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Do Something With Your Fear

For a long time after Post Traumatic Stress Injury invaded my head, I wanted to go back to work as a firefighter. Even after the nightmares subsided and the flashbacks and intrusive thoughts mellowed out and I could get some sleep, I still had times when I wanted to go back to work. Life had become good retired. I began to enjoy it. That is until some part of my life became uncomfortable. Then I wanted desperately to turn and run back to work. Any time I felt lonely, or someone I cared about I thought was mad at me, or I allowed someone to make me feel like shit, I wanted to go back to work. What in the hell does work, my job as a firefighter have to do with any of this?

As dangerous as it is, being at work was the safest place I could be. I was loved at work. Well, actually I was quite the asshole so I was only loved by an awesome few of my co-workers, but just being in my uniform, I was loved by the public, by society. I know how one can feel horribly lonely in a room full of people. I never felt lonely at work. We did everything together. We certainly didn’t take showers together but we knew when one of us was taking a shower - because if a call came in, they would most likely be a little behind getting to the rig, rightly so. But one of us needed to know that. Or if they were taking a really long time getting to the rig someone needed to go get them, in case they didn’t hear the call some in. We all walked the station knowing that any second all of us will be risking our lives or thrown into chaos together to save a life.

At work I was needed. I counted, I mattered. No one could leave me. While running calls nothing else that went on in my life outside of work mattered. If I were talking on the phone with someone, anyone, I had to immediately hang up. Me, running the call, came the priority. While on the call I couldn’t and didn’t think about anything else except the task right in front of me. Any horrible feelings of life instantly disappeared when the dispatch lights came on and the dispatcher began to talk.

For many of us, working as a firefighter or any first responder, became our safe haven even if in the back of our minds we knew could die that day or make a mistake that ended up with another person’s death. Working on a holiday would stave off loneliness of having no where to go or having to deal with a family that makes you uncomfortable. You didn’t have to face it, being able to say, “I have to work” said it all. No guilt, no questions. (I must add that a significant number of people would rather be off at home with their families instead of work.)

Retiring because of PTSD caused me to face everything that was uncomfortable. I couldn’t just hang up because I had to go on a call. Work was the ultimate excuse.

Guess what happened when I didn’t have a place to turn to when I became uncomfortable? My life became tremendously happier. At first I was scared shitless. I didn’t know who I was or where I fit in or what purpose I had on the Earth. I faced the loneliness and the anxiety of being left behind. I had to deal with it all. Once I faced my issues, I found that the world did not come to an end. I did have control of my life and I still mattered. Neale Donald said that life begins outside your comfort zone. It’s scary as all hell but it's 100% true.

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