I am an Emergency Dispatcher and I must do something which is very difficult for me to do. I am admitting that I have PTSD, depression and anxiety. There, I said it, it’s now “out there” and I will no longer be ashamed to admit this. I also know that there are many others in the Emergency Dispatch community, that are quietly struggling as well. Although we do not see the scenes that we send our officers, firefighters and medics to, we are not immune to the trauma. In finally admitting this, I am hopefully helping to put an end to the stigma that surrounds these mental health issues. I would also like to share some of what I have learned through my own experience, in walking through this darkness.
I was officially diagnosed late last year, but I believe that I have struggled with PTSD for approximately three years now. I have also struggled off and on with depression and anxiety during this time and likely earlier in life as well. There are times when depression seems to really take a hold. Unfortunately sometimes, I am not really aware of how much of a hold that it has taken. Other times, I am so aware of the symptoms that I feel lost. Compound this with the issues that are a part of PTSD and you have a recipe for a long trip into darkness. To keep from going too far into that darkness can be a battle, to say the least.
At times when depression has it’s claws in me, I can become blind to how I am dealing with life. I become somewhat disconnected and tend to place priorities in the wrong order. Long ago, I determined that my priorities should look like this: 1. God (my self-care is corner-stoned here), 2. My wife, 3. My children, 4. Other family & friends, 5. Work. Then after these everything else would tend to fall into place. However somewhere along the way, these priorities started to look more like this: 1. Work, 2. My children, 3. My wife, 4. Other family & friends, 5. God. Then after these everything else had been falling apart. My priorities became so out of order, that I was not even registering on the scale and I would end up neglecting self-care. I would tell myself, “I am doing this for others” and “This is what is the best for now”. I would completely disregard what really was best and often missing how it affects life around me. The result of these mixed priorities is a very disjointed and unbalanced life.
Unfortunately, I can be a very stubborn person and at times it takes someone else, usually my wife, to give me a good swift kick in the behind to tell me that I am in the wrong. When this occurs, I basically have two choices in how I respond. One choice is to listen to the concerns being brought to me. The second choice is to try to turn the tables, in an effort to deflect the fault from me. Sadly, that defensive response had been my default setting as of late. Then, when I would attempt to change, I would try to do it on my own. My pride kicks in and says, “You can fix this yourself” and that turns out to be a complete lie. I have learned and continue to learn, that I need the help of those who love & care for me, to come back from the darkness.
For the past few of months, I have been in therapy to heal the PTSD and that has been compounding my depressive symptoms. When I started the therapy, I was told that due to the nature of the type of therapy, that I should expect that. Basically, what they meant was this: I will feel worse, before I feel better. That brought me to a point like I described in the last paragraph. Initially I did react defensively, especially when I was told that I had to listen to how I have been affecting others. During that conversation I gradually came around to see the light and took their hand to help me come back from the darkness. I am not going to sugar coat things and say it has been easy to do this. In fact, it has been very difficult. However, the more I consciously rearrange my priorities to where I need them to be, the more I am seeing the difference that it is making for everyone.
If you are struggling, you are not alone. We are not meant to be solitary and handle these things on our own. We are not weak, because we have asked for help. It is also not shameful to seek professional help, such as a counsellor, or therapist. Please, listen to those who love you and take their hand to help you come back from the darkness.
If you find yourself in a situation, where you don’t have a loved one to reach out a hand, please start by reaching out for help through your agency, or one of the following links:
911 Wellness Foundation: www.911wellness.com
Tema Conter Memorial Trust: www.tema.ca
Under the Shield: www.undertheshield.com
Badge of Life Canada: www.badgeoflifecanada.org
Badge of Life: www.badgeoflife.com
Canadian Mental Health Association: www.cmha.ca
Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
Operational Stress Recovery Program: www.operationalstressrecovery.ca
North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network: www.firefighterveteran.com
Safe Call Now: www.safecallnow.org