Thursday, 15 January 2015

Risk vs. Reward: Are you willing to gamble with your mental health?

We're taught “Risk vs. Reward” from the first day of recruit training. If there’s a chance we can save someone, we'll risk up to and including our lives to complete that mission. We all take plenty of calculated risks every shift. 

It’s been year since I went very public last year through the media about my struggles with depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress and suicide. I was interviewed by Shawna Randolph on CTV Two’s Alberta PrimeTime in January 2014 in conjunction with Bell’s #LetsTalk Campaign to bring awareness to Mental Health and to reduce stigma. 

There’s been a number of reactions. Some expected, some not. I knew there would be naysayers. I fully understood the risk I was taking. I was well aware that as a Fireman there would be kickback from within.

When I was approached to do the interview, I was very apprehensive. I discussed with my Psychologist, Friends and fellow Fire Fighters the pros and cons. All the discussions all came to the same point: “What do you think?” & “Why are you doing it?” I knew these answers without much forethought. I felt the word needed to get out especially in the first responder world. My motivation was to show others that were struggling with some of the same issues I was that it was OK to speak out and get help. 

We eat our young quite readily in the Fire Service. I believe this attitude derives from the team culture and Brotherhood that we entrust our lives with. So when someone goes “rogue” even under the most altruistic of intentions, they can be seen as a freelancer. Freelancer is a four-letter word on the job. You just don’t and if you do: except to be humbled rapidlyby your peers and officers.

I’m no expert. However, I know very well the hard road I've personally taken after attending some very horrid calls and not dealing with them properly. I let myself build walls that estranged me from who I really was. I alienated my Wife to the point of divorce. My children suffered as I had no patience or energy to be a good Father. I was seen as an “Asshole” or “Prick” at work. These were all defense mechanisms. If I pretended that the visions, insomnia, flashbacks, dreams along with other symptoms  didn't exist and the rest of reality wasn't around me, then: "Everything is Awesome (You now have the LEGO movie song in your head!)

So after a lot of self talk, I took the huge risk. I spoke out. I now understand why they call it the green room! I Put a lot of effort in not losing my lunch before and after the interview. I did the interview to bring attention to the daunting issue facing all first responders(and ALL humans too). It’s okay to have struggles with mental health and most importantly it's OK and should be expected to seek help. As a Brother recently said after losing one of his Brother Fireman to suicide: “We’re aren't Superman, this job breeds demons. Talk to someone, anyone. Get help for christ’s sake, we're in this together.” 

Although few, there have been some who have been critical of my going public. So what causes this critical attitude? I believe there are many issues feeding this “suck it up” culture. I feel lack of knowledge and education around mental health and that many feel they're superior and too strong to struggle with mental health are the biggest culprits. I used to feel this way too, until I was humbled more than i thought was possible. I regard humility as the most important character trait in a Fireman. The tough thing about humility is it's learnt, not taught. So there will always be naysayers and differing opinions. However, they should always be expressed in a respectful way, which some forget. Especially when they feel threatened by the fact that they too could one day deal with mental health struggles.

I received a huge amount of support from Family, Friends, Fire Fighters near and far as well as many people I’d never met. It helped relieve the anxiety of doing the interview and going public. I don't regret it one bit. It’s enabled plenty of first responders to reach out to me with their own stories. Truly a sign of the Brotherhood.

Most of us in the “helper” professions seem to find it taboo to show vulnerability. We perceive it will be seen as weakness, that we'll let the team down. I choose to take the first step, to be the one to show my wounds and weaknesses, to reveal that most really DO care and want to help. However, our Brothers and Sisters or whoever you trust must know you need help, so its up to us all to make that first difficult step. The gamble with your own mental health isn't worth it. 

Please trust me when I tell you the reward for your risk has a huge payoff! 

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