Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com.
By Nathan Fuist
For Part 2 of this series, click HERE
I started off with an orientation to see all the rooms of the facility. I also met my therapist, nurse, and psychiatrist. I was told to be prepared for many of the same questions that I had been asked during the meetings with the professionals that would help determine the best course of action for my treatment. Each patient gets a personalized treatment plan best suited for his needs.
Once I got through my first day, things became more personal, and I started to get to know everyone. After the end of each session, the anxiety of being at the program slowly started to fade away and it became easier to get the help I needed. I still had the same depression and anxiety that I had prior to admission throughout my sessions, but their alleviation takes time. My psychiatrist told me my form of depression was biological; this means that, most likely, I will be fighting this illness for the rest of my life. Even with this diagnosis, he assured me that with the plan in place and, as long as I stayed compliant, would likely increase my quality of life. My plan included medications and continued therapy.
After being on a medication for insomnia for five days, I found that I still had trouble falling asleep. My psychiatrist checked my records from my primary care doctor and saw that I was on a depression medicine that contained stimulant effects that would counteract the medication used for my insomnia. The second problem I brought to him was, once I fell asleep, I had trouble staying asleep. He was able to find a second medication that would pair well with my insomnia medication and also be able to assist my other anxiety medication as well; one was able to help me fall asleep and the other would keep me from waking up throughout the night. I asked the doctor if I would be able to skip the sleeping medications while on duty and not have any negative side effects. He assured me that that was possible. I have slept better than ever since being on these medications. Even though one medication not working for me does not mean it would not work for you. A person may have to try a few different medications to figure out which one will help and fits one’s individual needs.
My first group therapy session started off slowly, and I was not ready to share everything at this time. When others began to speak, I found out that we all had things in common, and it became easier to open up and share my stories. No one there happened to work as firefighter/paramedic or as police officer, but this did not matter anymore. I found that we were all just regular people seeking help. It became easier for me to talk and listen to their suggestions. Some offered coping techniques that they had tried that I also wound up trying at home. Some of the techniques I still employ to this day. Some of us became friends while others, even though we didn’t become as close, still cared about each other just like we do at our firehouses. During the program, we created a relapse prevention plan; it taught us how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a potential relapse and to not be ashamed if we need help again.
RELATED: Paniak: Are We Really Saving Our Own? ‖ Davies: It’s All About the “Buzz” ‖ Graham: Trauma Victimizes First Responders, Too
What am I going to do from here? What I know I can do is to just live day to day. I cannot control every bad or traumatic call at work, but I now know that as long as I did everything I was trained to do, then that is the best I could do. In our line of work, you can do everything by the book and yet it may end in an unfortunate outcome. That does not mean we have to relive the calls or to carry them on our shoulders. Although it still may be sad, acute depression is and can be healthy. We are human, and humans learn from their emotions. I have learned I do not have to carry so much grief on my shoulders, and now I have the coping techniques and treatments to run that next call. I will go on with my career and continue to do the best that I can with a genuine smile on my face.
My illness may be life-long, and it is possible I might have to go through this again. However, I know it won’t be as scary and nerve-wracking as it was the first time. Sometimes, we need a mental tune-up. But remember: never forget your family. Unfortunately, this is one of the illnesses that can and most likely will impact your family. They may need help too, and there are programs out there specifically for them. Some of the resources at the end of this article will accommodate your family in their treatments as well.
We can only help others if we are able to help ourselves. I am the strongest I have been in a very long time; I can now say this with pride. Remember, if you need help, know it, and you will be the strongest when you need help and seek help. This is a tough life, and we chose a tough physically and mentally demanding career. We don’t need to be reminded that this is a wonderful and rewarding career.
Before I end this article, I want to say the following:
I am a dad; a husband; part of a large, amazing family; and a friend to many. I am also proud to be a firefighter/paramedic—the best career on this planet. I love life and life will not be able to get rid of this stubborn guy.
My diagnoses are attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe major depressive disorder with suicidal thoughts, and general anxiety disorder. Yet, I am a normal person. I am just like anyone else. We all have something unique about us, and this is a small part of the man I have become. Let’s get through this life together because no one can do it alone.
I will leave you with some resources that are specific for our career and which can help our loved ones, too. Take a look and see if any could help you now or in the future. Remember, if you even question the need for help, ask for it.
- Your specific department’s employee assistance program/personal assistance service.
- Your local behavioral health center (certain centers are associated and in the local hospitals).
- Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255.
- Firestrong.org, which has a great self-assessment.
- FFBHA.org created by Jeff Dill, chief operating officer, a licensed professional counselor, and captain (Ret.) from Palatine Rural Fire Protection District in Inverness, Illinois.
- SafeCallNow.org at (206) 459-3020.
Nathan Fuist is a firefighter/paramedic and the medical officer for the Shrewsbury (MO) Fire Department in St. Louis County. He became an advocate on lifting the stigma on suicide and mental health after he lost father to suicide.