I’ve had kind of a tough time really getting into the Christmas spirit this year…….Who am I kidding – I’ve had a hard time for years….This year has been a bit worse than the last several. For some reason the last Christmas day that I worked has been running through my head more this year than in recent years. I worked through a lot of the emotion surrounding that day in therapy several years ago, but the memories still come back every year. Not sure why, but more so this year. I thought maybe reading through an old post about it might help. Don’t if it is or not…But I’ll share it again…..
The post actually deals with two Christmas’s. The “original” one and one many years later when the emotions suddenly decided to make an unexpected appearance. I called the post “On the turning away….A trigger, a flashback, an incident at church, a sermon, and a Pink Floyd song…” I still find it very strange how everything came together how and when it did.
When I first started therapy, I had an almost uncontrollable urge to “journal”, or write about the emotions I was trying to work through. I hadn’t started this blog yet, so I just wrote….The Christmas after I started the blog, (in 2012), I had a major breakdown. Which, of course, prompted more writing – and one of my first few posts.
Here is the original post, which includes the initial “journal-ling”…….
Written just over a year ago, this was my first “urge to journal” and the result of a major breakdown – the worst in years. Several separate events came together to create a perfect storm of emotion. In the middle of Christmas Eve church service. Let me paint the picture, then I’ll share the writing.
A trigger and a flashback: The last Christmas I worked before “retiring” was horrible. I’ll spare you the details, but imagine responding to a brand new parents worst nightmare. On Christmas morning. Needless to say, Christmas has been rough ever since. Always very emotional for me. Always just a trigger away from a flashback and an emotional event.
An incident at church: I am not much of a church-goer, but my wife’s family has been going to the same church for decades. Through my wife and in-laws, my kids are very involved. I go any time they are performing or have something special occurring during a service. And Christmas Eve service is a must. both of our entire families go – we must have 15-20 people there.
The Sunday before Christmas my kids were singing with the choir, so I was there. One of the regulars at church is a young man with severe physical issues – very bad epilepsy among them. He has a seizure every couple of hours. Usually we are seated too far away for me to be of much assistance, but on this particular day, I was seated directly in front of him. When he had his inevitable seizure, I helped his care giver get him out of the chapel and stayed with them until he had fully recovered. No big deal. Until Christmas Eve.
At the very beginning of the service on Christmas Eve, the pastor announced that the young man with the seizure issues had been in ICU all week. There was no word on when he would be released or for that matter, when he would be moved out of ICU. The pastor told of a visit he had with the young man a day or two earlier that week. The pastor basically told the young man it was too bad he would be spending Christmas in the hospital. The young man said: “At least I get to enjoy Christmas – even if I am in the hospital, it is still Christmas.” For some reason, this hit me really hard and the flood gates started to leak.
A sermon and a Pink Floyd song: After delivering the news about the young man, the pastor started his sermon. It was an extremely unique sermon because it was based on a Pink Floyd song. He started by playing the entire song, then delivered his message. I’m not quite sure what his message was because I was lost in the depths of my own emotions. (I think he talked about not turning our backs on others in need).
The Pink Floyd song: “On The Turning Away”. I’ve heard the song a million times and I have never really listened to and thought about the lyrics. This time, the lyrics hit me like a bus. I completely fell apart. Left the chapel in the middle of the service in tears. Had to squeeze past every one in the aisle to escape – my wife, my parents, her parents, my kids…..I left the building and spent the rest of the service balling my eyes out in the side yard of the church. I was an emotional wreck for the next several days until my next therapy session. That week was my 3rd session I believe – very tough session.
For me, this song brought up all of the emotion surrounding the lonely 15+ years I spent hiding from my PTSD. It was not about turning my back on others – it was about turning my back on myself and hiding from my emotions and struggles. Reading this now, a year later, I see that I have made a tremendous amount of progress. I am no longer hiding and fighting alone. I still have a long road ahead, but today, I know there is hope. For the first time in more than 10 years, Christmas this year was bright and happy – not dark and sad. The memory is still there. It always will be. But I have come to terms with what happened and accepted my role. I have started to move on….Finally…….
