Life has a way of leaving marks on someone.
Some events are so heavily imprinted in our memory, that try as we may, we can never fully escape their impact.
For me, the flashbacks come much less frequent than they used to. The more time that separates me from the event, the more therapy I do to make sense of the memories, the less impact they seem to have.
That is not to say that they have no impact. They have plenty.
Fall is normally not my best time of year. My anxiety peaks due to the long hours of darkness. My memory reminds me of the accidents I’ve responded to due to the slick temperatures. The bite of the cold on my skin as my partner and I work feverishly to help someone out of their wrecked vehicle.
When I worked EMS, my worst calls were always between August and December. Car accidents. Suicides. Even a murder.
EMS professionals respond to calls, day or night. Good weather, and bad. They are expected to put their humanity on hold and deal with the worst that humanity has to offer. They do it with pride, knowing that they can make a difference. They do it putting themselves at considerable risk as well.
The physical risks I understood well enough. I was able to protect myself accordingly, by wearing my seat-belt, wearing my slash vest, and not going out of my way to put myself or my partner at any excessive risk.
The mental risks… those I understood the concepts of, but until put into those situations, you never will fully understand. You will never understand the rush you feel when you make a bonafide save. You will never understand the heartache you face when you are with someone when they draw their last breath. You will never know the fear that courses through you when you arrive at an accident scene, and think “we need to call for help,” followed closely by “wait, I am help.”
Until someone witnesses all of those things, and more, how can you understand?
The slide into PTSD was slow. There was no one event that caused me to fall. Instead, it was a slow burn, that burst into an open flame. I made some mistakes in my treatment of the symptoms I started to exhibit. I own those. My health care team made some as well. My doctor at the time attributed all of my symptoms to BPD and refused to diagnose me, or treat me, for PTSD. I didn’t receive the diagnosis, or the proper treatment, until it was too late.
I left EMS in the summer of 2013, after I broke down while in quarters. Since then, I have descended into the pits of hell, and back again. I’ve been suicidal. I’ve been emotional. I’ve been in hospital a number of times. I still battle my demons, but they are less pronounced. I have found a creative outlet. I have found another meaningful job, that allows me to do what I have to do to keep myself semi-functional.
My life isn’t perfect. The demons that burn my soul are still there. The mental health issues I face seem like a mountain before at times. At others, they seem like no issue what-so-ever. The crappy part is, I never know what any given day is going to be like. As stable as I’ve been getting, there is still an underlying volatility, triggered by stress.
No, life isn’t perfect, but there isn’t a lot I would change. I am happily married to a beautiful wife. I’ve got a dog, a cat, and we own our own home. I have support from friends and family that I never believed I had before now. Support I never felt I deserved before now.
Life isn’t perfect, but I think it’s as perfect as it’s going to get until God takes me home.