From Chief Avsec: Nathalie Michaud is one of my most prolific and widely read guest bloggers. She’s also a PTSD sufferer and survivor. When she writes, she “lays it all out there,” so this is your “heads up.”
By: Nathalie Michaud, Fire Prevention Officer and PTSD Suffer/Survivor
Ever since I was finally diagnosed in early Fall 2014 with PTSD, I’ve been through an in-house closed in therapy for one month in November 2014, started speaking very loudly to Fire Chief’s Associations who had the balls to listen about how their firefighters and even themselves can and are affected by our work… we too get injured. And I’ve since written a lot.
I started a book because I was told it might change people’s lives. I’ve written blogs for Robert Avsec in hopes of saving just one life (and I think I may have). Speaking at those conferences helped change provincial laws on presumptive illness, like PTS-related conditions, that affect firefighters. I’ve spoken at conferences across Canada—including a school of new dedicated hopefuls—on my personal life with PTSD and what got me there.
Why write now?
Yet at this moment, Saturday, January 6th, 2018 at 5:01 p.m., I got a boost to write to you. Yes, you don’t have to be an emergency worker to read this stuff. Educating yourself to be better for yourself and all others in general is a quality we ignore… like PTSD. Tonight, I write because…I needed to write this.
So of course, like all the times I spill my guts to you, this time though I’m in a state of mind that is utter peace and silence, and drinking red wine. Ya, it’s true it does open the doors and gates. I’ve never “bullshitted” when I spoke nor when I wrote, and this is no different. Most writers write while on “something” – research it, I’m not kidding – because it helps remove the pain, yet letting it come to the surface so to share what’s really going on inside. How else do we connect right?
Battles vs. Wars
I named this “Realizing you won’t win brings Peace” because I am there. With a cold outlook, a war is many different battles from many different angles that keep hitting us and we fight. We literally fight a new “battle” in this war with PTSD every morning when we wake up and we fight for our lives.
For the past two months – more like four – life happened to have more challenges, falls and surprises for me and I was forced to “step up to a plate”, a plate I knew nothing about. I never told this to another living soul, not even “my person” (I’m sorry). I was a scared shitless “little girl” and terrified adult and we were both running around in the “adult world” trying to fix everything and make the best decisions. I think I did my best, though it took its toll on me and my threshold was stretched to the limit and it broke.
I was given a “gift” two months ago. The gift of being able to realize and come to a conscious level of understanding of “me”. The one you never visit in those tiny dark corners, the one you’d rather forget?
Confronting the enemy
Of course, I sought a therapist since I’ve moved here, and she is amazing. I said things to her that I’m pretty sure may have left a permanent imprint on her no matter how many years of experience she had. With her, I visited that “me”. The scared little me, the destroyed little me, the early adulthood confusion and fucking angry me. I realized that I had tried so very hard not to become the broken soul like my “role models”, not knowing how to look out for myself, and I became a broken soul nonetheless.
I even visited the one thing I later understood would be the major reason that fucked me up for the rest of my life. That trauma came back up in 2014 in therapy like projectile vomiting and everything felt as if it were happening to me as a 41-year-old and not an 8-year-old. Trying to wrap my brain around it was… well, I have no words.
This image was triggered, and surfaced loud and clear, by one event a few years back. That one image, only one person walking this earth truly knows its unraveling, was brought on by being psychologically, emotionally and physically assaulted at work by my “colleagues” at an old employer. That got the “ball rolling” along with the purge of the rest of the images, feelings, confusion and excessive guilt for it. I could finally “dance” with them.
It sounds so depressing, right? It’s not. Because of all that shit, and finally understanding how it all works in our beautiful brain, I “forgave” myself. How can you not forgive an eight-year-old for not thinking like a 41-year-old?
By doing so, much of what I did in auto-destruction, self-fulfilling prophecies, and extremely strong coping and defense mechanisms throughout my life, were finally leaving my broken self and my haunted past. I gained the undeniable proof of true and authentic friends, however, I lost the one that kept me sane and balanced.
So why this somber title?
Me, who’s positive, apparently strong and resilient, why this title? If you take look at it – really take time to think this through – from birth, we fight for our life. The rest is either forced on us or we make choices… some of them are forced upon us. With these past months, I came to a personal conclusion that Life is War! A war to win to find who I am, who I want to be, who I let in to go with me on my unknown journey, to find happiness and fulfillment and so much more.
This war hit me from all sides and angles I didn’t even know existed. The way I see it, my war was every morning and I won every battle. I fucking got up, depressed, no energy, “fake it until you make it” face and scared shitless, but I got up. Put one foot in front of the other and pushed forward hard. I must admit now, giving conferences on PTSD and being in the public eye made me feel like I wasn’t “allowed to fall” because so many trusted what I said, and it gave them “hope”. Blogs did the same.
The truth? I fell hard on my face and hit my head when a major change happened. In this case, literally one hit after the other since August 2016. Each hard and cold step I fell on, I felt like I was back in 2014!
I also panicked because I didn’t want to go there again. I couldn’t afford to that time. So, I clung on with my nails, right at the edge, while all I could do was helplessly watch the biggest storm happened, close my eyes and hope my nails wouldn’t rip off.
Then, one last hard fall that I had never experienced came and the only thing that kept me “surviving” was being numb for weeks and having many defense mechanisms. As I took my first deep painless breath, what would be the last hit created a whole new battle on foreign land.
What storm you wonder? Disconnection, my famous 2 x 4 in my throat came in (brain and emotions no longer communicate because the brain overrides everything for survival), nightmares and night sweats, so basically no sleep, no appetite, etc.
Then the party guests arrived
I desperately needed control. My faithful “pack of friends” came back to visit and hang out. The first to arrive was Guilt to chime in with all and any wrongs I’ve done in my life, followed by its twin named Remorse who kindly added multiplications of Guilt and reinforced it, followed by Logic who bought all that shit and went with it, leaving me empty.
Ironically, Emotions never showed up to the party. I lost that battle. Logic reminded me of the wars I didn’t win. Not because I couldn’t, it’s because they can never be won. Battles are won, but not so much the wars. Remember how our life is war? We fight and make choices, right? I made the best choices at those times and I also forgave myself for the ones, that in hindsight, I see were not the best. We can control our battles and chose to win them. The trick is to know that all passes, the battles you chose, you will win!
Hey, it’s all good, right?
As you finish this read, my “writing” hopes to bring you the simplest thing to do. Understanding that you battle to get up every day, you win that every day, stepping out of your home, going to work, even just getting groceries. All those things are wins that you deserve to be proud of yourself for.
So yes! For me, these words I share with you on your screen are exactly why I chose this title. Understanding the war is hard because it’s unknown, it’s difficult to plan for, and it’s scary but accepting it does bring peace. We are all “saviors” and it’s in our DNA and the feeling of controlling what happens to us is important.
You can only “control” your “present moment” – this is the richness of choice – and by doing so you let go of the war that brings you anxiety, anguish, self-doubt, anger, sadness, irritability, nightmares and all the other lovely crap that it brings. Remind yourself of that, every day.
You can have Peace. You simply must choose it.
About the Author
Nathalie Michaud is a PTSD Sufferer and Survivor. Nathalie served for more than 15 years in a variety of Emergency Services roles including EMS Paramedic, Firefighter, Fire Prevention Technician and Fire Investigator in the province of Quebec, Canada. She’s currently a Fire Prevention Technician with the Brome Lake Fire Department in Knowlton, Quebec.
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 Brome Lake where she continues her journey living with PTSD…every day.