Under the Uniform

A Note From Chief Avsec: Loyal readers of this blog are no doubt familiar with Nathalie Michaud and her use of honest and raw prose as she’s used her own experiences to help us understand what the world–her world–looks like behind the curtain of PSTD and post-traumatic stress.
If you’re new to this blog, I caution you to be ready for honest and open writing from the heart because that’s the only way
Nathalie knows how to write (I try to keep my editing to a minimum so as not to dilute her passion and message. I also urge you to read Nathalie’s past posts using the links you’ll find at the end of this piece.

By: Nathalie Michaud, Fire Prevention Officer and PTSD Suffer/Survivor

I last wrote about the rape that I experienced years ago at the hands of my fellow firefighters in our fire hall at the hands of my fellow firefighters in our fire hall and since then, much has happened. Don’t worry, no awards, no justice and no Nobel Prize. One of the biggest things that hit hard after it was published by Robert – and he did leave it as is – is this false sense of the uniform.

We were all raised by seeing emergency workers in a certain light. Some of us were impressed and some of us Firefighter mental healthwere scared shitless of them, but either way the uniform had its place in our society and it’s always been seen as a “respectful” job. I was raised in a world where putting your life on the line was part of the daily normal for me. Both my father and his eldest brother were both in law enforcement and uniforms and guns were just normal. Violence was NOT. Not in the work environment anyways. Peace keepers, right?

I never intended to become a firefighter or an investigator…truthfully, I honestly never knew WTF I wanted to “be.” People kept asking me “what” I wanted to be, but no one asked “who” I wanted to be.

I wanted to stop my pain. I wanted to stop pain. I wanted to right the wrongs and did it by “saving” the underdogs. Animals. I still don’t know how many I brought home to my parent’s despair, especially my mom. I always felt like I was responsible for them and their well-being almost like no one could care and love them the way I did. I was so thirsty for love and care I simply gave it in hopes to heal and fill my own gaps and wounds. This is what brings me to the uniform.

My dad was my dad and my uncle was my uncle. Simple. I saw them as humans, not uniforms and maybe that’s why I didn’t give a shit about authority yet feared being locked up and forgotten.

I now see that my “calling” was in fact to use my own pain to help others. Can’t save me. Might as well save others. I became an empath. I learned compassion yet always disliked humans and have always been unable to connect with them to a deep level of love. Animals got everything.

When the opportunity arose, and I trained and became a paramedic, of course I had to “out do” myself. So then I trained to become a teacher and then a master instructor. You can’t get any higher than that in teaching. I never bragged, never hung diplomas, I just needed to do it because I knew I was getting “richer” in being able to help the ones who can’t help themselves.

I developed a passion for it and began volunteering. I soon realized that it was beyond selfish. I got more out of giving and saw the benefits of giving and not receiving. It started building my self-esteem, my self-image and pushed me to become a better person. The uniform made me proud because I belonged to something greater than myself and worked my ass off to be the type of person that deserved the uniform, including its burdens to carry. I wanted to be the person people saw me as being when in uniform.

Firefighter mental healthAs mentioned in my earlier blog, I started believing in such a thing as humans could be good. I believed in the fire service brotherhood that Hollywood shows you. Foolish girl I was. I wore the uniform and became that person.

After the blog about the rape, so many comments came in. Some public and some private. Some encouraging and supportive. Some utterly disgusting ones from the “so-called” men. And some just saying I was a whore and deserved every second of it.

What’s been so difficult in the last months is getting these comments and choosing not to lash out. Before I forget to say, to all the haters, I send you love and peace because you clearly need it more than me. But the first comment was from a man who was ready to get in line and kick the shit out of those “boys”. I didn’t know how to respond because I felt bad I had made him feel that way (Silly, right?).

Then someone replied to me “…you did nothing. They did this. You are simply the voice of a reminder of how shitty this fucking field is and how so many wear our uniform and have no clue what the fuck they are wearing!” (Thank you again for that. You helped me more than you can imagine!).

What almost floored me were the comments from women. I will refrain from the worst and will share the least painful and shameful.

“…you are not a true firefighter, had you been you would have sucked it up…. You caused all women in this field months of hell” – “Why the fuck did you not say no? WTF is wrong with you and now you cry wolf? Shut the fuck up!”

“It’s weak people like [you] that enter the field that make it so hard for us to get equality in our work”

“You didn’t get a payout and now you’re pissed off. Go to therapy, drink, or fuck, just hang yourself.”  (I’d like to add here that my husband killed himself by hanging two years before…in our fire station…and I was the one who found him. So, thanks for that).

These comments came from women. Not men. Men wanted justice and offered to support me and encouraged me to file official charges so that those f*** could get what they deserved. It was amazing to me to see how much fury was brought on by that… on both sides.

Robert may want to remove this, but I’ll write it just in case. I will share the worst, for me, that I received.

“Nathalie, I don’t know you and I’m so happy I don’t. There are always two sides to a story and yours is only one, I’m sure all 4 have another. Clearly you opened a door and opportunity for them and honestly, since I’ve been a mother I’ve told my kids what’s right and wrong and to stay away from strangers. I’m a very good mother and giving amazing values to my children to send them off into this mad world later on in life. I will say only this to you. I hope to Hell my daughter never hears your story, sees what you did then blames innocent men and I am so happy that there is no way in Hell she will ever meet you. You are an absolute disgrace to “women. I hope you fucking burn in hell for what you did and you got everything you deserved…”

Okay… first off, I don’t need to burn to be in Hell. I’m in it every day fighting to breathe.

I’ve been silently absorbing and dealing with all this and it made me realize… the uniform. The one I believed in, the one I loved and trusted and honored… Well, it ain’t what it’s supposed to be. Not at all.

After that blog I’ve realized what true and real heroes are. Heroes, like my Daddy and Uncle, are the ones that stay in the shadows and do what’s right. No, not like Batman! Heroes are the ones that will stand for their values and defend them even if it means losing everything and everyone. You don’t need a uniform for that. It’s a piece of clothing that identifies you at the same level that the Wal-Mart Greeting Person wears… we just have a different task to do and our training is different. I realized, I’m a Hero too… I stood up and fought. What did you do?

Again, I could be angry and trust me, I wanted to rip them all a new fucking asshole but I “adulted” and decided that if in this day in age and at their age and stature career wise they react that way… they are lost. They aren’t even the underdog and honestly, there is nothing anyone can do for them. All I can hope is that it doesn’t happen to them and if it does, I hope that they don’t have a reflection of themselves in their lives or surrounding to do what they did.

I never felt pity for myself.

I feel pity for you women who HAD to take time and TRY to destroy me. I’m sad for you.

I feel free.

You must feel like a rat in a cage.

You need more help and love than I ever did.

To all who wrote to me, yes even the Evil Want-to-Be- Queens, thank you. At least it was heard, at least it caused a little something somewhere.

I’m Nathalie. I’m Madeleine and Guildor’s daughter, I’m Daniel’s little sister, I’m a niece, a cousin a God Child, a friend a coworker… I’m a human.

Read Nathalie’s past posts, and posts from several of my colleagues on the topic of firefighters and mental health, here:

Past Writings on Firefighter Mental Health and Wellness Issues

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 also served for 13 years with St. John’s Ambulance in positions that included: Regional Assistant Director; Provincial Training Team; and Master Instructor. 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.

 

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.