There are members all across this country who are struggling with one emotional battle or another. We struggle with these battles yet we continue to step into our boots, pull up our pants and put on our coats. We face personal, life and death battles yet we continue to respond to the needs of others. We have committed our lives to helping total strangers yet we allow our own personal health and wellness to fall by the wayside . It doesn’t make sense.
I don’t understand how or why we are able to do it but I am constantly humbled to think of the tasks we perform on a daily basis. I am HONORED to call the members of the Fire, Rescue and Police services my Brothers and Sisters!
I speak from the “fire side” of these services because that’s what I am … a fireman. We see and do things on a daily basis that most people ( “normal” people ) shouldn’t have to see or deal with in a lifetime. These events impact us. They CHANGE us … there’s no way they can’t. Regardless of how hard we scrub or how many times we wash them, the blood stains never seem to leave our hands.
I’ve learned a lot about our (and my personal) emotions since the tragic suicide of my brother back in December of 2012. I say “tragic” because it was. I wish he could have seen another way out. He didn’t (or couldn’t) and I’m just coming to “grips” with that.
One of the things I’ve learned is that I have a voice and for whatever reason, many of you listen to what I’m saying. That in itself is a scary thought but it also opens many doors on a positive level. I often struggle about what or how to say what is going on inside my mind. I’ve tried to share my experiences and be as open and honest as possible in an effort to help those like me who have struggled or who are struggling through grief, depression and PTSD.
My story is somewhat different or maybe even unique. I’m no stranger to death. I’ve seen a lot of it. It was almost “expected” or somewhat normal for me and what I came to think of as “part of the job”. That is, until that cold December night.
I never imagined seeing Jackson laying there. MY Jackson … MY brother. I knew and had grown used to “that” look but had never imagined that look on his face. I’ve touched many dead bodies but never thought that cold, absent feel of skin could be his. My hand on his chest with no rise and fall. I opened his eyes but there was nothing there. I wasn’t prepared and I’ll never get over it. It haunts me still today but I’m learning to live with it.
Actually, I’m just surviving. I’m a suicide survivor and I’m just now learning to live again. I’m finding my “new normal” and taking it day by day.
I’m one of the lucky ones …. I had help. It took us a while but my best friend and fellow Firefighter, Rhett Fleitz (FireCritic.com) reached out on my behalf. If he hadn’t …. I wouldn’t be here today.
We’ve learned several things along the way and throughout our journey. The most important thing may be that it’s OK to need help. I’ll say that again … IT’S OK TO NEED HELP. I didn’t know that at first.
The Fire Service that we grew up in had somehow managed to create a culture where we thought we were indestructible and never needed help ourselves. We were taught to somehow “file” our emotions away and to focus on the job of helping others. Our own mental health and wellness was never an issue…. we were the ones everybody else called for help.
Well, we were wrong in that thinking and it’s time for a cultural change. There are Brothers and Sisters in firehouses all across America who are suffering from STRESS, DEPRESSION, PTSD and more. They need to know that not only is there help available but it’s also ok to need and to seek that help. More importantly, as Brothers and Sisters; we need to know the signs and symptoms of stress, depression and PTSD. We need to recognize the associated behavioral changes and be ready to step in.
If we cant’t help our own … the Brothers and Sisters riding beside, in front of or behind us on a daily basis, then how can we be expected to help some stranger down the street?
We talked about this exact topic this past Friday night on Fire Engineering Talk Radio. Rhett, Bill Carey (Back Step Firefighter) and I were the guest speakers on FOOLS Radio (Fraternal Order Of Leatherheads Society ) . Take the time and listen to the show. Several folks called in and there was a ton of good information shared ….
That’s the message I want to share tonight (and I know I’ve shared it before). IT’S OK TO NEED HELP. Mental health and suicide are discussions we need to be having around every firehouse kitchen table. Read Bill Carey’s article below …
The other good news is that we have places to go. We have people who know what we’re going through. Who have walked in our shoes and understand the struggles we face. I’ll include those folks in the links below and ask that you trust in me to TRUST them. I wouldn’t share them otherwise.
You DON’T have to struggle or suffer anymore. You are NOT alone and it’s OK to need someone to talk to. Use the links I’ve provided. Listen to the radio show. If you need to, call ME. We have got to start taking care of ourselves so that we can better serve those who we are sworn to protect. If you’d like to hear or learn more, I’m available to come speak directly to your Department / group. Simply click the link below and follow the directions….
Stay SAFE and in House!