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Searching….

Photo by Michael Dick

Photo by Michael Dick

Making the search …. it’s a term we as firefighters are all to familiar with.

I wish I was good at it… I’m not.

I’m no different than all of you but I’ll say that I’ve” been there and done that”. I’ve been fortunate enough to have made 4 grabs in my short career. On top of the grabs, I’ve  located countless bodies that I feel were gone before we even got the call (many of those were made along with my partner Captain Scott Mutter). Victims that we never really had a chance to save. These are not the numbers I track.

The young members always want to know and ask …. what’s “the number”… “what’s it like”? They are talking / asking about “the search” and making a “grab”. Well I’ll tell ya… it’s difficult to explain… especially the first time.

I can’t describe the feeling in your gut as you’re crawling down that dark, hot hallway. So dark that you can’t see the lens of your face piece and so hot that your bottle is hot enough to heat the air you try to breath. I can’t tell you why it is that we keep pushing / going but we do.

I can’t describe that reaching out. That reaching out …looking / feeling for  something…. anything. You’re not even sure what it is you’re looking for. What will it feel like when you find it? You have to get face to face … nose to nose with whatever it is you just located …. what will you see? How horrifying will it be?

Photo by Michael Dick

Photo by Michael Dick

I made it through all that fear and uncertainty… many of us has. As mentioned above, I’ve been lucky enough to reach 4 people in time but that’s not “the number”.

If you want to know,  mine is 3. There were 3 people in my career that I either missed or didn’t get to in time. These are the numbers that haunt you (or me any way)…. these are the ones you remember.

That’s just a brief overview of “searching” but it’s also not the “searching” I want to talk about. You see, I’ve been searching for a while now and I keep getting deeper and deeper …. farther from the rig or my means of egress and I fear I may get lost or trapped.

I’m talking about my struggle with DEPRESSION and PTSD following the loss (suicide) of my brother.

I’ve written about it extensively, and shared my journey through the healing process. That battle is far from over.

If you’re new to this site, you can catch up on some of those posts HERE ,HERE , HERE and HERE .

Ironfiremen on Face Book HERE

photo from Greeceandworld.Blogspot.com

photo from Greeceandworld.Blogspot.com

So this post will take me (us) back to the topic of Suicide, Depression and PTSD or what Rhett (The Fire Critic) and I call Mental Health and Wellness.

The topics have been in the news a lot over the past few days due to the suicide death of Robyn Williams.

I’m not going to talk a lot about his death but I do want to say that I fear the attention it has gotten (or more so the reaction from so many) has been unhealthy for those of us remaining…. especially those suffering from / battling mental health issues.

“He’s in a better place”. “He’s making God laugh”. “He is finally at peace”.

Are these the words you want a loved one who may be contemplating suicide to hear!?! 

With no disrespect, to me; it sounds like Robyn Williams is better off dead. Is that the message? I hope not because I’m not so sure he is. I’m not so sure my own brother, Jackson is ….. I know I’m not….. me or my family and I don’t say that selfishly. I guess the thing is … I DON’T KNOW and that’s something (an answer) I’ve been searching for since that December night.

JacksonIf you’ve followed my story, you’ll know that I feel into a deep, dark place. I didn’t think I was going to make it out. I’m not sure I wanted to. If not for Rhett, I’m not sure I would have.

I ended up going to rehab and followed up with a counselor twice a week. I also tried the meds. I’m sure I wrote about it all but I’ll say again that the meds and rehab did more harm than good.  It’s NOT that way for everyone, that’s just how it worked out for me.

I had little to no help from my Department or Administration. Actually, in my opinion; they bordered on harassment. It’s not their fault…. they were (and remain) as uneducated (ignorant) about depression, PTSD and other mental health issues as I was… as many of us are.

My point here is that for me, the counseling helped…. that and being able to write about my experiences.

I stopped going to the sessions several months ago. I was at the point where I felt better. I was eating, sleeping and hadn’t had a nightmare since the night of my birthday (January 16th). I think that may have been a mistake (ending my sessions). THE TALKING HELPED !

Read “Can YOU talk about it” from FireCritic

I kind of always knew that I’d never be “healed” but thought I was at a point where I could move on. Not forget….. just survive day to day. I thought I had found my “new normal”.

Read “Searching for a New Normal”

I never got the answers to all the questions I had but thought that I had at least learned to live and deal with them. Maybe I didn’t. Apparently I didn’t.

Since stopping my sessions, I’ve slowly slid downhill. As much as I thought I had learned and now knew, I had no idea how gripping Grief,  Depression and PTSD can be. I can’t shake them. Like I said…. maybe I’ll never be “cured” / “healed”.

depression_drinkingDifferent from the beginning, I’m now at least able to function.  Part of that is a facade, the other parts are ignorance and stubbornness. I’m NOT where I should be. I’m still tired and not motivated…. physically and mentally.

