Stigma And The Elephant In The Room

2020-01-31

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. I went public not for any sympathy and not for any pity but because I firmly believe that silence does nothing but strengthen stigma. If just one person asked me just one question about PTSD or just one person reflected on the state of their own mental health or just one person already suffering no longer felt alone then me going public was worthwhile then. Little did I know my PTSD journey would turn in an unexpected direction.

You see early in my journey and before I had my official diagnosis my life was a complete mess. Tons of emotional outbursts, isolation, lack of sleep, flashbacks. I felt like my life was a real life jenga game and every day I was pulling out a block waiting for it all to come crumbling down. My PTSD symptoms were uncontrolled, I had absolutely no idea what my triggers were and I truly had no real understanding about exactly what was going on with me and inside my brain. I learned later on that it was during this time that my wife was considering leaving me. During these early days I felt completely overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless and desperate to escape the inner turmoil. I learned in these early days that emotional pain is so much more worse than physical pain. With physical pain you can point to it. How do you point to emotional pain when it has no apparent pin point source and invades every part of your body, mind and, day to day life.

Sunday June 2, 2019 was another typical PTSD fueled f&cked up day for me. Another argument with my wife over nothing of importance that of course I started. Still feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless and desperate, I went for a 5 hour drive to, as I had done so many times before, to isolate myself. I found myself at the end of a dead end country road. It was there I made my decision on what I believed was the only way to escape the emotional pain and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. I made my decision about suicide. An amazing calmness washed over me and for the first time in many many months my mind was calm, very calm, incredibly scary calm. I didn’t have a plan, that’s what the next couple of days were going to be for, to figure out the how and when of my decision.

Over the next couple of days I thought alot more about my decision. I thought alot about a friend, co-worker and platoon mate that died by suicide and the state that his young wife and son were left in. I realized that while stigma surrounding mental health still exists the stigma surrounding suicide is 10 times worse. I didn’t want my wife, son and daughter to have to live with that stigma for the rest of their lives. I made the choice to step back from the point of no return. I chose to live. It was because of the stigma surrounding suicide that I waited almost 4.5 months to be open and honest with my wife and my therapist about my suicide decision. Yes I was a victim of stigma.

It was after this that I came face to face with the elephant in the room. I have networked with many other 1st responders since those early days and was at a loss to figure out why so many always talked about “the dark times”, or “the dark place” but very few actually used the word suicide. I came to the conclusion that “the dark place” or “the dark times” are the secret code word that many use to avoid using the word suicide, perhaps because the stigma surrounding suicide is so great. The elephant in the room has been revealed. I did my time with stigma and will not rely on the elephant in the room to convey where I was. I will use the word suicide to take its power away and to help break that ever so strong stigma. Yes I chose suicide but was able to step back from the brink, to step back from the point of no return.

I continue to go to weekly therapy with my therapist who has become the third most important woman in my life next to my wife and my daughter. It’s a love hate relationship actually. I love that with her compassionate, understanding and empathetic help and guidance I have recovered to point I am now but I hate it when she challenges my negative thoughts and thinking patterns. Tell me anybody that likes being shown when they are wrong lol. I hate it when she encourages me to deal with those parts of me changed by PTSD, like my core beliefs and cognitive distortions, you know all those things that really are painful to look at though self-reflection but I truly love the person I’m becoming. We have done many different forms of therapy from CPT (cognitive processing therapy) to CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) to BA (behavioural activation for depression) all to deal with the cognitive distortions, negative thinking patterns and changed core beliefs. We have used EMDR (eye motion desensitization reprocessing) to deal with the problematic memories from the difficult calls I have responded to. I can’t lie, it hasn’t been easy, but recreating and reinventing oneself into a new and better person never is.