This post unabashedly piggybacks off, “Logging the Miles,” and the central idea of masking and hiding emotions. A lot of people (fire service and beyond) have this carefully cultivated public persona: there’s the jerk, the yes man, the princess, the health nut, Mr. “all certs and no experience”, etc… We’ve all met them. A few of us may even be them (be honest!). What’s that generic fascade hiding? Usually insecurity. It takes incredible strength and self-confidence & awareness to share your true self with the world. It’s easier to step into a role, so to speak, because if you’re met with resistance, well, it’s not really you that they disapprove of, is it? It’s whichever character you’ve decided to portray that is falling short.
Fine. Some of us are just naturally jerks. Or self-centered. Or, my personal favorite, the ignorant “know it all” (yes. Hypocrites get under my skin). But I’ve noticed that in my journey, those who were negative and demeaning about my PTSD diagnosis were those struggling in their own lives. Those who were maybe afraid that they identified with what I was going through or were battling addiction or depression of their own. And yet, they maintained this ‘macho badass’ mentality. But, I can’t say for certain. I’m not entirely sure. I’m focused on my PTSD and, admittedly, don’t know much about addiction or depression and the characteristics and personality traits that develop. So maybe it’s coincidental, but do we want to be safe… Or sorry?
Anyways, I was talking with a mentor (let’s call him Captain Mentor) and he commented that some guy was being just a real pain in the ass (firefighter PITA, if you will). I automatically think, what if he’s going through something? What if he’s acting out in this fashion, and he’s really not a jerk? Capt did ask the guy if something were wrong, to which he replied, “Living the dream.” Now, often do we hear that? It’s easily one of the most overused phrases we mutter while pouring another cup of coffee. Given what I’m learning about firefighter suicide and what not, I would have loved a follow up of “…living the dream” to be more, “are you really?”. Direct compassion. That’s a very canned answer on firefighter PITA’s part…something could be really wrong. I’m Monday morning-quarterbacking here. I digress. Captain Mentor, you’re still cool.
What I’m saying is, know your crew. Personality changes are huge, glaring clues. If your engineer is usually the comedian with a no-stress approach to life and he’s suddenly picking fights, there’s a problem. Your firefighter who hasn’t missed a day on shift has called out for her last two without explanation. If you’re willing to follow them into a fire, ASK THEM HOW THEY’RE DOING. Behaviors and personality can tell us a lot about a person, ESPECIALLY if they seem out of character.
Situational awareness. Don’t turn a blind eye to change.
According to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, there are five common changes that occur when a person is experiencing a mental health emergency or, even more dire, signs of being suicidal:
1. Isolation—person becomes distant from the firehouse and his crew
2. Loss of confidence—person experiences loss of confidence in fire/ems training and skills
3. Sleep deprivation
4. Anger—suppressed and displaced anger is a sign that the person is not dealing with the issue
5. Impulsive—A person suddenly becomes reckless and makes rash, dangerous decisions that are out of character
Four out of five deal DIRECTLY with personality changes. Clues that you can pick up on if you’re indeed in tune with your crew. This information is something to add to your toolbox, keep it in the back of your mind. You’ll know if something is amiss with your crew. Trust your gut.