I could care less if I get this or that done. I don’t process information like I should. I find it difficult to make decisions and can’t handle stress. I can’t remember where I parked my truck. I’m angry and short fused. I’m not eating or sleeping well again. I’m not someone you’d want to be around. I’m not someone I’d want to be around.

Once again, I’ve leaned on alcohol as a coping mechanism … many folks do.

I drink enough to sleep so I can (sleep) but also because when I do sleep, I don’t have to think about or process all the things cluttering my mind. I still have dreams that wake me (and the wife) but it’s not that same re-occurring nightmare.

I have more questions now than ever, I just don’t know what they are. I’m confused and can’t seem to get focused. It almost seems as if I’m wondering again …. lost …. SEARCHING.

Jack Wines pushing the BuckarooI’m not even sure what it is I’m looking for. I’m also avoiding things. Things that need done but I don’t want to do. I still have all of Jack’s cloths in my closet. I see them every day I’m home. I can smell him in there. I don’t want to take them away.

I haven’t put his grave site marker (tomb stone) up yet. Mom and Dad have both agreed to allow me to handle that. It’s something I want to do but just can’t yet. It’s like placing that marker will mean it’s over….that  he’s really gone… a last step that I don’t want to take.

I keep putting these things off yet I know they need done. I think about them every day. How can I mow hay, do this or that when I have these things to do?

That’s why you read about / see me camping  on my Face Book page so much… it’s where I am right now. I’m avoiding what needs to be done…. running away …. hiding. I cover it up with the idea that we are off having fun and enjoying life. Don’t get me wrong… we do have fun and I enjoy the time with Buckaroo but I also spend that time thinking (or stressing) about everything I’m NOT doing. It’s a never ending struggle.

My current slide / fall not only effects me, it affects my friends and family as well. I know this but it’s almost as if I don’t care. I don’t mind pushing people away … being alone … I almost prefer to be (although I know I’m better when surrounded by friends and loved ones). That goes back to one of my earlier struggles of this battle  in not wanting to put my pain, grief etc onto those I love. It’s almost more than I can handle… why put it on them as well? (I know the answer but it’s easier said than done).

Read “Positional Awareness…”

Read “Climbing Out”

PTSD message conceptual designBack to Robyn Williams for a moment. I’ve heard people say “depression didn’t kill Robyn Williams… he made a decision”. That’s true.

My brother, Jackson; made that same decision. Depression, alcoholism and mental illness ALLOWED him to make that decision. THE WRONG DECISION. One he wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Suicide is NOT a “cowards way out”! It’s the last chance in an epic battle. A  chance to escape the pain and hurt many have lived with (and suffered through) for so many years. It’s a final option. It’s NOT an easy decision to make.

I can tell you this because I’ve been there … right to that point. Depression and mental illness will take you to the point that you can’t see any other option. No matter how much you’re loved or how much you have to live for … depression will hide all of that from your sight.

That’s the point I wanted to make in this post. With all the talk / debate surrounding Robyn William’s death, please don’t think for one moment that Depression, grief, PTSD and mental illness is not a disease … because IT IS!! This disease doesn’t kill us but it DOES give us the “tools” to kill ourselves.

Illustration by Paul Combs

Illustration by Paul Combs

I share my relapse (or failure to fully recover) with you as example. I’m no pussy. I always say I’m tougher than I look but grief, depression and PTSD are kicking my butt!

It’s NOT something you can take a pill for. There is no injection or procedure to undertake. It’s effects are different / unique for each of us.

I think you’d be shocked at how many of the Brothers and Sisters around you are fighting this same battles or facing the same issues right now…. right at this moment! Maybe you’re one of those Brothers or Sisters?

Grief, Depression, PTSD and Mental Illness WILL KILL YOU…. IT WILL KILL THE ONES YOU LOVE AND CARE ABOUT.

We are firefighters, medics, police officers and veterans. We are First Responders or whatever you want to call us. We are the people other people call when they need help. If we can’t help our own …. our own Brothers and Sisters … the member standing beside, in front of or behind you … then how can we be expected to help a total stranger? The people we are sworn to protect?

100_0378It’s time that we as the American Fire Service bring Mental Health and Wellness to the front of our discussions!

We need to have these talks around the kitchen table and tail board.

We dissect, study and analyze everything else that’s killing our members … suicide awareness and prevention needs to become a priority!

And I actually didn’t say that right …. we need to do MORE than just TALK about it (although open and honest discussion is a good start), we need to start planning to fight it… WE NEED TO TAKE ACTION!

