About Me

My Passion

I'm a vocal advocate for 1st responder mental health using my lived experience with PTSD and Depression to help educate others by telling the story of my mental health journey through talks, presentations and published writings.

My story includes a deeply personal account of my mental health journey detailing the milestones, mistakes, lessons learned and keys to my success as well as what YOU need to know about PTSD/Depression and its symptoms.

My personal experience with mental health, long time commitment to the fire service and networking with other 1st responders has given me a unique perspective on mental health and its place within the 1st responder community.

The Job

I'm also a firefighter with 27 years of service and currently holding the rank of Acting Platoon Chief for a mid-sized Fire Department in Ontario, Canada.

The various roles and ranks I've held throughout my career include volunteer firefighter, dispatcher, career firefighter, Acting Captain, Captain, Acting Platoon Chief as well as holding positions on the Health and Safety Committee, Association Executive and Association President.

Resume

During my mental health journey I've had the opportunity to speak to different fire departments, attend various training courses, conferences, webinars and provide ideas, feedback and opinions to several different 1st responder mental health projects.

2020-09-17 (2 days - scheduled)

Peer Support Training

Peer support training that strictly adheres to the training objectives provided by the "Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support" published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

2020-10-06 (scheduled)

Invisible Wounds Conference for 1st Responders

In addition to increasing awareness of how to build resiliency skills to help deal with occupational stress injuries, this conference assists First Responders interested in learning about and addressing relationships issues, anger, and mental health challenges, including, but not limited to, hypervigilance, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, PTSI, and PTSD.

2020-04-27 (2 evenings - postponed)

Clearview Fire Speaking Event

Talk and presentation to the department firefighters and senior officers about my mental health journey including the milestones achieved, the mistakes made, lessons learned and PTSD/Depression symptoms as they manifested within me.

2020-02-20 (2 days)

Mental Health First Aid Course

MHFA Basic is a course intended for adults interacting with adults (18 years and older). This courses focused on the four most common mental health disorders including substance related, mood related, anxiety and trauma related, and psychotic disorders. Participants who took this course are well prepared to interact confidently about mental health with their family, friends, communities, and workplaces

2020-01-22

Gravenhurst Fire Speaking Event

Talk and presentation to the department firefighters and senior officers about my mental health journey including the milestones achieved, the mistakes made, lessons learned and PTSD/Depression symptoms as they manifested within me.

2020-01-14

Interview For Input/Feedback

Provided input and feedback for the development of a national peer-to-peer support app for 1st responders being developed by Defence Research and Development Canada in conjunction with the Canadian Institute For Public Safety Research and Treatment and RCMP.

2019-12-18

Webinar - How To Safely Communicate About Suicide

Words Matter: How to Safely Communicate About Suicide presented by the National Action Alliance For Suicide Prevention.

2019-10-09

Invisible Wounds Conference for 1st Responders

In addition to increasing awareness of how to build resiliency skills to help deal with occupational stress injuries, this conference assisted First Responders interested in learning about and addressing relationships issues, anger, and mental health challenges, including, but not limited to, hypervigilance, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, PTSI, and PTSD.

2019-07-25, 2019-10-30

Focus Group Participant

Focus Group for the development of a mental health app for 1st responders run by McMaster University's Faculty of Health Sciences and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Personal Quotes

Throughout this journey I've had many opportunities to discuss with other 1st responders various topics and issues relating to mental health in the greater 1st responder community. I've made notable comments and taken positions on some of these issues.

Impact of Pandemic On 1st Responder Mental Health

"While I can't speak on behalf of all 1st responders, I can tell you we all share a couple of common traits, we are all "mission specific" and we all "put the needs of others ahead of our own needs". As a firefighter I can honestly say that I am willing to risk my life in situations that are marginally in my favour if it means being able to make a difference in somebody's life. "

"What that means is that in extremely difficult situations that do impact us (1st responders), be it a traumatic emergency incident or continual and repeated exposure to human suffering and death, that almost every 1st responder will bury the emotions and feelings not as a coping mechanism but to be able to actually do the job and satisfy that "mission". As a 1st responder there is no way that I would be able to do my job and do it well as society expects me to do it, if I actually allowed myself to feel the emotions and feelings that those we are serving actually felt. Can you imagine being a 1st responder having to do CPR on an infant AND feeling the emotions that the parents are feeling. We wouldn't be able to do the job expected of us. Where the problem arises is that for many 1st responders those emotions and feelings stay buried and are never properly processed and dealt with hence the increased rates of PTSD/Depression/Anxiety in 1st responders."

