How This First Responder Fire Service Term Relates to My PTSD

“Nothing showing” is a common term in the fire service. It’s a size-up by the first arriving officer, indicating there isn’t any smoke or fire upon arrival. The report is useful to those units still responding to have an idea what they’re soon arriving to. Other reports could be, “Smoke showing,” or “Heavy fire from second-floor windows” etc. Often “nothing showing” evolves into much more once you make access and get inside, sometimes a “working fire.”

I’ve always equated this term when reflecting on my own struggles with mental health. I couldn’t let on that I was burning from the inside out. I was so focused on keeping it all in, for many reasons. Stigma was a large factor; I was afraid of what others may think and say. Even though my injury occurred on the job as a fireman, I couldn’t be perceived as the weak link. I was terrified of being taken off the front line or losing my job. I also couldn’t let others experience the pain and terror I was living and reliving daily. At their peak, the flashbacks, nightmares and visions were debilitating. How could I begin to explain to someone how I often awoke to dead bodies laying on top of me, trapping me? I had to protect others from it, right? It was my job to, right?

So began the building of the walls around me, brick by brick. I was rapidly becoming my own worst enemy. It was to protect others from my inner chaos and turmoil. However, I was, in fact, isolating myself from others, many who would’ve cared had I reached out. Many of these folks wrote me off as the asshole I appeared to be. Many of these relationships are lost; many more have since been rebuilt. It took me having to come clean with them and most importantly myself I was injured. This was something I was going to live with and around forever. Coming to terms with this came in the form of many servings of humble pie. I’ve always admired those who exhibit humility yet I couldn’t even show it to myself.

We talk often of stigma and how we treat others struggling with mental health. How do we fight and kill stigma? We must begin with ourselves. I can almost guarantee the last self-talk you had with yourself wasn’t positive. When’s the last time you cut yourself a break?

Stay strong and live on.


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