to live. We called my Psychologist and made an emergency appointment. He was understanding and I could tell he was worried about me. That appointment lasted for what felt like forever as I poured my heart out. At one point we all were in tears, as he told me “if you walked away from your career right now, the streets would be lined with people to shake your hand and tell you to thank you. You have made a difference in so many people’s lives”.
At the end, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off me, I was happier, relaxed and in control. And I had the love of my life, my best friend to thank for it. I’m sharing my story for those that feel they have reached the end. I know that tunnel seems long, dark and with no exit. Trust me, my friends, there is an exit and there is light at the end. Reach out to your family, friends, co-workers. Don’t let yourself feel alone because you are not. We as EMS, Fire, Police make a difference in so many lives in so many ways. Please reach out, it is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and resilience.
– Story written by an anonymous 39-year-old male paramedic (17 years in EMS)