Here is what I wrote:
“On the turning away…..”
He says we should not turn away…..
He says it all matters….
He is half right…..It all matters.
But sometimes, there is only turning away….
“It’s a sin that somehow light is changing to shadow”
If this is true, then there is only turning away.
Light quickly becomes the shadow
If you don’t turn away fast enough…..
“And casting its shroud over all we have known”
The darkness is there – over all we have known.
The emotions are coming….
The pain is here……The memories.
The flood is here…..
If you don’t turn away fast enough they will see.
The kids will see.
The wife will see.
The parents will see.
If you don’t turn away fast enough, they will all see….
Sometimes, there is only turning away.
“We could find that we are all alone……”
There is only turning away….
But we are all alone…..
“In the dream of the proud”
There is no turning away…..
There is no more pain…..
There is no turning away……
“From the weak and the weary”
Is this who is turning away?
“Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?”
There was no turning away.
Now there is only turning away…..
“On the turning away…..”
Then comes the guilt. The shame.
Rushing to turn away
Instead of pausing to remember.
Turning away is so selfish. So weak. Cowardly.
You should stand up. Face it. Be strong.
But there is only turning away.
Twenty f@%king seconds of the intro to a damn TV show….That’s all it took to kick me in the gut, knock me completely off kilter, and throw me into a major tailspin…..
And I’ve been doing so well for so long!! I think that’s what really pisses me off. Sure, I’ve had a few anxiety attacks. But I have not had a full blown meltdown in several years. Shoot – I haven’t seen my therapist in at least three years. Maybe it’s been four.
She did worn me though. She told me that you never actually “get over it”. It never really goes away. You just get better at dealing with it. Develop better tools. Get better at anticipating the triggers. Better at controlling the reaction when you miss a trigger coming at you.
But what if I don’t want to keep “dealing with it”. What if I don’t want to keep developing the tools and fighting the reaction. What if I don’t want to have to worry that every TV show or movie I want to watch just might have 20 seconds hidden in there somewhere that I can’t handle. What if I’m just plain tired…..
No, I’m not contemplating something “permanent”. Not a path I’m able to choose. I will say, though, that I do have a much better understanding and can sympathize better in the last few years with those who have chosen that path. But I still believe it is not the right path. There are better options.
So, I guess I don’t have a choice. I have to regroup and figure out how to keep fighting. Tired as I am…..
I know full well that the chances of something horrific happening to my kids is extremely unlikely…..I also still by a Power Ball ticket every now and then – I know I am probably never going to win more than a few dollars. But I know SOMEBODY is going to win big. I also know families are going to lose loved ones tonight…..In both instances, I can’t help but think, “Why not me?”….
Tonight, my daughter is out having the time of her young life at her senior prom. For some reason, the school decided to have this major event at a venue on the opposite side of the city! A good 45 minute drive across two of our major highways! And I am sitting at home fearing the worst. She is a great kid! Very responsible. Doesn’t play into the drama that most teen-aged girls do. And has equally smart, level-headed friends…I’m not so much worried about her making a bad decision – but I know bad things can happen in the blink of an eye.
You know, living “close to the office”, has some benefits. Short commute. Easy to swing by the house if you forgot something on your way out the door…..Although the neighbors always freak out at least a little when you park an ambulance or a fire truck in front of your house, even though they know what you do….But, in this profession, it also means that every day you drive by reminders of the things that can go wrong so quickly. It doesn’t matter which way I leave the neighborhood, I can tell you a story….Even driving to my mom’s house for dinner, there is a reminder. Although this one is from my high school days….
My class made it through all three years, (back then, high school was just 10th, 11th, and 12th grades), without any tragedy. That ended on our last day of school. Literally, on our very last day of high school…..There was a huge party that Friday night. Everybody was there – truly, I think the entire senior class, and probably most of the other two classes, were there. It was the party of the decade! Then, suddenly, all of the lights went out…
Of course, everyone was sure the “SWAT TEAM” cut the power and was about to “STORM” the house! Everyone ran. My group grabbed the few beers we could get our hands on and disappeared into the neighborhood to wait it out and see what happened. We hid out for quite a while, but when the SWAT Team never showed and the lights never came back on, we left and went looking for another party.
