Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rachel's Story - Week Six in Hospital

Good morning....well, ok, that's pushing it.  It's an ok morning.  I'm home on a weekend pass, so that's good but I haven't been discharged yet and I likely won't be before Christmas.  I'm feeling vulnerable as I write because I'm still very much in the process of trying to pull through this episode of depression, psychosis, mixed-whatever-it-is....I still don't fully comprehend it.  I'll try to be patient and just let it play out.  Not judge.  I thought I would just share some thoughts with you this morning on the off chance it would help someone out there to feel less lonely (or help me to feel less lonely!).  'Tis the season for spreading HOPE after all!  I'm definitely feeling a little more HOPEFUL than I was 6 weeks ago when I was admitted to hospital, so if there's HOPE for me, there's got to be HOPE for others too, logically.  Each time I'm admitted to the hospital the doctors take it as an opportunity to test my reaction to many psychiatric medications very quickly without worrying about side effects because of the safety the hospital provides.  I have been on 16 different psychiatric meds in the past two years. Effexor. Lorazepam. Prozac. Lamotrigine. Zopiclone. Celexa. Clonazepam. Carbemazepine. Lithium. Seroquel. Seroquel XR. Olanzepine. Epival. Invega. Topamax. Wellbutrin.  Each of these meds comes with their own particular side effects and withdrawal symptoms.  I've suffered from many, from mild to dramatic, including dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, and a grand mal seizure.   So, this time, while I've been in the hospital, I've eaten up a large portion of my list of possible meds yet to try.  This means, either: 1) I am that much closer to finding a combination of meds that works OR 2) I'm about to prove to everyone that, just as I have always felt when I have been most depressed, there is no possible combination for me in terms of pills, we've been wasting our time, and maybe I need some kind of other alternative therapy (has anyone else ever heard about the pig farmer???).  Either way, it's a win-win situation for me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rachel's story - i'm in hospital

I want to write briefly today just to inform everyone that I have been hospitalized. That's the reason that I have not written for the past two weeks. Only now do I have access to a computer. I feel like I cannot trust my own mind these days; many times my thoughts are not realistic, accurate or at all positive. But I think it's a good sign that at least I'm able to recognize this. I am fighting hard and am hoping to be back soon, sharing my experience in an effort to feel less lonely and help others feel less lonely too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rachel's Story - when mania takes hold...

My first manic symptoms began when I was in university (about 7 years ago), at about the same time that the depressive symptoms began to have a dangerously negative impact on my life.  I have always had much longer bouts of depression than mania.  They are equally vivid & painful to me because the mania, though fun at first, often results in a suicidal climax (don’t know if anyone else experiences this?).  I’ll do my best to describe it, but I can’t help feeling that my language skills are totally ineffectual in portraying the experience.

Sometimes it’s like a carnival in my head.  Thoughts swirl around with excessive speed and volume.  And often, even the most mundane things become hilarious to me.  I lose all self-control and nearly fall to the ground in uproarious laughter.  I write furiously, trying to capture all the “brilliant” ideas flooding my mind – especially at night.  I make long lists of things I will have to investigate…money-making schemes, art projects, areas of study, musical instruments to master, things I suddenly just HAVE to buy, etc.  Often my ideas lead me to the computer, where I conduct frantic internet searches looking for the fastest way to order a certain product (book, makeup, TRIP TO BRAZIL), which I’m spontaneously determined to have that VERY instant.  I abandon each “project”/new interest as quickly as I acquired it, swiftly moving on to the next impulsive goal.  I feel GREAT - uncharacteristically social and confident.  (This is all very embarrassing to admit from my current, depressed frame of mind….)  When I go out in public, I feel like a celebrity.  It seems like people can’t take their eyes off of me.  Like everyone secretly wishes they could be like me.  I’m suddenly convinced that I’m excessively talented, attractive and intelligent and that all of these special characteristics were given to help me achieve some greater purpose.  Almost like I could save the world.  I feel like God has a direct line to me and I’m on a special mission.  (I have so much shame in admitting this but I’m thinking maybe others have had this experience too?)  At a certain point, though, it all becomes too much.  I become frustrated, angry, irritable and even suicidal.  In fact, for me, the manic times have almost always been accompanied by suicidal feelings.  This is by far the most terrifying time in my battle with bipolar disorder.  I’m impulsive and agitated and moving quickly.  I’m self-destructive and suicidal and all control just seems to slip away from me.  Things lose meaning and sense.  I feel overpowered until I don’t even want to fight anymore because eventually I find myself totally exhausting.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

FirefightersStory-Need to Take Care of Myself-Sorry

I MUST apologize to everyone as I will not be able to write my sunday weekly installment. I have said many times here that I must know my limitations, and I have to continually learn to take care of myself by putting myself first at times, which is so very difficult for me to do, because it is not in my nature to do so. Right now though, is one of those times. I must. The events of the last couple of weeks have taken an extreme toll on myself emotionally. I have ABSOLUTELY NO REGRETS though! This must be stated and for those who know me, and for others who read the blog about my many adventures and suffering with PTSD and all that accompany's this, must not worry please. The cause of raising awareness that I believe in so very strongly, and am committed to, has not left me any less determined, but it has left me needing to try to take care of myself now in order to continue on.
I have seen and heard of so very many successes in the last couple of weeks since the kickoff breakfast for the Royal Ottawa's awareness campaign headed, by Mr Alfredsson, the Ottawa Senators hockey captain, and the "You know who i am" campaign. The successes I have heard about fill me with so much joy.
Unfortunately though, there has been a very strong resistance by some, and this resistance has been against me personally, and has affected me very negatively in so many ways. I cannot explain any of the details, as the details must stay confidential.
Suffice to say though, I must retreat for a hopefully short period of time to do what is necessary to take care of not only myself, but the most important people in my life, my family.
I am hoping this will be a short respite and break before I return to continue writing and hopefully being able to help others, and to face the adversity and challenges associated with trying to effect changes for everyone for the good of all.
Thank you very much, Larry

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rachel's Story - secret exposed

I started university at the age of 17 and was really passionate about my chosen subject, theatre.  Unfortunately, though, it was at this time that what I now realize were symptoms of manic-depression (bipolar disorder) began to really emerge and intrude on my everyday life.  I complained constantly to my mom about being tired and unmotivated.  Periods of depression much like the ones I described last week continued intermittently, seemingly without a trigger.  I remember several occasions where I would be driving at night and have to pull the car over to the side of the road because I could no longer see for all the tears streaming down my face.  It felt like my emotions were out of control.

 At other times, I was angry and irritable, frustrated with nearly everything and everyone.  It seemed like no one I encountered could do anything correctly or fast enough.    Oftentimes, my patience expired and I took it out on the people I love most: my family.  Because of this, I lost my self-esteem.  I felt so guilty about the terrible way I was treating them.  I started to believe I was just a mean person, intrinsically bad.  On one occasion I remember going to my brother in tears, begging for him to forgive me for the disrespectful way I had treated him; I was panic-stricken about potentially losing my best friend.  I explained that I had lost all control, that every moment of my life these days was just so difficult, I was struggling minute by minute to exist in this world and keep from killing myself.  It was the first time I’d admitted to anyone that I was suicidal.  I was using so much energy trying to keep this to myself, not to let it show…it was a BIG secret.  I can still remember so vividly how torturous and alone that felt.  Once I admitted my suicidal feelings to my brother I developed even more guilt, this time about asking him to protect my secret…I had begged him not to tell our parents.  He encouraged me to go to them, telling me that he knew they would be supportive and would want to know.  I was still far too ashamed, though, to take that step.  My brother told me through tears that he loved more than anything in the world and that his whole existence would be devastated if I ended my life.  He said he would do anything he could to help me.  His words were enough.  They didn’t stop my suicidal feelings, but they were enough to prevent me from following through.  My mind was still rational enough at that point for this to be an obvious, valid reason to keep fighting.

