Conversations need to be had about PTSD. It’s real and it’s not going away. People need to know what it is, what it does to people, what causes it, what to look for in a loved one who may be at risk, and sufferers need to know they are not alone.
Personally, I have been shunned, treated as an outcast, and excluded by my co-workers and by the Force (for the most part) since I was diagnosed with PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. I haven’t worked in almost two years. I have asked to go back but have not been permitted. Some people look at long terms of ODS as a long holiday, a joke, a misuse of the system. In reality, for me, it’s been two years of my life I’ll never get back, two years of my relationship with my loved one I’ll never get back, and two years of my career I’ll never get back. I’ve lived in isolation for almost two years. Damage has been done to my family that will take a long, long time to repair. I was beginning to look at promotion opportunities when the straw broke the camel’s back for me but promotion is only a dream for me now.
Without the Health Services nurse, Health Services doctor, and my psychologist, I don’t know where I’d be. Likely, I’d be single, in a hospital, without a job, OR dead. Without my fiancee, I would have, undoubtedly, followed through with my wish to die. I was there many times throughout this battle but she always gave me a glimmer of hope that things would get better even though most of the time I didn’t believe her. I gave her plenty of reasons to turn her back on me but she continued to be right there for me. She always reminded me of how much my two boys loved me and needed their Dad and somehow, even in times when I was emotionally numb, I hung onto a little bit of that. She would come home from work and sit in the car, crying in our driveway, afraid to come inside thinking, “Is this the day I’ll find him hanging?” I owe her my life and she has taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.
There were days and days of pure and constant agony, insomnia, nightmares that brought back smells so real that I woke up gagging over the side of my bed, sleeping with a machete tucked away behind my bed, anxiety attacks, paranoia, social isolation, abuse of my prescription meds and alcohol abuse. I saw no way out but to go into my garage, get drunk, and gas myself to death. I am grateful to those I mentioned above that I am still here. I have yet to receive any kind of support or concern from anyone further up the chain of command. Somehow, I’m not surprised.
On Christmas Day 2011, I was called out of bed at 3:45a.m. to attend a house fire. Two souls perished that night, a mother and daughter. Around mid morning when a lot of people were still opening gifts with their families, I (and two other members) went into what remained of the burnt out home and started digging for human remains. I found both of the bodies or what remained of them. The sights and smells will never leave me, nor will the overload of emotions that ran through me that day. Despite it being close to -20, I couldn’t feel the cold at all. The whole day felt surreal in a way. I came home once our job was done, I cried, and I hit the bottle… HARD. I burnt most of the clothing I was wearing that day and I hit the bottle some more. A few days prior, I attended a fatal collision in which a young woman died on her way home to see her parents for Christmas. That was still fresh in my mind and I could almost feel that things were about to go completely off the rails. On February 14th, 2012, I sat in my garage shortly after 9 a.m. and started drinking Jack Daniels and beer and taking prescription meds just to take the edge off. Things could have gone terribly wrong that day had someone not interrupted my binge. Thankfully they did and it’s certainly been a long, hard road since.
We are approaching two years since then but, finally, I am getting better. Most of my PTSD symptoms are diminishing in severity, I’m finally on meds that seem to be working, I’m taking them as I should, and my family life is improving dramatically. There is even some talk about me returning to work in some capacity in the New Year. Sure I still have horrible days from time to time but they are much less frequent and I am able to manage them better. I still fight the bottle sometimes but I’m working hard to beat that! Christmas Day 2011 pushed me over the edge. It came after almost 10 years of sudden deaths, suicides, cutting down hanging bodies, fatal collisions, house fires, violent incidents, etc, without ONE Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the office of a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health nurse, health service doctor, family doctor, etc. I’ve tried multiple types of medications and have taken, literally, thousands of pills in the past two years. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and have done and said some things I’m not proud of. However, I can finally say I’m a PTSD survivor and I’m going to make it through this. My family is going to make it through this! I am finally optimistic about the future again. My family is my rock!
For anyone out there who is suffering in silence, my advice to you is this; REACH OUT! Reach out to someone whether it be your spouse, co-worker, friend, sibling, parent, health care professional, anyone you trust! You can overcome this! It may not seem like it right now when everything seems dark and hopeless but you can do it. It’s going to take strength, resiliency, and perseverance but it can be done. A year ago I would have called myself a fool for saying such a thing but here I am.
Name withheld upon request