When My Co-Workers Asked the Truth About My PTSD
What is the one thing I really should know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Recently I was asked that very question: “Tell me in your words, no bullshit, what’s the one thing I should know about this PTSD thing? What would you consider is the biggest misconception regarding it?” I found this to be an absorbing question indeed. Certainly one I didn’t expect, but a great question nonetheless.
Now if I could provide a little backstory here, our fire department was installing a memorial at our central station, honoring those who have died in the line of duty. By this point, I had been off work for about five months. During this time I had little to no contact with everyone from work. This mindset applied to my crew, friends, management. I had done an excellent job pushing the whole world away and making it quite known I was not to be bothered. Don’t swing by my house, don’t call me, don’t invite me anywhere, just leave me alone.
Once again, a reminder of just how extreme one can be while trying to isolate themselves. Now for some reason, I agreed to help with the installation of the memorial. To this day I don’t know how they convinced me to do it. I hadn’t been out of the house with anyone other than my immediate family in months. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I participated in anything work-related while off duty, and by now word had “gotten out” as to why I was off. I was certainly hesitant about showing up out of the blue for two days of manual labor. I was still concerned about being judged for being off sick, but yet was capable of turning up to help out. After all, if I can contribute to moving gravel and lay paving stones then why can’t I come to work? I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pretty sure there would be at least a few guys who would take a run at me. As mentioned before, it’s in our nature.
To my surprise, that wasn’t the case at all. Once again, I had created a worst-case scenario in my mind which couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone was all right; everything was normal. No one avoided me; no one walked around on egg shells, nothing.
Midway through the first day one of my buddies walked right up to me and asked directly, “Tell me in your words, no bullshit, what is the one thing I should know about this PTSD thing? What would you consider is the biggest misconception regarding it?” I was a little surprised at the question, to be honest. I expected the “usual” questions like, “So how are you doing?” or “When will you be back to work?” sort of stuff, but not this issue. My answer was immediate.
I explained that PTSD is nothing like you see on TV. Well, at least it wasn’t for me. I didn’t have an anxiety attack at the sound of a siren, nor curl up in a ball when I saw a fire truck. I didn’t fall to the ground when I heard a car backfire or start to sob at the sight of an ambulance. PTSD was completely different than I had grown up believing it to be. I guess that’s in part from all those war movies I watched as a kid, and this was also why it took so long for me to even consider I was experiencing it.
The symptoms of PTSD were different for me, as they are for everyone. My symptoms and triggers won’t necessarily be the same as your symptoms and triggers. For me, it was isolation, sleep deprivation, avoidance of certain locations, overreacting to minor events, anger, numbed emotions, replaying of events over and over in my mind, etc. You get the picture. Emergency responders are considered to be at greater risk for PTSD. Those who do develop PTSD typically do so as a result of constant exposure to traumatic events.
In many areas, new legislation has been implemented to help protect first responders.
What is the important thing to remember here? Just because you don’t think you have PTSD because of some preconceived notion of what society tells you it should be, doesn’t mean you don’t have it. The biggest misconception would be that we all struggle the same way, with the same symptoms, for the same reasons. That is simply not true. That is why I thought this particular question was so important. It is not your duty to self-diagnose. Your duty is to find someone, a professional, who can do that for you.
At the end of the day, you must understand this about PTSD.
I always say there isn’t a problem in the world which can’t be solved with a pot of coffee and a kitchen table. PTSD is very similar. The more we talk about it, the more comfortable we get, and the more comfortable we get, the more we understand PTSD. And in return, the misconceptions surrounding PTSD are eliminated. Your job is to help yourself so you can keep helping others.
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Unsplash photo via Guillaume de Germain