Monday, October 13, 2008

FirefightersStory-Thankyou to ALL/Obstacles

First, this past week has been so very very humbling, emotional, filled with many tears, a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs,BUT ITS ALL WORTH IT! Knowing that I was able to make a very small difference to others to help them realize that others who suffer like themselves, ARE out there. I went from being anonymous, to real public with revealing my identity with a picture for people to see me in order to make everyone realize that there is a face behind the story, which I felt was important. I thought that this would do more good for others, in that everyone who saw the 'face' behind the many messages we are all trying to get out to the public , far outweighed the consequences that now are part of what I will have to try and face in my life now. In my heart though, it was the right thing to do, and this is all I can say for now as it's very emotional obviously, and a very lonely place for me at this time now, BUT NO REGRETS!!!
To all of you who have helped raise the awareness, and you all know who you are, on behalf of everyone out here, a very big Thank you. Simple, yet it means so much.

I would like to briefly start on the subject of what I know was the biggest obstacle I had to fight through, in order for me to not only start therapy, but continue therapy. Some of the spillover effects, symptoms and such DO continue to this day, and can still be a challenge, but thats for another time. Many of you will recognize these other symptoms and challenges YOU face with being 1 in 5 and NOT having PTSD per say, but your own diagnosis of having a mental illness. I truly believe, my opinion only though, that we who suffer, have so very much in common, as in the spilloff symptoms, that if we were all able to sit down together and talk, we would all find out just how similar we all are. I like to say that we are all different, BUT we are all the same. I can tell you from my recent experiences, it is so very comforting for me to know that there are others who can relate so much to me, and me to them. Its comforting.
My biggest obstacle that I faced, WAS MYSELF! It was what was going on inside of my brain, my thoughts, my paranoia with what others would see, or what I would think they would be able to see. I would "think" that everyone and anyone who even looked at me, was around me, the public at large, my fellow firefighters, would be able to just look at me and say, ya, he's lost it. Although as I have said I came up with many ways to "hide in plain sight" as I call it, cover things up, run and hide my tears and breakdowns, put up a great fascade so others would not know, I went so far as to have many many detailed plans to exit, not only from certain situations that arose, but also from life. I always had to have a plan.
Every situation I faced, from going out to a store to get something, which obviously would be in public, to family situations, gatherings, get togethers, I had to have an exit plan, or an excuse to get away from everyone. Hence, the paranoia as I call it, and thats what it is/was with mental illness, be it real or not. In my mind it was ALL real though.
This is where MY BIGGEST fight was, and will be now. I say will be now, just because of the last weeks efforts to put a face to the story of mentall illness. Then, and now, its all the same. The fight is from within, for me.
I will write more about this struggle, at another time. As I keep saying I know my llimitations, and I must stop now, and try to take care of myself.
Again, THANK YOU to ALL OF YOU !! till next week, Larry

Friday, October 10, 2008

Rachel's Story - how it began...

I can’t remember when this all started for me.  It’s not like this illness just snuck up on me.  In hindsight, I can see that it was building over the course of my life. Certain parts are a bit fuzzy in my mind (thanks, in part, to the illness, I think).  But I am going to try to share it, with the hope that others might identify with parts and feel less alone.

 As far back as I can remember, I have happy memories but also depressed ones.  From when I was a kid, I have memories of overwhelming sadness & loneliness without a particular reason.  I felt isolated from other kids at school.  I never really had any trouble making friends; I was popular among the other kids.  But still, school was actually a very lonely place for me when I was young, partly because it only served to reinforce the fact that my sadness was holding me back from being a happy, playful, carefree kid like the others (this is very similar to how I feel about being around large groups of people now).  These moments of intense sadness were balanced, though, with intensely happy times with a close, loving family.  I am so lucky for that.

 It wasn’t until I was a teenager that the depression became more painful, persistent and intense.  The first time I seriously wanted to kill myself was when I was about 16, I think.  And again, the reason I kept going everyday and did my best to hide what was really going on was because I loved my family more than anything.  In this way, I never slipped too far down or away with my depression, because my family was always around, doing things together that I still managed to enjoy.  In my late teens I confided in my brother.  I told him how much I was hurting inside and how lonely I felt, despite being surrounded by loving people.  I’ve always considered him to be my very best friend and confidante.  I realize that I am lucky to have him and that not everyone has someone they can trust like this.  Depression is a terrifying thing to admit.  I felt so deficient compared to everyone else around me; like I was such a loser because, somehow, I just couldn’t cope with things that seemed to come so easily to others.  I was embarrassed that I cried myself to sleep every night, overwhelmed by school, friends, expectations and LIFE.  I was having trouble doing basic things like getting out of bed in the morning and eating.  I was dragging myself through my life, trying my best in every moment to contain my SECRET.  Of course, looking back, I wish now that I’d somehow found the courage to ask for help, to tell my parents.  I didn’t know it then, of course, but things were about to get much worse.


