Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Mental Health: My 5¢

Mental Health was the phrase of the day on social media in Canada today. The #BellLetsTalk campaign has definitely picked up steam in the last couple years. 

I obviously focus on the mental health issues facing First Responders. Its all I can speak to, as I have my own experiences and have a vested interest in improving how we tackle the big animal that is Mental Health in the Fire Service and all Emergency Services.

The level of awareness has definitely increased this past year. It has unfortunately had a great deal to do with a tragic number of First Responder suicides. We lost one of the best Firemen, Brad Symes, on our job this past summer. It hit our entire department hard. It hit me hard. NO ONE knows what Brad was dealing with when he felt there was no other option, only he does. I do know that had he made one text, call, anything to anyone that has ever met him, they would've dropped everything to help him. Why? Because I can guarenGODDAMNtee he would do the same for anyone else. Countless times that man helped me. He was a Gladiator, inside and out. 

So why does this keep happening? We lost Edmonton Paramedic Greg Turner the night before we all marched to pay tribute to St. Albert RCMP Constable David Wynn shot in the line of duty. Needless to say it has been a difficult week, month and year in this area for First Responders. It's hard to decipher as most departments keep it under wraps but we are losing another it seems almost daily or weekly.

Yet some feel there is no other option than to end it all. I have been at that point personally two years ago almost to the day. I was already diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression and Post Traumatic Stress due to some very graphic calls two years before that. I was in treatment. Things were going well, or so I believed. That week I only got about 10-12 hours of sleep, no more than 2-3 at a time. I was busy with work, kids and just couldn't “shut off” to be able to sleep properly. I came home after dropping the kids off at school. Pulled in the garage. Pressed the remote. The door slid down. It got dark except for the drywall lit up by my headlights in front of me. I rolled down the windows. I turned my car off and restarted it so it was pitch black in the garage. The dim of the dash was all the light there was. I reclined my seat a bit. I only remember one song, Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. I cant remember when it played during the twenty or so minutes I sat there. I cried. I pounded the steering wheel. I started taking inventory of all the shit that had piled on. The, at times, never-ending replay of the three calls that had slowly over four years unravelled my life and those around me. If I ever did drink enough or just get lucky to be tired enough to fall asleep, I’d dream of them all over again. I’d wake with the bodies or parts of bodies laying on top of me or even worse, beside me looking at me. There would be flashbacks during the dayI was completely losing control.

So as I sat there taking score of my life, wanting to stop all the painful thoughts and mind numbing insomnia, I thought of my kids. “FUCK!!” I yelled at myself as I turned the car off. “I don’t even have time to be dead!” I couldn't do that to my kids. Or anyone else that cared about me. I didn’t do what I did because I wanted to die, I just wanted to sleep and for the visions and pain to stop. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I was just absolutely, completely done with it all. I had no energy left to even think. I remember stumbling through the dark, to the door. I went inside and called my Psychologist. Last year I spoke of it for the first time , no one knew, other than my Doctor and a couple people I’d told.

Why is it that we get to that point as First Responders? I feel its the “helper” mentality. We feel we have to protect those around us from the inner destruction and pain that is occurring. We isolate. We become distant and cold. We shut down on those around us, which isolates us even further. We build the walls around us brick by brick until we can’t breathe, think, feel or see those around us. Those very people that if we gave the slightest inkling of the inner battle we were fighting, they'd be there. But we can’t we must protect them. Its perceived as the exact opposite by those we push away, adding to the vicious vortex that occurs with those that struggle with mental health. We're too damn proud to admit we have an issue let alone seek help for it. We think we can hold it all together and if we just keep plugging away, it will work itself out. Good luck with that!

People care. There have been some who have been critical of me speaking out. I care less and less about that criticism as time goes on. Not because of time passed, but because of understanding. Understanding that many simply cannot comprehend what I’ve endured and ultimately overcome. People fear what they do not understand. However, I ultimately believe, that if those that are critical listened they would be drastically more aware of your struggles and criticism would be replaced with humility. 

So who's responsibility is this? Me. You. Everyone. We must take ownership. If you're struggling, get help. Speak up and talk. Keeping it to yourself will end no where good, that I know. Talk to your buddy, Bartender, Barista, Brother, Barber or your Booky. I don't care. Talk to someone, anyone. The first step is the hardest, the rest aren't easy by any means but at least you won’t battle alone any longer.

Take care of others by helping yourself first.


  1. "So as I sat there taking score of my life, wanting to stop all the painful thoughts and mind numbing insomnia, I thought of my kids. “FUCK!!” I yelled at myself as I turned the car off. “I don’t even have time to be dead!”" so very relatable. I am so glad you found the strenght and or focus to get out of that car and find help! And thank you for sharing your story. I am a mental health worker as well as doing some theraputic work as an Equine Personal development coach. I would love to share your story with other coaches, as often PTSD and depression is what we are working with

    1. Thank YOU very much for reading. I'd be glad to speak and share my story to you and your colleagues or patients. You can contact me at