It’s PTSD Awareness Month and Paramedic Services Week in Ontario, and I can’t help but write about how painful this time is for me. I don’t want pity. I just want people to take care of themselves so that they don’t have to experience what I do almost every day – most often invisibly.
I think that the awareness of what PTSD is, is out there. We now need to focus on how to prevent it. I think that it’s so important to let first responder students know that it isn’t practical to think that a career that involves constant exposure to trauma will lead you to a healthy retirement – unless they work extremely hard at taking care of their mental and physical health. Yes, I’m sure there are some exceptions to the rule, but most first responders I know, start to find the career difficult to cope with around the 10 year mark. ‘Invincibility’ begins to waver at this point, and it becomes apparent that holding on for another 30 years until retirement isn’t healthy at all. Without they knowledge of how to take care of ourselves along the way, the ‘gold medal’ of a full pension begins to resemble a cheap chocolate dollar store coin that is half melted and tastes like crap. And with a hero persona weaved into the fabric of every uniform we wear, hanging it up by choice often makes us feel like a failure…so we don’t – we unknowingly wait until we are forced to hang it up because PTSD has taken over our brains and has physically altered them forever.
I still don’t know how to de-program my mind completely from being a first responder. I do know that I have had to go through the grieving process – like a death – of my career. I sure wish I had been told that this would be a likely possibility when I was in college.
I feel that there needs to be more research done on how to leave a first responder profession in a healthy way. Whether that be at retirement or before retirement by choice or due to injury.
If you are a first responder and you believe that you are not attached to the hero image, perceptions and feelings of being one, I challenge you to look more closely at that belief – doing so may save your life. Without your uniform you ARE a beautiful human being, but I can tell you from experience that if you don’t practice reminding yourself this as you progress through your career, you will hit a wall of reality when it comes time to move on (whenever that is) that may be so daunting and impossible to break through that it may kill you.
When/if you think that PTSD won’t/can’t happen to you, stop and see that you’ve added a brick to that wall! It CAN happen to you, and realizing this and using those moments of false invincibility to kick that brick away, will allow you to continue to see that you are much more than your uniform – hard to imagine right? Well let me remind you how much more you are – you are healthy parent, spouse, sibling, friend. An ALIVE parent, spouse, sibling, friend. Take care of you now – please.