Sunday, October 5, 2008


This writing should be a good education for all, I HOPE! I'm hoping that those who read this, whether you are like me, 1 in 5 and who suffer from a mental health illness, or have a family member that does, and are struggling with the many stigmas, feelings, fears such as I have, will just maybe have a better insight by what I am about to write here today. This is real, this is what I am feeling right now, and I am gripped in a terrifying fear of so many thoughts and emotions. I hope that for those of you who are sufferinng and struggling right now, you will see that YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and I HOPE you will somehow find a way to take a little bit of comfort in that. For those of you who know of or have a family member who is suffering, read on ,please,as this might, help you to understand just exactly what we who ARE the 1 in 5 fear, struggle with. It might also help you gain a little insight into the strange and scary ways that our minds sometimes grip us with fear, panic, confusion, and so many emotions that take over and run wild and rampant.
My heart is racing, and I'm running a million miles an hour inside as I write. I am terrified for what lies ahead for me in the days and weeks to follow. I am going to be doing something tomorrow that I BELIEVE IN, and I am not wavering in my solid convictions with regards to trying to help others, getting the messages out to the public that mental health illness is serious, and very real. People need to be educated, and we MUST talk openly and honestly instead of denying, or looking the other way in the hopes that if we do, the many all encompassing issues surrounding mental illness will disappear, or go away. Many do not realize the severity of the challenges that we face, and many others do not even realize just how close these issues might be to either themselves, or a loved one. They might be staring these issues right in the face and not even realize it, or understand it.
I do know though, that the challenge that is facing me, the fears and emotions are very real , raw,and terrifying. This is my reality, as is others who are like me, the other 1 in 5's.
When I was nearing the end of my treatment and therapy to help overcome the issues and challenges I had fought with for so long with PTSD, I realized that I had another "calling" in life. I had been given a gift, a new life and beginning, and a chance to turn the nightmare I had been living with for so long into a opportunity to help others. Nothing was going to stop or prevent me from doing so. I had been blessed with the opportunity to help others everytime I went to work and went out on a fire call. Now I was going to be able to help others such as myself, I hoped, by taking my experiences with suffering from a acute mental illness such as I had, and using the experiences and knowledge I had gained to help others.
So I started searching and waiting for an opportunity to allow me to accomplish this. Enter Mr Alfredsson. Here was my chance, because if he said it was okay to talk and not be ashamed, then I would have someone in my corner, so to speak, by my side.
I have been afforded the opportunity to help others with my writings, and chatting on this blog. Although people do know that I am a firefighter, and they do know my name, nobody but a select few know the person, the face that is behind these efforts of mine. I am anonymous, and have been for quite sometime. That's the way I like it, as I prefer to stay in the background, under the radar so to speak, because I am not looking for any recognition, I just have a desire to help others, and I am hoping that I have been able to do this "very quietly" "anonymously" because it's not about what I am, it's about the person that I am, and what I am trying to do for others.
I have shared my many struggles I and my loving family have faced, (there's lots more to share with everyonestill) but I have also been able to share my many triumphs, in the hopes of instilling these "feelings" of HOPE that I have, to others, as well as my sincerest and humble hope of helping and reassuring them also. I had NO HOPE before, but I do now, and I want others to know that there is HOPE for them also.
I had the honor of being asked to sit down yesterday with a lovely and caring lady by the name of Paula at the Ottawa Citizen and do an interview with her to try and explain a bit about my story, my mental illness and its challenges,and my desire to help others by coming forward, sharing with them through my writing, and how this has all come to fruition through the efforts of the many caring people at the Royal Ottawa Foundation, Mr Alfredsson, and numerous others too long to mention who are working tirelessly behind the scenes anonymously as I have been , because they too believe, and have been touched in one way or another by mental illness.
Along with the interview, I was asked if they could take pictures of me, and of course I readily accepted, though being very very shy it was hard for me. As I said, I prefer to "fly under the radar". This will be in mondays Ottawa Citizen, and I'm hoping I did okay, but am very nervous as obviously it was difficult, emotional, and I've obviously never talked this publically before. But, the message has to get out in order to help others.
As I was preparing to leave for the interview, and from there directly to work at the fire station for a night shift, my family asked me why I was, as I call it "wound for sound". You could peel me off the ceiling so to speak. I was anxious, scared, terrified, tearful, all rolled into one big storm of wild emotions. So I tried to explain to my wife and three girls just exactly what was going on in my little brain. What follows is how I tried to explain it to them, and my reasons why. Hope you understand, as it is somewhat shorter and paraphrased for length.
People need to know that mental illness is real, and if affects real people. So, my feelings and thoughts were that people needed to "see" a real person, me, Larry, and be able to put a face to the story of my mental illness that I write about, and hopefully this would help to make it clearer to all that we ARE real people, us 1 in 5, in need of real proper professional help. This way it might help everyone to understand better and to realize just how real this all is.
Now, I must wait and see what troubles will await me at work, but I am not optimistic at all I'm sorry to say. I have a feeling, and it is NOT good,as there's only one other firefighter that knows what I have been trying to do "anonymously, quietly behind the scenes and below the radar" in order to help others. I didn't want anyone to know because I am truly very scared with regards to the many unfortunate stigmas that people have, and I in my own way, deliberately decided that I would "avoid", which is very common with having PTSD , as we practice avoidance extremely well in order to not have to deal with it. Sometimes, old habits die hard though, and I make no apology's to anyone for this. This is still who I am. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to survive for just a little while longer, in the hopes it will all go away.And yes I do know that it will never go away, without her(psychologists) help. My angel as I and my family refer to her.
So, I don't know what will become of me, nor what challenges I will have to fight now, though I have a very good idea, and can imagine. I have said to my family, and my psychologist, as she knows everything I do, she's my security blanket and helps to keep me going, that I do indeed have a calling, and they support me in this calling, because, "Sometimes when you hear the call, you have to answer that call, no matter what the consequences!"
This is also why she knows(my psychologist), that I will be sitting on my "park bench" that has my name on it, as did my hero General Romeo Dallaire, who had his own "park bench" with his name on it, who was the pioneer spokesperson and example for me with regards to PTSD and my mental illness, whom unfortunately knew what the right thing to do for his soldiers was, though by battling on for what he believed in, unfortunately relapsed, and sat on his "park bench", and as do I with regards to helping others, and my fellow firefighters, and I know she (my angel, psychologist)will find me, and we'll talk quietly, and get ready to push the snowball up the mountain again.
Thank you for allowing me to write and express my thoughts about this challenge, but I assure you that I have no regrets, because in the end it will help others. Mission accomplished, so to speak.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rachel's Story - Intro

Hi, my name is Rachel.  I’m 25 years old.  I have a two-year old Yorkie whom I adore.  I am a vegetarian and Indian & Sushi are among my favourite foods.  In my spare time I love practicing yoga and watching movies.  I have a degree from the University of Ottawa in Theatre (I LOVE acting and directing) and in Communications.  I’m a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a student, an employee, a friend.  I am one of the 1 in 5 people affected by mental illness in our community.  I have Bipolar Disorder.


Clearly, the decision to be open with others about any illness is very personal and, unfortunately, there is lots of stigma attached to mental illness in particular.  But I want to share my experience of this disease with you; both the experiences of my past, and the journey I’m on now.  I’m eager to share because for the first 23 years of my life, I hid the symptoms and feelings I was so ashamed of.  No one in my world talked about mental illness.  I didn’t know of anyone who saw a psychiatrist or had a diagnosed psychiatric disorder.  I had no idea that my out-of-control moods and dark thoughts were in fact due to a chemical imbalance.  I felt so alone.  So I spent every day putting all of my energy into showing the world that I was ok – just like everybody else (it’s no wonder that when it came time to choosing what I wanted to pursue at University, I wanted to learn acting!).  As you may know from personal experience, this is an exhausting way to live.  In class at school, I tried very hard to focus so as not to break down in tears.  I just wanted to lie curled up on the floor and disappear forever.  I still feel this way much of the time.  In fact, this past week or so has been filled with feelings like this.  I am relieved, though, to have a reason (a diagnosis) and people to talk with about it (whether that be a friend, a family member or my doctor).  It has been freeing to not feel that I have to hide this HUGE thing I am going through.  The openness has created somewhat of a support system.  People in my life weren’t able to help me when they didn’t know what, if anything, was wrong.  That being said, my natural instinct when I’m sick is still to withdraw from the world and isolate myself, even from the people who are closest to me.  It continues to be a constant struggle right now, every day.  I realized this past week that I was falling back into my old pattern of faking feeling good.  It’s so hard when I know that everyone in my life wants so desperately for me to be well.  I hate disappointing them…but I think I hate the loneliness even more.  I know that I’ve never felt worse by speaking honestly about my mental illness.   That being said, I hope that voicing my experience here will help me manage my symptoms and, more than anything, I hope that someone with similar symptoms might feel a little less lonely by reading about my journey.

thanks for reading.   

