What to say about Firefighting and PTSD?

By: Nathalie Michaud, Firefighter and PTSD Sufferer

So much to say, yet so little is spoken about it openly.

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Nathalie Michaud

I live with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it lives with me. I got diagnosed in the Fall of 2014; it hit me like a ton of bricks and sucked the air out of me. I had no idea that all the symptoms that I had for the past 5 years were due to PTSD. I thought I was “just” depressed or “just” losing my mind.

Let me share with you what brought this on almost 6 years ago.

I am a firefighter and I worked in a part-time fire department. Sadly on January 30th 2010, my Fire Chief responded to his last call and lost the battle with undiagnosed PTSD and committed suicide in our fire station. That alone was very hard and traumatizing because to me, he was “rock solid.”

My now-deceased Fire Chief was also my husband. We had been married for only 6 months.

I did what I could to survive and I made it. Or so I thought.

I had just started a new job on the 25th in another fire department and after 2 weeks off I returned to work right after Valentine’s Day. That morning, all were talking about their dates, evenings, etc. until the reality of my dead husband hit them and the loudest “scream of silence” took over the office.

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My late husband and fire chief, Richard Stringer. RIP

That’s when it began: the stigma and label that others would place on me. I knew, or thought I knew, that I couldn’t show any emotions and I sure couldn’t talk about it because every one was so uncomfortable. I was alone, isolated and numb.

I pushed on because I was on probation and afraid of losing my job if I made a mistake. At the end of 2010, physical pain was becoming more present in my daily routines and I started to have insomnia. I ignored all symptoms and brushed it off as “a little tired from all the changes of 2010”.

The insomnia got worse, so I was prescribed sleeping pills. In September 2012, after 1 ½ years of psychological harassment from a colleague, I filed a complaint. My work environment became hostile since my colleagues turned on me one by one.

I went through the HR (Human Resources) investigation and was “interviewed” 3 times; the last one wasn’t questions about events and facts, but about my personality as if they were trying to make me second guess myself. Their investigation resulted to in a determination that, “I was too sensitive.”

In addition to the lack of support from my employer, my work environment became even more hostile. I had more anxiety attacks, loss of appetite and was losing weight very fast. My doctor said, “Enough!” and pulled me off of work.

I spent the next year fighting HR’s decision; worker’s compensation (CSST) decision for them to recognize it (PTSD) as a condition; and then I had to return in October 2014 which at that point in time my “harasser” had transferred to another city.

During that year, more physical issues came to the surface. Feeling tired, yet unable to sleep; feeling irritable, aggressive, and anxious; nightmares and night terrors were surfacing and night sweats were now a normal nightly routine. If only I could get some sleep…but there was much more to come.

Note from Chief Avsec: In her next installment in this series of blogs, Nathalie Michaud continues her poignant and soul-baring story as she “hits rock bottom” in her struggle to live with PTSD.

About the Author

Nathalie Michaud is a PTSD Sufferer. Nathalie served for more than 15 years in a variety of Emergency Services roles20151110_Michaud headshotincluding EMS Paramedic, Firefighter, Fire Prevention Technician and Fire Investigator in the province of Quebec, Canada. She also served for 13 years with St. John’s Ambulance in positions that included: Regional Assistant Director; Provincial Training Team; and Master Instructor.

Nathalie has served for three years on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association and was recently elected to the Board of Directors for FQISI (Quebec Federation of Emergency Responders).

She makes her home in Quebec where she continues her journey living with PTSD…every day.

 

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.