It is interesting to see where our culture have come over the years. Some of my younger clients report having a “stress corner” in their classroom with sensory objects to help them when they’re having a hard time. I’ve heard some people talk about their kids doing yoga to gain focus in class (even one of my teacher clients reports doing this for 5 minutes at the beginning of her classes with her students). There are “figet toys” that will help kids when they can’t sit still. None of this was around when I was in school.
However, even with the increased knowledge and acceptance of mental health, there is still a lot of stigma, especially in men. We create our beliefs from childhood and most of you are in the same position as me – no stress corner, figet toys, or yoga during school. Sadness, fear and anxiety are seen as weaknesses and not okay to display. Men have to be “strong” and not show these “vulnerabilities.” Add to that peer pressure and community pressure of being a first responder. You are supposed to be unbreakable. You’re the one the community calls on to be strong in a crisis.
So what happens when a first responder starts feeling the stress of accumulated daily experiences? When they don’t want their peers or community to see them as “weak”? When they don’t want to be pulled off the line because they’re “not fit” for duty? Push through of course. Pretend the daily stresses aren’t increasing and aren’t bothering them. Pretend everything is ok. You might make light of situations, joking about them. Over time, it may start to make you more cynical and irritable. After all, anger is an emotion that is appropriate to show. Anger is often a secondary emotion, but it can be primary. In the case of accumulated stress, there is a good probability that your irritation and anger is a secondary emotion. Next time you get irritated or angry, stop and think “What am I actually feeling?” I wonder if you may notice fear, sadness, guilt, loss of hope, dread, or something else. Emotions are a wonderful tool to help us. Anxiety will keep us alert in a dangerous situation, potentially keeping us alive. Pain will tell us something is wrong, change what you are doing. Happiness means all is well. We are all humans and all have this range of emotion. Society has taught us what is acceptable and what isn’t with expressing those emotions.
I can’t wait for the day emotions are no longer stigmatized. Until then, I will teach/educate everywhere and in every way I can that stress, anxiety, and PTSD are real, normal, and may require additional support from a professional to get through successfully. You are not crazy. You are not weak. Maybe most importantly, you are not alone. What would it be like for you if you knew you weren’t alone or weak? I have spoken to some amazing first responders who have battled PTSD and came out the other side. Karen Lansing is an amazing therapist in California specializing in first responders. A statement she says which I find very profound is “PTSD will leave you stronger or weaker, but never the same, so choose strength.” I say the same to you today. Choose strength. If you are interested in hearing more about what two of the wonderful first responders I have spoken to are doing these days, or if you want to talk with them, please contact me. They are both very outspoken about their experiences and helping other first responders in similar situations to them. I will eventually have this information on my website as well. I hope that you will choose strength today! I look forward to hearing from you. Call me: 860-501-9767, 941-462-4807 or email: Meg@megberrylcsw.com.