see you next week,




Sunday, September 28, 2008

FirefightersStory-Trying to Protect My Family

As does everyone, I would do anything to protect my family. As I was taught, and had to learn though, by trying to protect my family from what I was going through with PTSD and other related symptoms, I was actually causing them more harm. This was a very tough lesson for me to learn though, and even though my psychologist explained this to me, many times, I still showed up in therapy with stories of ways that I hid what I was going through. Then, of course, she would patiently explain it to me, again, and again, to make me think, show me the reasons why I shouldn't hide what I was going through and feeling, in the hopes I would understand. This would be repeated to me for many many months.
I had a severe fear, and problem with "feelings" and dealing with and accepting them. I was totally numb to any and all feelings when I entered therapy. It was part of many years of numbing them, in order to survive and continue firefighting and living. This just happened, it was automatic, and I didn't have to try to do any of this, it was just my brains reaction I suppose to survive whatever I had seen and been through for many years as a firefighter.
My thinking was that if I tried to hide what I was feelling and going through, then everybody would think that I was okay, and things were normal. For years though, in my gradual decline, and denial, I thought I was doing a good job of trying to cover things up, so as not to worry my family, but also to protect them. I didn't realize just how much I had changed though, nevermind the inside, but on the outside. Nobody said anything though, or if they did, it wasn't to my knowledge. As I look back now though, things couldn't have been more obvious to all, and the only person that thought I was succeeding in covering things up so as to look and act 'normal', was me.
I'll just talk about one thing that I hid from my family, and everyone for that matter. Rather, I should say I 'thought' I hid from my family.
Endless tears, and crying uncontrollably. Yes, I'm not too proud now to say that I spent most days in neverending tears. I had deteriorated emotionally and was truly in a very 'fragile' state of mind.
I did everything in my power to hide my tears. I ran and hid at from my family at home, as well as having to have many strategies for hiding my many breakdowns at work. Obviously when at work, there were many other obvious risks I took with regards to getting 'caught' and suffering extreme embaressment. What the hell would you say to a bunch of macho tough firefighters who weren't suppose to cry, or in reality, be human.
I had so many ups and downs throughout the day, and it wouldn't be unusual for me to have upwards of probably between fifteen to twenty episodes of crying per day during my worst times. They obviously weren't all at home, but out in public places.
I did everything I could to avoid going out in public for fear of breaking down into tears. I had withdrew from venturing out as much as possible, and avoided any public contact with people as best I could. When forced to go out, to say get food, I always had to be ready to run out of the store and somehow avoid people who would see my tears. Quite the feeling as you could imagine.
At work, I had to find places to hide from my guys in order to hide when the tears flowed freely.
These episodes also came out of nowhere, blindsiding me as I say. For no particular reason, there they were.
At home, I would spend a great deal of time either running outside so my family wouldn't see me in tears, or as all too often would happen,trying to be as quiet as I could at night in bed, not sleeping, and crying uncontrollably into my pillow.
The most important lesson she (my psychologist) taught me was to share, share and share some more with my family. These were the people who were closest to me, yet I was keeping them as far away from me as possible. They were there to support me, as well as needing support themselves. In order for my family to help me, I had to allow them to 'know' what I was feeling and going through. If I didn't allow them in, to my world, and what was happening, then how or who was I expecting to give me support and allow me to try and focus on "my job" of working hard in therapy, in order to survive and find "my HOPE" in life. Therapy and my 'fight' took every ounce of energy I had, what little I had by now. So, it was explained, again and again to me, that by allowing my family to help with the little things, so I could fight the 'big things', they would be part of the solution. This would mean that some of THEIR fears would be allowed to be addressed also, as they were all going "to hell and back" with me. If I was scared and didn't understand what was going on, and what the outcome would be, try to think how NOT letting those closest to you, your family, to stand by helplessly by the sidelines and watch the 'self-destruction' of their complete family unit.
I know and realize it is one thing for me to say to others to try their best to allow their loved ones to help them, but I am talking from experience, and am hoping that by passing on this experience, it will help others to move forward faster on their own road to recovery during therapy and will find their own "light at the end of the tunnel", it IS there, trust me, and to find their own personal HOPE, which is the beginning of their own personal dreams and aspirations.
YOU CAN DO IT, I know you can. Continue to be BRAVE and COURAGEOUS as I know you are.
Thanks, Larry

Saturday, September 27, 2008

FirefightersStory-Why Am I Doing This?

I feel compelled to write this short message, and my goal here is to elaborate on a few points due to circumstances that have taken place quietly behind the scenes shall we say.I have been working very hard quietly on this forum by trying to shed light for others with regards to showing,and reinforcing the message that there is HOPE in others future who might be suffering as I did with mental illness.. I do this by writing my story and trying to shed some light on what I went through so that others will see that they are 'normal' in experiencing their feelings through their turbulent times they are facing. These messages of HOPE, are meant to inspire, and comfort others. With regards to what I am also trying to accomplish, I am also very committed in my resolve, and my intention has always been, and will never waiver in my quest to help my fellow firefighters, which has, and continues to be a very daunting task, due to many complicated reasons and issues I am faced with. I MUST say a few things, to try and reiterate and explain why I am so strongly committed to writing, and answering peoples comments,which is my contribution to hopefully helping others. As I said, it is a very complicated and "restrictive" situation that I am faced with, but that does not mean that my resolve to help others is in ANYWAY doubtful in my mind. I BELIEVE in what I am trying to do for others, and am truly grateful for the opportunity I have been given, not only by being alive after my ongoing struggles, but also by being accepted and by being priviledged to have access to this truly wonderful site.
I have been doing alot of soul searching, so to speak. I now know that I am faced with a monumental task in order to try and erase not only the many stigmas, but also the denials by some that we need a proper program in place that is run by qualified professionals, with care that is all encompassing such as was afforded to me. The "denial" I am speaking about and relating to MUST NEVER be confused with the denial by those that are trying to come to grips with their problems, as that is a completely separate situation altogether and again MUST NOT AND NEVER BE confused with the following statements, or observations that follow.
Those that should and must know better, whom we rely on to put those of us who suffer, or who have suffered, FIRST, need to be educated in as timely a manner as possible to be open to proper care and programs as they are suppose to be the people who look out for us, whom we rely on for our "protection" and help in our time of need. To deny, or to not provide a "voice" for us, is beyond comprehension, and in fact makes me quite disillusioned to say the least.
Some who read this might understand what I am saying, but I would also like to relate another personal story with reference to a hero of mine, General Romeo Dallaire, which follows.

Where am I going with this? First, a brief recollection. Not too long after I entered therapy, going through hell, I decided I wanted to try and read about a geuine hero, who suffered from something that I had, PTSD. I looked to this man, and up to this man.I knew nobody else who had this, and I was searching for some understanding, and some answers. I needed to know everything. What he went through, how he got it, to see if his story and its effects on him would relate in anyway to what I was going through. I felt so alone, as well as numerous other terrible fears and emotions as I have touched on before.
I was looking for answers to my fears, and answers to what lay ahead for me. I was also looking for a conclusion, to see how I would turn out. I looked to this man for HOPE! We know he suffered from PTSD, but also, there was so much more.

To me, and many others, General Dallaire was a pioneer, a soldiers soldier. He did get help for his illness, PTSD. He believed in his soldiers. He protected his soldiers.His soldiers came FIRST! He helped his soldiers by putting them before the disbelievers, the uneducated with regards to mental illness, and the proper care and help they deserved. He led by example, in that he was not afraid to acknowledge that, yes, he had PTSD. He started something that helped his men and women. There might have been those that were denying there was a problem, specifically, acknowledgement of those with PTSD, but he also strongly believed in the need for getting help for his men and women, and battling on to adopt a proper program for the needs of his soldiers. They were his concern, not the disbelievers who would look the other way, or forget where they came from. He never gave up, no matter what the consequences!

Nor will I.

My psychologist and I talk constantly, still.(always will too!) She reminded and relayed to me the unfortunate episode with regards to the General, a possible parallel. I have a PARK BENCH waiting for me with my name on it, as General Dallaire did. Many will understand what I am saying, and for those that do not, you will have to wait, as will I, to explain.

I told her that yes, I also have "my bench" with my name on it, and that I understood this. I hope to avoid it, BUT, that I knew she would find me, or I would call her as I was sitting, and would wait for her, and we would talk quietly. I look forward to that chat, and we can start the fight again.

I can sum this all up by saying that, "When you hear the call, you can't ignore it, no matter what the cost."

I will conclude with that message, and will try to write for others again today, but forgive me please if I do not write more today,as I have said before, I know my limitations, and I might be done for today.

Thanks, Larry

Sunday, September 21, 2008

FirefightersStory-Why I HAD to Enter Therapy

I remember all too well just how low I was, and had slid away from everyone around me. There was a state of total confusion in our household. My family, who loved me the most, and I them, were the people furthest from me. My wife was screaming inside, desperate for me to get help, in order that somehow it would save our family, and me. My kids had no understanding of what was going on. How could anyone expect my three young girls to understand something that my wife and myself as adults couldn't understand. Everyone was reeling with anger, and we were self destructing. My family , and myself included, all found a way to avoid each other, in order to survive from me and all the 'problems' , symptoms that I was exhibiting, and had, and thus caused. A tremendous feeling of guilt had overcome me by this time.

