For those who think it can’t happen to you, I also thought I was invincible but it happened to me. I understand that everyone’s experience with PTSD is different and everyone’s ability to deal with it relies heavily on how much support they have at home and at work. In my case I had worked my last day before I was diagnosed with PTSD so I can only guess how it might have affected my relationships at work. I do know that even though I was done working I still have only told two people I worked with I have PTSD in person so I can understand how much tougher it is for those still working. I also know that despite how it is viewed by government agencies I worked with PTSD for a long time and it didn’t start the date I was told I had PTSD or submitted a form. I just didn’t know it which brings me to my point; people can and are able to work even if they have PTSD. It all comes down to education and honesty by both the organization and the employee. Everyone in the organization needs to be educated on the causes, symptoms and effects of PTSD. This will improve everyone’s ability to identify PTSD early and as with every illness, the sooner it is treated the better the chance of recovery. If it wasn’t for some persistent co-workers I would likely still be trying to figure out why I feel the way I do sometimes. It has only been in the last few years PTSD has even been discussed let alone understood so even though I didn’t know why, I knew early on I had to adapt my behavior in order to cope with what I had to deal with on a daily basis and my guess is there are many others still out there. I didn’t realize why I did what I did until I started learning about PTSD in the last year, I just did it. My main coping mechanism was making myself “half angry” allowing me to feel nothing else. This enabled me to control my emotions at the worst of times and for a number of years I was able to turn it on at work and off when I wasn’t working. The other thing that happened was because I was single I was physically transferred 4 times in 4 years (10 in 33yrs overall) while I was going through this and I became very good at not letting anyone get to close to me. By the time I met my wife I had been doing this for several years so it was part of who I was for her. Over time my ability to turn it on and off diminished to the point “half angry” became my normal state. I became known as a person who never smiled and people would often show a picture of an Eagle with the caption “Bob smiling”. This also ensured people only came to me if they had to and not friendly chatter unless they knew me for a period of time, time I used to ensure they could be trusted and how much they could be trusted with. Ultimately it didn’t matter how much I trusted them but more about who they trusted. Whence my phrase; “It’s not that I don’t trust you, I just don’t trust the people you trust.” Everyone wants to be known as a good risk manager so manage your own risk, take advantage of the 6 provided psychologist visits each year (or what your organization provides) as a first step even if you only talk about the weather (you don’t have to post it on facebook). You have nothing to lose and even if you don’t have any issues they can provide you with strategies to mitigate the risk of you incurring one. Consider it preventative maintenance. Ask yourself, would you rather fight the fire or prevent the fire, investigate the accident or prevent the accident, treat the broken leg or prevent the broken leg? I guarantee every first responder would rather prevent the things they deal with from happening than deal with them. Take it from someone who’s been there and do the same for yourself. If nothing else this will give you one more support person should you ever need one.
R.T. (Bob) Miller S/Sgt. (retired)