Do YOU know the signs, symptoms or warning flags of grief, stress, depression or PTSD? Does your Department have a plan or policy in place to direct members on how to care for members suffering from these illnesses? Can (do) you even talk about the topic with your crew / family?

I always end posts pertaining with Mental Illness with links to places you can go for help. PLEASE trust me with these links. They DO understand and KNOW what you’re feeling and going through. There is NO SHAME in needing and/or asking for help! Here is another article and some very helpful links ….

Read “In a Department somewhere, in some company, a member is struggling…”

 

Jack and Willie WinesSafe Call Now

Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance

1st Responder Treatment

North American Fire Fighter’s Veteran Network

Grieving Behind the Badge

I hope you’re not actively engaged is a personal search right now but I know MANY of us are. If you are one of those who is “searching”… I hope you find what it is you’re looking for.  The links above CAN help but YOU have to take that first step and MAKE THE CALL.

Captain Wines

Comments - Add Yours

  • Bill Carey

    Nicely written Willie.

    1. “I think that may have been a mistake (ending my sessions).” Yes, it was a mistake, but it can be corrected.
    2. If Robin Williams weren’t Robin Williams, the popular personality, the majority of the public would likely call him a coward.
    3. It’s not a fire service priority. It’s a simple relationship priority; someone you know, family or coworker, is hurting so you do what you can to help them. The more we focus on suicide as a problem the fire service needs to fix, such as a fireground or leadership problems, the more we look at it as only being solved by fire service tools. In some ways, this will create divisions and more trouble. The greatest change will come from the grassroots level, from the men and women on the rigs deciding to do something positive to either bring the issue out to create greater awareness or taking the first steps to getting help for a friend. As discussed at events related to this subject, just taking the time to talk with one another is the best first step.

    Bill Carey

    p.s. I’ll always have bail money for you.

  • Angus Davison

    Willie:

    I think you should follow your instincts. You say that you
    think the counseling helped and you noticed a change when you stopped. I may
    not be a farmer from Roanoke, but I think that says to me that you should go back
    and start it up again. I know the world of good that therapy has done for me.
    You have to get the conversation out of your head. As you know, what makes sense in your head sounds totally ludicrous when you tell it to someone else, and
    that is the magic of talking about it. It gets the chatter out into the daylight and shows it for what it is. Chatter.

    Your and Rhett’s role in getting the conversation going on Firefighter Mental Health has been tremendous. Look at the great stuff that is coming out of the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance. Look at the dialogue that is going on in the Fire Service itself. During Chief Keith Bryant’s Fire Rescue International IAFC Inaugural address he stated his belief in mental health awareness for the fire service. This is a huge step.

    Keep the conversation going, and help yourself. Through your
    efforts you have done a lot to help others that are dealing with these issues,
    but the best you can do for all of them is to take care of yourself.

    There with you.

    Angus Davison

  • laurence delorme

    Captain Willie,

    you will do what you have to when it is the good time:too soon now.What you do for the Fire Service,counseling is great and your Brothers and sisters can be proud of you. your brother Jack is still alive in your heart and daily activities even if you wrote that you avoid doing things and go camping:he is with you ,everyday,at every moment.People who commit suicide are not coward,this is their last option.I hope you could find some help from your family and friends.tcare of yourself.

  • Mama

    My Sons. My wonderful Boys. Yes..grown but always my boys. The Capt. and I very seldom talk about Jack. I fear it will hurt him, maybe he feels the same about me. As a Mother I know my grief has no end. As my boy says, not focusing, searching or always having a half thought in your head,, not knowing where you are, I’m afaraid I know all that too well. What I do know is that I have three children here, who are loved more than they could ever know, beautiful grandchildr and great grandchildren,a husband, daughter in laws, brother and sister. I suppose I am here for what I can give to them. I have not been the best mother or grandparent but if Love was the judging factor, I’be be the best. The fear of losing another before its my time lingers around. The daily work required keeps me from too many moments with then, but responsibility doesn’t stop because we want it too.
    I Love You Son, We can do this together. We can do this because its the right thing.

  • KFDJason

    Cap’n, I want to chime in here and let you know that you aren’t alone. Most of your article here really rings true with me too. I know the struggle and have been dealing with it every day for a few years myself. I have ten years on the job but around year 7 the roof seemed to fall down around my ears after a particularly long string of pediatric codes. It has been difficult without any support from my crew, supervisors, or department who like you mentioned are completely ignorant of the realities of mental health. Thank you for being so open with your struggle.

    Good luck brother.

  • Facebook User

    Read this vital article on pts and depression/ suicide.

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