PTSD Sufferer/Survivor: The Challenges Moving Forward

By: Nathalie Michaud, Firefighter and PTSD Sufferer/Survivor

Bravery is the ability to confront pain, danger or attempts of intimidation without any feeling of fear…Courage, on the other hand, is the ability to undertake an overwhelming difficulty or pain despite the eminent and unavoidable presence of fear…The essence of courage is not the feeling of being certainly capable of overcoming what’s one is faced with, but rather is the willful choice to fight regardless of the consequences.–

After my diagnosis, the first time I ever spoke about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) openly was actually when I 20160301_mentalhealthwas in therapy. Within the first week I was there, CTV (Canadian Television) was covering Remembrance Day with the angle of “mending broken lives” and was using the La Vigile facility (where I was enrolled in their residential program) since they offer help for military and all other first responders.

The thing is, this was in Québec City where all is in French and they also wanted to cover the PTSD treatment program. To do so, CTV was hoping for an interview with a patient. First off, this was really touchy because everyone there remains anonymous and no one wanted to go in front of a camera and I don’t blame them at all.

At that time, only two of us were in the PTSD program and only one of us spoke English. I was asked if I would talk with CTV and that it would be done with respect and my limits. I first said no. Then I said, “OK, but disguise my face and voice.” Then as I was thinking about it, I realized that I couldn’t hide.

Hiding is part of why I got so lost in PTSD in the first place. I also realized (and thought from my opinions and values) that not showing my face, voice and name, there would be no way anyone listening would give me credibility. How could they relate to me if there’s not a face?

I mean, I’m not “testifying” to something where my life would be in danger, right? All I wanted to do was share in hopes that others know that the facility exists and how much it does help. I thought, “If I hide myself, I’m sending the message that I’m either ashamed or afraid which I am not.”

20160301_Mental health 2So… I went full on camera. No made up hair, no make-up and looking like someone that’s been through physical and emotional hell in the past week! That was my reality. Why hide it?

Doing the interview, both the journalist and cameraman were so kind, respectful and patient that they actually empowered me. For the first time I was speaking openly about “what happened to me” and showing there is nothing wrong with being “stuck” with PTSD.

The downside… I also knew that since it was going on the news on November 11th, that it would go viral within a few days and my employer would see it. I understood that by going public I was giving access to my “medical and personal” side to my employer and that could come at a great cost.

Sadly, I was right. I was not accepted as I was. Everyone forgot that my husband, who was also my fire chief, committed suicide in 2010, only five days after I had just started working there. They did like everyone else and I suppose I can’t blame them. I mean they are just human, right?

Everyone else moved forward; my world moved forward, but with one foot always stuck on January 30th, 2010 (the date of my late husband’s suicide).

I returned to work on February 15th 2010, only 2 weeks after his death. Everyone else’s life moved forward… They all forgot. It didn’t happen “to them” so I suppose I can’t blame them for that either. The departed always seem to be forgotten for the one’s that weren’t close and the reality of the collateral damage suicide creates is also forgotten.

So when my “friend”, PTSD, caught up to me in 2014 and I went public in hopes of helping others, no one remembered 2010. No support, no understanding, nothing.


Like I was “crazy” or something. To them, I was weak and had a “disease” or something and became a liability. Unstable. Instead of asking me, talking to me, them getting knowledge on how to help me through this difficult time and help me reach my potential (like it should have been done when it all happened in 2010) they turned a blind eye.

All forgot… What was now happening to me in 2014 was “normal” and it should have happened in 2010, but I had kept quiet and never talked, I buried it so it only came out in 2014.

This created a lack of trust and so, it was understood that I was to leave. August 2015 I was no longer an employee at the department where I had worked for the past five years. My employment ended in large part because I was a PTSD sufferer.

Going public, speaking about it before groups of firefighters, having a “speaker” Facebook page for those who wished to follow my journey and how you can heal from PTS and PTSD, this created a whole new barrier for me in searching for a new job.

Most employers will search your name on the Internet and they see the news reports, posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. I’m not a hypocrite, so I share my stories, conferences that I give, blogs, etc. Those employers do read them. Sadly, it appears that they don’t research what PTSD really is and they sure don’t ask me questions to see if I am “OK” to work.

Guess what? I am “OK” to work. Actually, I want to work and I am beyond ready!

I’m still in the process of looking and I’m not giving up. I’m hoping that all that I’ve been doing in the past year—to 20160301_Mental health lotusraise awareness and inform and educate people so that other first responders do not have to go through what I have—has been worth it. I hope that in some small way I’m helping others see that there’s hope.

I also hope that my “going public” with my PTSD will not continue to dissuade a future employer but rather… maybe they will see the angle of, “She’s gone through all that, chose to go through therapy, speaks openly about it, writes about it, almost lost everything in doing so and yet she continues? She’s a tough lady that has her head screwed on straight, we want a person like that. We want an employee who will fight for their beliefs… We should hire her!”

Ya, I’m still hoping that one employer will see that and not the label of PTSD that I now master! The beast is under control! I am normal!

I always wonder… If I had diabetes, a heart issue, would they hire me? Of course they would right? This is the same thing. Even better because PTSD can be healing and I am proof of that. You can have a normal life and be a “kick ass” productive employee. Why? Because we are warriors!

PTSD is not who I am. PTSD is what happened to me.

About the Author

Nathalie Michaud is a PTSD Sufferer. Nathalie served for more than 15 years in a variety of Emergency Services roles 20151110_Michaud Helmet shotincluding 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.

Read Nathalie’s previous posts about her and PTSD

What to say about Firefighting and PTSD?

A Firefighter’s Struggle with PTSD

PTSD: My New “Friend”

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].