We all enter therapy for our own reasons. My reasons, I'm sure were similar to others, a combination of many things all culminating in my decision to start and embrace my therapy.

My whole world had hit rock bottom. I was scared with the choice that had been forced upon me. I say forced, because I had played all the cards I had in my hand, so to speak. I was lost, and would, and was, losing my family. My "avoidance" wasn't working. My family had collapsed as a "family unit" and was non existant. My wife and kids were going to leave me, their decision was already made, though at the time, I didn't realize that if I didn't change somehow, this is what was about to happen. My family was still holding onto THEIR HOPE that I would realize, by myself, that all of our existance together was so desperate and bleak that I would make that "lifesaving decision" and take the next step for ALL of us! Intensive, specialized treatment.

I had sought treatment though after I was trapped in the fire that I came so close to dying in. I had done everything that I knew to survive, cope, and yes, to avoid. I was running on empty. I had nothing left inside me that would allow me to change anything. I thought that because I had already sought help, that this was as good as it was going to get. Absolutely, perfectly, miserable! This was a nightmare, for everyone involved, literally and figuratively.

There were many symptoms I was experiencing now, and all were raging full force. My whole body was on a heightened state of "alertness". The nightmares that had plagued me for years had increased tenfold by now. This was when I got any sleep at all, which was extremely rare, and even while on medication to knock me out, to give me a brief respite from the nightmare that I was living. Ya, and that really worked well!! NOT!
I don't know how I didn't overdose on the sleeping pills , nerve pills, and combination of both that I was taking just to get maybe an hours sleep, as I had been doing for years, and getting more desperate to try and get rid of my nightmares. I was terrified of sleeping though, because I knew what I had to look forward to. Sheer terror, vivid real life and in color movies of those two prominent traumatic incidents/fires that were the focus of my being now. Not a minute went by that somehow, I didn't find myself replaying, and reliving those two incidents. Awake, asleep, didn't matter, images, sights and sounds of a movie playing over and over in my brain. When I did manage to fall asleep, my wife would often be awakened to me screaming at the top of my lungs. It sounds like a cliche, but this is true, awakened to blood curdling screams. I would bolt upright, screaming, sweating, hyperventilating, and very confused and extremely scared because I wouldn't know where the hell I was, or what had just happened. That was it for the rest of the night as I would have to stay awake for the rest of the night and stay busy in order to not fall asleep, as if that was going to happen, but I would end up sitting up in a chair in the livingroom, and crying uncontrollably. Other times, when I did manage to fall asleep, I would end up disturbing her sleep by twitching, shaking, or as she says, flip flop and rock and rolling. There were times that I would be asleep, dreaming, and breathing at a very rapid rate and twitching. Other times, you did everything you could to wake up and stop the nightmares, as you would be saying to yourself that this is horrific, wake up , stop it, all subconsciously of course, but to no avail.
This is just some of what was going on, and why I had to enter therapy. I will continue next sunday, as I must end it here and quit, as I have said before, I know my limitations, and again this has been very difficult to write about as it is still extremely raw and emotional, as well as draining for me. Maybe you will be able to relate to some of what I have written here, and if you do, then please remember one thing, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!
Thanks, Larry

Sunday, September 14, 2008

FirefightersStory-PTSD Affects the Whole Family

Having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was accompanied by alot of other side effects and symptoms. Major depression, nightmares, flashbacks, night terrors, sleep deprivation, lack of interest and withdrawing from everyone, and more, but we'll keep the "more" for another time. These are just some of my symptoms that made up and contributed to my helplessness. And these symptoms also had other spinoff symptoms as I will refer to them. They all contributed to my life being totally out of control at the best of times, and making my family life totally non existant, and I felt like I was always in a state of "living hell!" If I couldn't control what was going on, and what I was doing, what was happening to me, and what I was experiencing on a daily and nightly basis, well, I still cannot totally understand how my family must've felt, as their lives were in just as much turmoil and kaos as a result of my illness, and it was their lives that were also turned upside down. I would even go so far as to say that we had no life, in that they had lost me, a husband to my wife, and a father to my girls, and I lost them, as they wanted little to do with me because of the way I was acting, and the way my PTSD symptoms changed me so profoundly. And I don't blame them for feeling that way, as we were in a "living hell!".
There were so many times that I wanted to leave, as I felt so guilty for ruining their lives, and they didn't deserve to go through this, as the patient(me) is obviously not the only one affected, but the whole family. I wasn't the only one that had to keep what I was going through a secret from anyone I came in contact with, be it work, relatives etc. my family also had to hide what was going on with me, and them, because they too didn't want any of their friends to know just how miserable it was in our house. From the outside it looked like we were a normal family, but on the inside, well not so normal to say the least. My family didn't want to invite any of their friends, family to our house because of the "fear and embarressment" they all felt. Who would want to bring anyone over and risk me having an "episode" or acting and saying something that would embarress them.
The point I am trying to make, albeit it in a broad roundabout way, and by telling you a bit about how my family was affected, is that sometimes, things happened that came out of nowhere, sending you into a state of panic, scaring the hell out of you, and all your family see's is the effects it has on you, such as running out of the house, in tears, jumping in the truck, and leaving without telling them what had just happened, because they wouldn't understand,(this was pre-therapy) and driving to get away from everyone, and of course with the cell phone off so nobody could reach me as I didn't want to talk to anyone, I just wanted to get away. Sound familiar to any of you??? Maybe I'm the only one who has done things or felt like this?? You tell me. I had many episodes like this, what I called "getting slammed". Out of nowhere, I would be hit with a vision, memory, reliving a "messy" fire call , a call that was so vivid and in living color, so real you'd swear you were actually there again, and thinking and feeling like you were so out of control, and were going "nuts"! When these particular types of events(flashbacks) happened, there was no way to stop them, and you would replay it over and over no matter what you might try to do to avoid or stop them. And they would always end the same way, in a horrifically messy ending with loss of life or lives in my case, a vivid image burned into my memory, never to be forgotten, as I relived fire calls that were like that, and which I had kept to myself and never told anyone that it was bothering me, or I was having problems dealing with it, because as I have said, you just didn't talk about that stuff because that would mean you weren't "tough" and it showed you had a weakness, and others would question your abilities and capabilities on the job. Stigmatisms at its finest, right!?
This was just a small glimpse into some of what we went through and experienced together as a family, and how a mental illness affects more than just the patient.
I will end it here, as this was hard to divulge, very personal, and exhausting for me, and as I said before, I know my limitations now and when it's time to take a break.
Till next sunday, and I welcome your comments, Larry

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Firefighters Story - Stigmatism

