I thought it's supposed to get easier? …


Hitting the WallIt doesn’t…. or at least, for me;  it hasn’t yet.

My daily battles continue with grief, depression, stress and PTSD. It’s wearing me down and I’m tired.

I’ve even been having trouble writing. I’ve been as open and honest in my postings as I can but, here lately; it’s been difficult to put my thoughts and words together where they’ll make sense.

I feel like I keep  running into a brick wall.

I’ve been trying to share my story with you for a couple of reasons. The first is because it’s therapeutic. It’s difficult for me to talk about my feelings (even with those closest to me) so my writing has been an outlet. Some may say that I’m “hiding” behind the keyboard but hey … I’m giving what I can and I’m putting it all “out there”.

The second reason I’ve been so open and honest with my feelings / emotions here on these pages is because I hope that by sharing my story (journey) I will be able to reach another Brother or Sister  who is (or has been) suffering through the same things. I hope that I’m helping, even if in the smallest of ways. If nothing else, they will know they are not alone.

1374299_10200565484075684_1523340999_nI have my good and bad days but the past week has dealt me a huge setback in my healing process. I’m going to try to tell the story and hit a few points that I’d like to make as well so hang with me as I may (and tend to) ramble.

I know I’m reaching some people who are looking for help because I receive 10-20 messages, e-mails, comments etc a day. Some are sharing their story while others are reaching out for help.

I’m thankful for that … I REALLY AM. That’s why I’m a fireman … to serve, help and to protect others.

The problem is that it’s almost overwhelming. I’m also not so sure that I’m in a position to help just yet (with mental health / wellness issues). You see, I’m still trying to help myself. I’m still healing. Even though it’s nearing 10 months since Jack’s death, for me; it seems like just yesterday. It’s still very fresh and raw in my mind.

I’m a victim…. A SUICIDE SURVIVOR. I’m fortunate enough to have this platform to share my experiences and to vent my emotion and I do so in hopes that I can help a fellow Brother or Sister but that’s as far as I can go right now. On the outside, I may look “ok” or normal but, on the inside; I’m very, very far from that. My good friends, Peggy Sweeney and Shannon Pennington say it best in that “Not all wounds are visible” . 

Rhett and I have started speaking about what we call “Professional Wellness” and in that program, we share my story. We share it from both perspectives … his and mine. It’s a powerful message /class / presentation but it’s JUST THAT. I am NOT a mental health professional. I’m NOT an expert. All I know is what I’ve gone through and what has or hasn’t helped me.

In most of my recent posts, or at least in the ones where I talk about mental health, I always include a list of numbers and links for those in need to reach out to. That was one of my biggest problems in the beginning …. not knowing where to turn for help (after acknowledging I actually NEEDED help).

If you are one of those Brothers or Sisters out there needing some help … someone to talk to … someone who’ll listen and understand … try these links / numbers first …THESE are the professionals… not me.  Then, if you don’t find what you’re looking for I’ll be more than happy to help point you in the right direction.

Suicide Prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255


Safe Call Now , Help Starts HereNorth American Firefighter Veteran Network , First Step Hope , 

1st Responder Treatment,  Firefighter Close Calls (The Secret List) .. Personal Survival 

Grieving Behind the BadgeGrief.com,Psychology Today , On-Site AcademyBrattleboro Retreat “Uniformed Service Program”

The links above are just as important to those of you not seeking help. Odds are that someone you know, someone in your crew, in your house is suffering with stress, depression or PTSD. Do you know the signs and symptoms? Do you know what to look for? Do you know what to say to these members? How to get them help? All of this can be found in the links above.

Again, I’m not saying to stop sending the e-mails, messages or calls…. just try the links above first. I TRUST THEM or I wouldn’t share them.

RWSo, Rhett and I have a local friend who sometimes does a little work for us. I had been trying to contact him all last week with no reply. Then, while on duty last Thursday night; I received his reply in the form of a Face Book message.

It was apparent that he was agitated at my repeated attempts to reach him. Following a brief “rant” he informed me that he was about to hang himself.

After he sent the message, he apparently cut all forms of communication (phone, Face Book, e-mail etc). I couldn’t believe what I had just read!

Was he serious? My mind was immediately filled with thoughts and memories of Jack’s suicide / hanging. I was scared, confused and almost unable to function.

In a panic, I called Rhett. We quickly discussed our options and within minutes, Rhett was beating on our friend’s door. There was no answer. Without going into details, I’ll share that, in the end; we knew our friend was alive and locked inside his apartment. The next morning, we started the process to get our friend the help he needed. We went about it all wrong and made choices / decisions for the wrong reasons but thankfully, it worked.

