I was 27 years old. Never heard of PTSD. I had just been turned down a week earlier by HR for the hire that was hands down my top pick, my hometown. That particular day I was at work at the Cashway Lumberyard. Just as I was getting ready to head out with my 26 sheets of ½ inch drywall delivery order. The yard foreman yelled me back, “Carl phones for you.” That’s strange; I remember thinking, they never stop a delivery for a personal phone call.
You see, at risk of ‘aging myself,’ this was well before smartphones and cell phones. You know, when you had to use a telephone landline to get in touch with someone. “Some guy from the city is looking for you.” I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. Were they calling to have me come in to pick up my resume? Was there some mix- up and they forgot they had already called me telling me I didn’t get the job? What was it? I had no idea. But when I picked up the phone there was a man on the line who identified himself as being from HR. He was saying something along the lines of “Sorry about the confusion, and I know we gave you some bad news earlier on this week.” He then took a breath. “But one of our guys just left for another department, and if you still wanted the position, we are willing to offer you a spot as a probationary firefighter…” Holy Fuck. I’m in. That was my only thought.
To remind you; to have you remember how you FELT, to remember such an exciting, incredible happy feeling. To remember what it’s like to FEEL that, to have that passion. I honestly believe that this is your best line of defense against PTDS. Your real feelings will tell you whether you’re on the right path or not.
If I’m doing something, and it makes my FEEL happy, then my advice to myself is keep doing that thing. I don’t give a shit if it’s walking, fishing, or building a boat in a glass bottle. Just find something that you love doing and do it! Disclaimer: this might take a while to find. Don’t be discouraged. Here is a little bit of how my conversation with my doctor went:
Dr. S –“Carl what is something you like to do for you.”
Me – “I don’t understand the question.”
Dr. –“What is something you like? Something you like doing that you enjoy, something that makes you
happy; like a hobby or interest.”
Me – “Something I like?”
Dr. – “Yes.”
Me –“Something that I like?”
Me –“Does packing school lunches count?”
Me –“Housework and laundry?”
Dr. –“Not really.”
Me –“Taking out the garbage?”
Dr. –“Definitely not.”
The idea of something fun was tough for me. I couldn’t answer the question, and it made me feel surprisingly uncomfortable. I mean, I used to have lots of interests, but I felt as though I had lost the enjoyment in everything that used to make me happy. It seems I had fallen out of love with everything I used to love. Well, except porn. I still kinda liked porn. But it’s hard to find stuff you like when you can’t be bothered to look at anything. At this moment is when you start to understand the real power of PTSD. It will take away everything you love and replace it with a deep, dark, empty feeling, creepy if you ask me.
Think about it like this for a second. You know when you’re working out hard? The sweat is in your eyes, your legs are burning, and you feel like you can barely keep going. Then all of a sudden you tap into that second tank, and you take off again? Tell me, even though you’re in stupid pain, how alive do you feel at that moment? You feel unstoppable! Incredible! Like you are on top of the world!
But on the other hand, let’s say you have not showered in days. You can’t remember the last time you brushed your teeth, and you’ve done nothing but binge watched 90’s sitcoms and eaten 15 bags of Smart Pop. Although you couldn’t be more physically rested, how do you feel? Like shit probably. You see, to win this battle with PTSD, you must understand the difference between what your body WANTS and what your body NEEDS. You can’t move forward till that happens.
Sticking with this theme, it has been said that a sick mind cannot live in a healthy body. Although with that being said, I have worked with a ton of guys on the department that are some of the most incredibly fit people I know, with some of the sickest minds you can imagine! Let’s just chalk that up to ‘dark humor.’
But you see, the healthier your body is, the healthier it wants to be. In the past, I was never one to shy away from too many buffets, and I can crush a cheeseburger faster than look at it. But here’s the crazy part. The more I found that I focused on my physical health, the less time my mind had to reside in that negative state. I was getting too busy to have PTSD it seemed.
My mind was too busy planning my workouts and meals that I didn’t have time to lay on the couch. Not to mention I was now so exhausted at bedtime that I was having an easier time falling asleep. Month after month I found it simpler to make it downstairs to throw some weights around. Believe me; I started slow, and it was a gradual process. It was a real game changer when I could out-talk that nagging voice in my head that was urging me just to stay inside; it’s safer that way.
Most of us did not just come home one day, and there was a message on the answering machine saying “Hey if you want a job just come down to HQ tomorrow at 8:00 and will get you fitted”. Most people worked their ass off for that phone call. Years of college, weekend-long courses, thousands of dollars spent, volunteering, networking, and more sucking-up then I’m sure you care to admit. And when you did get that call, it changed everything! Remember that. Remember how hard you fought to wear that helmet, remember how they picked you out of a sea of qualified people. Bear in mind that you are good enough. You are the best of the best.
Now, you must fight again. Fight to get that feeling back, and fight to remember what it felt like that first time you sat on a fire truck wearing your uniform. Trust me; it’s all in there, and once you learn how to regulate your actions from your thoughts that are being shadowed by the PTSD; then and only then will stuff start to change from black and white back to color. It’s that simple, find what you love. Could not care what it is, but for some strange reason when you start doing stuff you love again, trust me, my friend, you don’t just walk out of that hole of despair, buddy you skip!
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