I, like so many first responders, have been burdened, or gifted, depending on your perspective, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression from a career of firefighting. I have been challenged to navigate this whole PTSD recovery process and have had some success. There are still many areas and aspects I need to work on and address, but I am moving forward, which is always a good thing.
While I’m not where I want to be, nor where I need to be, I’m sure glad I’m not where I was. Everybody’s mental health journey is unique to them as are their traumas, their therapy and recovery process, a fact I need to continually remind myself of. I’ve thought a lot about why I’m where I am in my mental health journey and believe the following things have directly contributed to that.
1. Complete Trust and Faith
I realized that for therapy to work, I needed to have complete trust in my therapist and faith in the therapy process. It was this complete trust that allowed me to feel safe enough to be vulnerable enough to deal with what needed to be dealt with. Having faith in the therapy process and consciously forcing myself to believe that therapy was going to work helped me eliminate any resistance, avoidance and reluctance roadblocks I initially put up, which allowed me to give into the process and actually actively embrace it.
2. Perspective and Action
I consciously chose right from the beginning to believe that you can recover from PTSD and not just manage it. Not going to lie, this belief has changed over time. I also created the specific mindset that I was going to make my recovery happen instead of waiting for it to happen. I decided aggressive actions were required to achieve my recovery goal and said to myself “I’m not willing to wait, I want it now, I’m going to go after it and get it.” PTSD has a funny way of sometimes proving those thoughts just a wee bit shortsighted.
3. Unquenchable Thirst for Knowledge and Understanding
I actively sought out knowledge reading everything I could get my hands on, watching videos, listening to podcasts and doing everything to try and acquire the same knowledge that my therapist and psychologist possessed. I used this knowledge and understanding to evaluate and analyze every symptom as they occurred because that gave me power over them.
4. Silence and Stigma
I chose to be very public about my PTSD battles to help chip away at the stigma of mental health illnesses.
5. Remaining Open-Minded
I decided to throw as much as I could at my PTSD to see what worked and what didn’t. Yoga, mediation, art, coloring, gardening, deep breathing, exercise, journaling, Mother Nature, a multitude of psychological grounding techniques, expressive writing, peer-support groups, reflexology sensory rings, essential oils and daily affirmations were just some of the things I’ve tried. I gave up watching the news, established daily and nightly routines and used weighted blankets to help with the anxiety. I eventually even became open-minded about medication. All this in addition to all of the various therapy treatment modalities like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), CPT (cognitive processing therapy), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and BA (behavioral activation) for depression.
6. Bye Bye, Ego
I learned early on that my ego was not my friend and quite often was a roadblock to forward progress. Yes, your ego drives you to accomplish things you never thought you could, but my ego also made me ignore my limitations, caused me to refuse to accept facts, caused me to overestimate my abilities, made me overconfident and many times clouded my thoughts more then the PTSD did.
7. Letting Go
I realized early on I had the “woe is me” attitude. I consciously chose to let go of that mindset. I chose to battle (survivor) my PTSD and and not just suffer (victim) from it. Again, PTSD has a habit of sometimes of doing what it wants to do regardless of your mindset, sometimes even instilling new and different mindsets within you.
I transitioned from believing that PTSD was part of who I am to more of the perspective that it was something that had happened to me. It truly is an injury. That mindset allowed me to separate myself Rob from the PTSD.
9. It’s Not About Before
I eventually realized and accepted that the whole reason for going through all this therapy was not to get back to where I was before the injury, but to create and evolve into a whole new and hopefully better me. I’m still a work in progress!
I learned that helping others by way of advocacy, education and telling my story is actually quite therapeutic.
For those challenged with PTSD, it truly is a fight like no other and it is not always forward progress. There have been many times in my journey where I have slid backwards and there isn’t a day that goes by I am not actively trying to stay on top of my symptoms and learn something new. I’m not where I want to be — but I am definitely not where I was.