I am going to touch briefly on stigmatism in this writing. As we all know, there is an endless amount of stories and examples of stigmatism that surround being 1 in 5 and having a mental health issue. I will write extensively about this subject, now and in future writings, as there are too many examples and details to be covered in just one writing. The reason I feel the need to touch on this subject in this writing, is that AGAIN this week I was "labelled" as I will call it. I can say, from past experiences, and there are many, is that it really really hurts! We who are 1 in 5 know this all too well. This is one of the many reasons I continue to write about mental health, as the issue of stigmatism needs to be addressed and changed, immediately, and everyone, patients and the public must realize this. By speaking openly, honestly, we can try to change this. It MUST change and in order to do this the public must be educated, and this campaign to raise awareness is a start.
As someone who has a mental illness, and I say "has" because as my doctor says, I am still "fresh" in my recovery, I, like others, am sick and tired of all the stupid often very degrading comments. Speaking from experience, everytime I heard someone try to make light of having a mental condition, it had a profound effect on my recovery while in therapy. While in therapy, and a long time prior to beginning therapy, when I kept my problems a "secret" from everyone in order NOT to be labelled and ostrasized, I was extremely terrified of being made fun of and being thought of as being beneath others because I did have a mental health issue and was very sick. This still continues now, and as if we(patients-those afflicted) don't have enough to worry about, the last thing we all need is to be labelled unfairly and dragged down due to peoples total ignorance.
In my opinion, and I'm fairly certain this is shared very widely, the public needs and has to be educated and the awareness raised significantly regarding mental health issues. That's why the campaign with Mr Alfredsson and the "1 in 5" and "You Know Who I Am" is so important.
I know that I was really scared after being diagnosed, and for a number of reasons that you might relate to. The great unknown, as in my total lack of education and understanding of mental health, and what was wrong with me once I was diagnosed. I was reeling from my diagnosis because I didn't know or understand not only what it meant for me and my future, but also there was this scary question I asked myself of "Am I going to be okay?", What's going to happen to me now?, and How am I going to be able to handle all of my problems I was experiencing?", but I also thought to myself that if I thought I was alone before, now I'm really alone, because if it ever transpired that people found out (all of the fire department did in my case) that I was sick with a mental health issue, they would run away from me as fast as they could because of the words "mental health sickness or issue".
I think that people make jokes about people with mental health issues or sickness because of their ignorance, the great unknown, and because they are scared. You often hear people saying derogatory remarks about "being off your meds" and many more just like it. They have this picture that society has helped to foster, and it is engrained in peoples minds about someone "losing it" and going off like a cannon, or being unsafe due to the patient/person being totally unpredicatble and dangerous. It is this lack of knowledge and stereotypical picture that has been painted regarding the whole realm of mental health that can/has helped to further destoy our lives(us who are 1 in 5), and our families also.
From my experience, family members, friends, co-workers distance themselves from you. They don't know how to handle you, what to say, how to act, and I'm sure you could come up with alot more of your own reasons from your own individual experiences.
This boils down to and culminates in, but is not limited to, a great deal of lack of knowledge about someone who is afflicted with a mental health issue/condition, having the wrong perception, which has been fostered by this lack of knowledge, and where false information has been spread and has grown out of control. Rumors about me were/are abundant, unfortunately.
This misinformation has obviously helped to ruin many lives that I'm sure could have been helped and saved, with proper treatment, but were cut short due to despair, feeling alone in your/their/our battle, helplessness and a life without the perception of any HOPE. A life that feels like it is totally out of control. Unfortunately, while at work as a firefighter, I have had too many experiences and contact with families/friends/and spouses that have found their loved one after they have committed suicide due to a lack of HOPE in their lives, but also because of the many stigmatisms prevalent in todays society due to the lack of knowledge, and fear associated with mental health, and often prevent people who need help to seek out and ask for that help.
The stigma of having a mental health issue is often more than people can deal with, as they perceive that all is lost and there is no HOPE or reason to continue and there is nothing left to live for. Their lives are out of control, and they feel helpless.
This has to change, and this is just one of my objectives and intentions by coming forward publically, sharing my story, talking about my experiences as a 1 in 5 in order to help raise the awareness surrounding this great unknown that we call "mental health". I am very HOPEFUL that we will begin to chip away at the mountain of false information and the many "stigmas" that are associated with mental health, in order to encourage people to ask for help, or families of people who think their loved one needs help.
I really truly believe that this needs to be done, by talking and raising awareness through the "You know who I am" campaign. I'm hoping that by reading this compillation of thoughts/experiences that I have been through, and write about each week, that it will cause you, your families and your friends to learn from my experiences, which will then reassure you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE !!! THERE IS HOPE!!! I HOPE you can/will trust me when I say this to you. Please believe me,, but most importantly, BELIEVE in yourself, because you are worth it, you can overcome and get better, and succeed!! Don't be afraid or ashamed of asking for help. You have to take care of yourself first, ask for help, and you too can get better. There will always be ignorant people who don't understand, or choose not to understand what we are going through, and YES , it will be hard, and it will hurt sometimes, but never ever forget that there is HOPE !!
Thanks, Larry

Sunday, August 31, 2008

FirefightersStory-I Want To Give You HOPE!!!

I'm feeling very inspirational and am going to deviate slightly from continnuing where I left off, and am going to try my best to hopefully inspire you too with what I have to say !! There are many reasons that I am writing my story publically, and this is another very big reason. HOPE !! That's the message I want to get out and spread. The word "HOPE"!!
We all need HOPE in our lives, but I can tell you from experience with being 1 in 5 that I had ABSOLUTELY NO HOPE whatsoever in my life until it was finally acknowledged by my doctor(s) that I had serious mental health issues as a result of my job as a firefighter,(finally someone believed me) AND that I was finally going to receive the proper care. This care included my primary psychologist,(she is the greatest and no amount of praise I can give her will ever be enoough!), psychiatrist, as well as family counselling and individual counselling for my eldest daughter.
At the darkest times leading up to the start of my therapy, as I said, I could not see or "feel" any HOPE in my life at all. The lack of any HOPE was probably the biggest contributing factor relating to a very deep depression that I had fallen into. Depression was just one of my symptoms that I was suffering from though.
It wasn't that I had to be taught that there was HOPE for me, but I had to be shown through various examples, and a great many times it was through repetition that she confirmed and reassured me that this word and feeling of HOPE that she spoke of was indeed out there, and within my grasp through working with her in therapy! Therapy was the toughest battle of my life, in order to regain my life!! I dove right into therapy though, as should everyone, as it's what's at the end of the battle that's all worth it. We regain our lives that were totally lost.
We each have our own symptoms, as we are each obviously very different individuals, patients, but we are all linked by the common bond of being 1 in 5. I use the word "bond" very proudly now as a matter of a fact, as having this common bond hopefully will allow you to trust me in what I say and write. I have told my doctor many times that, "Unless you've walked a mile in my shoes, people have no idea about what I am going through, or have gone through!" It is for this reason that I say that this special bond we have as 1 in 5 is truly an issue of "trusting" each other. It is for this reason also that you have to trust your own doctors or team of doctors such as I had, and as you might also have. This is why I am HOPING you will allow me to encourage you in what I have to say here on this forum.
Knowing and having someone to talk to, relate to, believe in, confide in and also to trust another who has "been there, seen it, done it" was, and still is very important to me personally. My doctor and myself have a very close working relationship that was and is built on trust. She has the experience that I needed, and thus I trusted her implicitly when I began therapy. She was the only one that was able to keep me going and give me my "HOPE". In the beginning, I had this feeling that I was totally alone in my battle, that I was the only person that had problems such as myself. It sounds unreasonable to think that way now, but at the time, as I said, I was so alone and scared , that in my mind, (my neighbourhood) there was no other person in the whole world that would understand, empathize, relate to me, or be able to understand me and what I was facing and experiencing. In my mind it wasn't possible for another human being to be going through what I was going through. Remember, as I said before, I wasn't "normal" anymore, so nobody would be able to understand or deal with me and what I was going through. Not so in reality, but remember, at that time, that's how I felt. Maybe you do too? Think about it for a minute please. Does it sound familiar, or something you might have thought about to yourself?? Maybe it has crossed your mind, as it did mine, over and over.
If you do happen to feel that way, I really know what you're going through, and I am hoping as I said, you might be able to trust me also, as someone who's "been there, seen it, done it!" I HOPE you will be also be able to somehow relate to me in some small way, believe and be encouraged by what I say so that you will believe in yourself, your therapy, and go forward and work hard in therapy and succeed and regain your life as I and others have prior to yourself.
So, in conclusion for now, remember and never forget that there is HOPE for us all. Have faith in yourself, therapy, therapists, and please trust me when I say to you as 1 in 5 not to delay your own therapy, as scared as you might be, you're only delaying your recovery and regaining your life back, and with the life you get back, you will also get back an abundance of HOPE, which is what your life will also be filled with!
Thanks, till next week, Larry