Illustration by Paul Combs

Illustration by Paul Combs

I tell you that story because for me, it hasn’t gotten “easier”. I suspect it’s the same for many of you who are on the job and suffering through stress, grief, depression and / or PTSD.

Just the everyday stresses of work keep the issues fresh in my mind. Then, I have all these e-mails / messages etc to reply to. What if I don’t get back to them in time? What if I say the wrong thing? Am I hurting or helping?

I go to counseling twice a week and I’m taking medication as well. It helps but it doesn’t erase the pain…. nothing will.

I’ve grown to trust my counselor. I promised Rhett in the beginning that I’d give 100% to my recovery and I have. I’ve been more open and honest with her than any other person in my life. I leave every session in tears and many times with her cheeks wet as well.

I’m giving 100% but for me, the results aren’t coming quick enough. I guess that’s a problem with being a firefighter. We see “problems” … we fix em … then and there. This …this is different. Mental health and wellness is not that easy … it’s not “black and white” and there is no protocol or procedure book for me (us) to follow.

freddieMy grief and depression was the trigger for my PTSD.

Before getting treatment, I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t and, more than that; I didn’t want to. I was having dreams … actually, a reoccurring dream … a nightmare.

After my treatment began, the medication helped. I was sleeping better and the nightmare became more infrequent.

Some of the e-mails and messages I’ve received over the past 10 months have added to the stress of the job and my daily life but up until now, I have been able to work through it. The message last week from my friend threatening to hang himself set me back to day 1.

I have that “kicked in the gut” feeling again. Mental images fill my head throughout the day and my thoughts are again wondering.

PTSDI’m not sleeping well again and despite how I take my medication, my nightmare returns.

I can’t see and don’t know my way out of this. In fact, it’s difficult to see (or even  plan) past tonight. It’s like my brain is functioning on a 12 hour schedule.

I’m waiting for all of this to get easier but it hasn’t. Either a lot of you were wrong when you told me “it  gets easier with time” or I just haven’t given it long enough.

The holidays are coming, the anniversary of his death, his birthday, my birthday …. I know these are going to be difficult times for me and I’m not sure how to face them. I worry about those days already.

Just coming in to work is a struggle anymore. My nightmare not only involves Jackson, it also entails revisiting many of the calls I’ve run throughout my career. The scenes we visit in my dream are not pleasant. They weren’t then and they damn sure aren’t now.

The dream is almost real. The sights, sounds and  odors we encounter in the dream are just like the ones I found on the day I ran the call. The smells are actually so strong in the dream that I can almost taste them.

I don’t know why it’s all coming back to me now. I thought I had forgotten them … “filed them away” somewhere deep in the back of my mind. I also don’t know why Jackson is taking me to them but I do know that I don’t want to see them anymore.

That’s what made last week’s call so hard on me. I don’t want to see another dead body, especially another one of a friend or family member. I don’t want to see them but I can’t seem to get the images out of my mind. At home or work, these thoughts and images consume my mind … they haunt me.

Home alone on the farm, it’s just random and scattered thoughts. The “what if’s” and “why’s”. At work, it’s what’s the next call going to be and when is it coming? How will I react? I’m tired of waiting … tired of guessing … tired of playing it over and over in my mind. I’d retire today but I don’t have the time  (I will January 16, 2015). How will I make it until then?

1381437_10202255024567017_1720854715_nThis isn’t living and so far, it hasn’t gotten “easier”. Thankfully the mental health and wellness of our members is making it’s way to the front of the line. There are groups out there right now who understand what Brothers and Sisters like me are going through and feeling. Groups that know how to ease our pain and help us refocus.

They’re working on ways to get the word out. Ways to make it easier for us to get the help we need when we need it.

Until they figure it all out, don’t forget the links I included above and what I said. Each of us should know the signs and symptoms of stress, depression and PTSD. We should also know how and not be ashamed to reach out to our Brothers and Sisters in need.

A good friend and Brother, Bill Carey made a couple of GREAT statements tonight … he said “Peer support is key. Or, in other words, make ‘brotherhood’ mean something other than a t-shirt slogan”  and later added in a comment ..   “Even better, ask the guy riding across from you how’s he doing; invest outside the house”.

How can we be expected to save the lives of the very people we are sworn to protect and serve if we can not save our own?

Stay Safe and in House!

Captain Wines