Let’s get a little personal.
Why should you listen to what I have to say? It’s not something I’m proud to admit, but I share freely that both my husband and I have suffered through PTSD from different events over the years.
Now, as a Firefighter Wife whose dealt with her own problems, seeing her Firefighter struggle with PTSD and triggers both at work and at home can be overwhelming.
But there is power in getting honest, communicating and sharing about the struggles of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and fear. Which is what I hope to do in this series of posts that cover various aspects of PTSD and mental health and how it effects our first responders.
*** Please note- this is not medical advice, nor to I pretend to know everything about PTSD, mental health, or the education that medical professionals have. This is my personal experience with my family and the mental health professionals we have talked to over the years. I strongly encourage you to get help if you or a loved one is suffering from PTSD, suicidal thoughts, or you need help. For immediate issues, call 911.
What you need to know
There is no one size fits all when it comes to PTSD. I think if it were easy enough to solve with a few simple steps then it wouldn’t be much of a problem at all.
The first thing everyone needs to know, is that anyone can be effected by a traumatic event. Even one they weren’t directly part of.
Yes, it’s true and the events of September 11, 2001 are an example of a situation where people had (and still have) PTSD from an event they might have been a thousand miles away from.
And PTSD can build in layers. One event can lead to another. One event can trigger another.
Unfortunately PTSD is a multifaceted pain in the side. It can present in several ways, and it can be bottled up and ignored for many years. So let’s cover some of the basics that Firefighter Wives need to know for their spouses (and for themselves as well).
PTSD can show up in different ways
This is probably not what you want to hear.
But dealing with PTSD isn’t cut and dry, in fact, many different symptoms can show up as a result of dealing with stress and anxiety after a traumatic event.
Generally, the person experiencing the symptoms will have several types and they will typically last longer than a month. Some examples would be avoidance of triggers, reoccurrence of the event, and frightening thoughts. You can learn more about the categories here.
PTSD is linked to Suicide Risk
This is the cold hard truth, and my least favorite subject, but one I can’t help but talk about in case it save’s someone life.
When you have PTSD (diagnosed or undiagnosed) you have a higher risk of suicide.
We could talk statistics all day long- but at the most basic level, when you are struggling with your mind, some people view ending their life as a solution.
The issue with suicide is it causes a lot more problems than PTSD. It isn’t a cure, because the person is dead, when they could have been treated for their problems.
If you or a loved one is struggling, please reach out! Save a life.
(and we talk about treatments and cures for PTSD below!)
Throw out the calendar- PTSD is unpredictable
Sorry again, I just keep giving you the honest (yet shitty) news.
For those that have ever dealt with any form of post traumatic stress or anxiety have shown, it doesn’t matter what time of day or year, symptoms can show up.
This means that you can be sitting in your living room, reading a book, and flashbacks can occur.
Or you could have gone to bed totally happy and then you wake up in a rage of anger and frustration.
Crazily enough, sometimes those with PTSD can experience the same event later on and NOT have a problem, but driving through the chickfila drive thru can trigger it a month later.
It WILL impact your marriage
This is one of those unfortunate side effects of falling in love with a first responder.
Sometimes the work follows them home, and not in a good way.
I’m talking about the things that are big and small.
Like nightmares that wake you up in the middle of the night.
and random outburst of anger that make no sense, came out of nowhere, and aren’t related to anything you are doing right then.
And emotional avoidance, not being able to (or not willing ) to talk about what’s bothering them- even if it’s not related to work.
And a change in intimacy. Either wanted more than you can give or not wanting it at all. Or being totally hot and cold.
So if you have experience some of these (and many others) they can be part of the residual side effects of your Firefighter struggling with their PTSD.
The good news is that you can see right through it and make it a priority on your end to help your firefighter “feel the love” from you, as long as things haven’t gone towards abuse.
No, it does not make you “crazy”
There is this stigma that those that have PTSD are crazy. or loco. or mental. or whatever negative word you can imagine that describes someone that doesn’t have control of their mind and they are a “problem to society”.
Yes, stress and anxiety can change your Firefighter into someone new, someone different, someone that might scare you at times. But in most cases, they are still sane.
If they ‘jump off the mental health deep end’ then it’s something else, like PTSD that has morphed into a dangerous depression/suicide. Or someone that has bottle up their PTSD so long that it has caused them to have other mental and physical problems.
The only crazy thing is when firefighters and their spouses DON’T seek help, because there is help. See below.
Great News- it IS treatable, it is manageable and it is curable
The best news is saved for last. Despite PTSD and anxiety causing a lot of issues for someone and their family, it doesnt always have to be this way.
There is no one size fits all, because each person has gone through their own unique traumatic experience(S). We don’t know what they’ve seen or had to deal with (or how many times they’ve had to deal with it!).
So when I say curable, I want you to understand that’s the best case scenario, the worst case scenario is that your First Responder learns how to manage the PTSD.
Both of those are good things.
What’s not good, is unchecked PTSD, because as we’ve looked at, it can morph into other mental and physical health issues and it can drive someone to take their life.
Sometimes this might mean that a first responder retires early, but if it saves their life, then that’s what matters!
There are counseling options like various forms of psychotherapy, EFT, medications and natural options. For us personally, we’ve tried everything but medications, as the ones that were recommended had some side effects (like depression) that we felt might make the recover worse. That said, not all medications are bad, and you can talk to your health care provider about what options are good for you.
When should you seek help for your firefighter
As someone that loves a firefighter, you now know that PTSD is not one size fits all, and that it will impact you and your firefighter.
But when should you get involved?
Between you and your firefighter, you should get involved immediately. Be kind and loving and try to get through to them that they don’t have to be embarrassed or scared.
When should you get other people involved?
The cut and dry version of this is if you or your firefighters life is in danger- even if it’s just a weird comment about suicide or ‘why was I ever born’ type thing.
Other times you might want to get involved are when your Firefighter isn’t seeking help and it’s been a long enough time that it’s really impacting their health. Only you would know how long that time would be. The professionals recommend behavior that lasts longer than 30 days.
But if you feel like it’s a real problem, don’t wait 30 days to get help.
Things like reckless behavior, excessive drinking or drug abuse, a lack of sleep that causes personality change or poor decision making.
Basically, you need to get help ASAP if you question wether your firefighter can make good decisions while they are impaired from drinking or lack of sleep or emotions that are going haywire.
Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
And many firefighters consider PTSD a form of career suicide, so they may need some encouragement from you to seek help.
This is by no means exhaustive. This is just the basics. And I am not a mental health professional so if you need help, please seek it!
Calling 911 or the suicide hotline ( https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org ) for serious issues.