Sunday, August 24, 2008

FirefightersStory-Starting My Downward Spiral

I have hid so much, from so many. It is very emotionally draining for me to try to explain here on this very public forum, and I have to admit that I am very scared about revealing such personal thoughts and feelings I have felt and struggled with in my "journey to hell and back". It's all true though, and I am hoping that by telling you all, it will be an education for you, to give you strength and learn from my experiences and what I have felt and gone through so you will realize that you are not alone.
Since this will be hard for me, I know, and very lengthy, I'm sure, as there are so many symptoms, feelings and emotions that I went through, I will try to list and explain them to you and for you, and then write small pieces about each and how it played a part in my sickness. My doctor, and she is the greatest in "my eyes", has taught me well, and by this I mean that I have to continue to take care of myself first, and know my limitations. I will use the term I heard her use with regards to my "recovery", and that is that I am still "fresh". I am always wary about just how "fresh" I am, and so we'll do this a little at a time, slowly. If not, I know she'll be giving me a "Big V-8 Slap!!"
The only thing that kept me from deteriorating at a much faster pace after the fire on Penny Dr with "my kids", as I call them, was that at the time my father was terminally ill and I was taking care of him at his home as he didn't want to die alone in a hospital. When I wasn't in the fire station, I was at his bedside. That's the ONLY thing that kept me going after I lost all control of my life, family, and career. I truly believe that. Focussing on my father allowed me to keep living.
Without that focus, that reason, I wouldn't have lived for long after that fire and losing those kids. You can read between those lines, as I'm not ready to write about what I was thinking about doing in some of those dark days that I was encountering. It was a struggle for my life though. And, there would be more, as my life and struggle continued onwards, and downwards.
Out of control. No control. Losing control. This was how my whole life felt. I don't know how I continued functioning, let alone working. As I said, I was in what I call "survivor" mode, and
I was really scared.
I had so much coming at me that I didn't understand, or know how to fix or control that I was deteriorating to the point that I had only enough energy to somehow continue to work, and perform my duties as a firefighter (somehow??) but absolutely nothing else. I remember that some days I would spend most of my day either asleep, or sitting in a chair in my livingroom, scared to go out just in case someone would "know" that I was sick. I started to deteriorate and become a recluse, as I was "sick" and different now, not normal as I said, or so I thought. I felt extremely embaressed, not deserving, ashamed inside for feeling and being this way. Who would want to be associated with me? What would they think of me? Was anyone onto me at work? Were people noticing things and changes in me? There's many many more questions that I had that will follow in future writings though.
I was trying to "hide" in plain sight as they say. I had such a good facade and learned to hide and keep my "secrets" so well that no one knew at work. At home, although I thought Iwas doing a good job of hiding my troubles, my wife knew, but didn't broach the subject. This obviously was not her fault though, as she too was alone watching me deteriorate and not knowing what to say or do for me, or our family as a whole. You just don't talk about mental issues, that was what society said to do. She was watching and losing the person she once knew, and was also so scared that she couldn't talk about it with me or anyone. So, we were both silent and denied. Pretend that nothing was wrong. It'll go away, or if we don't acknowledge that there's a problem, then we won't have to deal with it. There will be no problem. Right?? Besides that, I was still trying to "fix it" and hoping and telling myself that everything would pass and somehow it would all go away. Right? That's extremely destructive as I know now, in regards to mental health problems, denial, and not getting help. You can end up losing it all. Everything.
That's why we MUST talk openly about mental health issues! This is why I am choosing to talk openly about MY mental health issues now. I just about lost it all.
Till next week, Thanks, Larry

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Firefighters Story-PTSD How I Became 1 in 5

As I've said, 24 years of firefighting in Ottawa's 2 busiest downtown stations over most of my career has been a blessing, an honor, but was also THE major contributor to my ending up in the fight of my life, and for my life. That's how I also became part of the 1 in 5 who suffer and are afflicted with a mental health problem.

Most people , when they think of firefighters, attach a label of sorts or come to think of us as being"rough, tough, and macho" because of what our job entails. I like to think, and HOPE that people look up and respect us. But, this comes with a price tag on ones health.

When people think of firefighters, most come to think of us battling fires, obviously, but we do so many other types of calls to help people also. These may include car accidents, medicals of all types, which include heart attacks, suicides, and any other type of medical emergency you may think of. I've also spent close to 10 years on the water and ice rescue team, and helped boaters and swimmers in peril. Unfortunately alot of these calls were body retrievals. These were people who went missing, only to turn up weeks and sometimes months later. We are the guys who handle this very gruesome and unpleasant task.

You have calls where you are fortunate enough to be able to help people in their time of greatest need, which were the majority, but you also had a few where you did everything in your power, used all of your training, but were not able to save these people.

And then, you have the calls, incidents, that were so horrific and tragic, that they are burned into your memory forever. These calls you never forget and are etched into your memory forever. These are the calls that haunt you. These are the ones that cause you so much internal suffering, pain and trouble, and these are the ones you NEVER talk about.

You suffer in silence. This is where the problems can begin. You dare not say anything to anyone, as that would be a sign of weakness, or so you are led to believe. This is also where my struggle with what is known as "The God Complex" comes into the picture.
Failure is not an option. You strive for, and become use to fixing situations. That's why when you aren't able to help, or you lose someone, you take it very hard. It becomes extremely personal. You're trained, and you pull out every trick you have in your collection of experiences in order to come to a successful conclusion on each and every call. When the situation is beyond your capabilities, you don't accept failing very graciously inside, and for me that meant blaming myself and questioning what I did wrong. The "God Complex".
In one part of my therapy, I had to be taught how to recognize when things were beyond my control. Sounds simple, right? It is so far from simple, and it was a struggle that I had to fight with each and everyday throughout therapy. To this very day, and I know that forever, I will have to use the tools that I was taught in order not to fall into the same vicious cycle I found myself in.
Traumas are cumulative, thats proven. After years of viewing and being involved in many small traumas, their effects took a toll on me personally, and this spilled over into my families lives also.
Then, in January 2003, a fire so horrific and terrible occurred in the west end on Penny Dr, a firebombing where two young kids were burnt to death. I was the lieutenant in charge of trying to rescue those kids. I was only able to get half way up the ladder to their bedroom where they were, but the heat and flames were just too much. This was the beginning of my acceleration into some major mental health problems, as well as being diagnosed with PTSD and a myriad of side effects that go with it.
In September of 2006 I was involved in a major fire in Overbrooke where I went through the 3rd story roof and became trapped in the fire that was raging below me in the attic. The only part of me visible above the roof was my head. I ended up running out of air and saying goodbye to my wife and kids. I was sure that was the end of me and I was going to die. Thankfully, after some amazing work by my brother firefighters, they eventually managed to help me just enough so that I was able to extricate myself from between the rafters where I was stuck. I don't remember much after I was freed as I went into shock and landed in the General Hospital trauma unit. I had somehow climbed down the ladder from the roof to the ground, and eventually woke up the day after, and I was in a dark room not knowing where I was or what had happened to me.
Amazingly, this fire showing me trapped was captured by bystanders on film. Eventaully,part of my therapy was to go through what's called "exposure work" and I ended up viewing myself just about dying in that fire many times over. That came later though.
After healing physically for a few months, I returned to duty. That's when things eventually caught up to me, as inside I was screaming for help one moment, and denying everything the next.
I became numb, and went into what I call "survival mode". I felt like I was no longer the person whom I use to be and I told my wife many times over that I'm not the person I use to be. I'm not normal anymore. I knew that there was something wrong with me, but I figured that I could fight my way through it. Eventually I'd be okay, and get over it.
How wrong I was.
Thanks, till next week, take care, Larry.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Firefighters Story