"So how does all this relate to the current COVID-19 pandemic and 1st responders. They will continue to heroically do their jobs, to focus on the "mission" and to "put the needs of others ahead of their own needs" and for some, they will pay a mental health price for it later down the road. The one thing that will help all 1st responders is that the significant stress of working through a pandemic is not an isolated incident or an individual incident that one or a few 1st responders is experiencing but an incident that ALL 1st responders are experiencing. While each individuals response to a stressful event is unique to them, there is some truth to the phrase that "there is strength in numbers" and I suspect that many 1st responders will draw on that collective strength to help them through these challenging times."

1st Responder Suicides

“And yet another......... I've said it before and will say it again.....So long as we, as a society, as emergency services organizations keep doing what we're doing, it's my opinion that 1st responder deaths by suicide will continue. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. We continually say “we are here for you, you are not alone, just reach out” but those who choose suicide didn’t reach out. Many of the sufferers I have networked with have also said they didn’t reach out. I didn't reach out. Regardless of whether it was because of stigma or something else, the point is they didn’t reach out. Instead of standing on the shore watching someone drown in a pond of water and saying to them “we are here for you, you are not alone, just reach out” perhaps its time that we proactively reach in. As rescuers we eventually go into that water to make the rescue. Why do we not do the same thing when someone is drowning from PTSD/Depression/Anxiety?? I ask a very simple question......so just how is what we are currently doing working ....it's not!!”

1st Responder Mindset

“As a 1st responder, you can't walk through water and not get wet, you can't walk through a sewer and not come out smelling like shit and you can't go through a career as a 1st responder doing the things that we do, seeing the things that we see and experiencing the things that we experience and not be affected in some way. There is no shame in that. The problem is the 1st responder mindset is challenged to genuinely accept that because it is never about us, its always about them, the members of our communities that we have sworn to protect and sacrifice ourselves for.”

Expert Panels

“Experts.......nothing like lived experience to make one an expert. No disrespect to the well intentioned educated "experts" but unless you have ridden a police car, fire truck, ambulance, military vehicle or secured societies most hardened criminals all you are is book smart. It goes back to the old cliche...unless you have walked in my boots you will never truly understand. When it comes to mental health lived experience means everything !!”

Leadership On Mental Health

"I agree there is a fundamental change underway surrounding mental health as more people speak up and speak out and the more 1st responder suicides come to the forefront of media attention but I don't see a corresponding fundamental change at the top where leadership on this issue truly matters. There are other influencing factors that are roadblocks to people at the top evolving from just being administrators to being actual leaders. There is the odd one but the change that is happening from the bottom up is occurring much faster then the change from the top down”

The "Just Reach Out" Phrase We Always Hear

“I would add that getting our respective organizations to accept and therefore acknowledge without the typical platitudes things like...
1) yes 1st responder suicides is a crisis and are as equally an organizational priority as physical injuries are
2) the shear number of 1st responder suicides makes it an organizations problem not an individuals problem
3) sanctuary trauma does exist and does have an impact on an OSI sufferer and in many cases only makes the issues worse
4) because IT IS an organizational problem, when you say "just reach out" you are putting the onus on the individual for the solution to an organizational problem and not on the organization where it belongs (see #2)
5) because it is an organizational problem a proactive approach by the organization is required”

My Writings

Some of my writings have been published on several different mental health and publishing websites including:

(publishing date tbd)

Not Cancelled - essay submission

Submitted essay for consideration for inclusion in the non-fiction anthology titled "Not Cancelled" by Wintertickle Press.

ESSAY
2020 started out just like 2019 did for me, full of anger with everybody and everything and with a collection of negative beliefs about everybody, everything, society, and more specifically, the moral character of the collective society I am part of. You see I’m battling PTSD. Along with the many symptoms that come along with PTSD like the aforementioned anger, also come many cognitive distortions and distorted beliefs about others and society.....

Article As Published (Contained within Kobo e-Book "Not Cancelled")

2020-09-01 (publishing date)

The i'Mpossible Project

Provided content to be included in this upcoming release. Story provided is titled "To the Brink and Back With My Good Friend Ego"

2020-06-21 (publishing date)

Putting The Hero On Ice

Provided content for this new book by retired Simcoe County Paramedic Natalie Harris she details various stages of PTSD Recovery, with anecdotal experiences provided for inclusion within the book.

2020-05-02

10 Keys To My Success(Progress)...So Far!

I, like so many 1st responders have been burdened, or gifted depending on your perspective, with PTSD and depression from a career of firefighting. I have been challenged to navigate this whole PTSD recovery process and have had some success. There are still many areas and aspects that I need to work on and address but I am moving forward which is always a good thing. While I’m not where I want to be, nor where I need to be I’m sure glad I’m not where I was.