As we left the neighborhood, the main road was closed. Again, speculation that the cops had shut it down and were still getting ready to raid the house. We left via a different neighborhood road and continued the celebration somewhere else.
It wasn’t until the next day that we learned a classmate had been involved in a horrific accident leaving the very same party and was killed just a few blocks away. The vehicle she was riding in, ran a stop sign and hit, of all things, a deputy sheriff’s vehicle. The deputy in the vehicle was left paralyzed. I honestly don’t know if I ever heard about other injuries. Surely, everyone else in her vehicle was injured, but I just don’t know. None of the other passengers were from our school.
I don’t know that I actually knew her. I don’t believe we were friends, but that isn’t to say we weren’t friends. I just don’t think we knew each other. But, I can tell you I know her now, even 30+ years later. And have never forgotten how that tragic night played out.
We drive through that intersection every time we go to my Mom’s house…..
I have no doubt I would have remembered her and the details of that tragic night no matter what. But, the world of EMS being as small as it is, has made it impossible not to think of the events of that night every time my daughter leaves the house.
Roughly five years after that terrible night, I was working for a small private ambulance company that serviced that area. One of my co-workers was a rather twisted and dark individual – by far more so than most of us. Very nice, compassionate, caring guy and a great medic – but just not right.
One day, he showed up to work with several photo albums. Obviously, this was before the time of cell phones, when all pictures were on “film” and had to be “developed and printed”. These photo albums had very graphic pictures from all of his most challenging calls. And yes, you guessed it, this included pictures from the scene of my classmates horrific accident. Thank goodness I didn’t actually know her….
I know he had several pictures from the scene. Mostly just the mangled vehicles. Although I cannot remember any, but one…..of her. I will not ever get that image out of my head. Mostly because that is what I see every time my daughter leaves the driveway…..
I know that the chances are extremely good that she will make it home by morning safe and sound. But I also know that there is a chance she won’t……
So, for now, I’m sitting here waiting….Sipping whiskey – either preparing for the worst day of my life, or celebrating her safe return…..
Of course, on this dark anniversary, I am thinking of the victims and their families. But I’m also thinking of the first responder’s, police officers, and dispatchers who were in the middle of it. I cannot imagine how much they were affected. I was not directly involved and it still had a huge impact on me.
By sheer luck of scheduling, I was off that day. But, had it happened 24 hours earlier, or 24 hours later, I would have been there. The crew that relieved me that morning was one of the first EMS teams to arrive. Our station is the second closest – and not by much.
I lived close to my station, so when I heard the news early on and realized the scope, the potential number of victims, I knew resources would be short. I called in to our dispatch center to ask if they were looking for additional people to help staff. I was actually just thinking for station coverage, to handle the “normal” calls while the crew were was out working this “incident”.
The dispatcher who answered the phone was frantic. When I asked if they were looking for help, her immediate response was “YES! How fast can you get to the maintenance garage and load a reserve ambulance?” I learned the next day that one of our dispatchers had a direct, personal connection to the school. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to share the details here, but it hit very, very close to home for her. I don’t know for sure, but I am almost positive she was the dispatcher I spoke to……
I met another medic at maintenance and got the ambulance ready to go very quickly. When we went “in service” with dispatch, we were told that we were “next up”, but for now we should head for the station and await assignment. We were not brought in to cover the station – we were brought in because they thought they were going to need more ambulances and, if they did, we were next…..
As it turned out, everything was over by that point. Although no one was sure just yet. It took quite a long time for the building to be completely secured. So, we spent several hours sitting at the station waiting. And waiting. Watching the news trying to get any additional info. But details were scarce for a long time….It was excruciating…..We felt completely helpless….
In some ways, it might have been easier to be there. To be doing something. Instead of just sitting and waiting…..and wondering…..
We were finally released and I headed for home – where my new wife of about 6 months met me at the door. She is a teacher in the district and spent the afternoon in “lockdown”, with her students locked in her classroom. She had a TV in the room and when she heard what was happening, immediately turned it on to the local news. The first thing she saw were friends working on the injured. The crew that had relieved me that morning, several she had known for many years and considered close friends, were front and center on both the local and national news reports. Somehow, without having any contact with me all day, she knew I was somehow involved. All I wanted at that point was to know SHE was ok and to hear how her school handled the situation. She just wanted to know I was ok….And of course asked about our friends.
Shift change the next morning was very somber. The report was “clean, full, ready to go”….Nothing more…The voices were quieter. The faces tired and drawn. I felt older and beat up, and I just sat at the station all afternoon….I cannot imagine the thoughts and images running through their minds….
Twenty years later I still have very vivid memories of that day. And, again, I never actually set foot on scene. I cannot imagine how difficult this day is for the folks who were actually in the building, or dealing with the injured and terrified outside the building. Or, worse yet, trying to help parents locate their kids. WOW.
Mostly today, I am thinking of the dispatchers who took the calls. Especially “my” dispatchers – the ones working specifically for my agency. The entire 911 system was completely overloaded. My dispatchers, as well as dispatchers from many other agencies were fielding calls from inside the school – from students and teachers seeking help and a way out. “My” dispatchers, knowing there was a direct connection, maintained the highest level of professionalism while dealing with calls from this incident as well as dealing with their normal call volume. I cannot imagine….Air traffic controllers have NOTHING on this group of amazing people….
On this day, hug your kids extra tight. Thank a teacher for going above and beyond to prepare for what we all hope never happens again. And, if you know a dispatcher, give them a big hug. Let them know that you appreciate what they do, even though you cannot possibly understand….
I am so, so sorry…..
You are not supposed to see your father struggle so much. Your father is supposed to be the pillar of the family. The example of how to persevere through the toughest of times. Not the one to fall apart because of a scene in a TV show or a movie….
I am not supposed to completely fucking lose it because one of your friends does something slightly stupid at your 8th birthday party….
You are not supposed to have to tell me that I cannot watch a TV show or movie because you know my emotions can’t handle it…..
You are not supposed to wonder why I go to the “doctor” (my therapist) every week. And then wonder even more why I don’t go any more when I think I’ve got things under control…….
You are not supposed to notice the evenings when I “need” an extra drink or two…..
I am not supposed to scream at you when you playfully startle me while I’m walking down the hallway….
When you come in to tell me good night, you are not supposed to find me hunched over the bathroom sink trying to decide if I need the “regular” or the “heavy” sleep meds to get me through the night……
I am not supposed to wake you up in the middle of the night because I need to see your eyes and feel your hug after a dream I’ve just had….
Thankfully, you were not old enough to remember some of my worst “episodes” – Like when I paced around the house with you in my arms for the entire night because I KNEW with every fiber of my soul, if I put you down something would happen and I’d never be able to hold you again….
I am so sorry I have not done a better job of setting a good, positive example for you. I have tried….I’ve tried to show you what a good work ethic looks like, but I’m not sure the 5 different jobs I’ve had since you were born really accomplishes that. I do my best to be over-the-top friendly and appreciative to wait staff, cashiers, and strangers in general – no matter how poor the service or how oblivious they are to people around them, and no matter my state of mind. Hopefully this example has been noticed.
You two, my kids, did not deserve to get stuck with a father who has so many issues and struggles so frequently. I truly hope that you both understand how deeply and fully I love you both, despite my emotional baggage. You are both much stronger than I am and I know you will be able to rise above the difficulties I have put on the family and succeed far beyond my greatest expectations.
You are growing up to be amazing people. Thank you for putting up with me…..
This year, Christmas Day marked the 19th anniversary of one of, if not THE, most upsetting calls of my career. I am not going to share details. There’s no need or point. It was not a “horrific” call – it was not a car accident or a suicide, or anything like that. But it was inexplicably tragic. One of those that you just can’t make sense out of …..One of those that, if you are religious, makes you wonder how you can possibly maintain your faith.
Maybe part of what bothered me so much is, I was not even working on the ambulance that day. I was driving the engine (Acting Engineer) – a very rare treat and a fantastic Christmas present!
But, when we got on scene, and the true reality set in on everyone there….it quickly became apparent that I had more experience with this type of call than probably everyone else put together. So, I ended up running the call. Or at least guiding the attending paramedic and performing the most difficult physical tasks.
Needless to say, the outcome was not good. Despite our best efforts, and everything running as smoothly as you could possibly hope, we last that battle.
Generally speaking, the timing of the call made it a thousand times worse than it would have been on any other day of the year. That hit me very hard. It was made even worse, though, by the realization that I had run SO many similar calls during my career. Certainly none exactly like this – either in terms of the exact nature or the timing. But to realize in the middle of this scenario that I had become so proficient in the skills required for this type of call……..I was not working with a bunch of newbies. Of the 5 of us, two had more time on the job than I did and one was not far behind me. But those three together had not performed these skills on this type of patient half as many times as I had…..
I ‘retired’ and worked my last shift just over 7 months later. I would not say that this particular call ended my career. It was one of many that sticks with me to this day. However, sitting on the tail-board of the engine, out in front of the ER while the attending medic finished his report, and thinking about how many times I had written a report very much like this…..It started to sink in – Maybe I had written too many…..Maybe more than my share.
I am actually composing this post very late on Christmas eve, while listening to my kids sleep peacefully down the hall. I am intentionally not posting it until after Christmas…..
Please make sure you hug your kids every single day. And extra tight on Christmas. You just never know…..
I’m so sorry….I cannot believe it has been so long since I have shared my story. Truth is, I’ve been doing pretty darn well.
It has been at least 2 years, maybe 3, since I have seen my therapist. Although, I have been thinking it’s about time for a bit of a tune up. No full-blown anxiety attacks in years, but recently I have had a couple of minor “episodes”. A few things that have felt like minor setbacks. Much as I wish it wasn’t the case, I’m afraid this is very much like maintaining a car – you gotta look under the hood every now and then just to make sure everything is working right…..
When I started this blog, I intended to share my ENTIRE story – the bad, hopefully followed by the good as I worked through things. As I started addressing my issues, writing was very much a compulsion. A huge release. A way to “talk” about what was happening without actually being face to face with anyone. Although I did hope others would benefit from my story, it was mostly just another, healthier, way for me to vent and cope. However, as I made progress and felt more and more “stable”, the urge to write dwindled.
Because of the feedback I received, and the number of people following along, I knew that I needed to continue sharing – especially as things got better. But it is has been hard…..I’ve been in a relatively good place for so long that, frankly, I was afraid to jeopardize it. I didn’t want to force myself to write for fear of taking my thoughts back to the stuff I had, at least to some degree, put behind me. I thought if I tried to share the good stuff, the bad stuff would come back.
Well, based on the handful of things that have come back recently anyway, I realize that sharing good stuff isn’t going to cause these things to come back – they will find their own way if I don’t stay on top of things.
When I started therapy, I don’t even remember how long ago…..8 years? 10? Something like that….I really hoped I could go spend a few hours of my time (and a few hundred dollars…..), and be done with it. My therapist explained over and over, very patiently, that it just doesn’t work that way. It is an ongoing process that never fully ends. Like I said – it’s like a car…..
I don’t think I really wanted to accept that answer…..I guess I still don’t. But I am beginning to see it for myself. And it’s probably time to get back after it. Certainly, things are not nearly as bad as they were when I started. Not even close. I know that I made a tremendous amount of progress. And I think taking a break for a little while was a good thing too. Kind of like half time in a football game – even if you are winning, you need to take a minute, look at what you have accomplished, and figure out how to proceed.
I still have a lot of stories to tell. I started a handful of posts that never got finished. Most of these deal with the rough patches, but I do intend to finish them and share. I also plan to start sharing the good stuff too….I think it is just as important for me to acknowledge the accomplishments as it might be for some of you to see that things do get better…..
Thank you all for your support! And for your patience as I have worked out a game plan for the second half….