Although being a firefighter caused me to suffer from recurring acute PTSD, I wouldn't change my career. What I would however change, was the idea that suffering from a mental health issue was to be kept a dark secret and not seeking out help. This is why I am writing and sharing my story, in the hope that people will read my story, and it will cause them to know that it's okay to get help. We as a society have to change and erase the stigmatisms that go with having a mental health issue. I have gone through treatment and have been successful in returning to work as a firefighter. I now have an opportunity to help others, not solely as a firefighter, but now as someone who has "been to hell and back" as I have come to call my journey, and this gives me an opportunity to share this journey with others as someone who has experienced first hand having a mental health issue, and all that goes with the many issues that accompany being diagnosed with having a mental health issue. After completing my therapy I was looking for a way to help others, it was a mission of mine. Still searching, I heard the "You know who I am" campaign with spokesperson Danielle Alfredsson making headlines and I knew immediately that this was my opportunity and provided an avenue to help others by telling my story publically. This is my way of "giving back" if you will for all the help I received. This is also part of my continued therapy, and healing, which I continue to go through. This gives me a chance to use my "education and understanding" with regards to my personal diagnosis of PTSD and the myriad of symptoms which I was afflicted with. I'm hoping that anyone reading my story will be inspired, and know that they are not alone, as many will recognize many of the symptoms I will talk about. I know that for me personally it gave me great comfort to know that there were others who were afflicted as I was, and that I was not alone. I hope that all of you reading this and my future writings who may be suffering from your own mental health issues or diagnosis or families who have loved ones that have been diagnosed will take comfort in the fact that you are not alone, and I welcome your comments and questions as I continue to write my story. We need to have an open dialogue in order to start erasing the stigmatisms that hang over those of us who have been diagnosed with a "mental health issue." It is my real hope that this will occur right here, right now as I continue to write in the future. Thank you, Larry

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Firefighters Story

My name is Larry and I've been a firefighter in Ottawa for approx 24yrs. I was diagnosed with recurring acute PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder and have been battling hard since 2003 to overcome this and other mental health issues that go along with PTSD. I want to share my story with others, to give them HOPE, and to let others know that they are not alone and it is possible to overcome. I also hope that as I tell my story, others will recognize similar characteristics that we all might share when stricken with mental healh issues. I also hope that this will encourage people to seek out help, as I did. It is possible to overcome, and although you might feel all alone in your battles, you are not alone. If I am able to help just one other by telling my story, it will all be worth it. We have to educate people and break down the walls of shame, stigmatisms and all that goes with having mental health issues. This is one of the biggest problems with mental health issues, people are not educated and understanding with regards to issues we might face, therefore people are scared and misinformed as soon as they hear the words "mental health issues." I say we , because I've been through it myself as I have said, and I am hopeful that as you read my story that you will notice and understand that, yes, there are others who face similar challenges and that you are not alone. I am sure that as I tell my story here, you will find similarities between what you might be facing, and what I have faced. I want to give you some hope and the courage to seek help and regain control of your life. You can do it, and I really want to inspire you to open up, not be scared, and you too can overcome, as I have.

I will continue writing my story shortly, a little at a time, and I hope it will help you who read it, and inspire you not to give up, but to know that there is help for you and you too may enjoy success and overcome.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Seeking Treatment

There is so much that is misunderstood when it comes to mental illness. I have interviewed friends, family members, co-workers and strangers about mental illnesses. Not surprising, many people agree that it is still hidden behind a dark veil; that it's something to be whispered about and talked about in private.

I was 17 when I had my first bout of depression. I would only come to realize what it was at the age of 30, right after the birth of my daughter when I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. For 13 solid years I battled depression, anxiety, bulimia and obsessive compulsive disorder and was too ashamed and scared to to seek treatment. I truly thought "it" would go away. The thought of being hospitalized for depression scared me so much that I vowed not to say a thing. All I could think about was mind-numbing medication and straight jackets. This is what society would have you believe. The reality is something quite different. Seeking treatment can save your life. It did for me.

Mental illness is a serious medical condition - just like diabetes and heart disease. Why are we so afraid of it? Why are people still so judgemental? We are on a mission of a lifetime to banish the stigma once and for all through the "You know Who I Am" campaign. Are you on board?

Heather Hennigar

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hello and Welcome!

Hi Everyone,
My name is Heather Hennigar. In March, 2005 I sat beside the Honourable Michael Wilson at a press conference at the Royal Ottawa Hospital and helped launch a campaign titled "You Know Who I Am". I had no idea what would transpire in my life since making that decision to lend my face to the campaign. I really could not have imagined how it would impact my life - just by telling my story.

I am one in five. In 2000, I was diagnosed with post partum depression, major depressive disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bulimia. Everyone who had known me before my diagnosis would have described me as normal, happy and outgoing. The sad truth was that I had kept my pain and suffering a secret for many years. I was ashamed and scared.

After four years of intensive treatment - medication and psychotherapy, I started to come alive again. Now, it has been eight years and I am better than ever! It was not easy. I had nine visits to the hospital (each lasting about three weeks) and I survived a suicide attempt in August, 2004.

Mental illness does not dicriminate. It can happen to anyone, anytime. We all need to work together to talk openly about it. I look forward to sharing more of my story with you and would love to hear your comments and stories as well.

Last, and certainly not least, a big personal "thank-you" to Daniel Alfredsson. I know what kind of courage it takes come forward.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Share your story

Have you been touched by mental illness,
share your story...

The Rule: Keep it clean. If you see inappropriate language, e-mail us.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Daniel Alfredsson — a champion for mental health

As a professional hockey player, I spend a lot of time in the spotlight, both on and off the ice. My private life is pretty normal really. I have a wife, three young children, close friends, and a family back in Sweden.

So when my sister began struggling with mental illness I wasn’t sure what to do or how to help. I didn’t understand what was happening to her and had no idea how to help. To be honest, I don’t feel that I did enough to support her at the time.
My sister was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder eight years ago. She has great days and other days that aren’t so good. She has great support from my parents and her boyfriend and I do everything I can even though we live so far away from each other. But she still faces societal challenges related to stigma. That’s not right.
That’s why I’ve decided to speak out for mental health with my sister’s blessing to lead the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health’s you know who I am campaign. This is a way I can demonstrate my love for my sister and encourage people to get help when they need it without fear of shame. I also want to remind everyone that mental illness deserves the same care and compassion as any other physical illness.
So let’s educate ourselves about mental illness. It’s a complicated thing to understand – and it can take many different forms, from mild to chronic illness. The more we understand, the less fear and stigma we will have, and the easier it will be for people suffering to get help.

Together we can make a difference - Together we can change attitudes - Together we can mend the lives that have been broken.

Thanks for your time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hello and Welcome

Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Mental illnesses are still feared and misunderstood by many people, but the fear will disappear as people learn about them.

It is human nature to fear what we don't understand. As such, mental illness is feared by many people and, unfortunately, still carries a stigma (a stigma is defined as a mark or sign of disgrace). Because of this stigma, many people hesitate to get help for a mental health problem for fear of being looked down upon. It is unfortunate that this happens because effective treatment exists for almost all mental illnesses. Worse, the stigma experienced by people with a mental illness can be more destructive then the illness itself.

The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre