I sit here on the 6th anniversary of my first brother’s suicide, reflecting back on one of the worst nights of my life. It was a Friday night and I was on duty at the fire station, just like tonight. My wife called and said that one of my brothers had killed himself, and that I needed to come home. I couldn’t believe it and I actually refused to believe it at first. I stumbled around trying to figure out what all I needed to pack up and take with me, not wanting to leave anything in the way of anyone else. I don’t remember how I told my Captain and crew … or what they said. It just did not seem real or like it could be true, but something inside me told me that things would never be the same, could never be the same. I muddled my way through getting my bedding up, getting my gear off the truck, and drove home in a stupor. My whole family was in shock as we began to call and make sure everyone knew, sharing what we had last heard from our brother. He was living a few hours away from us, as was another brother who was estranged from the family.
A lot has happened since then. Two years later, we lost a second brother to suicide. This one seemed even worse, being yet another brother gone, and he lived near most of us. I was on duty that night too. I started having a really hard time dealing with the loss of them, as it made me confront things that I had not wanted to for most of my life. We had a very abusive father and a very traumatic childhood, but now our mother wanted to deny it and blame the spouses of my dead brothers. When she found out I was having a really rough time, she began to blame my wife, get ugly with my wife (despite my pleadings not to), and so I now have pretty much no relationship at all with my mother. As the traumas of my childhood came flooding back, everything became overwhelming. An entire childhood of abuse, a gunpoint holdup with my wife and girls, the loss of two brothers taking their lives, the stress of working 2 Fire/EMS jobs for over twenty years, plus a couple of health issues that I began to have – all finally got to be too much.
I knew that, having seen what suicide did to our family, I could not take my own life. But I would be lying if I said there were not a couple of occasions where I was begging God to just take my life, heaving and sobbing. Last summer my crew responded to a self-inflicted GSW suicide (just like the first brother), and I could not handle it once we got in there. My hands did the basic things they were supposed to for the patient, and I had the presence of mind to at least tell the other medic that he was going to have to take the lead, but I lost control of myself and was sent home after that run. I started seeing a therapist and was diagnosed with PTSD, then started EMDR. It has helped with some of the pain and all from the past things, but the present things (ringdown tones, sirens, bad runs, and any sudden loud noise) still extremely stress me and I startle at the drop of a hat. I am eligible to (and plan to) retire in just over 3 years, and am too old to start back over with something else after 22 years in this, so I am just white-knuckling it until then. I am afraid to take anything for stress/anxiety, as both brothers we lost were on those type meds at the time.
The good side of things (has to be something, right?) is that I now appreciate and love my wife 50 times more than I ever did before. She is my rock and has stood by me through thick and thin. Our life together is better than it has ever been, but the time that I have to spend away from her is more painful than I ever could have imagined before all of this. I am also more patient, kind, and compassionate than I used to ever be. I can sympathize with patients that have mental health issues way more than I ever could have before. I have had a few suicidal patients that I was able to reach in a way that would have been impossible for me before. So there is some good that has come. I know that some people (even coworkers) might look at me and think (much as I used to), “You just need to get over it.” I understand their viewpoint, but I also know that this is not something I can just choose to change. I can cope, yes. But anatomical and chemical changes have occurred in my brain that will never allow it to be like it was “before.” That is OK though, and I am going to make it. Look after each other out there.
– Story written by Tracy F, Paramedic Sgt in Alabama. 22 years in EMS.