Article As Published (Medium)

Article As Published (Vocal.Media)

Article As Published (The Mighty)

Article As Published (sicknotweak.com)

2020-04-08

Out Of Focus Puzzle Approach To Dealing With PTSD Symptoms

PTSD is a mental health challenge that plagues many 1st responders and I was no different. 27 years of firefighting had left me battling it and depression burdening me with many of the common problematic symptoms that tend to come along with PTSD. There were intrusive symptoms, avoidance symptoms, alterations in cognition and mood and arousal and reactivity type symptoms.

Article As Published (Medium)

Article As Published (VOCAL.MEDIA)

Article As Published (The Mighty)

2020-03-31

10 Things Being a 1st Responder Battling PTSD During This Pandemic Has Taught Me

1. Some of the negative consequences of having PTSD are proving to be quite beneficial during this pandemic. Who knew that having PTSD was a good thing?

2020-03-15

The Gift Of PTSD

Therapy for PTSD isn’t just about dealing with traumatic memories but also fixing the person that has been changed emotionally and cognitively by the exposure to traumatic experiences. To do this requires one to actively engage in self-reflection, a difficult and many times extremely painful exercise.

Article As Published (thought Catalog)

Article As Published (Medium)

Article As Published (sicknotweak.com)

2020-03-12

Meeting My Therapist

So my first visit with my psychotherapist, how did it go? It was amazing! I was early, very early, as I always am. I sat in the waiting room looking around at all the signs, posters and books dealing with trauma, PTSD, support systems and the like. In that 20 minutes while I sat there (yes I was that early), the gravity of why I was actually there set in and manifested itself as what I call an "almost".

Article As Published (yourlifeskill.com)

Article As Published (sicknotweak.com)

2020-03-12

The Dawn Of Ineffective Strategies

The death of my mother and how it impacted me, wow, where do I start except at the beginning. My childhood, actually my teenage years, was no different then anybody else’s growing up in the time period of the late 70’s and early 80’s or at least I thought was no different, but then again, I was 15 years old, what did I really know.

This article was written by request and utilized in a grief education program for 1st responders

2020-03-04

Hostage To My Captor

Stockholm Syndrome — that condition that causes hostages to develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity. I believe I have developed the mental health equivalent with my captor, PTSD/Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

Article As Published (sicknotweak.com)

2020-02-14

The Labyrinth

In 2019 I started therapy at a clinic for my occupationally caused PTSD and Depression. This clinic is situated in an old renovated century home turned place of healing and surrounded by beautiful gardens, a tall hedge row on the north side, a beautiful scenic pond area and a large maze like collection of rocks, stones and wood chips.

2020-01-31

EMDR: What's It Like

What’s it like using EMDR in a therapy session to deal with a problematic incident? My therapy session starts like every other previous therapy session, with idle chat with my therapist about how my previous week was.

Article As Published (yourlifeskill.com)

Article As Published (thoughtcatalog.com)

Article As Published (vocal.media)

Article As Published (Medium)

2020-01-31

Stigma and The Elephant In The Room

Early in February 2019 I knew something wasn’t quite right with me. The continual arguments with my wife, the emotional outbursts, unexpected crying and anger, anger with everybody and everything lead me to the conclusion that I needed help. I reached out for it and started weekly therapy for what was likely PTSD. Stigma, “screw the stigma” I thought, so I went public with my PTSD battles.

Article As Published (yourlifeskill.com)

2019-12-18

The Hollow Words I Live By

Living with PTSD and major depressive disorder, I was shocked to learn, and unfortunately experience on a daily basis, just how numb my emotions and feelings have become.

Article As Published (sicknotweak.com)

2019-11-06

My Love/Hate Relationship With Stigma

The sound of that very word strikes anger in many of us burdened with mental health challenges. It also, unfortunately, strikes fear in many others and is one of the more significant factors in stopping many with mental health challenges in actually reaching out for help.

Article As Published (sicknotweak.com)

Article As Published (vocal.media)

2019-10-06

10 Things I've Learned

1. Your therapist doesn’t fix you. Your therapist is there to help you fix yourself!

2019-08-28

10 Things I Wish Others Knew About PTSD

1. PTSD IS NOT a mental disorder, it is a brain injury with physical changes occurring to various parts of the brain like the amygdala, hippocampus and pre-frontal cortex because of exposure to traumatic experiences

My Artwork

Useful Books & Apps

Throughout this journey I've read a ton of books to learn everything I could about PTSD and utilized a handful of useful apps to help me manage day to day.

Useful Books

Useful Apps