PTSD: My New “Friend”

By: Nathalie Michaud

After I received the diagnosis of my PTSD in late Summer 2014, I was partly relieved because now I knew why I felt PTSD is not about what happened to youand thought the way I did. It didn’t make it any easier to accept, but now that there was a name for it, a bit of the “ET” syndrome went away.

I had choices: accept PTSD or be angry. I figured, may as well be “friends” with it so I can get close enough to understand. This isn’t a monster under my bed nor is it a skeleton in my closet… unless I let it.

Residential Therapy

The one-month in-house therapy program helped me do just that. First, I understood that I didn’t have a substance abuse problem, but I was abusing to “get away” from my brain, pain, feelings, memories, etc. They gave me tools and support and I learned how to “face” my brain and soul.

I learned so many things on my newfound “friend”—PTSD—and now felt “normal” and could accept it more. Being numb for so many years and having many strong defense mechanisms, I must admit that it was hard to dig into my “emotions”. That was a monster for me. Pure fear.

I learned so much, some technical psychological stuff, some on myself and how I was being affected. I always felt that there was something “wrong” or “off” with me. With the therapy concentrating only on PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) and PTSD, I understood the logic and mechanisms that create it. I was able to link it to my experiences and “forgive” myself for having labeled myself as weak, wrong, stupid, unworthy, never good enough and so many more self-hating feelings.

See Related: A Firefighter’s Struggle with PTSD

The “Surgeon”

20160206_mental-healthWith my therapist (He was known as the surgeon at the Center: There’s a reason for that) I took a chance and revealed this one image I had in my head that lingered since childhood. The image was so painful, shameful and disgusting I wasn’t even sure if it was real or just something my mind made up as a kid. The “surgeon” went to work.

I took the little strength and hope I had left and described the image for the first time in my life. As I did, I searched his eyes for a reaction, for judgement and there was none. He asked “Does it feel real when you describe it? Do you have a feeling attached to it?” My answer was the most painful and heart wrenching “yes” I ever uttered in my life.

In that moment I realized I was a “victim” of more than just that “one image” that was locked in my head. Learning that a victim is not weak or responsible. Everything came back to the surface. Now I knew I had suffered one trauma that changed the path of my becoming a woman and robbed me of one of the simplest things in life: relationships.

Many of my self-loathing, self-destructive behaviors were now logical. Not less painful, but it made sense and now the healing and “facing the music started.” The sadness, the raw anger, the feeling of wanting justice all because now that it was at the surface, it’s as if it had happened to me at that moment, meaning at 41 years old and not eight.

Group Therapy

During one of our group morning sessions following this “discovery”, I needed to share with someone. My safe place 20160206_Untreated Mental Illnesseswas the group I was with for the past 3 weeks. I couldn’t keep this to myself, it was too much to handle. The love, acceptance, support, and compassion from the group made me stronger as I reached into their energy. I felt in control by sharing what I thought were my weaknesses.

The morning of my last group therapy, for the first time I said the following: “I am a good person, I deserve, and I’m allowed to be happy.” From that point on my “24 hours” changed. I’m not healed, I’m healing.

Before and After as a PTSD Sufferer

The “24 hours” pre-therapy and the “24 hours” post-therapy…That I can describe.

The 24-hour morning sessions are all of us were together for 60 minutes. We shared what we wanted, only if we wanted. What happened, how we felt or anything we wished to talk about from our previous 24 hours.

My first 24 hours (Monday Nov. 3rd 2014) I eventually talked. Legs and arms crossed, looking at the floor I said, “Don’t take it personally, but I hate people. I have a huge bubble and don’t get close to me.”

Ya… well, all were so accepting that they didn’t make a big deal out of it. Inevitably as more “24 hours” went by, it created trust in the others as I listened to their 24 hours. I stopped holding out my “10-foot pole.”

Today, 24 hours is remembering that “if I was able to do it there—cry, be happy, not feel guilt or shame—then I can do it on the outside, in the “big scary world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all trusting of people. I’m still extremely cautious, but nothing bad happened to me there, when I cried in front of them for no reason and not feel like I had to explain… WOW! Liberating.

My 24 hours today is just that. Striving really hard to stay as happy as I was there. My 24 hours are now filled with only good and positive people.

This is the third in a series of what Nathalie and I hope will be a continuing chronicle of her journey as a PTSD sufferer towards a healthy and happy life. We both ask that you share these stories on social media, use them in training classes with your people, talk about them with your spouse, significant other, and your children.

The more informed and educated that we all can become about PTSD and other mental health challenges that face firefighters and other first responders, the better we can become at recognizing how exposure to the mental hazards of the job are affecting us and those we live and work with.–Chief Avsec

About the Author

20151110_Michaud Helmet shot

Nathalie Michaud is a PTSD Sufferer. 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.

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 and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].