Paramedics & PTSD: Suicide Talk

There’s been a lot of focus lately on the 9 recent police officer suicides here in Ontario – and my sympathies to my fellow first responders and former first responders who are struggling out there; these headlines are absolutely the hardest things to see when we’re holding on by the skin of our teeth, I really wish I could shelter you. When you’re holding on by a thread, the last thing you need is to repeatedly see that others are letting go “so easily”.

But these are the headlines recently, all in an effort to make those who don’t understand, see – see what I’m not sure. See that when life really super sucks some of us can’t hold on anymore?

You don’t have to be a first responder to do that, just take a look at the current rates of reported suicide in the general population – which by the way have stayed relatively consistent for decades.

Now, because 9 police officers publicly died by suicide in a single year, there is a sudden need for an investigative panel to find out why and what can be done to prevent further deaths. Let’s just turn a blind eye to the countless other non-police first responders who also took their own lives last year and the years before. What makes these 9 so special?

Also what about us – the “formers” who are here on the outside of that “family” now struggling to cope day in and day out often just a hairs width from taking our own lives? Do we no longer matter because we’re no longer part of your “family”? What can be done to help us re-integrate, cope and continue to lead productive, successful lives? After all, the reason we are struggling is due to job-related traumatic exposure, many of us terminated on a trumped up technicality without another thought. Abandoned.

Can you tell this hypocritical investigative effort burns my bones?

Okay, fellow PTSDers, time for that deep cleansing breath. Let it go, clear your mind and remember you are the true strong ones. Remember how we used to think we were strong, donning that uniform, going out there, facing the shit every day and then coming home? Well, we know now how naive we were, huh? We weren’t even near the level of strong we are now. Don’t ever let anyone take your strong from you, you’ve worked too hard for it.

So suicide. It’s just my opinion but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, it’s ME who saves my life every time. Sure, mostly it’s because along the road of my struggle I’ve picked up some tools, some knowledge and built my Safety Net.

I know that there’s a difference between a planner and an impulsive. I know there is a difference between being sad, being depressed and having chronic depression.

I know most PTSDers are impulsives because our brains are misfiring in areas of emotional regulation. I know when you’re in that state, logical executive reasoning centers are inaccessible to us. I know that my thoughts, depressed, hopeless and self admonishing, will FEEL like logic and make sense while my emotions are heightened. I know how hard it is to hold on in that state.

I know there seems to be no future apart from your next breath, hitching, crying, defeated, body feeling like lead; but if you can hear it, listen carefully, because there is still a tiny voice in your head screaming, “It’s Not Always Like This” or “This Is Just Your Emotions Talking, Hold On.”

That is You. That tiny voice is the one person who truly stands between you and death, no matter how loud, or sincere, or logical that depressive, angry voice in your head tells you that death is the only way to peace, that other voice, the little one being talked over, is the one that truly saves your life. Learn to listen to it.

If your little voice screams, “Help Line!” Learn to listen to it. Have that helpline on your phone, whether that is a friend or a relative, a chaplain, therapist or Crisis Line, put it somewhere that you can access it.

Have a backup plan. Sometimes we won’t get the help we need in those moments, voicemail or sudden dead batteries can and do happen. Have a Safety Net; a way for you to ride out the wave and stay safe. A Go To plan.

I’ve shared my Go To plan many times. I Go To my bed, I grip it tight, I scream, I cry and I force myself to go still and stay there until the bad stuff has passed.

You can Go To anything safe, comforting, or grounding. Think of your grounding techniques and write one down, put it as a note in your Crisis Contact so it’s available if your phone call fails. Have a copy on a card on your fridge, in your wallet or in your Crisis Kit (if you have one – consider making one).

If all else fails, Stay Where You Are. Freeze. Let the emotional upheaval run its course. Let it out. I’m saying it again, man or woman, we’re all human, we all have emotions, scream, cry, bang your fists, hold onto something, let it out of you. It won’t last forever. Keep you safe.

Don’t ever feel bad about a meltdown, it’s just your brain overwhelmed, it’s not you. Don’t ever let anyone judge you because you meltdown, you cannot overrule the needs of your brain.

Can we prevent suicide? Yes, but when it comes down to that zero hour, it’s you who ultimately does it. Learn how to hold on.

Will we be able to stop all suicides? Sadly, no. It really is hanging on by a hairs width, that’s no joke.

Is there something that first responder workplaces can do to aid in prevention? Oh Hell Yes!

Mental Health First Aid training Mandatory for all management staff; practice these skills and review annually as you would any other emergency management plan.

General Sensitivity training, practice and annual review for all management staff.

Work with an occupational psychology firm to develop a more supportive and empowering framework for operating your unique service.

Train all staff in recognition, response and sensitivity to mental health crises and support.

Stop firing your personnel suffering from workplace induced psychological impairments, instead, work with them to assess their strengths, accommodate them using that information and if necessary, provide transition support services to help successfully place them in a new field.

It’s time our first responders stopped being abandoned and feeling isolated for suffering as a result of the tragedies they deal with in their field of employment.

We don’t need to die over these things.

In Solidarity.

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The Bad Season

This is the bad season for me. This is the season of re-living his last few weeks of life and trying, still, to answer the unanswerable.

This is the season for self blame and self loathing of the horrible person I am because I missed seeing the signs that the preventionists preach that we’re supposed to see in order to stop suicide.

So each night in this season, I lay down to bed hating myself. Angry because I can’t change my reality; angry because this is not the life I wanted; angry because I wasn’t given a choice.

And heartbroken because all of the love I invested; all of the love we shared through the years is now forever called into question.

I blame me because in my new reality I’m reminded time and again how angry a person I am, how little worth I have, how all of my accomplishments in life are meaningless. I take these words and I internalize them and I rationalize that this has to be why you chose to die rather than go on living with me – because all I ever do now is hurt people, so that must mean that I did nothing but hurt you too.

I can never rise above your loss. It makes me question why I still hold onto this life where I am in endless pain, endlessly questioning us, endlessly doubting myself and my worth in society. What am I holding on for?

I could threaten (and I have) to leave this world, in those spontaneous times of extreme emotion and pain but my threats simply get demeaned or turned back on me. So I keep my “cries for help” to myself now and I do the best I can to coach myself through it because my biggest supporter is no longer in this world. I’m all I’ve got left.

This is my bad season. Crying myself to sleep. Waking up at that same time every morning…hoping, even three years after the fact, that it was all just a vivid nightmare and I’m going to crawl back into bed and feel his warmth beside me.

This is the bad season of nightmares and insomnia and exhausted daytimes and short tempers. This is the season I just need to be alone.

This is the season when I need most, the one person I no longer have.

This is my bad season.

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